Blogging 101: Choosing Your Niche

So You Want To Blog? That’s the title of a course I’m teaching in the night school of a local university. In another version at a different college, the course is known as Blogging 101. But no matter what the label, one of the first questions that comes up for beginner/wannabe bloggers is how you choose your subject matter.

At first the answer seems simple. What topic do you love more than anything else in life? What subject could you happily spend the rest of your life learning more about? And doing a little self-probing and investigative work to answer those questions is a good place to start.

But this approach presupposes a piece of conventional wisdom about blogging - that every blogger needs a niche. As a big-foot blogger once told me at a meet-up session of local bloggers in Howard County, Md, where I live: “The best way to spend your time in the beginning is on creating the best content you can. You want to become the world’s leading expert in your little corner.” Not bad advice at all.

But as one of the students in So You Want To Blog asked me in the first session, “What if I just want to write about my thoughts?” In other words, why does a blogger need a niche?

In fact, when Technorati, the Web site that serves as a combo Holy Site/Census Bureau for the blogging universe, surveyed bloggers, the most common topic for blogs was Personal Musings, favored by 52 percent of respondents.  The top five niches in the Technorati survey look like this:

  • Personal Musings = 52%
  • Technology = 41%
  • News = 32%
  • Politics = 27%
  • Music = 27%
Print of Montaigne

Montaigne, the greatest Personal Muser of all time.

Now there is a sense in which all blogging could be called Personal Musings. The essence of blogging is your voice, your personal take on the world or at least your chosen corner of it. Still, I hate to say it, but I agree with the conventional wisdom in this case: if you want readers beyond your family and friends, you need a niche.

Unless you’re a Montaigne or a Mark Twain or a Virginia Woolf, it is your topic that will draw people to your blog (though it may be the quality of your voice that will keep them coming back). The Internet and new media have made an information universe of niches upon niches. A few of the old Common Readers exist – a hardy remnant still read newspapers, for instance – but if you want an audience, you’re much better off tapping into enthusiasts of romance novels or fantasy aficionados or science fiction fans or, much as I hate to admit it, lovers of hunky teengage vampires. All of these are a better start at reaching a busy world than your Personal Musings.

Photo of Ronique Gibson

Architect and blogger Ronique Gibson

Two recent posts on Problogger offer ilumination on how you choose that niche. Ronique Gibson, an architect who blogs about homes and design, has written an excellent piece called “Choosing a Blogging Niche You Can Expand on for Life.” Tip #1 from Ronique: ”Write for yourself.” I couldn’t agree more.

This is the single best piece of advice for any writer, be she blogger, poet, biographer, or novelist. The great paradox of all writing is that if you want readers, you have to write something you personally want to read. As Ronque puts it::

Finding an expandable blogging niche is about choosing a niche that you already know about, or are dying to find out more about. You don’t have to be an expert; you just have to want to immerse yourself into it enough to want to share your knowledge with others.

Photo of Darren Rowse

Blogging guru Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse, the founder and proprietor of ProBlogger and a big-foot blogger himself, elaborates nicely on this point in his post “How To Blog: How To Choose a Niche [6 Tips].” Rowse is a blogging guru for those who want to make money blogging (more about that in future 317am posts), and he’s started 30 or so blogs himself with this aim in mind. Here’s his take:  

What I discovered in creating these blogs that had potential for profit, yet which I had little interest in, was that I couldn’t really sustain them. I had little to say on the topics and when I did write something I suspect that those who read my content could tell that it was a topic that I was not passionate about. As a result the traffic did not come, I did not become known for the topic, nobody linked up and the blogs were far from profitable.

On the flipside of this – the blogs that I did have an interest in and a passion for have flourished. My interest in the topic is not the only factor that made them successful but I suspect it is a fairly important one that underlies much of the success and profit that I’ve had.

So a topic for which you feel passion is the key. In a future post we’ll continue with another tip of Ronique Gibson’s: “Don’t be afraid to tweak.”  Kaze and I have done mucho tweaking at 317am.

8 Responses to Blogging 101: Choosing Your Niche

  1. Another thing that holds people back is time. If you find a subject you are passionate about (or passionately want to know more about) you will make time. I make my blogging time at 6 am.

    • Absolutely, Tom. What with research and promotion and writing, a blogger’s job is never done. At the moment I’m putting in 40-plus hours a week on a regular job and finding time to put out three posts a week in this situation is driving me crazy. I salute you for being able to write at 6:00 am. I often post in the wee hours, but the posts get written the night before or on weekends.

  2. You’re teaching at Howard Community College, right? Hey, hope to see you at the next blogger party; it’s May 19th http://well-n-wise.eventbrite.com/

    • Yes, Jessiex. The Howard County version of the course is through the community college and called Blogging 101. I teach another version at Johns Hopkins. Thanks for the info on the next HoCo Blogs gathering. It’s a great way to alleviate the lone wolf life of a blogger. I met the big-foot blogger quoted in this post at one of these events.

  3. Surprising personal musings is atop the list…

    • One reason for Personal Musings being at the top of the list may be that in this survey bloggers were allowed to choose more than one subject category, and many may have ticked Personal Musings in the generic sense of something all bloggers do. The State of the Blogosphere survey from Technorati.com is a fascinating mound of data data on bloggers for those willing to dig into it: http://technorati.com/state-of-the-blogosphere/

  4. I’ve been coblogging with my colleague Patricia Sharpe since late 2004 and I couldn’t agree more with RasoirJ’s points. Writing and researching posts takes time, passion, writing ability and I would argue subject expertise. I cannot write more than two (if that) quality posts a week. But then we apparently have a terrific niche audience, still have posts ranked highly (top 10) on Google Search years after they appeared. Our goal was not to make money (hasn’t happened) but to gain influence and be part of the ongoing foreign affairs and political debate. We do not necessarily agree with each other but often do. And we also occasionally lighten up with travel posts and cultural ones weekends or near the end of the week and every so often feature posts by guest contributors who command special expertise.

    • Your Whirled View blog, Pat, is a must-read for those who care about public diplomacy. You and your blog partner do a great job of intelligently critiquing U.S. approaches to PD. (It’s also the rare two-writer blog, sort of like 317am.) When we started 317am, Whirled View was one of the role models for me.

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