Before you start blogging, you need to ask yourself four simple questions. Answer them as truthfully and as specifically as possible. Remember: what you decide to write about is what you will be thinking and dreaming about 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no vacations for bloggers.
These are the four questions you must spend lots of time contemplating.
Question 1: Who are you? Yes, older readers are now humming that song by The Who, perhaps helping them focus on this crucial point. Who, who, who, who? I really wanna know. To be a successful blogger, you must be a self-starter. You need to be a quick thinker, organizing your thoughts and expressing them immediately. And you need a thick skin, because invariably, visitors to your blog will disagree with you, and express their dissenting opinions in the cruelest possible way in your comments section. In short, they will tear you apart. If you’ve lived a life where everyone constantly expresses approval of everything you do, you might be in for a rude awakening when you start writing your new blog. Are you tough enough to take it? Do you have the consistency to regularly update your blog, giving readers a good reason to return day after day? Figure out who you are, and decide if you are really a blogger. Do you have the time? Do you have the energy? Blogging is a daily endeavor and is often unrewarding—until it’s surprisingly rewarding.
Question 2: What do you know about? Expertise gives you an enormous head start over any competitors. For example, if you can identify any phone on sight, and you know the model numbers of each of the 3,997 Android phones available when we wrote this (no kidding, according to Yahoo‘s David Pogue, you’re going to be way ahead of hapless competitors who’ve decided to write about smartphones and are knowledgeable only about the one they happen to possess. You’re the one who should be writing about smartphones. If you don’t know more about a topic than almost all your readers, what exactly do you plan to bring to the conversation? In an ideal situation, your own wealth of knowledge and personal experience will be enlightening for your readers. If you have neither, you might want to either learn everything there is to know about your topic, or choose another.
Your expertise can be wildly obscure. There is room for everything on the Internet. If you are a radio technician, don’t be afraid to write about your career. If you’re a horse breeder, share with your readers your experiences with the stallions on your ranch. If you’ve discovered parenting tips that no one’s ever attempted but you’ve seen working wonders, you might strike gold with your own mommy blog. If you love to cook ancient Hungarian recipes, perhaps you can find a niche writing about your paprika experiments. Do you love raising huge goldfish? I assure you there is someone out there who wants your input. Someone somewhere will want to know something about what you do.
This is especially true if you run a business—by adding a blog to your business home page you can quickly and easily create a captive audience of people who want to hear what you have to say. For example, Northern Brewer (NorthernBrewer.com), a brewing supply company in St. Paul, Minnesota, created a blog and video podcast based on brewing. With a camera and a little free time, the company’s bloggers built “Brewing TV,” giving them a way to share their point of view and expertise with their customers. In fact, it’s smaller organizations that benefit most from the existence of a personal blog. While we have decided not to focus on “corporate blogging” in this book, understand that the techniques and attitudes we espouse here are applicable to almost any situation in which an expert wants to get his or her point across.
If we want to stress anything in this section, it’s that “general” blogs rarely work. If you have incendiary political opinions, for example, focus on one aspect of policy that interests you most. Do you love to travel? Focus on one area of the world or one state. Do you like to collect stamps? Focus on rare and odd stamps that may keep a reader coming back for more. The goal here is to reduce and focus your target and ensure that all of your content will be readable and understandable, and contain enough context to hook new readers and satisfy the whims of fans.
“Topic” blogs—like a general blog on watch collecting or amateur flying—can succeed simply because you may need to expand your news gathering to find enough content for daily posts. However, the more focused the better. Instead of a “watch” blog, why not outline your own collection of quartz watches from the 1980s while bringing in interesting news about other 1980s watch brands? Until you’re comfortable, think small, not big. Think niche.
Question 3: What are you passionate about? No matter how good your writing is, it will lack that fascinating spark if there’s no passion underneath. Write about what you love, and about what you know. If you’ve decided to write about politics, for example, make sure you’re someone who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes politics. When there’s a big political story breaking, do you immediately have a strong opinion about it? Do you start gritting your teeth with anger before you’ve finished reading the first story you’ve seen about it? Do you talk to everyone you know about the story, finding out everything there is to know about the topic, and then fume over each development with which you disagree? Does it make you angry to think about certain aspects of politics? Does it dominate your thoughts? That’s passion. That’s the engine that can drive day after day of writing, asserting your opinions, and ultimately setting yourself apart from all the others.
You’d better be in love with your topic of choice. There is no other way to succeed. If you’re bored or distracted by other hobbies and you allow your blog to languish, you’re essentially throwing away sweat equity. The longer you run a blog and the more you update it, the better the chance you’ll succeed. For instance, if you’re only mildly interested in birdwatching, don’t start a birding blog. However, if you live for birdwatching, treat the blog as an extension of your hobby. Grow your blog along with your hobby and become an expert in your field. Your readers will be able to sense that you’re growing with your passion and you’re expanding into new territory as you become more comfortable with the topic.
If you’re not writing about something you’re passionate about, you’re going to run out of steam. In our experience, the best blogs are about one specific topic. Niche blogs are far more valuable and will gather more readers than general interest sites. Instead of creating a tech blog, focus on an aspect that interests you and that you have experience with. Are you a frequent business traveler? Why not write about the indignities and pleasures of various aspects of your travels? Do you like cellphones? Focus on one manufacturer or carrier. Covering too much too soon ends up in frustration and will overwhelm a beginning blogger.
Focus on a niche that you can write about daily and with great intensity. There are plenty of blogs already, and making yourself stand out is of utmost importance. You are creating a place for yourself on the Internet, and by updating this place regularly you will encourage an audience and a potential source of income.
Don’t think of yourself as a news source. You are not Reuters or The New York Times. You’re a single person with an obsession, and we’re going to tell you the best way to have fun and get noticed with that obsession.
The best blogs are explorations. Most major bloggers began their sites in an effort to learn more about a topic. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch started his site to gather information about potential investments. Many political blogs began as personal blogs that morphed into public commentary. Watch bloggers like Ariel Adams of ABlogToWatch.com started their sites to educate a potential audience on the vagaries of the watch world and to learn quite a bit in the process. Through dedication, all of these bloggers turned a labor of love into a source of income.
Question 4: What are you going to write about? Now that we’ve gotten the metaphysical out of the way, let’s focus on the concrete. Answering the three previous questions will help you get close to answering this last and most crucial of our quartet of questions.
Being passionate about sports does not make you a good candidate to write a general sports blog. Instead, focus on the sport or team that most excites you. Focus your energy instead of dispersing it willy-nilly. The question is what specifically do you want to write about?
Spend a few days poking around the web, and if you find a blog that covers exactly the same topic you’ve chosen for yourself, that doesn’t mean you should give up and consider another. Study those blogs that are similar to what yours will be, and learn. What are they doing wrong? Why are they successful? Another important point to consider: Is there a glut of blogs covering your chosen topic? If the market is already saturated, it will be that much more difficult for you to stand out above the rabble. Once you’ve extensively researched the competition in the area you’re considering, think of a unique angle your blog could take on the topic. Will you be able to bring a fresh perspective to the conversation? Choose your topic carefully, and half your battle will already be won.
Does this mean you always have to blog on the same topic forever? Absolutely not. Your site can expand and grow as you grow as a writer. Our goal here is to give you a chance to succeed on a smaller scale while expecting big things in the future.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you need to understand some fundamental rules about blogging.