Hoping to make money from your blog, been told to find your niche but worried you don’t have any one thing you’re really passionate about? Or perhaps you’re so multi-passionate that you’re opposed to the idea of niching down at all? Does finding a blog niche really even matter?
In this post you’ll learn why a blog niche matters (a lot). I also show you how to brainstorm the interests, skills and knowledge that will help to underpin your blog and business.
This post delves into what’s really needed to create a sustainable blog and biz and helps you discover your own unique strengths and talents.
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There are few probloggers who would disagree with the idea that in order to turn your blog into a successful, profitable business you need to niche down. The thing many of us struggle with is exactly what this should niche be.
Often the hardest part about finding a niche is the initial brainstorming session. It’s easy to define things we’re good at if we enjoy doing them and others give us credit for. It’s a lot harder to acknowledge the more mundane skills and talents we’ve accumulated over the years. That’s why I created a free Brainstorming Tasks workbook to help you kickstart this process. You can download it from the Free Resources.
What’s a blog niche anyway?
Let’s talk about the ‘N’ word. If you’re thinking of starting a blog with a view to turning it into a business it probably won’t have escaped your notice that niches are a huge topic online. To clear up any doubts about what it means, let’s first dive into some basics.
In a nutshell a niche is a product, service or interest that appeals to a relatively small section of the population. If Sport is your thing, a good example of a sporting niche might be Stand-Up Paddle Boarding for kids.
If Travel interests you, mid-career sabbatical backpacking is a seriously niche topic. Miniature cacti gardens anyone? That’s one for you ‘green fingered’ types (or ‘green thumbs’ if you prefer to call a niche a ‘nitch’).
The important thing to remember is that niches do not appeal to everyone, and that’s exactly why they present ideal business opportunities. It may seem counter intuitive but you’ll have a far greater chance of being successful and finding your dream tribe online if you focus on addressing the needs and interests of a very specific audience.
Think ‘Big Fish, Small Pond’ and you get the idea.
Why can’t I blog about #allthethings? Blogging is supposed to be fun!
I hear this ALL THE TIME. Nearly always from frustrated bloggers with less than a year or two experience.
If you’re completely new to blogging it’s very likely you’ve started blogging about a whole bunch of disparate things. That’s not a criticism! It’s a very natural thing to do when you start blogging for fun and as a creative outlet.
In the beginning it’s often more about pleasing our own desires rather than delivering what a specific audience craves. Our first instinct is to approach our blog as a sort of online journal, with a little bit of everything thrown into the mix.
I absolutely advocate blogging for fun initially to cut your blogging teeth, find your voice and hone your technical skills. It’s also a great way to get a feel for your potential audience. (hint: they might not be who your originally thought they would be).
Instead of focusing too much on a niche at this stage, consider focusing on a mindset.
Successful blogger Krista Aoki’s interview with Hype Factory is full of brilliant tips for new bloggers and in it she suggests starting with a demographic. Over time it will become obvious who is responding to your content. Then you can decide if you want to focus on nurturing this audience further or pivoting to a more desirable one.
When to pivot from hobby blogger to problogger
Once you’re serious about turning your blog into a business, it’s time to approach things a little differently. It’s time to pivot.
The truth is, blogging has changed enormously over the last ten years when I started. It’s a crowded space, attention is fierce and audiences are straight up only interested in what’s in it for them! If your content is all over the place and lacks a clear focus they’re simply going to hit and run, probably never to return.
The moment you shift perspective to what your audience actually wants and cares about, rather than what you think the world wants to hear is when you stop thinking like a hobby blogger and begin to understand what it takes to turn your blog into a business.
Blogging is underpinned by a pretty simple premise: get to know an audience and how you will serve them. Uncover their questions, pain points, frustrations and gaps, and seek to fill them. It’s going to be a really tough sell if you aren’t crystal clear on exactly what you’re offering and to whom.
There’s also another, more technical reason for niching down online: it’s good for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Search engines only want to show users useful content that meets their search criteria. A niched down, regularly updated website and blog is a great signal of authority and quality. (If you’re new to blogging, this epic guide to SEO tells you everything you need to know).
If you’ve been blogging for a short while and finding your traffic has dropped off, your audience isn’t busting open their wallets and you’re in a hot mess when it comes to figuring out a content strategy, it’s time to get serious and apply some forensic thinking.
How I found my ‘why’
One of the things holding me back from starting this blog was my inability to define my ‘why’.
Years of blogging and writing experience? Check. Made lots of mistakes? Check! Built websites for real people and successfully taught them blogging and social media strategies? Check. A desire to monetise my knowledge properly and stop doing so much for free? Heck yes, check!!
All necessary credentials for a blog about blogging, right? Except I was struggling to articulate the big ‘why’ that really motivates me. The thing I felt deep down.
It wasn’t simply that I wanted to make money teaching others how to blog. I knew fundamentally it was because I want to help others achieve something that is much more powerful: the luxury of choice.
I started blogging because I was lonely, bored and curious. As an expat spouse living in Asia I had a life many people were envious of. They didn’t understand the reality of living thousands of miles from friends and family in what was essentially a developing country.
With hubby away on business almost 50% of the time, blogging (and latterly running an Etsy store) became a majorly important coping mechanism and way of connecting with like-minded people, as well as a hugely enjoyable creative outlet.
I truly believe we’re on the cusp of something really exciting. A new paradigm. Today’s bloggers and online entrepreneurs are proving you don’t have to follow the rules any more. You don’t have to follow a traditional career path. I want to help others unlock their potential.
Learning to blog and – crucially – learning how to monetise our knowledge and interests gives us choices. Choice to pursue work at home, on a beach, in a coffee shop, anywhere we have a wifi connection. It allows those of us who may feel otherwise sidelined to have a voice, to connect with others in meaningful ways and, of course, to earn money on our terms.
Obviously my big ‘why’ is personal to me. Yet it only made sense when viewed through the lens of how I might change other people’s lives in some way. This doesn’t have to be profound or speak to the big questions in life, either! Transformation can happen on many levels, from a simple craft tutorial to a complete mindset shift.
Framing your experience to help others
The point is, yes, nailing a niche and audience is key, but the glue is in figuring out how you will actually affect change for them. How will your blog and each piece of content do that? Don’t think you have to have it all figured out either! Audiences love to follow people who are ‘in the trenches’ so to speak.
Perhaps you’ve just taken up a new hobby, or are thinking about doing so? Your journey could prove inspirational, fun and meaningful for others in ways you might not expect. The subject matter doesn’t even have to be unique – very little is – but your take on it will be.
If you can nail how your story can be framed to be of interest and help to others, the rest tends to fall into place much more easily.
Why grit and consistency are the hallmarks of a successful blogger
My personal blog graveyard has been filled with its fair share of genres – from travel to interiors – precisely because, like many people, I have a number of different interests. Paint charts and fabric samples may really float my boat, but that doesn’t mean I’m consistently able to blog about this stuff in a way other people love too.
Award winning Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth’s recent book Grit condenses her years of ground-breaking research studying what it takes to succeed. Her findings have revolutionised the way people look at success and in particular the psychological characteristics of successful people.
As a blogger and someone who helps others learn to blog, this book came as a total revelation. Lightbulbs were popping off throughout every chapter. I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a successful blogger – why some succeed and some don’t. The answer was there in black and white (actually in soundwaves as I opted for the audio version read by Angela herself).
Grit, it turns out, is the crucial characteristic missed by almost all conventional aptitude tests yet her studies reveal time and time again how it proves to be the most accurate predictor of how successful a person is likely to be in any given endeavour (from military training academies to high school students).
Angela’s data reveals what I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Successful people – in our case successful bloggers – aren’t particularly any more innately talented than the rest of us. Rather they simply don’t give up. They roll with the ups and downs and continue to hone their craft till they become good at it. They have grit.
How to measure Grit?
To help determine a person’s grittiness, Angela has developed the Grit Scale to assess how gritty someone is at any given time in life (it’s important to know that grit changes according to our age and life experience). You can take the Grit Scale Test here. There’s even a scientific formula for measuring it (Talent X Effort = Skill, Skill X Effort = Achievement).
Crucially her studies also show that while passion and interest are strong motivators, surprisingly few of us have a clearly defined passion. In fact the findings surprised even Angela, who assumed that all the paragons of grit she studied experienced something akin to an ‘aha’ moment, where their life’s passion came to them like a scene from a movie.
Her studies show the reality is much more mundane. The thing we come to see as our life’s passion often happens after years ‘trying out’ various things. Blogging, I would argue, is no different. For every successful blogger who has seemingly nailed their niche on the first go, there are thousands more of us who dabble in various niches before our true calling becomes apparent.
Going deeper with the Strengthsfinder test
Online marketing expert Mark W Schaeffer distills this very same concept into his excellent book, Known (another must-read for bloggers). Quite independently from Duckworth he has drawn similar conclusions about what it takes to be a successful blogger. Specifically that it takes more than just passion alone to build a sustainable online business.
Schaeffer interviewed many successful online figures and the message they echoed over and over again was not of simply following a passion, but rather having the grit and consistency to do something well till it became their passion.
These expert findings echo what it’s taken me over ten years to figure out; your blogging ‘magic formula’ requires more than just passion alone. It’s a combination of experience, skills, strengths and interests you’ve possibly never even considered before that are unique to you. It’s just a question of joining the dots and putting it all together.
One tip mentioned in the book is to take the Clifton Strengthsfinder Test – a Pyschometric test devised by former Gallup Chairman, Don Clifton in 2001. Used by millions of individuals and businesses the world over, the test was revised slightly in 2007 as StrengthsFinder 2.0 and enables you to acquire a report into your top five strengths.
It’s incredibly insightful and I love that it focuses only on what you’re good at and encourages you to feel confident about those things. If you’re feeling lost I’d highly recommend taking it to positively kick-start the brainstorming process.
Grit + talent + practice = success
Both of these books also echo an idea Malcom Gladwell famously coined in his book Outliers. Chiefly, that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. That’s roughly 13 solid months, if you’re wondering.
Take a look at some of the most successful bloggers out there and you’ll see things really started to fall into place for them after about a year or two. Finding your writing voice, grasping the technical side and figuring out how to monetise generally takes most bloggers a year or two, assuming you are able to work consistently at least a few hours each day.
If you have other commitments, such as a job and kids, your ‘side hustle’ is going to require even more of that elusive grit, but it’s totally possible to build a successful blog in just a few hours a week. Sure, it might take a little longer, but many successful bloggers like Monica Froese of Redefining Mom have created six-figure incomes in this way.
Don’t be afraid to dig deep and don’t dismiss things you learned years ago in an old job or what you like to do ‘just for fun’. Your little zone of genius is a unique alchemy of many things and believe me when I say there is likely to be an audience out there who wants to hear from you.
Is your blog niche profitable?
Let’s assume you have a clearer idea about the things you’re good at and what interests you. The next question is ‘does it have the potential to be profitable’? (If you’re unsure how to actually generate income, this post ‘How to create a stress-free content strategy for your blog’ details some of the ways bloggers make money with their blogs).
Unless it’s so obscure and only a handful of people are into the same thing you can build a blog based business around pretty much any topic. If you can teach it, you can probably monetise it.
Just remember, the more popular and broad your niche topic, the higher the competition and harder you’ll have to work to get noticed online. The flip side to this is that these niches will always enjoy a healthy level of interest. If you can appeal to one of these groups, adding your unique spin, there’s a good chance you can build a profitable blog.
Another approach is to see what your competition is doing (or those you perceive to be your potential competition). It may seem slightly counter-intuitive but if other people are already making money in a niche, it’s a good indicator that you can too.
There is always room for improvement, however. Where are your competitors going wrong? Can you spot any gaps? What are your ideal readers still struggling with? Can you niche down any further? Solve their problems, provide answers to their dilemmas, help them achieve some kind of transformation.
From ‘quick wins’ to those real ‘aha’ moments, the secret to blogging success isn’t all that complicated, it’s simply about being able to get inside the head of your ideal reader, anticipate their questions and become their go-to solution.
How to get inside the head of your readers
It’s pretty common to be told to ‘poll your followers’, ‘ask them what they’re struggling with’. Sound advice, but only if you actually have a following! If you’re a new blogger or only have an email list of eight people, seven of whom are your family and friends, you need a more realistic way to gauge your ideal audience.
I’m all about actionable tips so here’s some ways to perform audience research, even when you don’t have one of your own:
- Online groups – a great tip is to simply to go hang out in a bunch of facebook and linkedin groups within your niche. It soon becomes apparent what people are struggling with because they will be talking about it! Don’t be afraid to ask members straight out. Don’t just hit and run, however! Be useful and help others where you can. This way, you’ll gain trust, build relationships and have a ready-made platform to promote your own work where permitted.
- Hop on to Question sites such as Reddit and Quora, you’ll find more of your potential readers and their struggles here. It’s not only a useful way to discover the types of questions people are asking (great for blog post ideas) but by answering questions and being helpful, it’s a great way to gain exposure for your blog.
- Check out online reviews. Youtube, Amazon’s book best seller lists and online course platforms like Udemy all have review sections. Seek out the mediocre reviews and see how you can potentially improve on those products.
- Forums and comments sections of competitor blogs are also great places to learn more about your audience.
- Autosuggest is your friend! Type in a keyword in Google, Etsy, Youtube or Pinterest and see what is ‘suggested’. These tend to be the most popular search terms for each platform and can be really helpful in determining the kinds of search terms and questions people are actually asking.
- What’s trending on Social Media? Buzzsumo allows you to find the most shared content on social media platforms using Keywords. Another favourite method is to see which competitor’s content has received the most Social shares. Simply hop on to Similarweb, sign up for a free account, enter your competitor’s domain, select traffic sources then sort by ‘Social’. It’ll show you the top posts up to the last three months. If people are sharing it like crazy, it means there’s strong interest in this topic so work out how you can improve upon it.
- Scan niche-related FAQs. It might seem staggeringly obvious but FAQs make for ideal blog post topics. If you have no following, instead look for related companies and products within your niche and see what their FAQs say. Use these as a loose structure for your blog content, particularly useful if you’re in a ‘boring’ or non-creative niche where it’s hard to come up with blog post ideas.
Putting it all together
By now it should be pretty obvious that niching down makes a lot of sense. And hopefully you should feel more confident brainstorming ideas, getting to know your ideal audience, figuring out your niche’s potential and ways you might monetise.
Coming up with a blog niche will take some research. It requires you to dig a little and be open to ideas you might not have previously considered. Even if you have your heart set on a particular niche, remember to ask yourself ‘is this something I can blog about enthusiastically and consistently for the next few years?’
Finally, don’t forget to ask ‘what’s my big ‘why?’ and how will you transform your audience’s world? Consider the bigger picture then figure out how you can break it down into the smaller steps needed to get them there.
Remember, nothing is set in stone. Even if you think you have it all figured out it’s totally fine to change your mind and start over. Blogging is a journey and a learning curve. But it is time to stop procrastinating and start brainstorming. What have you got to lose?
Excited about taking the next steps?
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