From the category archives:


3 Steps To Figuring Out Your Niche

by anna on January 31, 2011

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You have probably read a million times already that finding a niche is critical to your blog’s success. But what if you cannot figure out a niche for yourself? Or, what if you’ve been writing in a niche but cannot see your blog really taking off, even after years of consistent work? It might be that you haven’t delved deep enough, and that you are still a little bit off from your real target. Here’s an exercise that will help you determine what niche your blog should be in; or, if you’ve already chosen a niche, if you’re in the right one that will lead to your success. Get out a piece of paper and jot down your thoughts and ideas in response to the questions below. Or, if you’re really organized, use some mind mapping software to see where the brainstorming takes you.

1. Determine your passion.

The first step to figuring out a good niche for yourself is to determine what kinds of posts you really love writing about. It’s been said before (a billion times), but you really need to figure out a topic that will keep you interested for a long period of time when you’re starting a blog. Even with the perfect topic, there will be days that you just don’t feel like blogging — but if you’ve chosen the right topic, you’ll never get tired of discussing the concept that inspired you.

Some questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with finding a topic:

  1. What kinds of post inspire you on other blogs?
  2. When you are moved to comment on somebody else’s blog, what are they writing about?
  3. When you do writing (or speaking) that does not feel like work (most of the time), what are you writing about?

2. Determine a hook (or “story”) to differentiate yourself from everyone else.

Figuring out what your special marketing hook is going to be is something with which a lot of bloggers struggle. There are a few bloggers, of course, on whom a hook is bestowed without any effort of their own. These people might be lucky or unlucky, depending upon your perspective and the nature of the hook itself. For the rest of us, carving out a unique story takes a little bit more work — but it also allows us to have a say in why we are known and exactly what people remember about us.

Deciding what your unique contribution will be requires you to look at your experience in a more critical way than you are probably used to doing. When I started ABDPBT, I thought that my hook would be my experience in academia combined with my new experience as a stay-at-home mom. This experience does shape the content that I produce for ABDPBT View definition in a new window; however, I quickly learned that “former academic stay-at-home mom” is not unique in this space — if you used that to describe who I am, there are actually a few people who would probably come to mind before myself.

In order to find something for myself that was different, I had to look deeper into the skill set I was bringing to the table. Being a former academic was not enough — what was I uniquely talented at doing, in addition to my academic background. Eventually, it became apparent that my tendency to be “inappropriately critical” would be my defining characteristic. I may not have self-consciously crafted this as my story, but it is definitely what my story became as a result of interacting with people in this blogging community.

Some questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling with finding a hook:

  1. What is your background?
  2. What kind of education do you have?
  3. Before you came to blogging, what kind of career did you have?
  4. Have you held any unusual jobs?
  5. Do you have any unusual talents? What are they?
  6. What kind of unique slant can you bring to the conversation that nobody else can?

3. Is anyone else doing it?

Once you’ve got a rough idea of what kind of writing you want to do, and what will make your blog different from others, you need to determine whether there is anyone else out there doing the same thing as you are proposing. To use myself as an example again, when my inappropriately critical voice began to emerge as my “hook,” it was an organic result of me interacting with a community that allowed (at that time) virtually no critical dissent whatsoever. It became a story because nobody else was doing it, and some people (not everyone, but enough people) in the community craved that kind of a voice.

When you are deliberately searching for a story for yourself, you might have to do a little more due diligence than I did in determining if your idea already exists. You will need to search around and look at other blogs in your niche and any related niches to see if there is somebody doing what you are doing. If you find somebody with a similar idea, do not fret: it may be that your idea is different enough that, with a little tweaking, you can still carve out something new. But if you do find something similar to what you want to do, bookmark that site because the people who are reading that site are likely to be a part of what will become your audience.

Your Story Is In The Gaps

by anna on January 26, 2011

I like it when bloggers share pictures, especially the ones who aren’t known for their photography.

Not because I’m a connoisseur of photography. The truth is that I cannot ordinarily even tell the difference between legitimately good photography and photography that has been processed within an inch of its life.

What I like about pictures on a blog is not even at the center of the photograph — it’s usually around the edges. It’s in the background. It’s the stuff that is not really supposed to be in the picture at all, and maybe wouldn’t be, if the blogger had looked more carefully at the picture before it was posted on the website.

I like the stuff that shows up unedited, that makes it past the editor by mistake. Or else, the stuff that makes it past the editor because the editor is so used to looking at it that he or she cannot see it anymore, and has ceased to think of it as something worthy of changing.

That kind of realism — the background (or backstory) that develops when you read a blog regularly — is the primary appeal of reading any kind of blog with one consistent narrative voice. Even if it’s not a personal blog per se, a blog written by one person is shaped by psychology in intriguing ways, particularly in the moments when the self-conscious editor is not completely on his or her “game,” so to speak.

I refer to those moments as “the gaps.”

You will know you are in the gaps when you are a little afraid to publish a post. Or when you get a little nervous at the response to a post. Or when you realize you have posted something that reveals a little more than you have intended.

You might feel a little sick in the gaps. They are not something you will necessarily want to deal with every day. But your story also emerges in them, and the best bloggers know that they are essential to creating an intriguing blog.

Don’t be afraid of the gaps — just don’t let them totally trip you up.

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