Identifying an Area of Expertise for Your Blog
Perhaps the most important aspect of starting a blog and becoming a professional blogger is the process involved in identifying the focus of your blog. The single biggest mistake beginning bloggers make is failing to identify a specific focus, instead choosing to write about whatever happens to come into their mind at any given moment. This is good as a strategy for writing practice, but it is very unlikely to win you any regular readers or to help you build a core audience for your burgeoning writing career.
If you want to be a professional blogger like me, Dana Sibilsky, focus on one subject and adhere to it closely. Sure, you can occasionally delve into a topic that is only somewhat relevant to your core focus every once in a while, but you have to ensure that your audience knows exactly what they are getting each time they type in your web address or, even better, click on the bookmarked tab that links to your site. So, how do you go about choosing a subject that will attract and engage readers on a regular basis?
It is important to recognize that there is a danger in pandering to the audience. Too many bloggers – professional or otherwise – get caught up in their web analytics and then focus only on writing about the subjects that perform best. This is why you see so many “Top 10” sites – it’s well known that an article organized in list form is better “click bait” than any other format. While this strategy works in some regards, you are much better off building a core group of devoted readers who keep coming back for your insight on a specific subject.
To build this core group of devoted readers, you have to be working with the right subject. Identifying the most ideal subject matter is not necessarily as simple as you may think, so ask yourself the following questions before making a choice:
Before you start answering these questions, allow me to explain why it is important to ask each question in the first place and how each one relates to the success or failure of your professional blogging career.
How Well Do You Know Your Subject?
It should be abundantly clear that you should be exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to a subject you plan to write about on a regular basis, but this is actually something of a point of contention among professional bloggers. I have spoken with writers who insist that a professional blogger should essentially be an “online scholar,” whose education or relevant experience could easily qualify them to teach the subject at the undergraduate level, at minimum. Other writers I have discussed this with have said that bloggers are essentially entertainers and their knowledge of the subject matter is secondary to their ability to entertain their readers.
I disagree with both of these extreme opinions.
When it comes to your knowledge of the subject, I feel that you should just know it well enough to engage an expert in a five-minute conversation. If your subject is philosophy and you can confidently discuss the work of Rene Descartes for five minutes with an adjunct professor, that is more than enough knowledge of the subject matter to feel confident in blogging about it. The same goes for any other subject, whether it is fine art, politics, sports or arts and crafts. If you can briefly but confidently discuss the respective subject with an artist, a politician, an athlete or a crafting expert, then you can blog about it too.
There will certainly be instances in which a bit of research is required, but this is true of all writing in general. The key is that you have a basis of knowledge upon which you can draw and that you are able to make inferences and connections between what you already know and what you discover through research. Of course, you do have to be engaging and entertaining, but we will discuss that more in-depth in a later chapter.
Do You Care Deeply About Your Subject?
This is an incredibly important question and one that is very deserving of thorough consideration. If you are going to start a blog with the intention of making a career out of it, you must be passionate about the subject you choose. Successful blogs offer a minimum of three to four posts per weeks, with the most popular blogs offering a new post daily. This can become a bit of a grind even when you care deeply for the subject matter, so be careful to avoid something that may only be a passing interest.
The other consideration to take into account is the fact that it is difficult for a writer to hide the fact that they are dispassionate about a subject. When your subject matter is truly important to you, it will be clearly evident to readers. The opposite is also true, so if you pick a subject you know to be popular in an effort to attract more readers, the fact that you are not wholly invested in the subject will actually turn them away. Do yourself and your readers a favor by choosing something that is deeply important to you.
Are You Willing to Take a Side on Divisive Issues Relating to Your Subject?
Even the most mundane subject matter is sure to have divisive issues crop up from time to time, and professional bloggers cannot always position themselves on both sides of the issue. At some point you will have to take a position that is unpopular with a large portion of your readers, and you cannot fear that doing so will alienate them or drive them away. Taking a position and presenting well-reasoned arguments will actually be quite endearing to your readers, especially to those who disagree.
No subject is free of divisive issues, so you have to be willing to present a clear and concise viewpoint in support of your position. You will also have to engage your readers who disagree – not with the goal of convincing them otherwise, just to demonstrate that you arrived at your position in a logical manner after considering a variety of perspectives. You have to be willing to take one side or another, because you will lose respect if you are always attempting to straddle a line.
How Much Time Do You Already Spend Reading and Discussing the Subject?
Blogging is a time-consuming affair, so you have to ask yourself how much more time you are willing to commit to a particular subject. If you use your free time to read contemporary philosophy or to argue about baseball on a regular basis, then the amount of additional time you spend researching for your philosophy or sports blog will not be so significant. If you haven’t read up on philosophy since college or are only a casual sports fan, you may find that the time commitment required to professionally blog will swell quite a bit.
Why Is This Subject Important to You?
Answer this question in one sentence. Right now, answer it. Say it aloud or write it on a scrap piece of paper, but do it right now before reading another word.
Is it difficult to answer the question in one concise sentence? If it is, you may want to consider something else. If you were able to answer the question quickly and without much thought, you may very well be on the right track.
What Topics Will You Discuss in Your First Five Posts?
You can take a bit longer to consider this, but write down the topics you will discuss in your first five posts. You don’t have to sketch out an outline or summarize anything, just write down five headlines. For example, a philosophy blog might have a title like, “The Grateful Dead and the Influence of Zen Buddhism.” The sports blog might have a headline that reads, “How Advanced Analytics Have Changed the Way NBA Teams Use the Three-Point Line.” Whatever subject you are considering, write down five headlines for your first five posts in the next 15 minutes or so.
Did the topics come into your mind without much thought, or did you find yourself struggling to come up with more than just one? As a blogger, you will have to come up with new topics on a daily basis, and there is nothing worse than trying to tap a well that has long since run dry. If you choose the right subject, your head will be just swimming with ideas at all times.
One thing that many beginning bloggers worry about is the presence of other blogs that cover the same subject. Don’t concern yourself with how many other bloggers are covering a specific subject or how established they are. All you have to do to be a successful blogger is to offer your unique insights in your own unique way. If you commit to being yourself and being true to your readers you will succeed no matter how many other bloggers are out there covering the same subject.