Blogging: To niche or not to niche?

archery target

The Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015 is upon us. Last year I asked “To blog or not to blog?”, this year I’m going to address the topic of what scope your blog should have, including such matters as:

  • Why do people so often recommend finding a niche?
  • What makes a good niche anyway?
  • If you have a niche, does it make sense to wander outside of it periodically?
  • When, if ever, does it make sense to start a second blog?

What’s so great about a niche?

I believe the recommendation to seek a niche started out being made with professional blogging in mind, and has almost by accident become standard advice even for people who have no such aspirations.

If you are blogging for professional reasons, either to make money directly from blogging or in support of your regular (non-bloggy) business or career, this advice makes a lot of sense. Most small businesses of any kind do well to find themselves a specialized niche and serve that market better than anyone else does. You don’t have the resources to be good at everything, and having the second or third best offering in several different categories is not a great recipe for getting sales for a product or readers for a site.

Many things can work in your favor when you’re operating in a niche. When people search for info related to that niche your posts have a chance of appearing near the top of the Google results, and you have a decent chance of being found and read. When sticking to a niche you communicate a fairly clear identity, and you may acquire an aura expertise. The chances are you actually will, over time, become something of an expert, even if you’re not one already.

I should add that if anyone is actually thinking of blogging about games as a way to earn a living I would strongly caution you against that. Most probably that idea is complete madness, not far off thinking that it would be a good idea to head off to LA and become a movie star.

However if you care about the same kinds of things that it’s necessary for a business to care about (getting traffic, connecting with specific groups of people, establishing your credibility etc) the same logic could mean finding a niche is the way to go for you.

What makes a good niche?

Finding a niche is standard advice not only in blogging but in business. Like a lot of business advice it’s also somewhat dangerous in being too vague and generalized. Finding a niche that is actually a good one is rather difficult for a number of reasons:

  • If your chosen niche is too broad, you don’t achieve any of the supposed advantages of sticking to a niche anyway.

  • If your niche is too narrow, while you may become the go-to guy in that area, too few people care about the niche for it provide you with what you need. (Be that customers, pageviews, comments, kudos, friends, or whatever it is you’d like to have.)

  • If your niche is a brilliant choice and just the right size, several people probably thought of it already, and they’ve got it sewn up with the head start they have.

However there are certain mindsets that will help you to at least recognize a good candidate if you should stumble across one, for example…

  • There is some problem you have, or some thing you want to know about, and you’ve scoured the net for info on it but couldn’t find anything satisfactory. Well, you have possibly found a gap in the market, and maybe it would make a good niche for you.

  • You come across some exciting new thing, but no-one else seems to be talking about it. Possibly it’ll get big, and it would be a good thing to get into “on the ground floor”.

  • You happen to be interested in two seemingly unrelated topics, but see a connection between them. Possibly fertile ground for a niche.

  • There’s a topic that is well covered, but you have a different take on it than anyone else. Maybe you see the humor in a topic that everyone treats seriously. Maybe you face unusual challenges in playing, and can comment from a different perspective. Such things might make for an interesting niche.

Why not a niche?

If you are blogging as a hobby, there’s a good chance that sticking to a focused niche will go badly for you. The things you’re interested in change over time, you exhaust what you have to say about a narrow subject, you may get bored of games and genres you used to love, it gets to feel all too much like work. It’s hard to think of a blogger that started out with a very particular niche who didn’t regret it afterwards and end up broadening out.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to have one blog that wanders between highly disparate topics as the whim takes you. But it might be a good idea to make the topic as broad as “my geekish hobbies” or “my thoughts on popular culture” rather than anything more restrictive.

Nevertheless, even if you plan to go fairly broad, it might be worth considering having some kind of a niche to help provide a theme for part of your early blogging. That would likely help you get an initial foothold in the community and acquire some regular readers.

Going off topic?

Whatever your topic, and however broad it is, should you stick to it religiously, or allow yourself to wander off-topic from time to time? In my experience of reading blogs, occasional diversions off-topic don’t have much effect either for good or ill. But if a blog starts to often talk about subjects I’m not interested in hearing about, I will mentally downgrade it from “a must-read” to “one to check out sometimes”. I don’t know how much that applies to how other people react, but I’d guess it’s fairly typical.

There is however a special kind of “off-topic” that does work well. That’s the kind where the topic, though not related to the normal subjects covered by the blog, is still a shared interest between writer and reader because in fact that topic is of interest to pretty much everyone.

Almost anyone can relate to topics such as:

  • Dealing with a health problem
  • The excitement and hassles of moving to a new city
  • Sadness over a death in the family
  • A hilarious thing your child did

For me, and I suspect for most people, if you post about such things that will likely have me feel I know you better, and feel more sense of personal connection with you.

If you like your privacy or prefer a more reserved approach, that’s also fine. But if you do want to share such things from time to time, it certainly won’t hurt your blog and most likely will benefit it.

Two Blogs Good?

Given what I’ve said so far, you can probably guess what I think about having two or more blogs. If you’re going to write about a bunch of different things that nevertheless are often interesting to the same kind of person, you can and probably should do it all in one blog. I don’t know why people who love Tolkien also love technology, but they usually do. So you could probably get away with a blog that pored over the Lord of the Rings in detail while also discussing your favorite gadgets and apps. However as far as I know Tolkien fans aren’t known for having an interest in geology, so if you wanted to talk in-depth about volcanoes, you probably need another blog, Mount Doom notwithstanding.

Unfortunately in reality matters might not be so clear cut. The world is not divided up into neat categories and it’s easy to move in baby steps from one area to a closely related one and then on and on in that way until you end up somewhere far away from where you started.

Personally this an area that I’ve struggled with. It seems reasonable enough that people interested in reading my thoughts about MMOs are also going to be interested in my take on fantasy or science fiction. But once I start writing about fiction, what about detective fiction, or historical fiction? Once I’m doing a few types of books, why not nonfiction like history and biography? Or once I’m discussing science fiction, what about actual science and technology?

The compromise I’ve come up with is to have this blog (Thinking Play) which is about play in a broad sense, along with closely associated interests like fantasy & SF, and a second blog (Planet Pasduil) where in theory anything goes, and I can do a brain dump of any thoughts I deem worthy of writing down. The jury is out on whether this a good plan. But if you’re going to have two blogs, you probably want to mention that fact pretty often so readers will actually know about it! It’s easy for even people who’d be very interested to not spot the odd post or tweet where you mention the other blog.

Summary

In conclusion there are lots of advantages to finding a niche if you care about getting certain kinds of results, but for a hobby blogger that’s often going to be too restrictive to stick to over the long run. You might well want to name and design your blog with that in mind, so that you can wander over a wide variety of topics in the future, even if you don’t plan to do that right now.

Archery target photo by Ann Oro (flickr)

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11 thoughts on “Blogging: To niche or not to niche?

  1. This hits close to home. When I started, it was all MMOs all the time. Then I realized I wanted to talk about other games. Then I realized I may want to sometimes touch on other subjects. It is so difficult to be specific but not narrow, an expert but not a one-trick pony. Great advice!

  2. I can also relate to this post greatly. Before January, I was coming to a terrifying standstill when I blogged about only one MMO. I felt that my audience wouldn’t appreciate me widening my niche and that kept me in a frame of blogging that didn’t allow for much growth for another year and a half before willing myself to finally widen my niche and open up to new followers and friends. I kept too narrow of a niche before, and I now have enough room to write three or four posts a week, versus one every ten days if I slaved and struggled.

    I always appreciate your posts, Pasduil. Thanks for writing this one up!

    • That’s very nice to hear. Thanks!

      It’s a little bit mind blowing to realize that there are people that have liked the blog for a while that I might never have heard from before.

  3. I consolidated multiple blogs into a single site back in 2011. You may know it as a Contains Moderate Peril 🙂 It’s a multi-subject blog that covers a broad remit. This has given me the freedom to be able to post daily for over four years.

    This non-niche approach hasn’t harmed my traffic in anyway, quite the opposite in fact. I would urge all potential bloggers to consider this approach so they don’t find themselves painted into a corner.

  4. Pingback: Careers, Hobbies and Fun – Part 2 | Thinking Play

  5. Pingback: Where to Blog? – Thinking Play

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