Thursday, December 01, 2005

Principles of Choosing a Profitable Blog Topic

Principles of Choosing a Profitable Blog Topic

B.L Ochman has a post in which she summarizes information gleaned from an interview with Stephan Spencer who gives some solid advice on starting a blog. Here are two of his suggestions:

‘- Pick a very narrow topic. Nowadays even a blog specifically about Google is too broad. There is a blog about Google AdSense – now that’s nice and narrow, he says. “You are more likely to be seen as an expert in a narrow topic area.”

- Make sure you have enough content to be able to keep the blog going.’

Stephan’s approach is very similar to my own.

I was chatting on the phone to a reader wanting to start her first blog today. As we talked I realized that in choosing the right topic for a new commercial blog there are many factors that you want to weigh up and attempt to find some balance in. Some of these factors include:

Topic Popularity - One important factor in the success of any commercial blog is that it will need to find readers. I could probably build a blog that would dominate the niche for ‘green striped paper bags’ and get 100% of those searching for the term on Google (there is no competition) however the fact of the matter is that I’d probably be my only reader. It’s important to choose a topic that meets a demand for information. It need not be on a topic that absolutely everyone is searching for information on - but the popularity of the topic is obviously one factor that could increase the chances of success.

As a practical example of this - when I started a blog six months back on the Pope I knew that there was likely to be a good demand for information on the topic. It was not my only motivation for the blog - but it did influence my decision to start it. Now that we have a new Pope and that the news surrounding him has settled the demand for information has decreased significantly and the blog’s profitability has of course decreased also.

Topic Competition and Narrow Niches - Another way of increasing the chances of profit is to choose a topic which currently has few quality sources of information already existing online. You may think that no such topic exists - but you’d be wrong. Whilst the web is a crowded place there are many topics where there is little competition and as a result you have the ability to be one of the biggest fish in that small pond. Sometimes you have to narrow your topic to find such niches, other times you have to be ‘the first’ as a new topic emerges and other times there might be existing sites on the topic - but they are of a low enough standard that you can compete easily by producing something better or more useful.

My narrowest niche blog is one that I run on UAV’s or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Now it’s not my most profitable blog by far - and there are not many people searching on the topic but I know I get a fairly large % of those searching for my keywords because I rank so highly on Google for them (example). Once again it’s not the most profitable blog I run but it’s an example of what you can do over time if you’re willing to carve out a niche for yourself.

Availability of Revenue Streams - Ok so you’ve found a topic people search for and you don’t have much competition - but you’ll never turn a profit on it if you don’t find an income stream for it. Anyone who has played with contextual advertising programs like Adsense know that some topics pay higher amounts for a click on an advertisement than others. As a result two blogs with the same levels of traffic with the same rate of clicking through (CTR) on ads can pay significantly different amounts of money.

If you are going to use Adsense you ideally want a high paying topic. Unfortunately whilst you might identify one you may just find that your competition is incredibly high. Sometimes it is worth picking a topic that is in the medium level of click values and has less competition.

Adsense is not the only revenue stream available to bloggers and in considering how you’ll generate income it’s also worth considering what affiliate program are available for your topic and what opportunities there might be for sponsorship from private advertising sources. If you type ‘your topic affiliate programs’ into Google you should be able to find any that exist reasonably quickly. Also check out Amazon’s affiliate program as they have a very wide range of products that you can earn a small commission off (nb: Amazon doesn’t pay huge commissions but it’s a good starting point if you’re new to affiliate programs).

Availability of Content - Like Stephan says - you’ll want to do a little research on your topic before starting a blog to see if you’ll be able to sustain it in adding fresh content over a long period. The thing that kills many commercial blogs very quickly is that the author simply runs out of things to write. I’ve started numerous blogs over the past couple of years that I quickly found I had nothing much to say about.

If you’re wanting to test the availability of content you might like to check how many articles Google News has indexed on it in the past few days (Topix and Yahoo! News also have similar services). Another wise move would be to do a keyword search on a tool like Bloglines, Technorati of Blog Pulse to see what is being indexed there.

Measure your Energy, Passion and Interest - Lastly (and very importantly) it’s worth trying to objectively measure your own passion, interest or energy level for the blog. Whilst there might be plenty of news going around on the topic will you still be energized by posting on the topic in 6 months time (without the motivation of money - because it might take take a year or two to establish yourself in a niche). If you don’t have something motivating you to post on a topic it can become very difficult to keep doing so - unless you have a very dedicated personality type.

Put it all together - The fact is that you’ll rarely find a topic that all these factors come together on unless you’re either very lucky or the first in a popular new niche that you just happen to have a passion for. Most blogs fall down in one (or more) of these areas. This does not mean it can’t be a viable and profitable blog, but it’s good to be aware of the weaknesses as you venture out. The beauty of blogging is that there are no rules - and some of my most successful experiments have flown in the face of most of the above principles.

For example (just to disprove myself and give a little hope to you rebellious types) - arguably the most successful blog I’ve ever been involved with (over a short period of time) was the Athens Olympics Blog that I ran with a mate which generated 2 million visitors in a few weeks and made us a tidy sum of money.

This blog succeeded despite having massive competition (from every major news website going around) and despite having very low click value on Adsense and few lucrative affiliate programs. The sheer weight of people searching for information over a short period of time was the main ingredient to our success. This was coupled with us working incredibly long hours (around the clock for two weeks and for months before) providing a blog that was actually quite useful. We actually became known as a site that updated statistics and information faster than most of the ‘professional’ sites covering the event.

Despite being dormant (and falling into disrepair lately) it still even gets reasonable visitor levels to this day.

So take these principles as friendly advice - not rules. In many ways they are ‘ideals’ which you will almost certainly have to compromise some of at some point but which can help you choose a topic that has a greater chance of success.


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