To Niche or Not To Niche
More than once I’ve been asked, “What niche should I choose for my blog?” Sometimes I get another variation. “How do I choose a niche for my blog?” Too often these people haven’t even asked the one question that should come first.
Do you even need a niche?
This isn’t just a rhetorical question that I’m asking as I set up the post to tell you that you don’t need one. I’m serious: do you need a niche? There are good reasons to run a niche blog – but you should be sure you understand what they are before you decide it’s the path for you. There are also good reasons to run a general blog, and I think you should understand those, too.
I’ve run both niche blogs and general blogs in the past, and I’ve been moderately successful with both. Back in 2002 when I started my first blog, pretty much all blogs were general. Specialization came gradually – one or two blogs at first, and then others following as they saw a path to success. The key to their success then was the same as it is now. Specialization can make it easier to stand out from the crowd. We live in a world that’s absolutely overflowing with content. I have no idea how many blogs are out there today, but I know it’s a lot – probably in the millions. Your big challenge as a blogger is to make sure readers know about your blog and to give them a reason to read yours rather than somebody else’s.
Specialization can help with that. From about 2008 until 2010 I ran a very specialized blog – a niche within a niche. Since I participated in the larger niche community, I knew that the particular sub-niche was underserved. I was also able to get the word out fairly quickly that my blog existed, and that let me build up a nice, regular readership in a short time. Sorry, I’m not going to give details of that blog. I ran it pseudonymously so that I could discuss some very private issues. The blog no longer exists.
On the other hand, I eventually ran into a very real problem that I now think is common to all specialized blogs. After a while, I’d said everything I had to say on the topic. Then what? Some bloggers solve this by repeating content, and there’s justification for that. New readers haven’t seen the old content. It’s easy to think that everybody out there knows everything you know. They don’t. Repeating information that you’ve written before or read elsewhere might be doing a service to that poor guy who needs the info but has never seen it before.
But that wasn’t for me. I couldn’t bring myself to keep writing on a topic that I’d (mostly) exhausted. The blog went un-updated for quite some time before I finally pulled the plug on it altogether.
The readership base that I’d built was nice, but it would have been hard to do anything with it. The blog title and URL was very specific. Changing it to a general purpose blog would have just made it feel weird to readers, new and old alike. And the fact that I’d run it anonymously meant it wasn’t particularly useful for transitioning to this blog.
I’ve found that general blogging is by far the better fit for me. It’s easier for me to keep the content coming – there’s always something I can talk about, and content flow is very important. If I ever feel like I’ve exhausted a given topic, I just move to a new one. And while niche blogs are great for growing an audience initially, they tend to put a limit on you eventually. Only so many people care about your highly specialized sub-niche.
But one of the nicest things is that you never know which posts are really going to catch on. There are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of sites out there with blogging advice. It never occurred to me that very many people would have found mine to be particularly more useful than those. Yet they’ve proven quite successful by the current standards of this blog. They’ve netted me links and retweets from some major influencers, which brought a surge in new traffic, but also a steady flow of new readers from “long tail” sources. So I’ve written more, and they’ve continued to be popular. That never would have happened on a niche blog.
So before you think about finding your niche, think twice about whether you really want one at all.
What, you still want one? OK, come back later this week and I’ll have some advice on choosing one.