Monday, March 24, 2008

Reader's Panel: Focusing Your Blog

Focusing Your BlogDear Michelle,

I began writing my blog mainly as an update for friends and family. I have been writing for a few months and have gravitated more towards how our family is trying to live a "greener" life. I enjoy the flexibility blogging offers and there are other topics I sprinkle in from time to time. A lot of tips/suggestions I read say it is better to stick to writing about one topic. Do you agree? Do you think it is better to have a couple of different themed blogs?

This terrific question came from Gray Matters. How focused should your blog be? What is your niche and how loyal should you be to it? You'll get a variety of opinions--some say know your place and never deviate therefrom and some say write whatever you darn well please and if it's wrong to write posts regarding Communist gardeners and their snowboarding chihuahuas then you shouldn't care to be right.

But let's start at the beginning: why are you blogging? Gray Matters, like many of us, started her blog as a journal/newsletter. Are you writing to keep grandma supplied with stories and pictures of the grandkids? Are you writing to attract outside readers? Are you writing to start up a dialog or build a community of friends? Are you writing to earn money? Your answers will determine the focus of your blog.

The bottom line is: if you're blogging for yourself or for grandma, you can write whatever you please. Who cares if people come and read it, if you're writing what you like and posting on topics you enjoy the rest of the blogosphere be hanged.

However, if you're writing for an audience outside of your immediate friends and family (those who love you unconditionally and have no choice but to read) then you're subject to the absolute, number one rule of communication. Not just blogging, not just journalism, not just writing but communication in all its varied forms which is KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Know Your Audience

Who are you trying to reach? Who are you trying to appeal to? What are they like? What are their interests? What do they do for fun? What do they eat for breakfast? To be able to effectively communicate you have to have some idea of who's on the other end of your sentences so you can package them in the most attractive, most intelligible, most enduring way.

My audience here at Scribbit is pretty specific (and pardon me for generalizations here) my readers are mostly women, predominantly wives and mothers, 85% are from the United States, most have some education beyond high school, most are Caucasian, most are middle class and most don't blog (please don't send me email if you're a single Asian male who's a high school drop-out that's made millions blogging--as I said these are just generalizations).

What does that mean? Well for me, I blog because I love--make that have--to write, it's been in my blood since I was a kid. I love sharing ideas, love the blogging community and I love creating something that others enjoy. But if I were being honest I'd also admit that I'm terribly ambitious and would be very happy if Scribbit were read by every man, woman and child on the planet--world domination, that's the ultimate goal--so I'm constantly trying to ascertain and meet my audience's needs to build a better blog.

So I'm aware that blogging posts like this, though popular among bloggers, are not popular among the non-blogging majority of my readers. So why do I write them? Because they help other bloggers, they're fun to write, they give me material to post and they're excellent link bait--posts on blogging get linked to from other blogs. However, I only do them every once in a while, maybe every six weeks or so, for fear of turning off my regular non-blogging readers. (Are any of you still here at this point? Have you already clicked out?) And when I do write a blogging post I will often do a short second post the same day designed to appeal to the non-blogging readers.

There really isn't any debate on this, anyone who writes well enough to make money off of their skill will tell you the same thing: know your audience. The debate comes in when you start to wonder how tightly you should focus your content for your audience. For example, among the myriad of blogs by women there are blogs about parenting, food, crafts, religion, politics, books, homekeeping, pets, gardening, environmentalism and regional interests. How tightly should you focus your subject matter? Instead of posting tips, recipes, crafts, commentaries and travel-in-Alaska stories should I stick with just one of these areas? If I feel compelled to write posts about blogging should I start another blog for that topic?

Know Yourself

I say no (obviously). Why? Well first of all, right behind that massive "know thy audience" commandment is the second which is like unto it: "know thyself." I LIKE all of those subjects related to parenting and homemaking and Alaska and enjoy writing about them. Happy writers mean better writers--yes, yes, I know the image of the tortured writer lurking like Raskolnikov in the corner but the reality is, you'll write better posts if you're writing about things that you like that bring out your emotions. So know your audience and give 'em what they want, but don't feel that you have to give them the same thing every day if you don't want to. Not only will you get bored, your audience will too.

For example, I like to cook, garden, do the occasional craft and parent. I like to laugh and I like to learn and I'm betting that among all my visitors that fit into the same demographics as I do there are a few others who like the same things. Not maybe the exact combination but some of the same things. So I post things that I find interesting, that make me laugh, that I've learned from and hope that others have the same reaction I do.

To me Scribbit is my online magazine and just as you'd find in an offline magazine there are a range of topics designed to appeal to a certain segment of the population. I'll hear from readers who say, "I love your lists," or "I love your recipes," or "I love your stories about your kids" it seems that everyone has something different that they like but if I'm able to provide them with one thing that they like about once a week they'll keep coming back (hopefully).

With all my different interests some would suggest having different blogs to address each new topic I write about. There is some benefit to this--if you want to make more money and can drive traffic from one successful blog to a new blog, creating more revenue, this might be an attractive option (Blogging Basics 101 has been able to do this with the firepower of Rocks in My Dryer behind it) but it will depend on how well you are able to handle the increased work load a second or third blog presents. Know yourself--can you handle another blog or writing gig?

If you fragment yourself by writing at multiple sites you run the risk (and it's a big one) of decreasing the quality of your writing. I mentioned how much time Scribbit takes to maintain and I can tell you there's NO WAY I could write at a second blog--not without a staff. Which might not be a bad idea down the road when that world domination plan takes effect but right now that means one blog and only one blog for me.

It's common for bloggers to start a second blog to handle a specific topic such as product reviews (Island Reviews, Does Mommy Love It? and Lookit! I Spy are examples) this is often because of the restrictions advertising networks place on content. If you join the Blogher ad network, for example, they will not let you review a product worth more than $40. So bloggers set up a second site without Blogher ads where they do their reviews. Me? I resent anyone telling me what I can or can't post so I turned down Blogher and set up my own ads--and do my reviews anyway. So there. But it's all a matter of choice and balance--just be aware that a second blog means more work and the risk of decreasing your content quality. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

So know your audience and know yourself. If you don't know who your audience is, maybe you should ask. Put yourself in their shoes and think about what you'd want to read and if it's something you'd like too--write about it. You'll enjoy blogging more, your posts will be better and your readers will thank you by coming back for more.

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Musings of a Housewife said...

Excellent post! Well written. And I agree about fragmenting yourself. I'm learning that the hard way. :-)

By the way, any advice on setting up your own ads? I'm rather disillusioned with blogherads at the moment.

Jthemilker said...

Thanks for the fabulous tips. I have been trying to organize my blog the past couple of weeks. I'll be researching some of your links on this quest as well. You really are a wealth of knowledge and I, for one, appreciate it! Happy Monday!

Trish said...

This is excellent, you really considered all the angles. I have been thinking about this question myself lately and definitely appreciate your advice.

2nd Cup of Coffee said...

Excellent advice. I am sort of all over the place. I've been told that my writing leans toward the devotional genre, but I get the most traffic and comments when I write humor. I just could not "be funny" daily or seriously meditative day after day. I actually prefer to read other blogs that are all over the board. People are unique and completely fascinating--unless they write about the same thing over and over.

M said...


Great post! Excellent advice!

I would add or maybe think about this as a second post,if you are blogging to make extra do you plan to make this income...through ads? By making a name for yourself? By gaining a large enough audience to support a book you are writing?

The audience for whom you choose to write matters if you look at bloggin as a money making venture.

Claremont First Ward said...

I, for one, love this post. Are most of your readers really NOT bloggers? I only started reading blogs as a by product of starting my own, so it surprises me how many people read blogs without hosting one themselves.....

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post. I love multi-faceted blogs with different kinds of posts -- to me that's the most of us really are, and I get to know different sides of a blogger's personality that way.

I can see some instances where having a different blog for certain topics works, like the Rocks In My Dryer/Blogging 101/Bloggy Give-aways sites. But as a general rule, I really don't like it when I come to a site I regularly read and see a note that says "I am over here today" or "See this post at my other blog today." I may be the only person in the world irritated by that.

Jennifer said...

Reader's Panel is such a helpful feature. I have a question for a future panel post: How do you know if you have enough readers to make ads worth it? Or, how do I know if I have enough readers to convince someone else to advertise on my site?

Daisy said...

World domination through blogging? So that's what's going on! I'm always the last to figure out these things.

Amy said...

Great tips! I know I had a hard time not having an advertising network just because maintaining and seeking the advertisements plus keeping up with payments was running me ragged. Bringing in an ad network did cause me relinquish control a bit on some aspects, but was worth a small headache versus the big headache I faced trying to maintain our advertisements. I admire you taking that on and the control you can hold doing that.

Even though it doesn't fit your demographic, I truly enjoy what you share through these posts.

Amy said...

Oh my goodness, yes on the multiple blogs. I have my own and am writing for two others and sometimes feel resentful to have to sit down at the computer! Thankfully, the other two are collaborative, so the weight of the world is not on me. ;-)

An Ordinary Mom said...

Excellent advice! Blogging is really all about your ultimate desire ... once you know that, follow your heart.

Scribbit said...

Well thanks for your comments--I'm glad it's helped.

Sounds like a post on advertising would be a good idea. I'll tackle that next, probably in a month or so. I could use the extra month to learn a bit more before I try to teach anyone anything. It's been a tough thing for me to figure out, probably the hardest thing in all of my blogging experience.

Linda, I understand what you mean, some posts are popular and some aren't so much. However, don't be tricked by the comments. Monday is a high traffic day and this post will get more traffic than most of the rest of the week but because of the subject matter I'll expect not more than 20 comments. When something is funny you'll get a lot of "ROFL" type comments but a good craft idea will get passed around and get great links. A giveaway gets great traffic, low comments and very few links. You have to analyze and know what posts will do what things for you and plan accordingly.

Barbara h--that's a perfect example of what I'm talking about, it irritates you to see "I'm blogging over here today" and it's a turn off for me too. So if you ever find yourself in the position of writing at a second spot, what does that mean you should do? Expect that the majority of your readers will probably feel as you do so provide them with something to read rather than leaving them hanging, feeling as if they're not as important as the readers at this other spot. You can link over to the other place and say, "I'm ALSO writing here today" but to leave them without a post in favor of another audience just makes them feel unimportant. I wouldn't do it. Perfect example of analyzing your own feelings and translating that into better content.

Kayris said...

Personally, I'm aiming for the mommybloggers to take over the world. LOL

Anyway, I have 5 blogs (two with other contributers) and only two of those get regularly updated. I tend to put most of my time and energy into my family blog, and if I were to devote the same amount of time to my other blogs, I'd seriously need a full time nanny. So if a person is looking to make their blog a success, with a large readership and plenty of money coming in, I would lean towards having one blog and maybe two, but that's it. Blogging is a huge time suck.

As for what you write, the issue of self-censoring has been around for a long time, and Michelle is so right when she says "Know your audience." I have shied away from discussing the presidential election because most of my readers are not so into debating politics, and also because the issues are touchy and I'd rather not turn my family blog into something that is controversial.

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud at your "Be afraid. Be very Afraid" comment about starting a second blog. :) I had toyed with the idea at one point, and am glad I decided not to.

I really appreciate posts like this one Michelle, and you are such a great source of advice for people working to improve their blogs. I was quite literally blown away that you would take time to answer my questions when I was just starting my blog, and I'm a loyal reader because of it (even though I don't get out of my reader often enough to come over here and comment). I know I still have a long way to go and have lots of room for improvement and growth at my place, which is why I really appreciate your posts like this. Thank you for sharing your hard-earned experience so freely and eloquently.

I adore your blog on a multitude of levels and can't wait to see what you have up your sleeve next. Keep up the most excellent work!

Kayris said...

P.S. If you're considering topics for blogging posts, I'd love to see one about copyrighting and ways to keep your work from showing up on random sites. I believe the term is called "blog scraping" and I'd love to know how to stop it!

Anonymous said...

Personally I am going for "Supreme Commander of the Universe" so maybe we'll meet someday! I'm not quite sure how I'll get there but it's a goal nonetheless.

I was first directed to your blog when I searched for a "placemat purse" tutorial. I've been coming back daily since then because I truly enjoy your writing style and the variety you offer. I say - do what makes you happy!

Ice Cream said...

I agree. I love your posts about blogging but would get overwhelmed if you did them too often.

For me, I finally had to realize that I blog for the sake of hearing myself talk and to keep a personal journal. Anytime I tried to blog for another reason I did it badly, hurt someone's feelings, lost interest, or wanted to stop all together.

Another downfall of having too many blogs for different subjects is a smaller audience/influence. When I find a blog I like run by someone with mulitple blogs I only read one of their blogs due to time and so I am probably missing a lot of great stuff simply because they are putting it on their other blog.

Anonymous said...

I loved your post!! You can make money blogging(!?) I will have to read your future post on this!
I got into blogging when I saw an artist friend's blog. I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with friends we left behind when we moved out to the boonies. It was quite a lifestyle change and I wanted to write a book, and thought this would be a good way to get the words out of my head and test the waters. The thousands of pictures that I have taken and stored on the computer will now have a place to go and be seen. But I don't think I could ever handle more than one blog- there are days now when I have tell myself to step AWAY from the computer!!!

Bunny McCoy said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!

Do you know I've been losing sleep (well, pre-sleep) time over this?! Every "how to" I've read about blogging pretty much says to focus tightly on your niche. But I can't seem to find any ONE area of my life or likes that I'm SO interested in that I want to write about it 3-5 times a week~!

I'm a multi-faceted gal with a variety of interests...most of which I know something about, but none of which I'm an expert on. To pigeon hole me as a "homeschool blogger" or a "quilt blogger" or whatever seemed impossible.

Why did I need permission to have a broader focus? I don't know, but I did and now that I have it....WATCH OUT!

I'm formulating my next blog entry right now...perhaps entitled, "Everything You Ever Needed to Know You Can Learn at Scribbit!"

Big high five!


Anonymous said...

i am one of you newest readers. i found you when i was looking for easter egg dyeing ideas. (and you so sweetly emailed me back, thank you!) i actually decided to subscribe to your blog BECAUSE you are not limited to one topic. i LIKE that i can come to your blog one day for a recipe and another day for something crafty - and so on. in fact, i was in a sewing-type shop today talking to the owner who is selling her shop to go online exclusively. i told her she needs a blog. i explained how bloggers create a following. i used you as an example of a blog i enjoy BECAUSE its diverse but has a loyal audience, and i cited other blogs for some of the fabric designers who do it to promote their brands.
while i love reading blogs (favs are mostly fabric/crafty people and childrens'wear,) i had never considered starting my own until i "met" YOU! i don't need a blog for my "brand" because i don't have one. BUT its now occurred to me that i would like to do a blog so that there is some "record" for my children of what our days consist of. and the thought of "mutual-sharing" it with other moms out there is appealing too. i think i would be more creative and crafty and articulate if i am creating it in a forum that some other moms might read.
(wow! this has gotten LONG...maybe i DO need a blog!)
but i am blog-ignorant, seriously blog ignorant. i don't even know where to start. i can't imagine. i had NO idea that you can earn money (i hold no ideation that i will earn a penny...i feel sure it will only cost me money...)
but i would like to consider the possibility of starting one! note HOW inept i am: i can only sign in here as "anonymous" b/c i don't even have a google account much less a URL...
great talking to you...i feel like a blogger! LOL! would love any advice you can offer!.

jean said...

Well this audience member loves your every post. Your recent posts about your vacation and just life in Alaska were great. Keep it up. I will follow you (not stalk) where ever you go.

Michelle Alley said...

This was a very excelletn post Michelle. I have always been intrigued at your ability to maintain so many blog readers and respond to them back in email like you've done with my comments. I also have always wondered how you began your own advertising -did you ask or did people ask you? You really seem to have an excellent handle on your blog readers! Hope you had a great easter!

Loralee Choate said...

I am going to have to really restrain myself from picking your brain too heavily at BlogHer.

(Don't worry, I'm not going to wake you up at 3 am whispering 'Hey! Michelle! How do you think I can boost my stuble review count??' because that would just be creepy...Right??? hee)

all over the map said...

I enjoyed this. I like these posts as they are helpful to me and I'm still geting my feet wet and really trying to figure out what it is I want from blogging.
I struggle with the idea of sticking to "one" thing or having a specific theme.
Curious about how you know the caucasian statistic? I know there are good traffic tracking programs but how do you track those specifics?
Enjoyed this and it was helpful.

Melissa Stover said...

i'm one of your blogging readers who likes this kind of stuff. good information.

High Heels and a Sippy Cup said...

Thanks, Michelle, for all the insight about blogging. I so appreciate you answering my questions since I started a blog. It can be a little overwhelming and intimidating to enter the blogging world, but you make it seem effortless and easy.

Scribbit said...

Thanks for the nice words, you're all so nice!

As for the question about tracking the ethnic demographics of readers I'm only extrapolating that statistic based on the comments I get and contact I have with bloggers along with tracking devices on my blog. Of course as I said they're just generalizations and I can give you plenty of people like Kailani at Island Life, Stephanie at City Mama, Karen at Chookooloonks or Robin at Around the Island that represent plenty of ethnic or racial groups beyond my little sphere. But I'm only talking a simple majority here and that's all. It''s not scientific beyond personal experience and serves no purpose except to help me get an idea about who my audience might be and what they might relate best to. I could be wrong and if I am then I'm targeting the wrong people and not connecting as well with my audience as I could be but so far it's seemed to be a fair assumption.

The only reason I mentioned it really was to help paint a mental picture of who Mrs. X--a typical Scribbit reader--might be as an example of what you could imagine about a typical reader for your own blog.

It would be interesting to put a poll on your blog to collect demographic information about your readers the way other media do though whenever you rely on information voluntarily submitted rather than randomly sampled it's of course inherently flawed.

Liza on Maui said...

It's a hard question to answer, but you answer it so well. Thanks Scribbit - it helped me too :)

Unknown said...

hi michelle -- i love this article you wrote. well done, well done. and this is coming to you from a conservative republican white Christian blogger career mom who has a master's degree. i also got such a kick out of how you wrote the typical reader ... what they are.

Pieces said...

Fantastic article, Michelle. I would not have known that most of your readers don't blog. I just assume they do because I do, I guess. I'm going to have to think about how many of my readers are non-bloggers too.

~ej said...

that was very interesting. though i am one of your blogging readers, i don't make that much of an effort to spread myself around. i have a few "other" blogs that i update less than my EJ blog...but most of them have an audience of ONE (me). so i guess in that way i blog to journal....privately ;-)

Anonymous said...

Great post! I appreciate how you've covered it from so many different angles.

You know, before I started my own blog, I really had no idea how much time doing one blog could possibly take! I thought that it would be no big deal to have a second blog, focused a little differently than the first, or for product reviews, etc. Boy, was I ever wrong!

In order to blog well, it takes so much effort and thought and purposefulness, and I now appreciate just how much work goes into a well-written blog. Thanks for sharing what you've learned through your own experiences!

Shelli said...

This was a great post. For now, I'm just blogging for myself, and I'm going to see where it might go.

Anonymous said...

Most of my readers aren't bloggers either so I can't look at their blogs to get an idea of what they are like.

This is a very thoughtful post, and I appreciate that you take the time to improve the skills of other bloggers.

However, I am crushed to learn that world domination is not in your immediate plan. How long do we have to wait?

The Library Lady said...

Great post. And I'm with you, Michelle--my blog is my "on-line magazine" and I write about anything that catches my fancy. I love to write, and I've blogged consistently for 4 1/2 years--I never could keep a diary, but there's always something to blog about.

Being a dilettante means I will never be a well known blogger. But I do have some regular readers, and I relish the comments they leave me. Truthfully that matters to me a lot more than having a whole crowd reading me because I am the flavor of the month!
(Though I have to giggle at your thinking that 20 is a small amount of comments--I don't think I've ever HAD more than 20 comments to a post!)

Enzie Shahmiri said...

Great post Michelle. I have learned that a blog tends to evolve and take on a life of itself. As the number of readers increase, so does the demand for certain topics, judgeable by the number of comments received. As a blogger you not only have to be aware who your readers are, but supply them with topics that are interesting and different enough to warrant the repeat visits.

Blogs should also be user friendly and need to be easy to navigate through. This means that the appearance of the blog has to be constantly fine tuned.

What I find most challenging besides finding stellar topics to write about, is how to keep the blog from looking crowded.

Anonymous said...

Great info., thanks! I'm surprised that most of your readers are non-bloggers. I never look at stats so I have no clue about who comes by my place unless they leave me a comment. I'm going to make an attempt to know my audience a little more in the future.

Irene said...

Great post. So thoughtful of you. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Great post. I love to come across bloggy advice amidst a "normal" blog - blogs exclusively for blogging help are always too full of jargon and go beyond me.

I initially started my blog to share my digital scrapbooking, and a little bit of my life here in N Ireland. I recently did a small survey, and the majority enjoy the bits about life here in N Ireland, and only 25% come for the digital scrapbooking. I have now been blogging for more than a year, and I have started a separate photo blog, but am considering merging them.

I definitely did not do it for friends and family, and have only more recently confessed to a few that I even have a blog. Most just don't "get it", but that is fine.

I am surprised by how many non-bloggers read your blog. Once I started reading blogs, I knew it would just be a matter of time until I started my own. However I don't yet know any "real" people who blog..if you know what I mean!

nellbe said...

This is a great post. I having been blogging for over a year but I was working fulltime but had made more of an effort lately as I like outlet of it since becoming a SAHM.

Thanks for these type of posts... I also wanted to let you know that I am another reader that loves reading all the different types of posts.