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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.

Add your own suggestions and experiences in choosing a blog’s topic below in topics.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. If people already have a passion about a subject then start writing about this and over time as you ‘sharpen up’ you soon see other posible subjects you could start covering. It is vital that you keep tightly focussed, start another blog instead of spreading yourself across too many subjects.
    And just as a little aside make sure you have a newsletter just like Darren has on this site. It’s a simple way of keeping in touch with people who don’t use RSS feeds.

  2. Very nice post. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Thank you for the advice, appreciated.

  4. Dave says:

    Passion first, adsense second.

    I think its easier to keep the motivation and posting/updating frequency high if you actually like the topic you are talking about. I would avoid trying to blog based on a topic that holds no interest for you, because you’ll never keep the perserverance up to get it off the ground.

    Lots of people post 2 or 3 times a day on subjects they love, and it still takes 2 to 3 years to become remotely established.

    If someone told me a blog about stamps would earn me ooodles of money, but it would take 3 years of blog positing to get to that point, I couldn;t commit to doing – purely because stamps hold little or no interest for me. Likewise, if someone said a blog about high performance russian cars would be a lucrative venture, I’d be more inclined to take it up as it involves things I’m passionate about (high performance cars, not Russians, although I’m sure I could get passionate with a few Russians if the need arose).

  5. I think that you have forgotten good Internet domain name in your considerations. For example: if your blog is about car engines and it has Internet domain name “funkyaussie.com” then it will not have much traffic…

  6. Kenji says:

    Darren, what do you think of instead making separeted blogs about google products: adSense, adWords, Earth, Maps, etc., build a unique blog about Google and we’d have these topics as categories ? I’m nb on pro-blog, but wouldn’t it be easier to have more posts daily?

    Like, instead of having a blog about printers, cameras, pdas, laptops… a simple blog about gadgets (with many categories) wouldn’t it be easier to maintain? Would this make huge difference in SEO point of view ?

  7. Andre says:

    Finding content is exhausting, so the smaller the niche the harder it is to update every day.

    I also prefer not to copy and paste press releases, rather write about something I have read and give my own opinion. I will then reveal the source of my information. That way i have unique content. Not sure how this affects copyright, especially the AFP releases that seam quite strict.

  8. Kidino says:

    This is a great article. Most of the times when you find information like this, you always get the normal “do the keyword research” kinda thing. I feel this is rather different … Thanks for sharing … I’ll be sharing this with my subscribers.

  9. Heat says:

    Those are useful tips, thanks Darren :)

    Since i’m going to open my 3rd blog soon, those tips will make a useful reminder, especially for the self-asked question “how passioned are you?”…

    Heat

  10. Darren Rowse says:

    Thanks for the comments – let me try responding to a couple of the questions/comments.

    - Comic Strip Blogger – you’re right about selecting a good domain – it’s very important – but I guess that comes after you’ve already selected your topic which is what this post was about. Great tip though – totally agree.

    - Kenji – good question about separate blogs or putting them all together. Obviously both approaches can work. As we know some of the biggest blogs are quite general gadget blogs (engadget and gizmodo) – however there are also some advantages to niche blogs also that break down a larger topic. I’ve found that being more specific is good for SEO on numerous levels. It also allows you to position yourself as an expert on one area which is good for credibility.

    I’ve nothing against the general blog approach but at this stage the tight niches do well for me. I guess I don’t think I can compete with the big general blogs (I’m too late to the game) so I’m carving some niche’s out for myself in their cracks.

  11. Marlene says:

    This is not really a comment, more of an aside: You may want to add an “s” to that “he” in your very first sentence, because B.L. Ochman is a woman. :-)

  12. gizmocha says:

    Great stuff Darren.

    I feel that not only is the subject matter important but so is the effort that you put into the registering of your blog with search engines and blog aggregators. A subject for a followup article.

    What always surprisies me is the popularity of a blog that makes it difficult to distinguish ads from content – but maybe that is the reason for financial success!

    And where would we be without readers. Are regular readers the reason for success or is high-ranking on google more important so you get fresh victims, sorry readers, on a regular basis.

    It’s always an pleasure to read what you have to say on these matters.

  13. Rich K says:

    Darren,

    Is there an advantage to or a strategy that might work for creating a topic/sub-topic network of blogs….it seems to me your blog “network” features very un-related topics, which would be difficult/challenging to maintain. Is a blog/sub-topic blog network viewed by Google as a single blog? What are the implications?

    Love your work, tks.

  14. General blog or niche? I think it comes down to whether you use contextual advertising or not. If you use AdSense, it really has to be a tight niche blog or you won’t make any money at all. If, however, you don’t carry ads, then the blog is an advertisement for YOU. So it doesn’t have to be tightly defined, especially if your talents spread out a bit. At present, I’m sitting in the middle of these two approaches and, in monetary terms, it’s not working. However, I do enjoy the blogging a lot … and keeping tabs on the blogosphere. Soon, I’m going to split the two functions and see if I can grab a slice of Google gold … just for the hell of it, of course :-)

  15. Cary says:

    Great post Darren : ) Lots to think about.

    Gizmocha asked which were more important, regular readers or those coming in via search engines. It seems to me they are BOTH important, because in my admittedly rather short experience, while searchers may be where the money is at, regular readers provide something that others don’t…incoming links! Far & away, the larget percentage of links coming into my blog are from regular readers who’ve been kind enough to write something nice about my site, or just put a link in their sidebar. Without the links, I know I wouldn’t be getting hits on search engines, so I think the two types of users are part of the same puzzle…the more of each, the better!

    BTW, it’s not much, but I’m on track to make my first $100 (US) blogging by the end of today…pretty fun ; )

  16. HART says:

    I think I’m on same wavelength as John (Syntagma)’s comment .. My blog is the one that is supposed to advertise me and my skills (not another marketing blog). And, I would add to Dave’s comment .. “Passion first, adsense second” … that you also need a tremendous amount of time.

    If people come to visit my blog now, it looks like a personal blogsite and not a business blogsite = or worse, it doesn’t look like a personal blogsite at all – but instead looks like a really, really lousy business blog site! But, that’s because I’m taking my time building up linking resources, ‘encyclopedia’-type background content, category creation where I think I want this blog to go, and talking about me-me-me-me. I don’t want people to come read today’s news headlines from my blogs. I want them to NOTICE by blog by the news headline, then stick around and take their shoes off and surf the links inside my blog and read the old news content.

    As a 1-person consulting business, my fees will always be limited by the number of hours I myself am willing to put in each year. That is my underlying reason why I am taking my time with these blogs to build up something long-term that will be able to contribute to the bottom line eventually … and generate a passive income stream. In the short-term however, I think my ‘day-job’ business is suffering more that I was willing to allow it, while I am doing all of this blogging and research … because of the time I spent setting up two blogs. It’s hard to let go sometimes because it’s all very fascinating.

    HART

  17. John says:

    Your olympic blog looks messed up on my Firefox 1.0.6 browser. Everything looks fine except the middle column with all the posts are squished into a few pixels wide.

  18. Rob says:

    Great article – I’ve found a niche with Kitsilano.ca (a beach neighourhood in Vancouver, Canada) but the dollars aren’t flowing yet. If they only was a way to get people to click on our Google Ads. ;-)

  19. Syd Johnson says:

    What about setting up your own blog network using subdomains? I have an interest in a few niche topics, but I run out of ideas after a few weeks and need a break. My model is more in line with a site like rlrouse.com where multiple topics are covered all under the same domain name.

    I think that niches are good for adsense and for the people who are really dedicated, but most people probably will need to cover multiple topics to maintain a successful blog.

  20. Daily News says:

    Nice article.

    In answer to Rob. There is a way to get people to click on your ads, but you must do it legitimately, not by asking them to (I know you wouldn’t do that). Part of your problem is probably low traffic, part is there aren’t many ads for your chosen topic. Also, your ads are so bland that they don’t look like anything. They look like something your visitors shouldn’t touch. You put up a grey wall so they think they shouldn’t go there.

    Alan.

  21. Great info, the best advice I’ve seen about blogging.

  22. Kate says:

    I do not get many clicks on the ads on my blog but the blog does increase my income since it leads people to the main web site where they do click on ads.

    This is very doable using a a narrow niche [keyword] from the web site topic for the blog title. the blog usually gets better search engine ranking. And then it brings readers to pages on the web site via links, posts linked to the main site etc.

    . The blog may not make much ‘ad sense’ money but it indirectly generates money by bringing folks to pages that do get clicks.

    Kate

  23. John M says:

    Hi,
    There’s some very informative info here on how to get your blog more traffic. I’ll be trying some of these tips soon.
    Thanks John M Net-eBooks.com

  24. Jun Lim says:

    Very informative article. I’ll definitely try blogging once I find a good topic or niche to fill. Can you recommend a good site where I could host my blog?

  25. dkessaris says:

    Personally, I am planing of creating a few new blogs (about 5)in the near future im my main field of expertise. My plan for now is that the four of them will have a very narrow topic and the last one will cover all the topics of the other blogs plus a few more. We will see, if it’s going to work.

  26. Peter says:

    Thanks for the great info, Darren. I am just beginning my first “blogging for dollars experiment,” and this helps a lot.

    cheers

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  28. fmsra says:

    I blog about fibromyalgia and arthritis.
    I guess this is just too broad as there are more than 400 types of arthritis alone!

  29. When choosing a profitable blog topic, do you apply the same techniques used when choosing a profitable niche?

  30. Blogging about bone health and osteoporosis is really tough because the top search engines results are always given to .orgs, .govs and .edu sites. I am definitely going to take your advice and narrow the niche.

  31. tarry says:

    Blogs are becoming one of the most important source in order to share views and outlooks what you have done to make your thing outrageously successful.I like the concept has been given there.

  32. SEO says:

    My main concern is that you can’t guarantee every page of your website will be included in the SERPs. Considering I’m constantly adding new products to my company’s website, I need to be sure that customers can find them as soon as possible.http://www.seoptimizerz.com

  33. Sheri says:

    Boy! I am contemplating starting blogging in order to supplement my income but the amount of information out there and to learn about blogging is astounding!

    The largest difficulty for me has been choosing a topic. I am intersted in so many different areas but am only a master of technology – specifically web site design and graphics design. These topics are covered more than abundantly. Not sure what I will write about …. hmmmmmmmmm

  34. georgetui says:

    Hello,
    Great forum!
    I found a lot of interesting information here.
    Does this forum helpful for you also?

  35. seonewbieJay says:

    To get high rankings in Yahoo and MSN is all about links? I can get ranked easier in Google with links,
    but the other two I have no clue.

  36. I am intrigued by your Athens Olympics Blog. Clearly it was a project that had some sort of ending to it rather than a blog that intends to go on and on. So within a short period of time you were able, somehow, to gain a high page ranking so that you would be seen high on search results. How you did that I dont know but this may account for the months of preparation you mention. Also I notice that your articles are text only with hyper links. I can imagine you guys were writing stuff and emailing it into your site rather than mucking about with html editors to arrange the article, or using the WISIWIG editor either.

    I can imaging you guys sitting in front of a couple of tvs writing up the news as it comes in live, you are then pressing the enter button and woosh the mail goes off and its a new article in your blog.

    Nice one.. I shall think about that.

    I dont know if your holding site, Living Room has anything to do with raising your initial page ranking?

    Thanks

    Guy

  37. dschibut says:

    I began this discussion to evaluate public usable web proxies:

    Which are really anonymous?

    Which can be used with facebook, myspace etc, in other words: are fresh ?

    Which would you recommend?

    Thanks for your help,
    Dschibut

    P.S.: In my land, the freedom of speech is somehow constrained, please give me a hint, if you have doubts about your recommendation.

  38. Frank says:

    I’ve noticed that many of the existing comments have either alluded to or stated outright what I feel about choosing a profitable blog topic: pick a topic that you feel will incite a debate or discussion (like this topic about choosing a profitable blog topic) :).

  39. Phophyday says:

    Hey everyone… how do I search for more than one word in other posts, so that it returns only posts with those two words?

  40. Nice tips Darren! I implemeted a personal finance blog niche with topics on entrepreneurship, investments, finance, and self-motivation in achieving financial goals.

    I do think that in choosing a topic, you should have an interests on it. That’s the main consideration.

  41. The Wizz says:

    Great tips Darren. I’m putting a bunch of articles together about choosing a blog topic and have included this one. Thanks heaps
    Blogger Tips Choosing a Good Blog Topic

  42. Anja says:

    You’re totally right!

    Blogging requires lots of work which cannot be done without true passion and interest for the topic you’re writing about.

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  1. [...] of revenue streams Availability of content Measure your energy, passion and interest [...]

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