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Getting Off Topic – How to Let Your Blog Go #2

Let-Your-Blog-GoOne way that I see some bloggers ‘letting their blog go‘ is to become distracted and move off topic more and more. When I asked readers why they unsubscribed from a blog’s RSS feed they told me that the forth highest reason was when blogs change focus or go off topic.

There’s nothing wrong with a personal blog that covers many aspects of your life – but IF you’ve decided to start a blog with a niche focus that sets out to cover a particular topic – it can be quite frustrating for readers to suddenly be hearing about other aspects of your life in every second post.

The problem isn’t that you post about a wide array of topics – but instead it’s about setting up reader expectations that you’re going to talk about one thing and then that you go off topic and keep talking about other things.

This can happen for numerous reasons.

  • For some it’s just that you get sick of writing on your chosen topic
  • for others you run out of things to say on that topic while other interests come up
  • for others it is tempting to write off topic content because it might bring in more traffic or make you more money (eg I saw one blog recently that was on business start writing about Britney Spears in every second post because they saw it as a fast way to get traffic).

Solution:

The ‘solution’ really is to identify what you want to write about, to name it so your readers know what to expect and then to stick to that topic.

Tips To Help Your Blog Stay ‘On Topic’:

Implementing this solution can be more challenging than it sounds of course – but here are a few thoughts that come to mind on how to do it:

Define Your Niche – it’s pretty hard to stay on topic if you don’t know what your topic is. I’m presuming that most ProBlogger readers have already done this stage so I won’t go over how to do it again (if you havn’t yet chosen a niche check out my post on choosing niche topics for your blog).

Redefine Your Niche – most blogs start out targeting one niche and then at some point in their life need to make adjustments to it. This is perfectly natural as blogs are quite evolutionary. It may be that you need to change niches completely – but in most cases this will involve simply broadening or narrowing your focus.

Some bloggers make the mistake of starting out with a niche that is so broad that they can’t keep up with it without burning out – in these cases I’d advise focusing down on one aspect of the topic. Some bloggers choose a niche that is so narrow that they can’t find enough to say on the topic – these bloggers need to broaden their focus.

Occasionally I’ve seen bloggers successfully completely change their blog’s topic from one niche to another. This is possible – but if you have an established readership it’s going to mean you need to manage the process as readers can become very loyal to a blog and it’s focus.

Communicate and Manage any Changes - making adjustments to the focus of your blog is fine – however some bloggers get into trouble with it in communicating it to their readers. It’s amazing how much ownership a blog reader takes over a blog.

Readers invest time into reading a blog and participating in the conversations that go on in it – as a result when you make a change in something as fundamental as the topic of your blog they can find that process challenging and push back. If you are making a change you might like to:

  • involve readers in the process (ask for their feedback and suggestions)
  • share reasons for changes that you are making
  • ask for their involvement in the transition (people are more likely to accept a change that they are actively participating in)

Going Off Topic - once you have a niche defined you then need to make some decisions about if, when and how you will ever go ‘off topic’.

Thinking about this before you do will help you to know if you’re doing it too much. Some might say you should never go off topic – but I think there are ways to do it that can add something to your blog. The question I always try to ask though is ‘does publishing this post add or take value from my blog’.

Going off topic can help to show a different side of you, draw new readers to your blog, add interest to a blog and more… but it can also prove to be a distraction and the difference between people perceiving you as an expert in your field or not.

Have Your Say

Do you go off topic on your blog? What have you learned about how and when to do it? How tight is your niche? Do you mind when other blogs go off topic?

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. Martin says:

    I tried setting up a blog a couple of times, but realized that I had made the area too narrow. I have a lot of different interests and a single topic bores me too quickly.

    Quite a few blogs suffer from this — because in a lot of areas simply nothing much happens for long periods of time.

    Try instead to go up one “higher” in topic tree ; a theme that covers a lot ofsemi-related topics.

    So if you want to blog about trees, you should really start a blog about forests. This way you can sidestep into bushes, grass and tigers every now and then.

  2. jhay says:

    Going off topic every once in a while really does help a lot. It breaks the stale routine, allows the blogger to explore new approaches and opens doors of possibilities.

  3. HerCar.ca says:

    When considering whether or not to go outside of the normal topics you post, I think it is most important to consider your audience. Will THEY feel this particular subject adds value for them? Too many of us assume that what interests us will interest everyone else.

    For example, some time ago, I veered off topic just a little to offer some car accident information help and an information worksheet on my blog (which is usually more about purchasing and maintaining a vehicle). But these articles seem to be among my most popular because they are equally important to my demographic.

  4. emdoozie says:

    Since I am a beginning blogger I am still trying to find my rhythm for my niche, which is specific but at the same time vast. I am trying to convey a general message on my blog while at the same time keep all the posts fresh and new.

    Darren, I am starting to see your point about how blogging isn’t as simple as it seems. Though I am enjoying it a lot at. No matter what I think, with dedication and perseverance I will find my rhythm and move into what works for my particular situation. Trial and error right.

    doozieUp!

  5. Shanel Yang says:

    “Do you go off topic on your blog?”

    Yes and no. I try to mix more entertaining, lighter content such as jokes, quotes, or relevant movie lists, with my more heavy content of serious self help posts, such as codependency, high-maintenance relationships, career advancement, and accumulating wealth.

    “What have you learned about how and when to do it?”

    I learned that varying the seriousness of my posts helps keep it fresh and interesting. I switch it up by inserting a less serious post about every 2 or 3 serious ones.

    “How tight is your niche?”

    Not very. Self help for success with people, work, money, English, and law. For me, that just about covers everything important to make it in America, so it’s pretty broad.

    “Do you mind when other blogs go off topic?”

    Not at all. I find it refreshing as long as the quality of the content remains high, I’m very happy to read something even completely contrary to the original purpose of the blog. Having said that, I can see why readers who go to a blog that covers mostly politics would get upset if suddenly there were 50% or more posts exclusively about handbags and shoes!

  6. FitMom says:

    Thanks. I think I just need to adjust my about page to focus more on the Athletic Mom.

  7. Eric says:

    Yeah I started out my blog heading in one specific direction but almost immediately decided to change up the focus a little. I’m glad I made that decision early on.

    Great advice to have in the back of any bloggers mind though, definitely!

  8. kmd says:

    Going off topic sometimes is really helpful for blog. But i mean offtopic that is a little connected with main subject of your blog. For instance i have blog about money earning but sometimes im writing about webmastering and websites making. Its rather offtopic but still connected with subject. Actually webmasters earn money on their websites and usefull tutorials about websites making are really good for blog about money making :)

  9. Louis Liem says:

    Sometimes I go off topic. But I tried at least the readers don’t see the off topics post unless they want to. I do this by hiding off topic posts from the feed and only display them on the blog. Click on my name to see how it’s done. I also categorize them and not mix them up with my regular topic.

    I don’t mind other blogs go off topic, as long as they know how to do it that doesn’t annoy their readers

  10. David Kim says:

    Do I go off topic on your blog?

    No, I don’t, or at least I try my best not to.

    While some off-topic posts are interesting and often does provide a break on serious articles, I think there’s already too much information to absorb out there and I feel it’s best for the readers to stick to the topic and leave your more personal articles/opinions for a different site or blog.

    However, I do have a review category that can cover a wide range of products or sites while keeping certain elements in the article relevant to the blog’s theme. (Perhaps this is on topic? :) )

  11. David Kim says:

    Do I go off topic on “MY” blog, I mean. :)

  12. Sergey Rusak says:

    Here what I recommend when you have short term crisis:

    – publish press release from another company.
    – invite guest bloggers.
    – just publish some pictures.
    – reply to the good comment in a new post.
    – post YouTube video.

  13. Slevi says:

    It’s exactly the reason why I classify myself as a personal blogger instead of a niche blogger, I simply hate narrowing it down. Tried it in the past on other blogs but it just doesn’t work for me.

    Therefore when creating this blog I ditched the niche concept and gave myself for freedom of writing, over time though I have adjusted my topics of writing quite a bit getting rid of the total off-topic ala personal diary kinda entries fortunately enough but as for other topics it can still jump from one thing to something totally different.

    I have slowly started planning an option to offering a solution for readers though which are only interested within a certain set of topics of writing, but it’ll probably take some time before it gets applied.

  14. I have 3 blogs but one of them I share with 2 other people. (It’s the blog which this post is attached to) We have an adventure blog well because thats what we offer. But we cover a couple of topics like fashion, 4×4 wheels and photography and umm some naughty stuff but it’s not dirty – just fun. Basically these are the things that makes an adventurers life interesting and often people do want to know what to wear or how to capture that special shot when they’re having an adventure.

    Well I hope so at least otherwise we are way off the mark!

  15. Not that you need our approval, but we did it anyway. Your blog is an excellent resource for so many. We’ve recently reviewed it on Do You Digg It!

    Here’s a link where you an dall your fans can see the review and vote to ‘Digg It’ if you like: http://www.doyoudiggit.com/internet-technology/problogger-monetization-strategy-from-the-pros

    Congrats on that beautiful baby boy, too!

  16. DB Ferguson says:

    So, my hints for people who want to go off-topic:

    1) Decide how off-topic you want to go. And be specific – how often, how far, etc. As Darren said, it is also a good idea to discuss the modification of your topic if you find that you are going off topic a lot.

    My blog is a very specific pop culture niche – Stephen Colbert and “The Colbert Report.” About a year ago, we had a lot of discussion on how far into reporting ‘The Daily Show’ we wanted to go. Our passion is Colbert /TCR, but there is so much out there with Jon Stewart and the massive amount of correspondent appearances and books and news articles, and we know that this is content that many of our readers enjoy.

    We got to the point where would have days with almost nothing but what we call Six Degrees posts (like Six Degrees of Separation), with very little content about our topic. I realized, after having 4-5 John Oliver posts in one day, that it was time to have a discussion with the blog staff and find a way to manage this off-topic data without losing it altogether.

    2) Do something to differentiate these off-topic posts to your readers.

    In our case, we decided to do our best to keep the correspondent talk and event notification to 2-3 weekly carnival-style “Six Degrees” posts. However we do have one exception – we go ahead and post articles that are focused on Jon Stewart as we find them.

    3) Watch the balance on your blog.

    When we see that our off-topic posts are equaling or surpassing the amount of our Colbert-centric posts, we concentrate on finding that balance while still being able to post the content. In many cases, we use the Carnival-style posts a few days a week to feature all of the content that we find. Sometimes we use “filler posts” (Klassic Kolbert videos, Eye Candy picture posts) to help restore that balance as well when there is no Colbert/TCR news to report.

  17. blogversary says:

    That is an interesting question. I have often struggled with wanting to find a more narrow niche w/ my blog. But, really I started as a personal blog and I will try to keep it that way.

    I have other interests like the environment and political stuff, and I have found ways through other group blogs/online mags to write about those issues.

    I think by writing for other sites, I keep my personal blog just that…personal.

  18. Dollar Dude says:

    I have tried my level best to maintain the topic of my blog. But I couldn’t get more visitors owing to its unique articles. Just now found out that it requires proof reading…:( In addition to off-topic it requires perfect articles also!

  19. Catherine says:

    I agree with Martin. At first when I started my blog it was just about video games but that was just too small of a box for our families interest so we decided to include anything digital or electronic.

    I find the wider range that I had, the more traffic I received.

  20. I try to cover interesting topics that I feel my readers will enjoy while attempting to improve their life in some way. Whether it be helping the person reading to get out of debt, find that last minute gift, or how to purchase a dvd rental kiosk … we have it all.

    I have not focused my website so tight that I cannot have fun with it. To increase the loyal reader count someday I may have be more specific in the topics I choose. For now though, I am going to have fun.

  21. MyStore says:

    I started my blog and suddenly I found a niche side to it.

    Well, sometimes one gets lucky when the creative juice kicks in.

    That the beauty of the internet—so much to learn

  22. Muscle Post says:

    I think sometimes people go off topic for a change of pace/to keep their own sanity. It gets tough writing about the same concepts day in and day out for months on end.

    I think it is ok to veer off topic slightly, occasionally, but only when your new topic can be related back to the original reason people subscribed to your blog. And this should only happen once every couple weeks, if you feel the need.

    I think people will appreciate something a little different once in a while, you just can’t bombard them with information they find irrelevant or useless. If you do, they will become frustrated and probably unsubscribe or stop visiting.

    If you have come up with a new topic that you are really interested in and have a good deal to say about it, start a new blog!

  23. DOOM says:

    THe best way to initialte a change in the focus of the blog is to adjust the subheader along with it. that can give a quick glance to incoming readers where you are headed. For examples if as martin has given the exapmle: If your subheader says “a blog about trees” do change it to ” a blog about forests” if you do decide to broaden your focus.

  24. OldSailor says:

    I agree readers don’t like off topics. Thanks for your tips. Even if a blogger wants to write about off topic, little changes has to be done to suit the blog. Today I posted “Stop using shipping lanes to transfer toxic waste”. It is actually about dumping of toxic waste in India by US. The toxic waste was transported through sea. I focussed my post to highlight that shipping lanes are not to be used for illegal activities.

  25. Deda says:

    I have long thought about ways to write on my blog and in the end decided that it is somewhat less definable and that has a love and music. With a lot of fun …
    I have not made a mistake ..

  26. Marelisa says:

    I think you can certainly look for ways to expand the topic of your blog, without writing about things that might not interest your readers. To use companies as an example, if you run a hamburger fast food restaurant, you can probably add things like fried chicken and pizza to your menu and do well with your clientele. However, trying to add sushi or escargot will probably not go over too well. So think about your audience and what else they might be interested in.

  27. Kelvin Kao says:

    I go off-topic once a week nowadays, and I’m very specific about it. Every weekend I will have a post that lump all my off-topic thoughts together. This will be less distracting from the niche topic, and it creates a rhythm for me.

  28. IzzyBeth says:

    I have a personal blog – and I started posting about my adventure into weight loss. After a while, I just decided to do a completely separate blog about my weight loss and kept my personal blog focused on family stories, photos, etc. It is working well so far.

    http://izzybeth.blogspot.com/
    http://timeforachangeinme.blogspot.com/

  29. I’ve been worrying about that lately, my blog started out as a typical artists blog that then branched into news and debates about issues in my genre. I get a lot of traffic from my news editorials and coverage even though I only look at nude art issues but my traffic drops when I start discussing my own work again or upcoming shows and so forth.

    I’m beginning to fear that my news segments are starting to become the main topic and my own stuff is the off topic and wondering if my readers resent that. I don’t want to split the blog because between the two topics I can just barely generate enough content to post every week day and the traffic from the news discussions lead to greater exposure for my work – but I worry about annoying my readers.

  30. Jess says:

    This is a really timely post for me because I have just been wondering whether I should stick to my niche or not. I have just started a blog about beading and diy jewellery and I have loads of ideas to write about…(i think i’ve written out about 200) but I still wonder whether I should add some more personal off topic stories. I’ve noticed with many successful craft blogs that women tend to reveal a lot about their personal lives. I just don’t know what I should do.

    jess

    http://vitrospective.com/blog

  31. Michelle says:

    Wow it sounds like we’re all at it from these comments.

    I will put my hands to a big going off topic crime with one of my blogs.

    I think the main reason was I started to write about what I thought people would want to read about more than what I wanted to write about.

    The result?

    I didn’t enjoy writing and people didn’t enjoy reading.

    It’s time to start over and this time stay focused!

  32. Ulla says:

    My blog normally concentrates on photos and some words going with them. I just went off-topic some days ago when I participated in a group writing project with a small story. I tried to make that clear in the title – so people just interested in photos could easily skip this blog post. I intend to keep on particpating in that project which means one post per month will be off-topic…I think that can be tolerated.

  33. Jamie Monk says:

    I am certainly in the niche blog category and finding new posts is not always easy when I am also working 6 days/week and have a family. Sure I’d love to be a full timer, and ProBlogger helps with tips, but a niche blog can be hard to make money from, so I find myself stepping outside the zone now and then, which I really don’t like to do, but it sometimes comes down to that or a lack of posts – which is the lesser evil? :)

  34. Nancy says:

    First, I want to thank you for all the help I’ve received from ProBlogger. I’ve only been doing this since March and I have such varied interests and experience that I couldn’t figure out which niche would best fit my blog. I just decided to chuck the niche and do what I’ve done so often in my life – go my own way. I assigned a different topic to each day of the week and listed them so my readers would know what to expect. I gave myself two days (Monday’s Musings and Wednesday’s Wonders) to play with any article that flowed and didn’t fit the other catagories. Surely does make it easy to stay on topic with my set up.

  35. Ryan McLean says:

    I am only JUST starting to get readers feedback on my financial blog (because my readership is growing yay) so I will definately be taking readership feedback into account and giving the people what they want.

  36. Dee Stewart says:

    I have a book niche blog, but am also a publicist so I receive news that don’t fit the blog, but it fits my demographic and I know it will drive traffic to the blog. I use a feature called Off Topic Thursday I try to reserve for those posts. But sometimes the news is too immediate to wait, so I post with an Off Topic Label and alert. This way my subscribers no this post is different.

    What I have learned is that if you use off topic posts effectively you can add more subscribers, who stumbled upon your blog.

    Great post and love the pic!

  37. MyDirectory says:

    I always get new ideas reading blogs and other section of the topics that I don’t know.

    New Ideas ..

  38. Redrogue says:

    I am new to blogging and is currently learning. As I read this article, I find the “common sense” in it although I think it is easier to say to stay focus than to practice it. Bloggers sometimes are just filled with ideas and need some space to burst it out. Thus, out of niche topics come out.

    This is a common problem but this article is really helpful to all “pro bloggers” around who seem to wander away from their blogs’ topics.

  39. Reginald says:

    The content of this post just emphasizes the importance of investing the time and energy to clearly organize and establish your blog.

    Knowing exactly what you want to offer your readers is essential.

    I find it quite annoying when I go to a blog expecting, base on its title, a certain kind of content and finding an array of information not necessarily relevant to the blog itself.

  40. “Do you mind when other blogs go off topic?”

    Not if it’s moderate and unobtrusive.

    I used to subscribe to John Chow for his writings on blogging and making money online. When posts about his dinners (with lots of full size photos, not thumbnails) slowed down my feed reader and consumed a big chunk of my monthly download limit, I unsubscribed.

    It wasn’t just the off-topic nature of his food reviews that put me off – it was their intrusive nature; for me they got in the way of the topic I subscribed for.

    Had he limited their number, and used thumbnails in the posts or used breaks (eg click to read more), I might still be reading him.

  41. B. Durant says:

    On ABAN I have no topic so I’m all over the place, but on http://pet-snakes.com I stick to the topic at hand pretty rigidly. With it being a fairly focused niche blog (snakes as pets) it doesn’t make sense to go off-topic.

    As for other blogs it depends on what their theme and if they are niche-centric. It’s really more important to me that they be interesting.

  42. off topic: loved the cat!