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Weekend Project 1: Fix a Mess of a Multi-topic Blog

This guest post is by Natalie Webb of Leave Me to My Projects.

You started your blog because you were passionate.

You wanted to write about everything you love. You wanted to inspire people with your passions and your well-rounded knowledge in all of your areas of expertise. You wanted to put yourself out there and bring real value to the lives of your adoring readers.

Mess

Image courtesy stock.xchng user shelead

The love spiral would continue until the internet was throwing money at you like a pre-fame Channing Tatum up on stage. And yet…

Your traffic numbers are decent, but people aren’t sticking around on your blog. They aren’t interacting, with you or each other.

They certainly aren’t subscribing. Your readers aren’t connecting, and you aren’t helping.

So you scour the big meta blogs (blogs about blogging) for advice. They all tell you that to be successful in the blogosphere, you need to niche down and specialize. Micro-niche, even.

Here are five posts by very savvy and successful bloggers that will tell you all of the reasons why you should pick a topic and stick to it.

It makes sense, right? Less clutter, more focus. It’s business 101.

But let’s get real, shall we?

You. Don’t. Wanna.

Anyone who has caught an episode of Hoarders knows they these people don’t set out to have the mess in their homes eat them alive. They really do have the best of intentions. They love these belongings so much they cannot bear to part with any of them.

Although real-life hoarders are an extreme example, in a way, you understand them. You love each of your topics like one of your hoarder feral cat children. You know that to have a happy, balanced blog and life, you need to simplify and get back to basics.

But again, you don’t wanna. Your blog is you. It is your home, where you keep all of your most precious projects, ideas and musings. So you plod along, scattered and disorganized, believing that your passion will shine through and earn you a loyal following.

But it’s not going to happen. Blogs without focus do not have sticking power. They will not encourage readers to engage, and they will not make you money.

After all, how is anyone going to connect to your blog and stick around if they aren’t even sure what you do? Are you even sure?

If you suddenly found yourself standing in an elevator with Darren and he asked you what your blog was about, would you be able to tell him before your short ride was over? More importantly, would he exit those doors interested in knowing more?

If you cannot sum up your blog—what it is about, what you do and who you are—in a nice, succinct elevator pitch, you probably have a big, idea hoarding mess of a multi-topic blog on your hands.

I’m here to help you clean it up. That’s right. You can have your blog, and make it work, too. Consider this your intervention.

Let’s get to work

To make your multi-topic blog focused and relatable, I will walk you through five steps:

  1. Taking a blog inventory
  2. Creating a customer avatar of your ìOneî reader
  3. A little self-analysis
  4. Keep, Sell, Toss
  5. Finding your unifying thread.

After that, we get to put it all together. Are you ready? Here we go.

1. Take an inventory

Before you can figure out what you need, you have to figure out what you have. Start by making a list of all of your main topics or categories. Now go through your posts and find out two things:

  • Which categories seem to be most popular with your readers? You can use post comment counts, page views, or whatever metric works for you.
  • Which categories are the most filled out? While you may love all of your topics, there are bound to be some you do not write about as often as others.

Rank your categories in order from best to worst, but do not ditch any under-performing categories just yet.

2. Weed out your one perfect customer/reader

Much has been written lately in blogland about messaging and customer avatars. The idea is to write as if you are writing to only one person in the world.

Even if many of your real live readers do not precisely match this avatar, your messaging is clear, focused, and personal. That is what makes a blog great to read.

Danny Inny over at Firepole Marketing wrote an incredibly insightful post about this, complete with a beautiful checklist for finding your one perfect reader. You can get it for free by tweeting or sharing the page, and I highly encourage you to do so.

This is the sticking point for a multi-topic blog, isn’t it? Because you have so many topics, you have essentially been writing for everybody! How are you going to be able to narrow down your ideal reader traits to a single avatar? Relax, you don’t have to. Initially.

Instead, pretend that you have split each category of your blog from the previous exercise up into its own niche site, independent of the others.

Write out a customer profile for each niche, using Danny’s checklist. Do this for each of your main topics. Make a spreadsheet if you like.

Now look for similar customer traits between each of your niches. Do you see any patterns jumping out? Age, marital status, kids, interests, professions? Make a list of any traits that occur more than once, and how often.

At this point, you can start constructing your overall reader profile—the kind of reader that really does love and connect with all of the random things you write about.

But we’re not done yet. Now it’s time to breathe life into your ideal reader.

3. Analyze yourself

The common thread to pulling an unorganized blog together, surprisingly, is often found in you.

Pull up Danny’s customer profile sheet again. Fill it out again, answering these questions for you personally.

Using both your own profile and the list of most common traits, you can begin to cobble together a much more accurate profile of your ideal reader.

After all, you are writing this blog based on your own passions and experiences, correct? Why shouldn’t your ideal reader include a bit of yourself?

You see, that’s where the connection happens.

4. Keep, sell, toss

Now it’s time for the hard part. Just like any hoarder rehab, you are going to have to let some things go.

Keep: Set your new reader profile and your Inventory from Step 1 in front of you. Do any of your best-performing topics fit your reader profile particularly well? Good! Those are your absolute keeper topics.

Sell: If you have the time (and understandably, not many of us do) consider splitting off a topic or two that does not fit your blog into a separate blog.

Toss: Now you have to get ruthless. You’re going to have to do some soul-searching and figure out which extraneous topics you can let go. Chances are there will be one that you just can’t bear to part with. In that case…

5. Find your thread

Maybe that is your thread.

Perhaps you write a blog about crafts, DIY, cooking, gardening, hair, beauty, photography, wellness, and more. You have gotten rid of your Haute Couture and Blogging sections, but the one you cannot bear to let go is video games. Your love of MMORPGs is too intense.

Things just got real specific, folks.

Maybe your thread is craft-loving fantasy geeks. And boy are there a lot of them out there. Just look at anything Felicia Day posts on social media.

Put it all together: picture your publication

Everything is falling into place now. All the junk is cleared away, and the hoarder house is clean. Now you just have to put it all together so that you don’t lose your way ever again.

With what you now know about your reader and your topics, it’s time to find your message.

Your blog is an online publication. Start treating it that way. Sure, it may be personal, but it’s also your business (or so I would assume—you are reading Problogger, after all).

Publications, like books and magazines, have to have a flow, a layout, or in the case of magazines, an editorial calendar.

Right now I only want you to picture your blog as a book. It doesn’t matter if you want to write a book eventually or not. For this exercise, you do (and after this, it might not be a bad idea!).

Why a book and not a magazine? Magazines are ongoing, with constantly updated content, and are certainly more akin to how a blog works. But books have permanence. They can stand the test of time. And isn’t that what you want your blog to be?

  • What is the title of your book? Maybe a subtitle too!
  • Mentally (or physically) design your book cover.
  • How would you divide up the chapters and sections?
  • Write your book jacket copy. What is your book about, and how can it help that ideal reader of yours?

And now, just like on any good A&E show, the big reveal.

  • Your book title? That’s your new tagline.
  • Your book cover? That is what your pages should look like.
  • Your chapters and sections? Let them guide how you organize your site’s pages and menus.
  • You jacket copy? That’s your message.

Extra credit: guest posting

Even after all of this, I know there are some topics that you will have trouble letting go. Take heart, because you don’t have to.

When you have items that you don’t have room to keep in your home, what do you get? A storage locker, a.k.a. guest posts.

Keep writing those posts on topics that you love, but do not fit with your blog. The trick is to keep your overall message in mind when you write—not your ideal reader, but your message.

The idea with these guest posts is to pitch them to blogs that you enjoy, but are not the ideal reader of. This post is one such example.

I’m sure the ideal Problogger reader is not a 29-year-old barber stepmom, obsessed with Martha Stewart, wishing she lived in Rivendell. And that reader almost certainly does not frequently sport a peacock-colored mohawk. And yet…

What it all means

Like hoarders, we bloggers can get so used to the mess we see around us that we lose all objectivity as to the impression our blog makes on new readers. With every additional topic you cover, it gets exponentially more difficult.

The key is focus. If you follow the process I have outlined in this post, I guarantee that you will arrive at a clear and accurate customer avatar, strong unifying thread and clear, compelling message.

Tomorrow I will be back to show you five blogs that have mastered the ability to convey a clear, strong brand while juggling a wide variety of topics—and I’ll clue you in to their five secrets to killing it in the Pinterest niche.

What struggles have you had with focusing your multi-topic blog? Share in the comments below!

Natalie is a truly Edward Scissorhands living in a Martha Stewart world. A Chicago-based writer, barber and obsessive DIYer, she blogs over at Leave Me to My Projects about her adventures in the DIY lifestyle with loads of how-tos and inspiration. She also spends way too much time on Pinterest.

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Comments

  1. Graham Lutz says:

    I have too many interests and have a bad habit of focusing really hard on one thing for about 6 months then losing all interest haha! Luckily, I’ve been into science for 4 straight years now – that shouldn’t be going anywhere!

  2. Rick says:

    So true, yet soooo painful!

    My blog meanders about on topics including health, fitness, organization, technology tools…I guess this can all be under the umbrella ‘lifehacks,’ or maybe ‘self improvement,’ right?

    Of course, several of my first posts were on public speaking which aren’t the best fit for the above. Naturally, my article on tips to help stop saying ‘um’ is the one that gets read the most…

    I’m sure I’ll find my foothold eventually. For now I’ll keep having fun.

    Great info! I just can’t force myself to clean out my closet right now.

  3. Summed up what goes on in my head, which translates to my blog. Thanks.

  4. Joanna says:

    I can’t say thank you enough for covering this topic. I’ve been blogging on multiple topics (parenting, recipes, crafting, beauty, lifestyle, product reviews) for nearly 4 years, and I often feel stuck and unmotivated.

    I see so many blogs that cover the same ideas doing wonderfully, but I tend to get stuck in a pile of posts and none of my categories are defined or well filled out. My writing tends to mirror my life: lots of variety with a very short attention span. I also lack strong pillar content in all of my categories. I’m looking forward to reading tomorrow’s post and getting more inspiration to get my blog where I want it to be. Thanks Natalie!

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Good question Joanna! I was stuck on pillar content for awhile as well. I’m still working on solving that. To do that, I looked at each of my categories, worked out what those pillar posts would be about, and jotted down a rough draft for each. Right now I’m aiming to write one pillar posts every week or two, and then fill out categories more from there.

      Hope that helps!

  5. J. Delancy says:

    My blog is focused around the concerns of mid-life men, so I try to cover topics like Health, Money, Career, Women. The topics vary but the theme is always the same. My biggest problem is that when I’m writing a post on one topic an idea for different topic will pop into my head and throw everything off.

  6. Very gud post..m also conducting a multi niche blog and sometime found it difficult to manage….really m in need of this…thnx a tonn

  7. M says:

    Hey, I love this! I’m just starting a new blog after not having blogged for a while and I was totally freaking out about this. Thanks!

  8. John Sherdy says:

    Great Article keep up the good work. Multi topic blog is hard!

  9. Victoria says:

    This is an excellent post – I thank you! I actually have such a blog, I love to talk about everything and anything that pops into my mind, so I will definitely have to evaluate my blog. Blessings!

  10. Here’s a question. What if you can’t write enough about one topic? Do you just write less frequently? Should you pick a different topic? My blog was originally started as a social media blog, but has sort of expanded to other aspects of digital media and my personal journey to be a web entrepreneur. So while it’s all somewhat related, I have trouble really describing it in one sentence. I suppose the blog is only a year and half old, so perhaps it might just take some time to mold itself, but I often wonder how far off track it is acceptable to go.

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Good question Brittany! In my case, I got rid of some of those unfilled topics, but I saved everything just in case I wanted to resurrect them later. Pare down to what you write about more frequently for now and focus wholeheartedly on that – and then guest post! If those guest posts get some traction, especially on your social media profiles, consider revisiting them later!

  11. Guilty as charged on all counts. But I’m trying to change! Honest! Really!

    (Except I just cannot resist saying whatever the hell I want. It’s a hard freedom to give up.)

    Still, I read this article twice, and I followed the recommended links. I even subscribed to problogger. You helped me. I appreciate that.

  12. Natalie, very insightful post and I totally agree with this. We must keep our blogs focused and perhaps, if someone does have lots of passions, they could have separate blogs for each.

    • Phil says:

      Yep,a blog for each. And I guess it is not that hard to manage them all. One can spend 3 days working on one blog and three on the other, if they have, say two blogs.

      Another place where one can look at to determine which topics they like most (and therefore should take precedence in their current blog) is the wording in their about page.

    • Pete Tentler says:

      I agree. I know i have to start using sociall media, but it can be so confusing! How to blog, what to blog about, frequency of the blogs, and so on.

      I especially liked that Natalie compared blogging to chapters in ‘my book.’ That seemed to chunk down the process, and now I have several chapters (topics) prepared, weeks in advance of the proposed blog date.

      Thanks for sharing such an insightful post.

      Pete.

  13. Jesslyn says:

    Hi Natalie, on your point about having one blog with many topics or many blogs with one topic…i have chanced upon a blog that provides advice on anything under the sun. And the best part is, there is only ONE editor/writer. Makes me wonder…can a person be a master of all trade? obviously, he cant..so does this means his advice on the blog is less credible? in my heart, i have already known the answer..

    Have anybody came across a blog like this? What are your views?

    • Natalie Webb says:

      You’re definitely right on that. Kitchen sink blogs run by a single person – even if they really do know a ton about the topics, don’t read as super credible. There are of course blogs that are written from a novice/learning perspective (like http://www.bonappetempt.com/) where the writer is exploring the topic right along with you and sharing their successes and failures. Failures can teach you as much or more than successes, after all.

      Like any blog in any topic, the success lies in how it’s implemented (voice, message, etc.)

  14. Mahesh Mohan says:

    Darren, you don’t tag your posts?

  15. Hi Mariella,

    you’re so on the money with this post. I have actually been through exactly the evolution you describe. My site started out as a learning experience for me rather than particularly ‘putting myself out there’ because my main goal was to learn so that probably mitigated a lot of the frustration others feel perhaps when they don’t get the traffic they want – in my case I was just thankful for any traffic I got but having a ball learning in any case.

    That being said there came a point where things changed – significantly. The question once I’d learned so much and answered a lot of my questions about the internet and how to do certain things was “OK, so what am I doing here?” I didn’t like the idea of it being a hobby and whilst we’re always learning the curve is now much less steep – so then it became more of a business. Now I do put myself out there and in order to do so, you’re right and there absolutely has to be a specific focus so people know why they are on your site – I changed tagline (even though I loved the old one and still do – I even see versions of my old tagline (‘Enjoy Life More For Less’) cropping up all over the place one way or another – though it doesn’t describe how I help people) – I threw out lots of content quite ruthlessly, simplified further and simplified again (and may still do more)…

    So it was quite nice and satisfying to read about basically what I’d done in your article which is written so well,

    oh – and yes, for a while now I’ve been writing about anything I want to write about that doesn’t quite fit on my own site via guest posting – this is a brilliant tip which I’d also highly recommend because at the end of the day relationships count for a lot and guest posting is a great way to get out of your own little bubble…

    thanks & best wishes,
    Alan

  16. Oh wow, this is really informative but there is a question I have to ask. I have a blog based on tech stuffs and I do post some other info in other niches under the General category. Much of the traffic comes from the Tech-related pages and most of my adsense clicks come from the General category. I’m at a cross-road on this. How do I implement yóur ideas and still keep my traffic and earnings?

    • Natalie Webb says:

      That’s a tough one Ahmed, especially in the tech area (which admittedly I do not know a lot about). Perhaps it would be a good start to begin writing and submitting guest posts on other topics you are interested in. It would be a great experiment to see if you can really maintain your voice in those other topics. If you link to those posts from your blog, and you start seeing lots of clicks on certain posts, perhaps you are on to something!

  17. Asher says:

    I recently made the difficult step of pruning my blog to make it a lot more focused. It takes quite a lot of discipline to not write just about the things that I’m interested in, but to consider what my reader cares about. Good to know that I made a right choice!

  18. Hi Natalie,
    I like your suggestion of comparing your blog to a book. If a reader picks up your book (blog) would they want to continue reading it if the topics keep on changing every chapter and each was unrelated. Most likely not.

    Like many people I have had to find my focus and put my energy into the work I am most passionate about.

    The guide I use is ‘If I was never paid for what I write about what would I write about just for the love of it’. This way I found my topic that is about focusing on how simple actions can make a big difference in all our lives.

    Thank you for your article. We all live richer lives when we focus on what we are really passionate about.

    Best wishes to all,
    David

  19. What a fantastic way to organize your blog. We need to look at our blog through new reader’s eyes. Loved the hoarders reference. I think this housekeeping needs to be done every six months on my blog.

  20. Very insightful and helpful. I agree with this. I especially liked your idea where you said that you recommend using guest posts as your storage locker, or a place where you can post all unecessary things, smart! Thanks!

  21. I like the analogy to hoarders, that actually worked very nicely. This is a great topic because I have seen many other people having trouble with this. Thanks for the post!

  22. Lisa says:

    While I think this is a good and helpful post, especially to those who may feel overwhelmed with their blog or confused about which topic to blog about, I find it very amusing that the author of this post has 7 tabs with 20 different topics on her own blog! LOL

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Amusement totally not lost on me Lisa ;) In fact, this post was my way of working through this process. I’m embarrassed to admit, there used to be more. Getting more focused all the time though!

      • Lisa says:

        LOL Isn’t that always the way? We teach what we need to learn the most. I do like your blog, fun photos, information. Keep up the good work! :)

  23. Amanda socci says:

    Thank you for this interesting blog post, Natalie. I am in full agreement that blogs need to focus on a niche category in order to attract quality readers. You provide solid advice on how to clean up one’s blog where there are multiple topics. I, too, am familiar with Danny Iny. I like Danny and his straightforward advice.

    One thing I’d like to add to this discussion is a slightly different viewpoint on the success rate of blogs that offer multiple topics – like my own blog. In the Creative Idea Gal Blog, I write about diverse topics. I am proud to do it because I am a freelance writer and want to show off my versatility. The unifying theme is the way in which I write, which is analytical. I enjoy coming up with unique angles of obscure topics and trying to find answers or researching them to come up with original conclusions. I also go against the grain by ditching the traditional blog tags, labels, and clouds, and going for my own unique concept of circles – think Dewey Decimal system.

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Sounds really interesting Amanda! I might venture to say that the way in which you write would be your voice, as opposed to your theme. They’re both important, but they may be different things. Sounds like it could be something to explore!

  24. I have had a trouble managing a blog with multiple topics. The main problem I faced was that I was fully confident about all the niches and that was why I had to rewrite some posts caring a fig whether they are adding any value to the website or not.

  25. Great post! I certainly agree that staying on topic is important for bloggers. I mostly stay on topic, but sometimes I like to mix it up and post something completely unexpected.

  26. You just gave me some great ideas for my blog. I have many blogs but most of them are multiple topics.

    There is no doubt about the power of Pinterest. For instance one of my sites is about affiliate marketing and I have another on Lake Life. I am going to start taking more pictures and incorporate those into my blogs.

  27. Tom says:

    I have a new blog and was pondering this question today. Do I need to focus more? My blog is about geek stuff. I have a posting about someone who setup solar and wind power where they live. Another about acquiring expired domains. Another about some guy who believes we have the technology to build the star ship enterprise.

    So my niche is geek stuff. Is this to broad? Are you saying I should narrow this down further to say solar power only? How do I know if I’m to broad? Obviously geek stuff can be a wide topic.

    My model is tech crunch and mash able which are extremely popular.

    More important, I’m not sure if I have a blog or more of a magazine that reviews what people do. Do I have to write most of my content based on things that I do personally or is it OK for my posts to discuss what others are doing.

    Thanks for your feedback, anyone welcome to reply.

    Tom

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Really good question Tom. It sound like the message is the area to focus on for you. Your blog looks great (and there is definitely some fascinating stuff :).

      For me, I found that everything started falling into place when I got my messaging (and accompanying elevator pitch and tagline) down. Once you get really clear on that, the rest comes much more easily.

      Good luck!

      • Tom says:

        Hey thanks for the compliment.

        I think you are saying define a message or elevator pitch and let the blog fall in line around that.

  28. Samantha says:

    I completely agree with all of the points you’ve highlighted. With the gazillion blogs out there covering every topic imaginable I think its becoming clear to many bloggers that its time to narrow down and focus on that key demographic/niche reader rather than trying to cover everything which only confused and possibly alienates some of your readers. Cheers from Sam at webtemplates.com.au.

  29. Johanna says:

    Thanks for a great series – I’ve learnt lots and loved reading.
    It’s so hard when someone talks of having a niche blog and you realise that your own blog is so expansive that you should have a big garage sale.
    I blog about Travel and Lifestyle – which I guess is really two niches, but I think well … travel is a lifestyle, and a lifestyle can involve blogging – as a location independent means of earning a living (well, eventually maybe!). So blogging creeps in, as does food, as does adventure, as do dream places and empty spaces. Ah well, my underlying message is: Live for the moment, love adventure and do something awesome! If I stick to that active theme, can it be classed as a niche, do you think?

    • Natalie Webb says:

      Johanna, 10 seconds on your blog and I can see what you’re all about. Keep doing what you’re doing lady, your messaging is right on!

  30. meka says:

    that’s so right
    i personally start to lose interest in blogs when i find them deviating from their main topic
    i know some examples of blog that failed after they suddenly changed the topic they used to write about

  31. Elizabeth says:

    Natalie, I loved this post and your style! Your website is adorable and friendly and oh-so-personal, and this blog post is awesome.

    I began blogging in 2008 and just had to break everything apart. I used to combine stories from my quarter-life crisis with art and design finds. Then I quit my job and moved 300 miles away and became a marketing freelancer. Initially I tried to add that work in too, but the weight and chaos were TOO MUCH!

    My solution (so far): a separate art and design blog (prismaticaesthetic.com); a professional website with a manageable posting schedule; and a quarter-life crisis blog floating in the aether. Your post makes me realize that it is okay to close my quarter-life crisis blog (I’m almost 28 for godssakes) and start fresh with something closer to my heart. It’s hard to find balance, but you’ve really helped me! Thanks!

  32. Glynis Jolly says:

    This was worthwhile reading. I’m one of those multi-topic blogger. For the longest time I’ve been thinking that my 4 topics are completely unrelated to each other. I have felt that this is why I can’t get my readership up. However, after reading this, I know what I need to do. Search for that common thread (which I have found) and create a way to use it to promote my blog.

    Thank you.

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  34. fkawau says:

    I have been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours Weekend Project 1: Fix a Mess of a Multi-topic Blog : @ProBlogger. It’s pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  35. Rocky Difeo says:

    I echo Mark Badran’s question why is your suggestion preferred over simply leaving one’s website (as I did here)?
    Many thanks for helping,
    Seth