Choosing a Focus for Your Blog

From Gerald R. Lucas

Perhaps the most important aspect of writing for digital media should be the realization of an important transition. Unlike traditional college writing, writing for digital media is more akin to what academics call “technical” or “professional” writing. Think of it as writing in your discipline, whatever that may be. I choose the word “discipline” carefully: it could mean profession, or academic subject, or hobby. Think of your discipline as something that you have more than just a passing interest in — something that helps define your personality — something that you’re enthusiastic, even passionate about. You might be on your way to being a professional in your discipline, or you might be an ardent expert amateur. Whatever it is, others likely share it.

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This is the audience, or community, that you want to engage. This is the conversation you want to participate in. In order to address the needs of this particular audience, you must consider a couple of important factors:

Focus

With millions of blogs on the web,[1] you might think there’s little point in adding another. I tend to agree, especially if it’s little more than a public personal diary. Who cares? Keep it on Facebook.

Even new blogs that attempt to address a wider audience than Mom, often become platforms for ranting or choose interests so broad they appeal to no one but the writer. Again, what’s the point?

Other blogs rehash what’s already out there. Do we really need another blog on Apple iPhones? Some topics are just done to death. Seriously, the Internet does not need another blog on “sports,” or “baseball,” or “the Atlanta Braves.” If you are a sports fan, try to find a unique angle — or niche — from which to blog about it. Good luck. As I said: some topics are just done to death, and there’s no need or point to add to it.

Choose a topic that you can focus on: the narrower, the better. Find your niche.

Even if the topic is quirky, if it’s focused enough, it will have an appeal. Instead of a blog about cooking, why not focus on the grilled cheese sandwich[2] or pizza[3]? Instead of one on science fiction, how about one on cyberpunk cinema by the decade? Instead of a car blog, how about one focused specifically on the MINI? Perhaps some of these examples could be focused even further. A great way of further focus can often include geography: pizza in Atlanta, or classic Volkswagens in central Georgia.

Ramsay Taplin lists as his number one consideration for choosing a focus: have a passion for your niche, or you will likely lose interest.[4] This is good advice. Never choose a topic just to satisfy, say, a college assignment.

Not only do focused topics appeal to a more general audience, they allow the author to become a go-to expert on a particular facet of the topic. The more nuance and focus, the more (1) expertise you can have, and (2) the more interesting your blog will be.

Users

When considering the expectations and needs of the user, you must do your homework. Chances are if you’re planning a blog about cyberpunk cinema, you’re already familiar with any blogs that might address the topic. If not, you have some homework to do. Consider:

  • Design elements — the look and feel of the blog, including organization and interactive features like search, theme, navigation, and comments;
  • Foundation knowledge — knowledge that the community expects any expert in the field would know; perhaps this would include a FAQ;
  • Community — this is sometimes called a “blogroll” and includes an acknowledgment of similar sites already established (this shows that you are aware of the community and have done your homework — it will also help you not be redundant);
  • Style — a mode of discourse or idiom — does the community expect a formality of language; snarkiness; 1st-person point of view; anecdotal narrative? What approach is expected? Can you change it or modify it without alienating your targeted users?
  • Consider each of these carefully. This is not to say that you need to conform, but you must be aware of the expectations of your targeted users. If you break with their expectations, be sure you have a deliberate reason for doing so.

You also might want to take some time to list these expectations and analyze your community.[5]

Credibility

Both focus and a understanding of users lends to your credibility. Credibility is usually based on believability and community affiliation. Your users are your community. In order to sell believability, you should be sure that:

  • All of your pages are as perfect as you can make them.
  • All of your pages have consistent visual components and a pleasing design. Choose or construct an elegant theme.
  • All of your prose is relatively error-free.
  • All of your images are high quality and used consistently. Note that images, too, should never be used for their own sake; be sure they add another layer of meaning to the content.
  • All of your posts engage the community.
  • A blog full of inconsistencies, pixelated images, and typos loses credibility. A awkward sentence or dead link might not destroy all credibility, but they are marks against you.

Participation

The latter point above, “all of your posts should engage the community,” is what I mean by participation. I would argue that the number one error of new bloggers is that they think people will read their blog without having to do anything but publish interesting posts. You can have the best blog on the web, but unless you enge other blogs, it won’t matter. To participate, be sure that:

  • You read and comment on other’s blogs in your community.
  • You have a way that others can comment on or discuss your posts. Most blog software has a built-in comment system which is usually adequate.
  • You link to other posts that support and broaden your posts. What’s the point of publishing a blog if you don’t link?
  • You use your blog as a part of your network strategy. Incorporate your professional presence into all of your social media.
  • You promote yourself and other members of your community in your social media strategy.

Bloggers do not live in a vacuum. They can, but you might as well keep a diary on dead trees locked tightly and squeezed between your mattresses. Blogging is about engaging your community, and if you do not ask or cannot answer the question “what am I adding to the conversation,” then you are likely not approaching it in the best way.

Notes

  1. "Buzz in the Blogosphere: Millions of More Bloggers and Blog Readers". Nielsen. March 8, 2012. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  2. Smith, MacKenzie. "Grilled Cheese Social". Grilled Cheese Social. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  3. "Slice". Serious Eats. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  4. Taplin, Ramsay (February 8, 2018). "Essential: A 44-Point Checklist for Starting a Blog". Blog Tyrant. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  5. "How to Conduct Audience Analysis". WikiHow. 2018. Retrieved 2019-01-02.