Tristan’s Note 5/2/11: More people need to read this post, so I’m not going to update the blog today. The next update will be Thursday, May 5.
Blogging in a crowded niche is tough, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to start a blog in a crowded niche. What it does mean is that there are lots of people interested in the subject and that you can potentially make money from it. This is good. Sure it’s tough, but if you’re ever told that it’s impossible to have a successful blog in a crowded niche, just remember this: There’s room for something better in every niche. If your blog is better than others in your niche, your blog will get noticed, and you will reap the rewards.
This blog (Blogging Bookshelf) recently celebrated its 6-month-old mark. “Blogging tips” is a very crowded niche, but I’ve managed to get this blog noticed. The number of subscribers and visitors grows every day, and I get around a thousand comments a month. I know what it takes to be noticed in a crowded niche.
In the following 3,600 words I talk about 3 big ways for your blog to stand out and get noticed in a saturated niche. While any of the three will help you stand out from the crowd, doing all of them is very doable and will make your blog stand out that much more. Oh, and I give lots of examples.
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Note: Most of this information is based on a presentation I gave a Podcamp SLC conference in March 2011.
One of the best ways of standing out in the blogosphere is simply to be everywhere. Be around every corner and on every blog.
This is important because of two rules: the rule of 7 and the rule of 3000.
1. The rule of 7 – This old marketing standby states that it takes an average of 7 contacts between the buyer and seller (in the form of advertising, etc.) before the buyer is comfortable buying from the seller.
Your blog is your product whether you’re actually selling something or not. If you’re not selling a product, you’re selling your ideas, opinions, or point of view.
If you’re NOT everywhere, your perspective buyer might not even make it to 7 times. When you and your blog “are everywhere,” you reach that magic number 7 faster.
2. The rule of 3000 – This rule states that we see/hear/absorb 3,000 marketing messages a day. That’s a TON. The goal of being everywhere is to increase your percentage of those 3,000 impressions. The more often people see your name and your blog popping up, the “stickier” your blog will be in their minds.
Now that you’re convinced (hopefully) of the need to “be everywere” online, let’s talk about what it means and how you can do it.
Being everywhere specifically (and ideally) means for you to be on every blog, showing up repeatedly on every social network, being active on forums related to your niche, and making use of other non-blog websites in your niche.
This idea is summarized in the graphic below:
Now let’s get into a bit more detail. There are multiple ways of “being” on every blog, with some ways being easier to carry out than others. The below graphic shows the easiest and least effective “be everywhere” method on the bottom and the most difficult (to implement) and arguably most effective “be everywhere” method at the top:
And of course it doesn’t hurt that each of these efforts will benefit you for traffic and SEO purposes, too. Add forum posting to the pyramid and you’ve got a well-rounded strategy for visibility, traffic, SEO, and overall credibility.
One final note: Some of these things might work better in some niches than others. For example, maybe there aren’t good forums in your niche that you can stand being a part of. If that’s the case, ramp up your efforts in the other areas.
Like I said in the previous section, everyone who reads your blog is a customer. Even if you’re not selling anything and have no desire to ever make money from your blog, you’re still selling an idea, a point of view, or an opinion. In order for your blog to stand out, you need to provide the best customer experience.
I almost used the words “customer service” instead of “customer experience.” But to me, “customer service” conjures up images of people waiting on hold to get a question answered, or waiting in line at the counter at Forever 21 (that’s where the cool kids shop these days, right?) to return their cigarette jeans.
That’s not quite what we’re going for.
Providing the best customer experience on your blog means going far above and far beyond what other bloggers are doing. You need to go out of your way to do great things for your readers. Here’s what I mean:
- Reply to every comment on your blog.
- Leave comments back on your readers’ blogs.
- Share their content via social networks and social bookmarking sites.
- Respond to emails quickly and awesomely.
- Thank people.
- Return favors.
- Link to other bloggers often.
I think most of that is self explanatory, but I want to share an experience I had regarding responding to emails “quickly and awesomely.” I was looking at a very well known blogger’s blog and reading some of his older posts. I saw that he was using a plugin that showed a nice newsletter opt-in box at the end of each post. I would have sworn that I’d read in one of his posts at some point what the plugin was, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it. So I sent him this quick email:
I could have sworn that I recently read a post you wrote about how to put the newsletter opt-in form below each post, but for the life of me I can’t find it. Can you let me know how you did this? Thanks!
And I got a reply not too long after that. So far so good. He responded to the email quickly, but had he done so awesomely? Let’s look at his reply and find out:
I might have suggested for people to put the subscription form there, but I believe I never showed how to do it.
And that’s it.
Wow. Thanks for that extremely helpful email. I appreciate the 2.5 seconds it took to write that response, but I would have also appreciated an answer to my question of how that was done. Needless to say, I was not impressed, and I never went back to his blog, just to spite him.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always respond to emails quickly, though I try to do it awesomely. But I do feel that this and the other things I mentioned all actionable goals that bloggers in any niche can set for themselves. If you do everything on that bulleted list, you’ll be ahead of 99% of the other bloggers out there.
I normally hate hearing the “great content” prophets out there. Duh. We all know you need to provide great content. It’s common sense, plus we’ve all heard it a bazillion times. I respect your intelligence enough to try to make this portion as interesting and useful as possible without talking about something you already know by heart.
As far as I’m concerned, great content = unique content. I’ve written before about creating unique content, but I’m going to go over it again and provide more examples. Lots more examples.
Below are 7 of the best ways to provide great content.
1. Write about your personal experiences
Let’s say you’ve got a blog about health and fitness (truly a crowded niche). And let’s say you want to write about the HCG diet. A normal, lame blog post (NOT great content) about the HCG diet would include what it is, how it started, and the pros and cons of it.
In short, it’s the kind of generic, personality-less blog post you see repeated ad nauseum throughout the blogosphere in a ton of niches every day.
That is crap. That is information you can find on Wikipedia. If someone is familiar with the health and fitness niche, the odds are good that they already know that information anyway.
A better blog post about the HCG diet would include your personal experiences. You’d say how you learned about the diet, what your first impressions were, what your background with dieting is, why you decided to adhere to the diet, how long you were on it, the results you saw from it, and the experiences you had while you were on it. THAT would be a unique, quality blog post that provides information that isn’t common knowledge and that you can’t find on Wikipedia.
Oh, and how personal should you get? Just don’t make yourself or your readers feel uncomfortable.
Interviews are great because no two interviews are the same. Every question will be different and every answer will be different. Even if someone has been interviewed a bazillion times, you can provide unique content by asking unique questions.
You can interview authors, writers, bloggers, businesspeople, filmmakers, movers and shakers, politicians, or average Joes.
For example, let’s say I’ve got a blog about whitewater kayaking. I could interview the author of a popular how-to-kayak book. I could interview someone that writes for a kayaking magazine. I could interview top bloggers in the niche. I could interview kayaking photographers and cinematographers. I could interview people that work for the top kayak-making companies. I could interview professional kayaks or organizers of kayaking championships. I could interview politicians that are for or against the damming of a local river. I could interview my buddy that I kayak with every Thursday after work.
And you could ask each one of these people a variety of questions, like how they got started kayaking, what their favorite kayaking trip was, what their closest call was, what their favorite piece of equipment is, what their dream river is, etc.
Interviews don’t have to be an in-person affair. You can do Skype interviews (and record and post the audio and/or video to boot), email interviews, or phone interviews.
3. Case studies
I’ll write more on case studies in the future because I love them, but a case study can be defined as you researching something to figure out more about why that thing is the way it is. I know that’s a pretty bad definition, but hopefully it made sense.
I did a case study to see if blog headlines should be capitalized. I just went to Technorati’s top 20 blogs and noted whether their headlines were capitalized. And then I wrote about it.
I read an interesting case study once on a rock climbing blog. The goal was to see what percentage of the top climbing magazines was advertising. The blogger went through the magazines and used a permanent marker to color in all of the ads. He then calculated the percentage. Here’s a video of it:
And if I remember correctly, the video and blog post were even mentioned in the next issue of one of the magazines!
Anyway, I stole this idea and applied it to blogging in my post 7 Major Lessons in Blog Advertising from Technorati’s Top 20 Blogs.
I also did a little case study in my recent post Why My Last Blog Post Got 150 Retweets and a Million Impressions. And then here’s a final example of mine: Can a $5 SEO Job Really Bring You More Search Traffic.
Relatively few bloggers do case studies. They’re interesting, they’re unique, and they’re usually very helpful and offer up actionable tips. Do it!
I love blogs with personality. A recent favorite of mine is James Altucher’s Altucher Confidential. He writes about business, entrepreneurship, life, and, uh… stuff. If you go to his blog, you’ll see titles like
- My Dating Techniques in 1996
- How I Disappointed Tupac’s Mom
- Didn’t They Realize I Was on NATIONAL TV?
- Don Graham Is a Punk
And so many more. How could you not want to read those? This guy is a fantastic writer, and his personality (which happens to be extremely polarizing, I might add, so you might not like his blog) oozes through every word.
Here’s the crazy (crazy awesome, that is) thing about blogs with personality: sometimes you read them if you’re not even interested in what they’re saying. You just want to see how they’re saying it. Case in point: PunchDebtInTheFace.com. I have no debt and I don’t really care about personal finance, yet I still read Punch Debt In The Face.
Here’s the opening paragraph from the latest post, When are you gonna buy a place?:
It took a whoppin’ 72 hours for the inevitable to happen. Someone finally asked me when I was going to buy a house. As though it were almost expected of me now that I’ve moved to Washington. Who knows? Maybe Girl Ninja [the blog author’s wife] and I should pop out 2.3 kids, buy a dog, name him Spike, trade in my Scion for a minivan, and start coaching little league too? Go big or go home right?
And here’s the graphic that accompanied that blog post:
These blogs stand out in crowded niches. Both The Altucher Confidential and Punch Debt in the Face are great examples of blogs with personality. Are there other personal finance blogs out there? Yeah, LOTS. But how many have terrible yet hilarious stick figure drawings to go along with them? Precious few. Precious, precious few.
So don’t be afraid of being yourself, especially if yourself is especially quirky or different. People want to hear from (and also connect with) a real person: YOU!
One last example. I don’t care about cars at all (I have a 1996 Plymouth Breeze. So… Like I said… I don’t care about cars.) but I still watch the BBC car show Top Gear. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s part car show, part adventure travel show, and part Three Stooges. Those three elements add up to a whole lot of entertainment. For example, here’s a clip of a “review” of a sweet little car called the Ariel Atom (the first 45 seconds are the best):
Not quite what you’d expect from a run-of-the-mill car show, is it? But THAT is why the show is incredibly (massively! hugely!) successful. They do things differently, and they stand out.
5. Use different media
This is one we hear a lot, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Most blogs are text-based. Blogging started out as a written medium, and it makes sense that that’s what the majority of blogs are like today, along with crappy, generic graphics like this:
Not good. We need to do better than that. How?
Record a video. This can be a screencast (I use Cam Studio, a free and open source program, for my screen capturing), a talking head (that is, your head talking), some audio with text going across the screen, or audio with a static image. It doesn’t have to be difficult or fancy. Video also lets you potentially get traffic via YouTube, which is apparently the second largest search engine out there.
Record audio. Add a podcast to your blog to not only cater to those who love podcasts (I’m definitely one of them), but to gain access to iTunes as another way for people to find your blog.
Write and give away ebooks. It should come as no secret that I love writing ebooks, since I do have a whole section of my blog dedicated to them. The great thing about ebooks is that they have a very high perceived value when compared to a normal blog post. People value ebooks more, and are therefore more willing to share, retweet, or comment on the post.
Pay for graphics when you need to. I think this is huge. The right graphics can make a BIG difference. I use graphics from iStockPhoto as ebook covers for most of my ebooks. Here’s a sampling from 4 of my ebooks:
I drew the one in the bottom left corner, but the others are stock images that I paid $5-$15 for the right to use. Totally worth it.
If you’ve got a post that you’re particularly proud of, go ahead and spend $3 for the smallest version of a sweet photo at iStockPhoto. That’s what I did with Marcus’s guest post here on Blogging Bookshelf, 10 Reasons Why Your Blog WILL Die Before Its First Birthday. After seeing the title, I knew I wanted to write YOUR BLOG on a photo of a tombstone. But I couldn’t find a good picture of a tombstone, so I bought one for a few bucks and added my own text to it. Here’s the result:
I’m sure it caused a couple people to crack a little smile, and Jk even mentioned it in his comment:
By the way – the “Your Blog 2011-2011″ had me crackin up! It’s not funny, but it’s funny, ya know! PEACE
Just think… How many bloggers are spending money on quality graphics? Very, very few. And that’s why you’ll stand out.
And finally, infographics are a great way to stand out from the crowd. I’ve created several infographics for Blogging Bookshelf. Here are a few:
- Forget Going Viral… Go Bacterial!
- Why I Start Multiple Blogs (and Why I Should and Shouldn’t)
- The Many Hats a Successful Blogger Needs to Wear
If you want more, Mashable is known for its gratuitous use of infographics (several a week), and I see them shared all over the web.
“But I don’t blog about something infographic-able like blogging or social media!” Ah, I’m glad you said that! Here’s one I created for my climbing blog:
Yes. An infographic about pants. Boo ya.
How many blogs about rock climbing do you think have infographics? One, and it’s mine. They definitely help my blog stand out from the crowd.
6. Use a different angle
Attack a topic from a different angle. That’s kind of another one of those blogging clichés that regularly make rounds on the “blogging tips” circuit. It’s definitely not a difficult concept to grasp: just talk about a concept in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I did this with my Newton’s 3 Law of Blogging post. Nothing in the post is too earth shattering, but I presented it in a novel, new, and interesting way.
Here’s another, theoretical example. Let’s say you have a blog about blogging. And let’s say that you want to write a post about the bet SEO plugins for WordPress. Ugh. There have got to be THOUSANDS of blog posts like this already, and they’re all extremely uninteresting. They go like this:
5 Essential SEO Plugins for WordPress
SEO is important in blogging. It’s free traffic, and that’s great. Here are 5 plugins that help you with your SEO.
Install these and they’ll help you with your SEO. They’ll bring you more traffic from Google. The end.
Ugh. It made me uncomfortable just writing that. At the end of the day, is that a really terrible blog post? No. But is it anything better than “OK”? No. It’s… ok. It’s… meh. Uninteresting and unremarkable.
Ok, now let’s come up with a better version. Instead of just listing the plugins, why don’t you try to come up with a list of things that the greatest WordPress SEO plugin in the world would do if you were to create it. List however many you can think of (and expound on each feature so that your readers will understand why that thing is important for SEO purposes). And then at the end say, “Well, the perfect WP SEO plugin has yet to be created, but these 3 come close.” And then you can list a few plugins, talking about the benefits and drawbacks of each one.
Much better, eh? That right there is taking an old, haggard, disheveled subject and breathing new life into it.
If you’re looking for another example, I think my Is Your Content King? infographic is a good one.
7. Provide Massive Value
Create lots and lots of massively valuable content. These posts are what my buddy Steve Scott likes to call most valuable posts, or MVPs. Other people like Yaro Starak call them pillar articles. Whatever, it’s all the same thing. Your goal is to consistently provide blog posts that provide great amounts of killer information.
This blog post (or ebook) that you’re reading now is a good example. Big list posts are another example. Comprehensive tutorials are another. As I’ve already discussed, ebooks are massively valuable.
One way to see more massive value posts is to go to any blog and look at its most popular articles. These are usually highlighted in a sidebar. The chances are really good that most of the posts there will either be very personal or entertaining, very controversial, or massively valuable. Or a combination of those three things.
When you’re unique, you get noticed. Andy Bailey, the founder of Comment Luv, left this great comment on one of my early posts (How to Create Killer Analogies By Relating Anything to Anything Else):
I have no doubt that if you keep on writing posts like this (and the 3 laws post and others) then you’ll be the new problogger. Seriously, it’s so refreshing to see someone churning out so much fresh, unique, interesting and above all useful content. I’m a blogging bookshelf convert!
Like I said… You get noticed :)
Of course, all of the things I’ve talked about here are not the only way to succeed. You and I both know that there are popular blogs that breach each one of these things that I’ve talked about. Plus things like blog design and post frequency can help your blog get noticed. But in my nearly 8 years of blogging experience, these are the things I’ve consistently seen and done that WILL get a blog in a crowded niche noticed.
- Do you do any of these things on your blog? Which ones work best for you?
- What do you agree or disagree with here?
- How else can a blog stand out in a crowded niche?
Tristan’s Note: I’ll be on vacation next week. I’ll still have posts ready for Monday and Thursday, but any correspondence will probably sit in my inbox for a while before I get to it.