What should I write about?
Can I write about X on my blog when I already cover Y?
Will people read my poetry after 3 months of posting cooking recipes?
All very common questions coming from new bloggers that have recently tarted and are looking to branch out their writing. You see, when it comes to knowing what to write about you have different types of writers, each one with its own unique strategy and it’s very important to understand your expectations from the new topic before moving forward with the actual selection — there is a big difference if you’re just looking to write about X or if you also want people who already read you to care for those new articles.
The “I know exactly what I’m going to write about” type
They started their writing career because they had the need to write about a specific topic. So it’s easier for them to create articles.
The “I write about what I like” type
They don’t have a very defined strategy for picking topics. In places like Medium, they go with what they like because here they heard you don’t need to “niche down”. This is great unless you’re a Math grad who likes poetry and loves cleaning the kitchen. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you might be a great writer, but in a minute you’ll see what I mean.
The “I need to know the best topics to write about” type
They started blogging with a single mission in mind: making money. So they’re looking to make the most out of their effort. It doesn’t matter if the best topic to write about is dog’s lifestyle and they’re allergic to dogs, they’ll write about it as if their life depended on it.
No matter what category you fall into, picking the next topic to write about is always a tough choice. How can you tell how successful will it be amongst your current readership?
Niching down: is it worth it?
Niching down means going with fewer topics than before. So instead of picking a new topic to write about, you ditch one (or more) and focus on a very specific audience.
The reasoning behind this is that whoever your audience is, no matter how small that group might be, they know they’ll find the best articles about that specific topic with you. They’ll see your name in a list of search results, and they’ll click it right away because they know you. That’s a great place to be.
The problem? There are two main issues with this strategy.
If you want to write about something else you need to do it somewhere else
If you have your own blog, you’ll have to create a different one. For instance, pretend you’re keeping a blog about cats for allergic cat owners and want to start talking about dogs as well. You’ll be serving a lot of content that your audience doesn’t want. They’re coming to your site searching for a very specific topic, the moment they start seeing something entirely different, they’ll go away.
Every time you start a new niche you start from scratch.
You have to make a name for yourself again, and you have to grow that audience that loves you and your content once again. It’s not easy and it takes time. This is because normally when niching down, the topics you’ll pick aren’t related, so there won’t be audience overlap.
Lots of writers find great results by niching down and keeping multiple different blogs. Depending on the type of writer you are, that might sound great or terrible. The idea of having to handle multiple sites, maintain them separately and even having a different tone in your writing for each one can get exhausting.
Dropping the idea of niche writing altogether
Forget about writing for a specific niche, cater to the audience that knows you and you focus on writing about what you like.
That sounds like a dream come true for some bloggers, doesn’t it? Write about Euler’s equation today and tomorrow share your newest poem.
That level of freedom can make the act of blogging feel like an escape valve, it’s a great feeling. But for this to work and have people read all your work you need one of the following:
To be very renowned
Your name needs to be known by everyone otherwise it would be like having a multi-niche site, and we’ve already covered how that doesn’t work. If you’re Elon Musk or Barak Obama, great, sure, set up your blog and write about the dream you had last night, you’ll get the views you want. But if you’re not and still want to get those high view numbers, then you need to put a little thought into the strategy behind your topic selection.
Publish your content in a place with a crazy amount of traffic
Sounds familiar? Topic selection in places like Medium and Vocal Media aren’t necessarily a problem, because people come to these places to read. Yes, they’ll have their own interests, but there are so many people around, that even if you’re writing about math and poetry, you’ll be able to reach them all. Granted, picking a new topic on these platforms is like starting over, but with a minor head-start. Your content will reach the intended audience right away, it’s just a matter of building their trust in your name — which as we all know, takes time.
More often than not I see lots of new writers wanting to live off of their blogs or their writing in places like Medium and the first thing they ask is: what should I write about?
Just write about what you like.
That’s the most common advice I read from groups about Medium and Vocal. But is that the best advice for these writers?
Horizontal Niching: the best way to look at topic selection
The idea behind “Horizontal Niching” is that you can pick new topics, no matter where you are and still keep it interesting to most of your audience. It’s not about blindingly writing about what you like and it’s not about being laser-focused on one particular topic either. Horizontal Niching lives in the middle. It’s about picking new topics to write about based on your audience’s interests. Look at the following over-complicated diagram I created to explain this concept:
Pretend you have a blog about “Cats for allergic cat owners”. You’ve been writing about it for a few years and now you’re feeling like you want to branch out and add another topic. And then add to the mix the fact that, like me, you’re a software developer and have been working as one for the past 10 years or so.
As you can see in the diagram above showing the interests of your readers, none of the “cat for allergic cat owners” readers will be interested in your software articles. That means you’re starting from scratch, so:
- If you’re writing on your own blog, this will probably make you lose some readers.
- If you’re writing here on Medium or a similar place, you’ll be starting from scratch, which is still not as bad, but hard to grow an audience around it.
If instead, you were to be smart about your topic and decided to write articles about Hypoallergenic cats, then you’ll have a section of your audience who’s already interested. You’re not starting from scratch, and since it’s still related to your original topic, the chances of losing readers by the shock of a new topic are lessened.
Over time you’ll want to keep doing this research to understand if a new audience group has joined the existing ones. This will help you pick new topics around your audience. Organically growing your repertoire will help you keep your original readers and will ease the process of new ones coming in.
Who knows, eventually you might find out that a section of your readership is into software development. Maybe then you’ll be able to start adding cat-related articles on that topic (I know it sounds like a stretch, but think about interacting with APIs that gather statistics about different types of cats to create a mobile app that recognizes a cat’s breed from a picture, I don’t know).
The point is: there is no need to niche-down, but going all out and picking completely disparate topics to write about is not the solution either. If you’re worried about not losing existing readers and gaining more by incorporating a new topic, going the smart route about with and “niching horizontally” will help you get there.
Look at me as an example: My main topic is Software Development — I’ve been writing about it for years — and over time I’ve incorporated Freelancing (which lots of software developers are very interested in) and Writing, which is also something that many developers do. I had also started writing about parenting, but my articles never really had a big impact. That makes sense considering how unrelated that topic is to the others.
Remember, if you’re writing because you want people to read you — mind you, many writers just write because they feel like it — then it’s important to have a strategy around your topic selection. Horizontal niching is one way of growing.
What about you? What’s your strategy when it comes to picking a new topic to write about? And what kind of results have you seen from it? Share your experience in the comments, I’d love to