You’ve wondered, right?
Back when you started your blog, you were just stoked to be a blogger. You picked a topic that seemed interesting, fired up WordPress, and proceeded to write your heart out, certain you would eventually gather a following, and it would all prove worthwhile.
But now you’re getting a little worried.
You’re not getting much traffic. You’re not getting many comments. You’re not making any money.
Not that you haven’t tried, of course. You’ve done all the things popular bloggers say to do, like publishing great content and commenting on other popular blogs and getting accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but no matter how hard you work, no matter how many different techniques you try, none of it is working.
So you wonder…
Could you have screwed yourself in the beginning?
Could you have chosen a topic for your blog that never has a chance of becoming popular?
Could you in fact be wasting your time trying to keep your blog alive, when really the only sensible thing to do is junk it and start over?
Well… let’s find out.
Do you recognize any of these warning signs?
I don’t believe anyone can say for sure if a blog topic is bad or not, but there are certainly warning signs. You can get by with four or five, but if you recognize ten, fifteen, or even more than twenty of these, you might be in trouble.
Take a look through the list and mentally check off the ones you think might apply to you:
1. Your topic fails the “For Dummies” test. You’ve heard of the “for Dummies” book series, right? Well, here’s an easy way to test the viability of your topic: go to this site and see if there’s a Dummies book already written about it. If there is, the topic is probably popular enough to support a blog. The company behind the books, John Wiley and Sons, spends millions of dollars researching topics, so instead of trying to duplicate that research yourself, the shortcut is to ride on their coattails.
2. Fewer than 1% of your visitors are commenting. Bare minimum, you should get comments from 1 in 100 visitors. So, if you’re pulling 2000 unique visitors per month, you should receive about 20 comments during that month. At least. More is better, but if you’re not even in the 1% range, you might want to look at your topic. Chances are, it’s not engaging people.
3. Fewer than 1% of your visitors are sharing. The same rule applies to social sharing. For all audiences who are at least moderately tech savvy, 1 in 100 unique visitors should be sharing your posts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. The only exceptions are audiences who are either technophobic or over the age of 60, God bless their souls. Your sharing percentage will be lower for those audiences, no matter what you do.
4. You’re writing to incompatible audiences. Let’s say you have a blog about vegetarianism and entrepreneurship. Every time you write a post for the vegetarians, the entrepreneurs are bored, and every time you write a blog post for entrepreneurs, the vegetarians are bored. The two audiences are incompatible. On the other hand, a blog about vegetarianism and fitness could work well, because they both appeal to health-conscious people. In fact, here’s a blog about exactly that.
5. No one else is serving your audience. Lots of bloggers think they need to be unique, so they hunt for an audience no one else is serving, believing the lack of competition will put them on easy street. But really, they are screwing themselves. If there’s no one else around, who will link to you? Where are your readers going to come from? You should absolutely have a unique angle, but trying to build an audience from scratch is suicide for all but the most skilled and patient marketers.
6. There aren’t any blogs with more than 20K subscribers. So, how big do the other blogs serving your audience need to be? My recommendation: look for at least one with 20,000 email or RSS subscribers. Hopefully you’ll find one even bigger, or the dream scenario is you’ll find half a dozen with 50K+ subscribers. Here’s why: if there are lots of popular blogs already in the space, there are lots of people to link to you and send you readers. The more competition there is, the easier it is. Counterintuitive, but it’s true.
7. There aren’t any Facebook fan pages with more than 10K fans. Occasionally, you’ll run across an audience that’s already gathered on Facebook but not yet in the blogosphere. If that’s the case, look for fan pages with more than 10K likes. Again, the more likes they have, and the greater the number of popular fan pages, the easier it will be for you to grow your blog. You just have to convince the owners of those fan pages to link to your content.
8. There aren’t any Twitter users with more than 50K followers. Despite the dominance of Facebook, Twitter is still a great place to get traffic. In fact, most bloggers won’t link to you in their posts, but they will tweet a link. So, use a service like WeFollow to find all of the most popular people tweeting about your topic. If you can’t find anyone with at least 50K followers, that’s a bad sign. Optimally, you want several leaders in the niche who have over 100K each.
9. There aren’t any books with more than 30 Amazon reviews. Another good place to look for signs of life is the largest marketplace of buyers in the world: Amazon. Search for books related to your topic or audience, and look for any that have 30 or more reviews. If there are half a dozen or more, it means lots of people are searching for information on that topic. If not, you may be in trouble. Side note: reading the reviews is a great way to get to know your audience.
10. There aren’t any associations with more than 10K members. A big question you should ask yourself about your audience is, “Do they self identify?” Plumbers call themselves plumbers, bankers call themselves bankers, bloggers call themselves bloggers. The stronger their identification with their group, the more likely there will be an active association, and the better a blog will do targeting that audience.
11. There are no regular conferences with more than 1K attendees. Another way audiences self identify is by attending conferences and trade shows. Ideally, you want there to be at least one major conference or tradeshow every year for your audience, and you want at least 1,000 paying attendees. The more attendees there are, and the more they pay to be there, the stronger your topic probably is.
12. There are no magazines on your topic or audience at Barnes & Noble. Next, head over to Barnes & Noble and browse the magazine racks. If you can find a magazine about your topic or serving your audience, the niche is probably big enough and popular enough to support a blog. If you can’t find any, it might mean nothing, but it should concern you.
13. Google shows less than 100K searches per month. Shockingly, the Google gods are actually willing to tell you how many people are searching for information on your topic. Use the Google Keyword Tool to do a broad match search for keywords related to your blog and look at how many searches those keywords are getting. You want to see one, preferably more, with at least 100,000 searches per month.
14. There aren’t many advertisers on Google or Facebook. You know those ads on the right side of Google and Facebook? Well, those aren’t just there to annoy you. It’s valuable data. If there are lots of advertisers bidding on terms related to your niche, it means you’re probably operating in a profitable space. For extra credit, watch who is advertising for a few months and see who sticks around. If you see the same people over and over again, that’s a very good sign.
15. The Clickbank products have low gravity scores. Yes, most of the products on Clickbank are sleazy, and many use such pushy marketing tactics you want to run away screaming, but it’s still a good barometer for how well courses and software sell in your niche. You can look at the gravity score for the products for sale in your category, and it will tell you, comparatively, how many units those products are selling. If the gravity score is high, you’ll probably find it easy to monetize selling courses or software. If it’s low — or worse, there aren’t any products at all — you may have to find a different way to make money from your blog.
16. There aren’t any products for sale on Amazon. Earlier, we talked about searching Amazon for book reviews, but you should also search for other products your audience might like to buy. Promoting Amazon products via affiliate links is one of the most common ways to monetize a blog, especially if it’s related to a popular consumer category, so you should do some research and figure out what your audience might be willing to buy there. If you can’t find anything, you need to find a different monetization channel, or you could be in trouble.
17. Your topic fails the “Headline Hacks Test.” In my now famous Headline Hacks report, the key exercise involves writing 52 different headlines using the provided templates, one for every week of the year. Well, sometimes that’s a struggle. You can’t find 52 different ideas, so you end up with a collection of headlines that sound roughly the same. If that’s true for you, it probably means your niche is too narrow. You need to broaden it a bit.
18. You’ve run out of new topics to write about. The same goes for running out of new topics to write about. If you’ve been blogging for less than a year, and you already have to rehash the same old topics over and over again, you need to broaden your scope.
19. You own less than five books on the topic. Sometimes, you can find a perfectly viable topic, but it’s not viable for you. The simplest way to tell? Look over on your bookshelf, and count how many books you own on the topic. If it’s fewer than five, it probably means you’re not passionate enough about it. Bloggers who are successful over the long term are obsessed with their topic, and they’ve read everything about it, even books that are out-of-print.
20. You procrastinate because writing is a chore. Ever sit staring at an unfinished blog post, procrastinating, because finishing the post will be about as exciting as mowing the grass? If it happens once in a blue moon, you’re normal — we all have off days — but if none of the blog posts you write get your ticker going, you need to find a different topic, quick.
21. Your topic doesn’t fall into the “Big Seven” categories. Finally, we come to the simplest test of them all. Right now, there are seven categories with bunches of massively popular blogs: personal finance, self-improvement, parenting, social media, business, news, and gadgets. If your blog fits into one (or more) of those seven categories, you have a good shot, because the niches are proven and there are plenty of people to link to you, but if not, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle, not because your topic is bad, but because your niche has not yet matured.
So, does this mean you are screwed?
No, not necessarily.
I’ve hesitated to publish a list like this, because anybody can look at it and find a reason to quit if they are looking for one. I also worried it would discourage beginners who have genuine talent but are just lacking a bit of confidence.
The truth is, many blogs succeed despite being guilty of nearly every warning sign on this list, and some blogs that seem like surefire winners splutter and flop. No one really knows for certain until they work up the courage to give it a go.
So what should you do, if you’re worried you chose the wrong topic?
My advice is to think. Instead of picking a topic willy-nilly and hoping everything turns out for the best, do a little research using the warning signs above as guideposts, and ask yourself what it all means.
Becoming a popular blogger isn’t about luck any more than getting rich is about stumbling across a leprechaun in the forest with a pot of gold. The people who make it think strategically, map out a plan, and then work their butt off to make it happen.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but in each and every case you learn something. Even if you do end up scrapping your blog and starting over, you come out of it with a fresh perspective.
And if you think about it, that’s good news.
It means it doesn’t matter if your blog is a flop or not.
It means you don’t have to succeed the first time out of the gate.
It means your confusion is perfectly normal, and you’ll get through it.
So keep your chin up, do some thinking, work your butt off, and most of all, believe in yourself. If you’re determined, and you persevere, you will get there eventually.
And when you do, it’ll all be worth it.