Updated: December 20, 2016
In this chapter, we will look at how a blog idea starts to form in your head and why all of the experts think you need to find a niche first.
Why You Need to Understand Your Audience
What's the most important thing about creating a successful blog?
The content, right? Content is King!
That's a good guess, but it's wrong.
The most important thing is understanding your audience. If you don't understand your audience then you don't stand a chance.
In the long run, you need to understand the people that read your blog.
Not having at least a little understanding of your audience is like showing up to a formal party thinking it was a costume party. You look pretty silly in that Elmo outfit!
In June 2016, my brother and I started a health and fitness blog. While I was building up my other blogs I just told him to write cool things about health and fitness and he did.
He wrote some great things, we promoted them, and nothing happened.
Things didn't click until we finally studied our audience to see what they really wanted.
Here are the results:
Once we knew exactly what problems our audience were trying to solve we were able to write posts that targeted those problems specifically and traffic started to rise.
How can you expect to help people out if you don't know their problems?
How can you expect to relate to people if you can't see things the way they do?
You can either spend months writing content that you think your audience wants or you can spend that time writing content that resonates with your audience.
Your audience is your livelihood and they need to love everything that you do because everything that you do is for them.
That's a tough pill to swallow.
Are You Selfish?
You started a blog because you wanted to but people read your blog because they want to. If you spend all of your time doing things for you why should strangers care about that?
Everything that you do is for your audience. No questions asked.
That's okay because you are your audience as well.
Many blogs are started because people want to share their experiences. The people that are drawn to these blogs are the people going through the same experiences.
Your audience wants to relate to you and one of the ways they do that is through shared experiences.
I am able to write this guide because I've been through the process of starting a blog a number of times. It's important that I try my best to go back in time and think about all of the things I struggled with when starting a blog and relay to you an easier path.
It doesn't work if I maintain the mindset of an expert because then we can't relate to each other.
What to Do When You Don't Know Your Audience
Odds are you won't know your audience at the beginning or you might think you do only to find out later you were completely wrong.
You want to know why this site exists? Because when I started Obstacle.co I made an assumption about the audience that it would attract. I assumed it would be people that had started a blog and are looking to grow it further.
I was wrong.
The majority of Obstacle.co's audience is filled with people who aren't sure if they want to start a blog or not. They are seriously considering it, but they don't know the steps to take.
That meant that I had a choice to make. I could either start focusing all of the content on Obstacle.co to relate to this audience or I could do a spin-off site that would cater to that audience.
I chose the second option because I wanted to try and keep Obstacle.co focused on those people with blogs looking to grow.
Running two different sites is a lot of work so you might have to make the hard choice and decide whether you want to continue to try and grow the audience you thought you were going to have or change course and cater to the one you actually have.
Sometimes you just have to start writing your blog and engage with the people that your blog to better understand them.
I was able to do this really well through my email courses. The first email someone receives when they sign up for one of the courses asks them a question in which I hope that they reply back to me with the answer.
This starts a conversation that I would otherwise not have access to. You gain so much insight by taking the time to talk to people.
Here is an example of an email that I received from someone getting ready to take my free email course:
I have felt like writing a blog is one of my callings for a long time. Not because people are using it to make money but because I really feel like I have something to offer the world. I've been writing for years. Merely failing at just doing life. I keep pushing starting my blog back. It seems so impossible. I don't know where or how to start. Eventually I hope to use it for income but I want it to start out as a blog that really helps people. A blog that allows me to build a brand that can actually help the lives of other people in some way. I told myself that I'd start writing after this starts and after that starts and it just feels like now is the best time to start. I want to have a DIY blog but something very different from what other people are doing. My goal for diy is how to do life the way you want. I want it to help the every day person. People that I feel need someone they could relate to. Someone just like them. There's nothing special about my story, I don't have a husband that has a lot of money or a family support system. It's just me and my son and I want to show the every day woman that she can have everything she wants.
Help me. I'm 100% ready put in all of the work needed to make this blog to become a successful reality.
There is some powerful stuff in that short email that helps me better understand the type of people that are coming to my blog.
You can't guess who your audience is or hope that you'll magically figure it out. The only way to understand them is by talking to them.
When the Magic Happens
Once you have a good feel for your audience something magical happens. Your content strategy becomes clearer. Your monetization strategy becomes clearer. Your marketing strategy becomes clearer.
It's a magical thing.
The best bloggers succeed because they understand their audience and cater to them completely.
Later we will talk about how to find your audience and come up with some personas representing them. For now I want you to write down what you think your audience is all about.
What assumptions are you making about them? Are they exactly like you? Do they know more or less? Are they casually looking around your blog or are they hoping to get something out of it?
- Evaluating Your Audience Through a Deep Dive
- How To Find Your Target Audience And Create The Best Content That Connects
- 12 Ways To Understand Your Audience (And Deliver Stellar Content)
- How to Understand Your Audience in Order to Make Informed Content Decisions
Finding the Problem
When do you go and purchase something?
When you really need it.
When do you really pay attention to something?
When it's helping you out.
The general blogging advice is that you need to pick a niche. That's ridiculously vague and hard to do.
Picking a niche means you have to let go of all of the other interesting things you want to talk about. That seems silly.
Why blog if you can't blog about whatever you want (remember it's about them)?
Instead, I suggest you go with a different approach. If you really want people to pay attention to you then you need to help them solve a problem.
You hate having problems in your life and you would do anything to get rid of them. If someone else is around to help you do that, then more power to them. You'll love that person and you'll owe them big time.
Focusing on a problem takes care of your audience and niche problems as well.
Instead of thinking about a giant group of people that fit into your audience focus your efforts on one person. Think about the biggest problem that person has that fits within the topics that interests you.
You might come up with a number of different problems, but I want you to pick one. That is going to be your blog's focus starting off.
Pretend you run a blog for single parents.
Single parents have a lot of different problems that you can think of that they want help solving. Because you have to pick one you've landed on how can these parents still have a life outside of their job and kids?
It's a tough thing to balance, but you have the solution for them.
So you set up your blog and begin to write about the topic. You cover it from all angles.
- How to create more time when there isn't any
- How to function on less sleep
- How diet and exercise helps you get more things done quicker so you can spend more time for yourself
- Activities your kids can do solo or with friends that won't leave you feeling guilty
I could go on and on. You're solving the same problem and yet each post is unique. These posts put out a beacon to single parents who stress about not having enough time for themselves. You might not get a million people to your blog, but the 10,000 that do come are your perfect audience.
After a while you might have hit every possible angle that you could think of for the problem. You've even written a book on it and because your audience is extremely targeted they scoop it up.
Now you can think about the next problem for your audience.
Not everyone will have that problem, but maybe half of them do and you can bring in even more new people.
This time you decide to talk about dating as a single parent.
- When to introduce your child to the person you are dating
- Letting your date know that you have kids
- How to ensure your ex and your new mate get along
- Spltting time between your kids and your new friend
The same process follows. You cover the problem from every angle until you're exhausted and then move on to the next thing.
Sometimes you'll find that you can talk about a problem forever. Awesome! More power to you.
You can see how this approach makes things a lot easier because you aren't worrying about what to write about or if your audience will care.
Instead of worrying about finding topics that will interest your audience you've chosen a problem and based your content strategy around that.
If You Can't Think of a Problem
What happens if you can't think of a problem?
You can do one of two things (or both if you are feeling frisky)
- Do research on your audience. Go to some of the popular blogs in your category and find the posts with a lot of comments. People usually bring up their issues in the comments. Take note of them and maybe you'll start to see a pattern form.
- Just start writing and cast a wide net. For Obstacle.co I had an idea of the biggest problem my audience was facing, but I wasn't positive so I covered a number of different topics initially. What happened is a different audience came in and surprised me. The result is now you have this site being born.
What About Multiple Topics?
Taking this approach makes it seem like you can't have a blog about multiple topics. That completely depends on how you frame the problem.
Let's pretend you have a crafts & cooking blog.
If you start with the problem of how do you consistently cook healthy meals for your family that completely neglects the craft topic and makes you a full-fledged cooking blog.
If you write a post on how to build a birdhouse then what happens to your cooking audience? Some might be interested while others might think you're going out of bounds talking about something besides cooking.
To fix this you just need to frame the problem the right way. You could say the problem you're addressing is how do you bring the skills of your grandmother into the 21st Century when these kinds of things aren't taught to you growing up anymore?
Now you've opened your blog up to crafts and cooking! As you will see in the section about your Why, being able to hone in on a problem means that you are able to build an emotional connection with your audience.
You no longer have a general crafts and cooking blog. Now you have a blog that caters to the people that really wish they acquired the skills that their grandmothers had and they just don't know how to get them.
I know it can seem like a subtle difference between saying you run a craft and cooking blog versus a blog that wants to bring 19t Century skills to the 21st Century, but it's an important difference.
- List the different problems that you think people in your audience are looking to solve. As you'll see in the Restless Pathfinder section, when you can provide solutions to these problems you open yourself up to gaining True Fans.
- What main problem is your blog going to solve? Is it too broad or too narrow?
I consider this the most important section in this guide.
What we will cover in this section can make the difference between building something you truly love and something that becomes a job.
It will be the difference between having raving lunatic fans that love everything you do and an indifferent audience that likes what you do, but if you disappeared it wouldn't bother them.
So what is this magical thing that will change your life?
It is your Why.
Why the 9-5 Can Drain You
Every time I've held down a job I've tried my best to always be motivated about what I do, but at some point the motivation fades away.
It's hard working for a company where the Why doesn't align with you or even worse there is no Why in sight.
Many people get jobs to make money. If money was a good Why then people wouldn't care how shitty their jobs were because they were making money.
But humans don't work like that.
We like to be driven by a higher purpose.
The Hosting Company
I used to work for one of the premier web hosting companies around. Every creative person loved them because they were cool so I figured working for them would be cool as well.
I was a product designer. This role meant that I got to think of new products for our customers. In theory, it should've been awesome. I was a web hosting inventor.
The reality though was a lot different. All I did was come up with new names for the same old hosting products and decide how much new memory should be on the new servers.
Even more, disconcerting was when I would come up with an idea for a new product it would get shut down by some department head. The reasoning every time was because they believed that it didn't fit their agenda.
Every department had their own damn agenda.
You know how hard it is to get anything done when every department you have to work with has different goals?
I wanted to find a way to unite the company under a common goal so that everything was humming like a well-oiled machine so I thought of a Why.
I'll tell you what it is in a little bit, but here is another good reason why every blogger should have a Why: it can't be copied.
People will copy your blog posts, your products, and even your design, but they can't copy your Why because it is embedded in everything that you do.
That's what makes the special companies stand out and why they have fanatical fans.
As a blogger, your Why and your voice are the only things that will separate you from the rest of the crowd.
In the web hosting industry, there isn't much difference between one company and another. They use the same hardware and same ugly admin interfaces. They all strive for excellent customer service and their hosting plans are separated by a couple of dollars.
The only thing that is different is their Why.
If you asked a hosting company why they exist what do you think they would say? Some would say to make money and every for-profit company exists to make money, but what else? To build the fastest and most reliable web hosting available? That's probably the goal of every company.
That doesn't help you distinguish between one company and another.
However, what if a company stood up and said:
We believe that everybody deserves an opportunity to share their ideas with the world.
That's powerful. That completely changes everything and did you notice that it didn't mention web hosting at all? That means you can think of 100s of different cool products that will help people achieve that.
Things no other web hosting company would think of because their Why revolves around something generic.
That is the Why I came up with for the company I worked for. It's a Why that every department can get behind.
It didn't work out because I didn't run the company. These things only work from the top down.
Thankfully, you are a company of one so your Why will stick.
Your Why Is Your Message
You can think of your Why as your message to your audience. You won't always clearly state it out, but your audience will always sense it in everything that you do.
I believe that everybody deserves the opportunity to create the lifestyle that will make them happy.
That is the Why for Obstacle.co. It's what drives me to write the type of content that I do.
Every decision that I make about Obstacle.co I ask myself whether or not it will help my audience get closer to the Why or does it take away from it?
Serving this Why means that I am serving my audience and you know that your audience is everything.
If your Why revolves around you making money then people will sense that and while you will probably make some money you won't develop much of a loyal audience.
All of this might sound like some hippie crap, but over time as you continue to work on your blog and talk with your audience it will become more clear.
It's time to think about the Why for your blog. Think about your topic, your audience, and what you believe in.
Is it something that improves the lives of your audience or is it self-serving?
People are greedy.
They always want something for their time.
Your audience is no different.
When they show up to your website they want to know what you are going to offer them. This is your promise to them.
For example, on Obstacle.co I promise to help you turn your blog into a profitable business. Right away someone can decide if the site is for them. Your Promise shouldn't appeal to everybody because everybody isn't your audience. Your Promise will only truly appeal to your True Fans.
What your Promise does is make them believe that you will help them get from Point A to Point B. It provides them with hope that someone out there is able to help them.
A Concrete Outcome
A good promise is one that is concrete. There is nothing nebulous about it.
I help bloggers achieve success.
That could mean anything and therefore doesn't appeal to anybody.
Letting someone know that I will help them turn their blogs into profitable business is concrete. They understand the result that they will get.
You might do even better if you get really specific. For example, if you run a fitness blog you could say that you will help people lose weight or you could say that you will help them lose 10lbs in 10 weeks.
They both are pretty concrete, but one is definitely more tangible to the audience than the other.
While you aren't explicitly guaranteeing results, you pretty much are. If someone tells you they are going to help you do something then you expect it to happen.
If I tell someone I will help them make $500 a month and they do everything I say and only make $20 a month then I haven't lived up to my end of the bargain.
My guarantee was bogus.
However, if I help someone make $400 per month that is pretty close and even though we didn't get to the $500 I promised, they can still walk away happy.
Promise and Deliver
A general rule of thumb for business is that you should underpromise and overdeliver. With your blog you just need to promise and deliver.
The Problem and the Promise
Remember the problem that you thought about for your audience? The one that the single individual in the crowd has?
Your promise can be to solve that problem. As your blog grows along with your audience you can expand your Promise to encompass more of the problems that you are looking to solve until eventually you have a Promise that covers everything.
The Promise is something that you show everywhere. You show in on your blog's homepage. You show it on your Pinterest and Twitter profiles. You might even tattoo it to your forehead.
What outcome are you promising your audience that they will achieve by reading your blog?
The Restless Pathfinder
We've covered the importance of understanding your audience, finding their problem, and discovering your Why.
All of these things are going to help you find your one True Fan.
When you think about your blog's audience you can break it down into different sections.
You have the really big circle which encompasses everyone in your audience. These are your Twitter followers, email subscribers, and random blog visitors. In general, they are kind of interested in what you do.
Within that giant circle is another circle. The people within this circle like what you do and they read most of the emails you send out and blog posts you write.
Within that circle is an even smaller circle. This circle holds your True Fans. These are the people that open every one of your emails and purchase every product that you put out.
They love everything that you do. Why?
Well, it was a multi-step process.
First, they were looking for a solution to a problem. They came across your blog because you made them believe you had the solution. Once they read your post they started to get pulled in. As they read more posts they felt an emotional pull to everything that you were saying because your message (your Why) reached out to them.
They sign up for your mailing list and every email that you send out pulls them in even closer.
You are the beacon that is going to help them get from Point A to Point B.
I call these people Restless Pathfinders because they are in constant search of a solution to their problem and they won't stop until they find it.
When you speak to these people all they can talk about is the pain that the problem brings them. They know destination they want to arrive at but are unsure of the path to get there.
You are offering them that path.
The Only Person You Care About
The Restless Pathfinder is the only person you care about. That may sound cold, but look back at the audience circle.
Notice that the Restless Pathfinder is in the middle of it. Everything that you do for them benefits everyone else in the circle as well.
You write a post specifically for the Restless Pathfinder and the random bystander gets some value out of it.
You write an epic email specifically for the Restless Pathfinder and the casual subscribers gets some value out of it.
Before when I said you do everything for your audience what I really meant is that you do everything for the Restless Pathfinder. If you want your blog to be a business then you must cater to them because they are the ones that will open up their wallets for you.