Let's face it: you're not starting the next BuzzFeed.
No matter how clever your headlines, you won't match Upworthy's viral success.
Business Insider and Mashable?
There is no chance you can match their traffic levels — or even come close.
What about being able to do anything if you put your mind to it? If you had unlimited time and resource, sure, maybe you could build a mainstream blog. But chances are you're human like the rest of us and have the same 24 hours a day and limited resources.
How you handle your resources will determine how well you fare in the blogging world. Try to do too much, and you'll fall flat on your face. Aim too low and you'll get lost in the bottomless sea of mediocrity. There is a sweet spot, and it doesn't take a venture-funded entrepreneur to find it.
#1. Focus is the key
The one way to ensure optimal use of resources is to focus. It might sound simple, perhaps too simple. But the most effective ideas are often the most obvious. Focus, and you will thrive.
Hold on a second there. We might misunderstand each other. There is a difference between focus and attention. You can give your attention to a task, but that doesn't mean you have focus.
A good analogy: willpower vs. self control.
It takes self control to avoid eating the whole bag of candy. But willpower enables you to remove the craving altogether. In the same way, with attention you can write a blog post. But only with focus can you create a cohesive publication.
Huffington Post, Mashable, Business Insider, and other huge blogs don't have focus. They publish on many different topics. Because you don't have their time and resources, you can't afford not to have focus.
How do bloggers focus?
By writing about a single topic. Managing a single-topic blog takes not only focus, but also discipline and a tireless spirit. Done well, single-topic blogs can provide the greatest success for regular bloggers.
Check this awesome TED Talk about Focus.
#2. Pulling off a single-topic blog
If you read up on the pros and cons of single-topic blogging, you will notice that the negatives are all similar.
- Writing about a single topic can get boring
- You limit yourself when writing about a single topic
- There isn't enough material to write regularly
Excuse me if I disagree with each point. If you're a regular, mediocre blogger then maybe these negatives affect you. A focused blogger sees the positive in each of these supposed negatives.
Writing about a single topic can get boring. Really? Sure, if you don't love your topic anything can get boring. Also, if you don't love your topic, don't blog about it. A blog should be about something you love so much that you can't not write about it. So much for that excuse.
You limit yourself when writing about a single topic. Limit yourself to what, exactly? Writing about something you love? Perhaps you have many loves and aspire to greater things. Great! In a few short paragraphs I will discuss how to explore all your loves.
Hint: you don't have to cover them all under one roof.
There isn't enough material to write regularly. As you might imagine, this idea is hogwash. If you love your topic, the ideas will flow. If the well ever starts to look dry, you can fill it back up with little effort. In fact, once you turn yourself into an idea machine, you'll have more blog posts than you have time to write.
#3. The authoritative advantage
Authority has become a buzzword of late. But unlike other business buzzwords, authority conveys an actual message. If you want people to visit your site, give them a reason. Know your niche better than anyone else. Become an authority on the topic.
Imagine trying to establish authority on a multi-topic blog.
If you established a general music blog, how long would it take you to become an authority? Perhaps the better question is, what sets you apart from other music critics? Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Rolling Stone, among many others, publish countless album reviews.
Wouldn't you do better to cover a smaller niche? Metal, for example, might be too big a genre. There's MetalSucks, Blabbermouth, ThePRP, and many more blogs that cover the general metal scene. Why not drill down and cover just thrash metal better than anyone else?
Instead of being just another album reviewer, you can become the authority on thrash metal. Imagine how much easier it will become to promote your work. Sites like MetalSucks could pick up your work. After all, you're the authority on thrash. Who knows, maybe Pitchfork could eventually hire you as their thrash album reviewer.
Opportunities expand with authority, but you can't easily become an authority in a broad topic. It takes plenty of time, networking, and passing through various gates. Becoming an authority in a narrow niche? That's something that you can do with your own effort.
#4. Single topic blogs, plural
If you haven't yet started a single-topic blog, please pause.
What follows might excite you, but please do not act on the advice. The focused blogger also has patience. Work on the first blog. Cultivate an audience. Build a social presence. Skip to the final section for actionable advice.
When your first blog becomes reasonably successful, you might think about launching another. You have many different loves, after all. Why write about only one of them?
Whatever you do, don't expand the scope of your first blog. It is an entity unto itself. Continue giving it love and care, but leave it as a single topic.
When the urge strikes to write about a different topic, create a new single-topic blog. Follow the same process you did with the first blog, but learn from your mistakes. You'll find it easier to cultivate an audience and build a social presence, because you've done it already.
Have two successful single-topic blogs?
Don't hesitate to start a third — so long as you can pay proper attention to the first two.
How many blogs is too many? That's for you to decide. But there is no practical limit. That is, as long as you work with great people.
What, you thought you could do this alone? Perish the thought. To create a network of single-topic blogs, you need a great team just as much as you need focus.
#5. The network advertising advantage
A blog network is no new concept.
What is Gawker but a network of blogs?
SBNation networked dozens of sports blogs. BlogHer, bloglovin', and dozens of other networks host blogs of all types. The networks have a general theme, and the individual blogs relate in some way.
Why would bloggers prefer to band together? The advantage lies in the numbers — the traffic numbers. Higher traffic numbers will attract not only more, but also higher quality advertisers. It doesn't take an internet marketer to tell you that higher quality advertisers will pay premium rates.
Where will these opportunities arise?
Individual advertisers. You've seen blocks with background ads for a product or, more commonly, a movie. Chances are that advertiser won't approach a blog with 100,000 monthly unique visitors. That kind of advertiser requires a larger audience. If you have a network that gets a collective 1.5 million monthly unique visitors, you might find a deal.
Advertising networks. The greatest opportunity for blog networks lies with their advertising network counterparts. Great blog networks piece together standout single-topic blogs. Great advertising networks can find companies that want to access those audiences.
Why couldn't a standalone single-topic blog approach companies that want to reach their audiences? These companies have only so much time and attention for advertising. They typically delegate that task to the ad network and will refer you there if you inquire with them.
The networks have a responsibility to their advertisers to find the highest quality sites. To serve this responsibility they create high bars to entry. Big ad networks like Casale Media, Conversant, and PulsePoint set high traffic requirements. TribalFusion notes their requirements right on the site: 5,000 daily unique visitors.
While some single-topic blogs can reach this traffic level, it takes time. What are you supposed to do in the meantime? You might never reach those lofty traffic requirements at all. The answer is to combine forces. find other single-topic blogs, others or your own, and approach bigger ad networks. You'll all earn more money sooner.
#7. The network promotional advantage
If you publish something and no one reads it, did you waste your effort? To a degree this is acceptable — in your first month or so. Every great blog has to start from zero. Your job: get that blue line in Google Analytics off the floor.
Chances are you'll do this through traditional social media channels. Twitter and Pinterest can send ample traffic your way. (Facebook might, but I've found that Facebook better serves people who already follow you.) But again, you face the same issue as above. If you tweet and have no followers, did you tweet at all?
Having a single-topic blog makes social media promotion easier. You can engage not only with others in your single-topic niche, but also those in the next tier higher. If, for example, you have a healthy cooking blog, you can link up with healthy cooking peers. You can also reach out to more general cooking blogs. After all, they will want to feature healthy recipes from time to time. You can take that further and find general food blogs.
Combining single-topic blogs into a network gives you more promotional avenues. The most obvious lies in cross-promotion. If you share each others' content on social media and even on your blog, you can multiply your promotional effort. That way, if one blog gets big it can help the other blogs in the network. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Promotional advantages don't end with helping out each other. Have you ever dreamed of writing a book? It's easier than ever right now, with the proliferation of ebooks and creation tools. Don't have the time to write one yourself? Don't think you have enough skills or knowledge? You can work with other bloggers in your network to create an ebook. In fact, finding where your niches overlap can create a more powerful book than your niche alone could.
Individual promotion can prove difficult, even debilitating, for bloggers. Having a group of peers will help you in many ways.
#8. Managing a network of blogs
Managing a single blog is not easy, but it is straight forward. Managing a network of blogs takes much more effort and involves more complexities. You're in charge of not only the blogs, but the social media accounts, the advertising, the SEO, and more.
You're also in charge of the people, which can be a far more daunting responsibility. Each blogger in your network has an ego. You have to manage these egos, satisfying each one's individual needs. As you might imagine, this kind of management can make you go insane.
As the head of the network, managing people is your job and your job only. If you try to delegate management of people, you'll lose touch with them. Try it and see how fast your network crumbles. But you can delegate other tasks. There are two ways to approach this.
Use the bloggers in your network. This might seem like the simple and obvious solution, but consider what I said about bloggers. They all have egos. Choose the wrong blogger to help with management and you create a cascade. The other bloggers become resentful. Not only are they getting poor support, but they feel like they could do a better job.
Still, “hiring” bloggers in your network to help with administrative tasks can prove effective. It can also be your cheapest option. Since their blogs are in the network, they're invested in it. They might forgo current money for a chance at more in the future. That's what they're doing with their blogs in the first place.
Using an assistant. The alternative is hiring someone to help you manage the day-to-day of the network. The advantage hiring from outside is the level of disconnect. A blogger from within your network might give him or herself preferential treatment.
That's not so with an outside assistant. (At least, not at first.) The downside: cost. You'll have to pay the assistant a fair salary, since he or she won't have a vested interest in the network. Even a part-time salary can be tough for a fledgling network.
Chances are you're not going to find a local assistant to work in the office. (Because your office is probably your house or apartment.) You're better off looking for a virtual assistant.
They've been all the craze since Tim Ferriss's bestseller The Four Hour Workweek. You have plenty of options here, so make sure to shop around for the price and level of service that works for you.
Worldwide101's virtual assistants might prove especially useful in this regard. They not only perform administrative tasks, but can help with your social media and outreach efforts. That helps you get the most out of your dollars spent.
#9. First actions
Overview articles are nice, but they don't leave you with an actionable step. That changes right here. Now that you know the advantages of single-topic blogs and how blog networks work, it's time to act. So where do you start?
Start a single-topic blog!
There is no other place to start. Unless you rely on other projects to pay the bills, put them to the side. Focus!
Perhaps starting a single-topic blog is too vague a starting point. Let's break it down into an even finer powder.
Sit down at your computer, or with pen and paper, and come up with ideas for single-topic blogs.
Find a name and domain name that fits.
Buy the domain name and, if you don't have it already, a hosting package. I use Lithium Hosting and have had a total of zero problems in three years.
Install WordPress, find a responsive theme (and pay a couple bucks for it), and start blogging!
The most difficult aspect of anything is making that first move. Like pushing a boulder, you have to overcome the initial inertia. But then you can use inertia to your advantage. Ride that momentum and watch your single-topic blog grow. And then start another. And another. Recruit more bloggers.
The big wins are closer than you think.