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The Niche Of Good Writing And Valuable Content

The Niche Of Good Writing And Valuable Content

Photo by aftertheparty at deviantART

Photo by aftertheparty at deviantART

The reason to read a blog long-term has less to do with its topic than it does with the quality of its writing. Though the subject of a blog (or a book, or a magazine) might be the thing that initially attracts me to some blogs, I find that the blogs that stay in my reader are ones that are written by people with a talent for written expression, regardless of how they choose to apply that talent.

Useful Blogs, Well-Written Blogs, And Everything In-Between
There exists a subset of blogs that are in the business of providing useful information to a vast audience of people. I read these kinds of blogs on a variety of topics, among them personal finance, web design, coding, marketing, and consumer issues. The utility of these blogs is self-explanatory: they offer the search engine user quick answers to their questions on specific topics, and for a user interested in learning a new skill, they offer “cookie content” in the form of tips and tricks to be gathered over a few months as a regular subscriber to the blog.

The only problem with the “useful” genre of blogs is that the novelty of the topic can wear off, and after that this self-consciously useful content becomes subject to the rules that the rest of the blogosphere has to deal with: viz. the blog must have some other quality that makes me want to keep coming back, week after week, even if I feel like I’ve outgrown the level of information it provides on a topic. It is for this reason that you will sometimes hear people complaining that such-and-such blog “isn’t as good as it used to be,” or read an announcement that somebody is going to stop reading such and such a blog because they are overrated. It doesn’t occur to these people, as Darren Rowse pointed out recently, that perhaps they have outgrown the content on the blog, rather than the blog changing the quality of its content.

Blogs that don’t offer useful content can gain a following as well, but they must have some kind of appeal that is strong enough to attract people without there being something “in it for them.” This is why, incidentally, most mommyblogs will never make it past about 200 visitors a day (if they even get that far): not only are there eighty-five million mommyblogs out there to choose from, but there are very few mommyblogs that offer useful advice on parenting, i.e. the kind of thing that people would be looking for in a search engine.

If you are a personal blogger who wants to make a business of blogging, you have to

  1. offer useful content somehow;
  2. have access to a large mainstream media outlet on a regular basis;
  3. achieve longevity in your niche over the course of more than two years; and/or
  4. be an unusually great writer.

You might even need a combination of the above four characteristics to gain a lot of traction in the blogosphere as it exists today. The good news is that most blogs crap out after six months or so, so if you’ve been blogging that long, you’ve already beaten a lot of the competition.

The asset that personal bloggers and mommy bloggers have over the “useful” content bloggers is a personal involvement with their readers (well, sometimes) that is very attractive to marketers and advertising companies. Personal bloggers write about themselves and through this, they establish a relationship with their audience that gives them more credibility than the average blogger of useful content. The authority that one gains by blogging about their lives (and, presumably, about the products they use and enjoy) is something that potentially offers an opportunity to make money from blogging, but how this power is deployed is a sticky question and brings up a variety of moral issues.

When the Writing Is The Cookie
Rather than being yet another naysayer about the possibility of making money from blogs, I would like to suggest that in order to make your blog into a business, you have to think both in terms of what you are offering the potential “customer” (aka reader) as well as how you can develop a relationship with them. If you are a talented writer, that can be a product in and of itself–both because people like to read good writing for entertainment, and because it is through reading good writers that you become a better writer yourself. But this does not preclude the need for developing a relationship with your readers: the difference between blogging and other forms of media is the ability to interact with your audience, and developing this aspect of your blog is crucial to developing credibility as an authority in your niche.

There are some blogs out there that offer the reader a cookie in the form of their writing. One is Penelope Trunk. Though her blog is on an ostensibly useful topic (career advice), I doubt that the bulk of her traffic is from search engines. Rather, I think she gets a great deal of traffic because she is a talented writer with a fantastic way of expressing herself and getting attention. If I went to Penelope Trunk’s website for career advice, perhaps I wouldn’t always be charmed by what she writes. But since I go there for her writing, I’m always happy with what I get. And sometimes, I learn something, too: and never what I thought I was looking to learn at the time.

A good writer can make any topic interesting. Who would have thought that a three-hundred page book on the power of split-second decision making would be interesting? But Malcom Gladwell can make anything interesting. Blogging is no different: gone are the days of anyone with a blog making an income (if these days ever existed). These days, you have to be both useful and well-spoken to compete–the good news is that this is still an attainable goal, even for the one-person-fueled blog on any topic.

Comments (10)

  1. May 26, 2009

    Couldn’t agree more. Although I’ve never articulated this point (or certainly not this well), it’s ultimately the ‘soul-feeding’ nature of the content — arguably different things for different readers — that keeps ’em coming back. Which is why I sincerely wish more bloggers devoted a modicum of time to improving their writing (or at least to avoiding careless grammatical and spelling errors) and, by association, their credibility.

    So I’m curious…such glowing praise but why no link to Penelope Trunk’s site?

  2. May 26, 2009

    D’oh. I forgot!

  3. May 26, 2009

    So timely. I am wrestling with this now. I decided to be THE blog about my city (Temecula.) Believe it or not in our town of 100,000, I am the ONLY person blogging about daily life here. I decided to take all my Temecula-centric content and move it to Daily Temecula with hopes that DT will become a place people check in with daily or at least a few times a week to see what’s new. I don’t want to make it a calendar of events, though, nor do I see it as an “online magazine.” I envision keeping the BLOGGINESS of it. It’s really a balancing act.

    My dad, who is such a talented guy, is designing my logo as we speak. Then it will unveil and we’ll see where it goes….

  4. May 26, 2009

    Another thought: good writing is *invisible*. The writing disappears. That’s how I want to write. I don’t write that way (at all) and am thinking of changing my technique to be more readable. I know I need each blog entry to be (much) shorter, for one thing. So much to work on…for what is basically a (very time consuming) hobby.

  5. May 26, 2009

    @Juliet, I actually had a paragraph in there about the way good writing makes my mouth water. But I decided it was too creepy. But it’s really true–I’m a weird person.

  6. May 26, 2009

    @anna – One thing I learned from years of writing reviews: Don’t suppress the urge to add odd revelatory details. It’s what makes your writing human and unique. Facts like your mouth watering is why we love to read Penelope Trunk. Or Dooce, for that matter. They never hold back stuff like that.

  7. May 26, 2009

    I’m not looking to make my personal blog a business. First of all, who cares. And B, I don’t want my SIL to find out I’m alive.

    I do look for the blog I’ve set up for my work to work (nonprofit/no ads not business). It never occurred to me that readers “outgrow” a blog. I’ve done it many times and figured I was just bored. Now, how to make my work blog something that will never be a snooze fest for our intended audience…. Blog on that for me, will ya?

  8. May 29, 2009

    Good post and comments. I like the description of a good blog as “soul-feeding.” Like you, I’ll read a well-written blog no matter what it’s about. Also the idea that good writing is invisible. Definitely something to aspire to. To badly paraphrase Samuel Johnson, look through what you have written and find a passage that you think is particularly fine, then strike it out.

  9. May 29, 2009

    I fogot to add, I admire Penelope Trunk’s blog too. I noticed a couple of times that she’s mentioned sending her posts to an editor before they’re published. I wonder if the editor has a light touch, or is really what makes us think she’s a great writer?

  10. I have to say, those were all great points I’d never considered. I’m going to have to give those things some thought… chew them around a bit.

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