Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Strategy for Building Niche Focused Blog Networks

Problogger Tips
Yesterday on the preview call for Six Figure Blogging I was asked about starting multiple blogs. I mentioned that if I were going to start a blog network afresh today as a single blogger that I'd probably do it focused around a single niche rather than starting focusing upon numerous topics with numerous blogs.

This isn't to say that starting a blog network with a wide focus on many topics can't work - at b5media we've managed to grow to 315 blogs on everything from Tax to Bags to College Basketball to MTV Reality TV - however starting a network with such a wide focus is a challenging thing and to kick something off around a more focused niche has some distinct advantages.

Advantages of a Niche Focussed Blog Network

  1. For starters having related blogs means you can cross promote and leverage the traffic from one blog to promote another
  2. Secondly it has some advantages for selling advertising directly to advertisers. If you have two blogs on completely different topics it's virtually impossible to sell ads on both of them to the same advertiser but if you have two blogs with similar reader demographics it doesn't take much to upsell advertisers to run campaigns on both.
  3. Thirdly - it can help with your SEO to be interlinking related sites.

How I'd start a Niche Focused Blog Network

1. Work hard at building a blog with a good profile and traffic base on a single focused topic

One of the mistakes that I think some bloggers make is that they bite off more than they can chew in the early stages. They hear about some of the big blog networks and think that the key to success is to launch with lots of blogs. While it might be impressive to launch with 10 or 20 blogs, unless you have an established team and serious time on your hands you're setting yourself up for a nightmare when it comes to keeping them all running. You'll also probably spread yourself too thin and never really develop any of the blogs to their full potential.
If I were taking this approach I'd pick a topic for the first blog that was reasonably wide and that had scope to be broken down further later. I would work hard on this first blog for months (probably 6 or so) before even thinking about launching more blogs. The key is to build it to a point where you can use it as a springboard for further expansion.

2. Leverage the First Blog

nce you have an established readership I would then begin to think about how to leverage my first blog's profile and traffic to start a second blog. This second blog should relate at some level to the first either in terms of topic or demographic. Let me flesh these two options out a little more.
Topic - By topic I mean that the second blog should relate to the first blog's niche focus. It could do this in two ways.
Firstly it could either pick up one of the topics that the first blog covers - perhaps by taking one of the categories of the first blog and expanding it into a blog focused upon that specific topic (see image below). An example of this here at ProBlogger would be if I were to start a second blog on the topic of SEO (a topic I touch on from time to time in my SEO category).
The second way is to pick a related topic to the first that isn't really gone into in much detail on the first one. There may be some overlap but it's limited. An example of this here at ProBlogger would be if I were to start a blog on 'Video Blogging'. I've never really written on this topic but I've done a little video blogging and there is a definite cross over in terms of topic.
By choosing a topic that relates to the first blog (using either of the above methods) you're more likely to be able to draw some of your existing readers into your second blog.
Demographics - the second way to choose a topic is to think about the type of reader that you already have reading your first blog and to pick a topic that might appeal to them. This is in effect what the Gawker blog network has done. They've started a series of blogs that share a certain demographic (young, largely male, edgey readers). So blogs on gadgets, porn, tech, cars, gaming etc have done well for them as they've been able to cross promote - not because the topics really relate but because the audience shares numerous interests. Lets illustrate it visually:
Firstly we have the first blog and their readers:
And next the second blog is added and rather than the topics overlapping we see the second blog targets a similar kind of reader.
Whether your second blog relates to the first by topic or demographic (or both) the key is to think about ways of cross promoting the two and drawing readers from your first blog to your second. In this way you give yourself a head start.
Another example of this is Wendy's eMomsatHome network of blogs. Wendy started out as a single blog but in the last year has added 6 blogs to her network. All of these blogs relate to one another in terms of both topic and demographic (she's targeting online working parents).

3. Extract Yourself from Your Blogs

It's not easy writing on more than a single blog. At one point in my own blogging 'career' I was attempting to write on 15 or so blogs each week. Let me tell you, this is not sustainable. It's just not possible to provide quality content on that many different topics - even if they relate to one another. At some point you need to find a way to extract yourself from your blogs and to work with others so that you can expand. This might happen while you still have one blog - or it might happen after you've started a 2nd or 3rd - but it needs to happen before too long or you'll hit a ceiling of what you can achieve.
If I were starting out again I'd attempt to bring on a second writer (or more) as quickly as possible. Hiring writers is a topic for another post (here's something we've published previously on the topic of hiring writers) but it doesn't have to be that hard. I recently advertised for bloggers for my photography blog on my own blogger job board and had 50+ quality applicants within a day or two. It was then a matter of choosing those that I thought fitted best and negotiating conditions with them. It takes a little while to get everyone settled and working well but it's one of the best things I've ever done and has allowed me to spend more time on other tasks.

4. Rinse and Repeat

The more you blog in a niche the better you get at identifying new potential topics for blogs. This comes through interacting with readers, listening to their questions, watching the trends in your niche and watching what other blogs are starting up around you. As you do this you'll begin to see other topics that relate to your current blogs and reader demographics. When you notice them and if you feel you have the resources to kick start another blog - do it. Once you've started a few you will find that the process for starting up will get easier and you may be able to use some of your current writers on new blogs (at b5 we find that using our current bloggers can be good because it means we don't need to retrain from scratch - however you don't want to stretch them too thinly). The key is to launch blogs that relate to your current ones in some way so that you get that kick start we talked about earlier.
In a sense what I've described is what I did in my early days of blogging by going from having a Digital Camera Review Watch site to adding Digital Photography School. In doing so I was able to promote DPS to my existing readers and newsletter subscribers and launch with a thousand or so daily readers pretty quickly.
This strategy is also quite similar to what b5media has been doing with our 'channels' or 'verticals'. While we've gone wide with quite unrelated topics we've also grouped them together in channels under the leadership/editorship of 'channel editors'.
Further Reading: Last year I wrote a post on How to Launch a Blog Network which bounced off a post that David wrote on the topic. In that post I told some of the story and lessons learnt in the development of b5media. Hopefully between that post and this one there will be some help for those starting out on the blog network journey.

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