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What to Blog About: The Data-Driven Guide to Choosing Blog Topics

Let’s begin with a simple fact:

Anyone can start a blog, but not anyone can start a blog other people want to read.

In the throes of self-pity, you might be tempted to believe it’s because of the fickleness of human nature, a lack of influential connections, or perhaps the realization of how difficult building an engaged audience actually is.

And you would be partially correct. All those factors do play a part.

But what if I told you the primary cause of failure for bloggers is actually their choice of what to blog about? Not their connections, not their persistence, not their understanding of how blogging actually works, but the accidental, unfortunate decision to write about the wrong blog topics.

You might be skeptical, and rightfully so. The good news is, I’m about to prove that assertion to you right now. Even better, I’ll show you how to uncover exactly what to blog about, increasing your chances of success 100X.

Blog Topic Insights from Studying 13,360 Bloggers

Blog Topic Insights

Over the years, my team and I have mentored 13,360 bloggers in every imaginable niche, language, and style. Everyone from meteoric success stories like Laurel Bern to thousands of students who have struggled to break through the noise.

And we’ve noticed some patterns. Some very interesting patterns.

Data from students shows us that some blog topics get traffic quite easily while others are nearly impossible. For instance, you can blog about square-shaped tomatoes with as much vigor and persistence as you like, and you’re never going to take off, because… nobody cares.

In fact, the range of blog topics where you can expect to both get substantial traffic and monetize is relatively narrow. Some blog topics that seem plausible from the outset, such as freelancing, actually don’t have a prayer of success.

In other words, your choice of what to blog about is critical. If you make the wrong decision, you can execute every traffic and monetization technique flawlessly, and none of it will work, because having the right blog topic is critical.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding your blog topic:

Step 1: Choose a Popular Niche

Niche to Interests

Before you write a single post, it’s worth asking yourself a simple question:

Is anyone in your niche getting significant traffic?

If not, what makes you think you can be the first?

For some reason, people are happy to invest hundreds or even thousands of hours into publishing content without stopping to consider if anyone else has ever been successful. Worse, they believe that competition is bad. They take pride in being the first person to write about a topic and believe that’s an opportunity.

It makes me want to cry. Not only is that perspective flat-out wrong, it’s tragic because it leads you to invest time into projects that never had a prayer of success.

So, how can you tell if a niche is popular or not?

The easiest way is to reference a research library like the one we have in Freedom Machine. It does all the heavy lifting for you by giving you a list of successful blogs, their most popular posts, and examples of how they monetize.

Research Library

But let’s say you don’t have that. What can you do?

There’s no exact science to it, but here’s the process I recommend:

Find a List of Popular Blogs in the Niche

This is trickier than it sounds.

Let’s say you’re blogging about how to trade stocks. Does that put you in the “stock trading” niche, the “investing” niche, or something else?

My advice: go to the broadest category that makes sense. In the case of trading stocks, that would actually be the “personal finance” niche, assuming you’re targeting people who want to trade stocks for themselves (more discussion about this later).

From there, just run a simple Google query like “best personal finance blogs”, and chances are, you’ll find several lists to browse through:

Best Personal Finance Blogs Google Query

From there, you just need to dig a little deeper and find out how popular those blogs really are.

Plug the Blogs into Ahrefs to Uncover Their Traffic

One of my favorite things about Ahrefs (affiliate link) is it gives you both social and search data. Let’s go through an example, and you’ll see what I mean.

In their Site Explorer, you can type in any URL to pull a report on the site:

Ahrefs Site Explorer

You’ll get back a report with an enormous amount of data. Going back to our trading stocks example, let’s say I found out that Mr. Money Mustache is one of the most popular personal finance sites, so I plug it into Ahrefs. Here’s what comes back:

Mr. Money Mustache - Ahrefs Data

And that’s just a sample. In the left sidebar, there are lots of additional reports where you can go even deeper.

If you want to look at social traffic, for example, you can click the “Top Content” link, and here’s what you get back:

Mr. Money Mustache – Ahrefs Social Traffic

There’s all the content on the site, sorted by total shares. As you can see, the top 10 posts all crossed 2,000 shares, so it looks like Mr. Money Mustache is doing well from a social traffic perspective.

Personally, I like to see at least five sites within the same niche with at least five posts above 1,000 shares. That’s usually enough to start guessing what readers in the space want to read more about. More on this later.

A Word of Warning about Popularity

Stop for a moment and think about another question:

What’s your end goal for building a blog?

I’m guessing it’s not just to get a bunch of traffic and feel good about yourself. You want to turn that traffic into money somehow, right?

Well, some niches are dramatically easier to monetize than others. You can get a lot of traffic writing about the daily activities of celebrities, for example, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make money blogging about it.

Some niches can only be monetized through advertising. A good example is the news. Every time you read an article on a news site, they get paid a few cents for an “impression.” That’s how they survive.

Monetization Through Advertising

If you do the math though, it takes a lot of traffic to start earning enough from advertising to quit your job or do anything meaningful. Like… hundreds of thousands of visitors per month.

For that reason, when my team evaluates popular niches, we also look at how the blogs are monetizing. Ideally, we want to see people selling some type of products and services because those genuinely have the highest ROI on blogs. If all we find are popular sites stuffed with ads, it’s a bad sign.

The bottom line?

Popularity is good, but it’s not enough. When you’re doing research, also pay attention to how blogs in the space are monetizing.

Step 2: Choose a Single Tribe That’s Hungry for Content

When you’re researching a niche, you’ll notice blogs seem to focus on different types of readers.

In the personal finance niche, for example, blogs like Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar focus on fundamentals like secure investments, living frugally, and so on. At the same time, there are other blogs like I Will Teach You to Be Rich and Mr. Money Mustache that focus much more on how to increase your income and improve your lifestyle.

If you feel like those sites are fundamentally different, you’re right. While they both occupy the personal finance niche, they serve different “tribes.”

Here’s what I mean by tribe:

A tribe is a group of people who congregate online around common interests.

In the personal finance space, the two biggest groups are “save and invest” people and “increase your income” people. Neither tribe is right, but they don’t really mix well with one another. You won’t find a blog focusing equally on both tribes.

So, how does this help you?

It allows you to narrow in on your target audience. Here’s what to do:

Name the Tribe for Each Popular Blog in Your Niche

Earlier, we talked about identifying at least five blogs with more than 1,000 shares on at least a few posts. Now let’s go back and figure out which tribe they are talking to.

For instance, here are the popular posts on Mr. Money Mustache:

Popular Blogs in Personal Finance Niche

Do you see the pattern?

Mr. Money Mustache is clearly positioning himself for getting rich and against extreme frugality in some of his most popular posts. In other words, he’s speaking primarily to the “increase your income” people.

So, go through your list of five blogs. Based on their most popular posts, who are they resonating with? If it’s not immediately clear, here’s how to figure it out:

  1. Skim through their popular posts for patterns.
  2. Read at least a few of them to get a better idea of their philosophy.
  3. Based on what you’ve learned, assign the tribe a name.

When you’re finished, you should have a pretty good idea about who’s interested in reading what. From there, you’re ready to…

Choose the Tribe That’s the Best Fit for You

Not all decisions can be made with spreadsheets and numbers. To succeed at blogging, you also need to consider what you enjoy talking about. The sweet spot is the overlap between your interests and everyone else’s:

Zone of Magic

For instance, let’s say all of the blogs you studied were suddenly interested in having you take over as Editor-In-Chief. Ask yourself…

  1. Based on your own approach and philosophy, which tribe would be most excited to have you as their leader?
  2. Which tribe do you feel like you could help grow and achieve their objectives?

In other words, you’re looking for an existing blog and tribe to serve as a model for what you want to build. It’s already built a following, so it’s clearly viable, and you feel like you could also contribute in a meaningful way.

That’s what I call the Zone of Magic. Ideally, it’s where you spend all your time.

What to Do It If You Don’t like Your Options

Before we move on, there’s one important question we need to address:

What if you’re not a good match for any of the existing tribes in your niche?

Approximately 60% of the students who go through our flagship course, Freedom Machine, find themselves in this exact situation. They have zero interest in writing about any of the topics they find on other popular sites in their niche. Even worse, they feel like those bloggers and their tribes just “don’t get it.”

If you find yourself in that situation, here’s a little tough love for you:

If there’s not an existing tribe who’s clearly interested in the same things you are, and you start a blog anyway, you’re essentially telling people they are wrong and need to change the way they think. In general, people don’t respond well to this. Not only will they refuse to share your posts or buy your products, but they might send you some hate mail as well.

The better, safer, and ultimately much more rewarding approach?

Go back to the drawing board and find a tribe whose interests align with yours. Instead of fighting them, just figure out where they want to go and show them how to get there.

Here’s how…

Step 3: Write About Their Proven Interests

Which would you rather write about: topics you think your readers might like, or ones you know will get traffic, because you have proof of those topics being popular in the past?

Obviously, it’s better to have the proof, right? You might as well invest your time where you have the best chances of success.

In this section, I’ll show you how to uncover those proven interests, as well as put your own spin on them. Let’s jump in.

Drill Deeper into the Site Stats

Earlier, we used Ahrefs (affiliate link) to examine the most shared posts on Mr. Money Mustache. Let’s go back to that:

Drill Deeper into Site Stats

In general, the highest-quality shares are the ones from Facebook, so I tend to sort posts that way instead of by overall shares. Save these for later by running a custom export of the first 20 rows and saving it to your computer.

Highest Quality Shares

The next step is to dig into the keywords driving the most search engine traffic. You can find those by clicking on “Organic keywords” in the left sidebar.

Dig into the Keywords

The default sorting by traffic is fine, but if you’re a beginning blogger, I would recommend eliminating all keywords with a keyword difficulty (KD) over 40. Again, do a custom export of the first 20 rows and save it to your computer.

Eliminate Difficult Keywords

You should go through the same process for all the most popular sites serving your tribe. By the time you’re finished, you’ll have a list of dozens or maybe hundreds of posts proven to be popular with your audience.

Choose Posts Where You Can Add Value

So… now you have a big list of popular posts on other sites serving your tribe. That’s obviously useful information, but here’s the big question:

How do you use that information without sounding like a copycat?

You didn’t get into this to regurgitate the ideas of other writers. You want to publish content that’s uniquely you.

Here’s how:

Copy the topic, not the advice.

For instance, one of Mr. Money Mustache’s most popular posts is Getting Rich: From Zero to Hero in One Blog Post. The topic is getting rich, and the advice is to live simply and frugally on half of what you make.

If I were to write a post on the same topic, I would talk about getting a remote job where you can live in a cheaper country like Mexico but continue making US dollars. In other words, I would give completely different advice on the same topic, and I would interweave my own story of moving to Mexico into it.

I’d also choose a different headline like, “How I Became a Millionaire from My Wheelchair.” Again, it’s the same topic, but an entirely unique headline. No one would accuse me of being a copycat.

You can follow the same approach with the most popular topics in your space. Scan through the list of posts you exported from Ahrefs (affiliate link) and choose the ones where you can write about the same topic but give your own unique advice.

Write a Better Version of That Post

Okay, you’re almost ready to write your post. Finally!

Before you start scribbling down your thoughts, consider two final questions:

  1. What made the post you studied on the topic popular?
  2. What can you do to create an even better post?

It’s like the old saying, “Stand on the shoulders of giants.” When you find a popular posts model, you always want to know why it worked, and you want a good idea of how to improve upon it.

At some point, I’ll write a post detailing exactly how to do that, but here’s the short version. There are five ways to improve upon any post, and they all begin with the letter ‘D’:

  • Detail: make your post more detailed (or comprehensive).
  • Design: include an infographic or organize your points in a more useful way.
  • Data: include unique stats or examples to back up your points.
  • Drama: amp up the emotion by infusing your post with personality and stories.
  • Distinctions: give advice based on your unique perspective as an expert.

For instance, the Getting Rich post on Mr. Money Mustache is pretty short and lacks a lot of detail, so if I wanted to compete, I would probably write a much more comprehensive manual for getting rich, clocking in at 3000+ words. I might also add in my personal story, giving it extra drama.

Regardless of which method you choose, here’s the bottom line:

Your goal is to write the best post ever published on a proven, familiar topic.

Is it easy?

Hell no. Usually, it’s a lot of work.

But this is how you win.

  • You stop writing about whatever you want and limit yourself to proven topics.
  • You study the competition.
  • You create content so much better than theirs, that it makes them want to call their mommy.

‘nough said.

About the Author: Jon Morrow is the CEO of Smart Blogger. Check out his new blog Unstoppable and read the launch post that went viral: 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face.

The post What to Blog About: The Data-Driven Guide to Choosing Blog Topics appeared first on Smart Blogger.

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Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader

I was roughly five years into my marketing career when I began managing my first direct report. It was the biggest challenge I faced yet. I was now being evaluated on the actions, successes, and failures of another person—and I also knew it was my responsibility to give them the support and tools they needed to have more successes than failures.

I felt as if I didn’t know how to influence, motivate, or persuade another person. But I was given the opportunity to try and to learn. I had a great group of bosses, mentors, and peers giving me advice, listening to my concerns or wins, and allowing me to make mistakes.

Quite a few years (and many direct reports) later, today I have a much better handle on how to manage a team. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just to manage people, time, projects, or priorities, my job is to lead.

But it can be hard to make the transition from a “doer” to a leader. And the stakes are high. In fact, a recent study from TINYpulse found that nearly 50% of employees have quit a job because of a less than stellar manager. In addition, those who don’t feel recognized for their work are two-times as likely to be job hunting.

Whether you’re stepping into your first management role, moving onto middle management, or you have your eye on the CMO office, as a leader it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and grow a happy and high-functioning team. The insights below are designed to help guide you down a successful path to a fruitful career and happy, supported, and motivated employees. 

Tip #1: Understand the landscape

Whether you’re managing one team member or an entire department, you’ll be setting goals and playing an integral role in setting the marketing strategy your team is responsible for driving results with. But to do that, you must understand the broad and niche context in which your organization, department, or service line operates. This means getting to know your customers, prospects, and competitors more deeply, so you thoughtfully can guide and educate your team:

  • Seek out opportunities to hold monthly or quarterly one-on-one calls with your priority customers. Ask them what they value most about your organization or product, as well as where you can do better. 
  • Regularly research your competitors. Subscribe to emails, follow them on social media, and attend industry events where they might be speaking. This will give you unique intel that you can bring back to your team.
  • Get out of the marketing silo. Brainstorm with the sales team. Talk to your customer service team. These teams are intimately familiar with the challenges your customers and prospects face.

Tip #2: Set goals … and exceed them

Yes, you’ve probably be setting goals at all stages of your career. As an individual contributor, your goals were likely focused on what you could individually achieve. In a leadership role, you’re likely responsible for setting goals for your team that will ladder to corporate goals. If you are new to a leadership role, achieving goals that map directly to the success of the company, can be a quick win to build trust within leadership and grow your team and influence. 

  • Keep your goals top of mind. Discuss progress, roadblocks, and wins with your team, your boss, and other leaders. The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. 
  • Incentivize if you can. Big and small incentives can keep your team motivated to achieve their goals.
  • Make it a number. In my experience, setting and achieving a numerical goal has more impact on the organization and is generally more impressive than an accomplishment-based goal. For example, make the goal double MQLs, instead of rolling out a new marketing automation system. The marketing automation system is a stepping stone to reach the goal, not the actual goal. 
  • Set goals quarterly. Ninety days is long enough to achieve something big-ish, but short enough to keep you focused. We’ve found quarterly goals helps us track for the year and keep the team more motivated. 

[bctt tweet="The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #3: Focus on scalability

Once it’s time to step out of day-to-day execution and supervision and into leadership, you should focus more on optimizing and solving issues on a systematic basis, rather than local basis. When I was a new manager, I found myself constantly on the run putting out fires as they would pop up, instead of focusing on why it started and how to prevent it going forward.

  • Create make-sense processes. Identify the things your team does over and over again such as campaign launches, attending events, or adding new content to the website. These are replicable events that you can create process around and then optimize for efficiency, results, and so on.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. Just because the marketing team has always had six copywriters, two content strategists, and an analyst, doesn’t mean that’s the ideal structure. Document the needs and functions of the organization and then map out the most make-sense roles to those needs. For the sake of the exercise, take the current situation out of it. You can employ a phased approach to get you from current situation to ideal. 

Tip #4: Shift the spotlight to your team

As you’re moving into leadership, you’re likely trying to build trust and show value to upper leadership, and it can be easy to lose focus on serving your team. Fostering a happy, well-functioning team is your top priority. Not only can you not do your job without them, but it is one of the best indicators of success to your boss and your boss’s boss. 

  • Shift how you find personal value from work. Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve, rather than the work we did ourselves. 
  • Clear obstacles. Be transparent when you can; have your employees’ backs. These things build trust and create a secure, happy, and productive team. 
  • Cultivate the next round of leaders. Understand what your team wants to achieve personally within their careers within the next five or 10 years, and help them do that. As leaders, we should always be identifying and growing the team members who want to move to the next round in their careers. 

[bctt tweet="Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve. @Alexis5484" username="toprank"]

Tip #5: Stay fresh on the job

At all levels of my career, I’ve found the best way to build trust with a team is to help them solve a problem. The more you understand your team’s job function, the more able you will be able to help them solve problems, innovate, and provide feedback to improve the function of their performance. 

  • Stay fresh. I find the best way to do this is to jump in and help execute from time to time. So, write a blog post or create the tactical plan. This keeps you from getting rusty, but also helps you empathize with your team and the challenges within their roles. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes you won’t understand the details of what they’re working on, particularly if you’re leading a cross functional team. But ask questions. Help them look at the problem critically, and it’s likely you’ll guide them to their own answer. 

Tip #6: Be the leader

One of the toughest transitions from individual contributor to leader, is owning your role as the leader. For the first few years that I was managing a small team, I was more likely to be found deep in the weeds, doing the tasks I did in my previous job titles, than actually doing my work as a leader.

There were a couple reasons for this. It was comfortable doing the work; I already knew how to do it and I was good at. I also felt like I was most helpful to my team if I was helping them get the work done by actually doing the work. 

This was not true. See tip No. 3. You (and I) are most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. If you’re always in the weeds, all you can see is the weeds. 

[bctt tweet="You're most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. @Alexis5484 on being a #marketing leader" username="toprank"]

Tip #7: Keep learning

The leaders I am most inspired by inside and outside of my organization are probably the most voracious learners. Continuous learning through a variety of mediums will help you continue to evolve your skill set, bring in fresh ideas, and help you be inspired to test something new. Here are a couple of the resources that I go to:

  • Read: HBR is a go to for great content on how to lead, manage and shape a business. 
  • Listen: Dear HBR has a great Q&A format about navigating workplace challenges. 
  • Attend: Industry events are great for providing outside perspective, networking with other leaders and inspiring the evolution of your tactics. MarketingProfs is a great event for marketers.

Take Your Place at the Leadership Table

Each stage of your career offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The way in which you handle those situations—tackling them head-on or leaving them for someone else—has the potential to make or break your success in that position… and the one that may or may not come after. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you work to build your team, your organization, and career as a leader.

Looking for more tips on how to inspire, motivate, and build a more effective marketing team? Check out our tips for getting your marketing team to work better together.

The post Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader appeared first on Online Marketing Blog - TopRank®.

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