Before you even start to write, you need to think carefully about who you’re writing for. If you don’t know exactly who you’re writing for, you’re not writing for anyone and not many people will visit you.
Take The Simple Dollar, for example. When I was thinking about how to start the site, I began to develop a demographic of who would be reading the site, and here’s what I came up with:
The average reader of The Simple Dollar is a person between the ages of twenty-five and forty. This person has usually encountered some significant amount of debt in his or her life. In most cases, this reader is college educated, and student loans make up a significant portion of this debt load. In many cases, this reader is or was a heavy consumerist, which means that they’ve likely had credit card problems in the past as well. Of course, being a heavy consumerist means that the reader will be familiar with Western pop culture touchstones. This constant reader is likely also fairly technically proficient, as they’re turning to a blog for information and entertainment, which means discussion of soft technical issues is generally appropriate. There is also a significant chance that the person reading the site is a blogger, or considering being a blogger, so posts about blogging, particularly from a somewhat financial perspective, would be of interest.
Why bother with such a thing? It seems boring and kind of cold, doesn’t it? I know that when I read through it with a detached perspective, I hear Hannibal Lecter in my head whispering, “A census taker tried to quantify me once…”
The reason for making a clear description of your audience is so that, once and for all, you can clarify who exactly you are talking to with your blog. When your blog is successful (and even not so successful), people are going to regularly stumble upon it, people you don’t know at all. You can’t really know their likes and dislikes and you can’t be entirely sure that the material you present will engage the reader and make them want to stick around for more.
By describing your constant reader in as much detail as possible, you can get a better grasp on what that reader is like. What interests do you share with the reader? Which ones do you not share with the reader? What cultural touchstones do you share with the reader? How educated is the reader? Each time you’re able to answer once of these questions, you’ve got a better grip on who is reading your site – and thus who you should be writing for.
It’s also important to note that the more details you can add to that constant reader, the better. Most people can name one or two items that describe their readers, but it is often a real challenge for most bloggers to name more than that. So, right now, as an exercise, make a list of ten things you believe about a random reader from your blog. It’s not really that hard. How old are they? What cultural things do they believe in? How educated are they? What are their interests? What experiences have they had that might have led them to your site?
Once you have this audience description, you can use it every time you write a post. As you’re writing, ask yourself: would my reader (who you now know) have an interest in what I’m writing? How can I make it more interesting or useful for him or her? Because you’ve taken the time to figure out your audience, suddenly your blog is a more interesting and useful place – and that means more and more visitors.
Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Define Your Own Success, or back to the previous one, Love What You Write.