Recently, I visited a very interesting blog that focused on personal finance and political issues targeting twentysomethings. The author had a very distinctive voice and he clearly had his audience defined, yet there was still one problem: he was often posting things and making statements that were going to drive away a big part of his readership. Case in point: I was greeted with a photoshopped picture of Paris Hilton with a disconcerting comment added across her chest and a post written in rather crude language about the dumbing down of America. Twentysomethings who are reading a personal finance / political blog are likely going to be fairly conservative and are going to be interested in information on how to get ahead in this world. The author got the twentysomething demographic spot on, but he missed the boat on the rest of his audience.
What’s the moral of the story here? Don’t scare away your readers. This seems like a simple idea, but it does require some forethought and it does require a bit of a filter on your thoughts. Although some will see a “thought filter” as being anathema to what their blogging experience should be, it’s a simple fact that some statements will drive away some readers. If this is a bargain you’re willing to accept, it’s your choice, but you should be aware of that fact.
How do you know if you’re going to chase away your audience, though? Before anything else, you need to clearly define who exactly your audience is. Figure out as many details about your “average reader” as you possibly can and develop a real profile for who exactly is reading your site. Is your reader likely to be a pop culture junkie? Are they liberal or conservative, or is it too hard to tell? Are your readers free spirits or the accountant type?
Here are some tips for making sure that you don’t accidentally frighten your readership into clicking away from your site.
If your audience holds a certain belief to be central, don’t insult that belief. For example, let’s say you write about Christian theology, but through this study you discover that you are an atheist. Your site likely has a highly Christian audience, so if you proceed to post a bunch of atheist positions, you’re likely going to destroy the audience you’ve built up. Similarly, if you post on financial issues, your audience is likely politically neutral with a slight lean towards the conservative. It would be a very poor choice to start a campaign for Dennis Kucinich for President in 2008 on your blog.
If you’re writing to adults (on non-“adult” themes, obviously) and your mother would be offended, don’t post it. Consider this: many blogs are read while people are burning extra time at the office. They click through the site and see a picture of a nearly-nude woman or of a man holding up a sign with an offensive slogan on it. How long do you think that window will be open? Not long, indeed. Remember that your readers are mature adults and minimize the content that might not be socially acceptable.
Avoid some topics entirely. Unless you’re writing specifically about a controversial topic, you’re better off avoiding it entirely unless your main topic of focus can offer a really useful and unique perspective on it. I have no intent to ever discuss abortion or sexual topics on this site; they just don’t fit and all they would do is either antagonize or scare off my readers. Even if I’m thinking about those topics, it’s just not a good choice to post them here.
Whenever you post, remember what the potential limits of your audience are and try not to push those limits too hard, or else you’ll see your traffic decreasing over time.
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, Social Bookmarking, or back to the previous one, The Mini Audience.