Building a Better Blog: Reach Out

When you visit a site on a certain topic, you usually know what to expect. When I visit dooce, I expect to read about parenting, for example. Yet the entries that often really pull me in are the ones that bridge the gap between the writer’s specific topic of interest and my specific topic of interest. For example, I quite enjoyed this post about a hidden cost of home ownership; it was still within the general boundaries of the parenting topic, but it touched on an area that interested me as well.

The key here is to find ways to reach out to new audiences beyond your established one, while not alienating your already-faithful readers. Whenever I add something to The Simple Dollar, I know that my readers are expecting it to have some connection to personal finance, but I’m always wondering how I can twist that concept just a bit to attract readers from different genres.

This very post is an example of what I’m talking about. The Simple Dollar is a personal finance site, but here I am posting a series on how to make a better professional blog. What’s the connection here? It’s pretty simple; both blog development and personal finance are all about managing and maximizing your resources and both seek to eventually help you to earn money. They both require a personal philosophy of persistence and steadiness, and they both, ultimately, come down to desire: do you really want to make it work. Thus, it makes sense to work on a series about professional blogging on a personal finance site, provided that the blogging series doesn’t become the focus of the site.

Another great example of this is my recent post on free software for Windows. I am always on the lookout for free software that can replace expensive commercial software, and with my recent laptop purchase, I was able to basically build a laptop with everything I needed on it with no additional software costs: full productivity suites and all. Since I saved a lot of money this way, it seemed like a natural thing to post about. It turns out that the post really struck a chord with the tech and personal productivity communities and I was able to reap the rewards with lots of new visitors.

Here are some ideas on how you can reach out to topics and communities outside of your own.

Make a list of your other interests. If you’re going to write a great post linking two topics, you need to have a passion for both topics. So, make a big list of your other interests. For me, blogging, baseball, writing, technology, gadgets, personal productivity, marketing, and such started my list, which quickly grew into the hundreds.

Make an idea map. Take some of those ideas and make an idea map. Pull out a sheet of paper, turn it horizontally, and write your main topic on the left and one of the new topics on the right. Then start connecting them by listing potential connections in the middle and drawing lines wherever you see a connection. I usually write further thoughts on the lines as well, so the connection is clear when I look at it. The purpose of this is to simply write down as many connections as possible.

Break the connections into potential post topics. Each connection you make in that idea map is the potential for a post. Take those connections and start working with them, massaging them. Some will come easier than others; that’s fine. In the end, you should have a healthy list of topics that bridge the gap between your own topic and another topic.

Look for key community points in which to insert your post. I usually do this by searching Technorati for posts that are anywhere close to my idea. I try to find several potential links that I could use; I particularly look for posts that appear on reasonably popular sites, but not the most popular ones: ones that have 100 to 750 sites linking to them. These are usually leaders within small communities and often have a ton of interesting information; they’re also often followed by people who are behind the heavy-hitting blogs. When I finally write my post, I’ll usually link to a few of these. Trackbacks, Technorati, and keyword searches will often take care of the rest, but if you really want the post to get noticed, send an email to one of those popular (but not too popular) blogs you linked to and ask them for advice.

Do your research well. If you’re inching towards another audience, they’re going to know quickly whether or not you have a clue, so don’t put in a statement that is just nonsensical. Do some research and make a good, accurate post before you expose your blog to a wider audience.

Remember: every time your blog does something interesting to you without jumping completely beyond the general topic, it’s almost always going to be interesting to your readers.

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, Be Yourself, or back to the previous one, Keep Something In Reserve.

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