The honeymoon between blogger and new blog seems to last about three months. One morning, after the novelty of posting rants and YouTube embeds is worn out, a thought comes with the dry-mouthed taste of not enough sleep:
So I’ve got a blog. Now what do I do?
Perhaps you find that you’re satisfied with what you have. This is not a bad thing; there is something to be said for starting to sleep regular hours again.
Or perhaps you’re like me: you want more. You’re not sure more what, just yet, or even how you’ll get it.
In time, I discovered that what I want is purpose, more than anything else. I think many people do, as it’s nice when a large time investment of yours is worth something, not just to yourself, but also to others. And I’m a writer; we’re communicators at heart.
If you want what I want, then what you want is an authority blog—in other words, a focused blog in a particular niche. Which is much harder than it sounds. It would take me another three months to even realize that, in fact, it’s also very different from how it sounds.
But in return, you do indeed get more. And that’s why I keep it up.
With that in mind, here are five steps to finding your inner authority—the one that isn’t determined by how much link bait you put up, but is determined by how much value you provide to others.
Why the Authority Blog?
After all, it’s quite a difficult path. You’d have a much easier time just digging up the link bait and tuning your SEO. Why try harder?
Well, first of all, you want more. “Easy money”, if there ever were such a thing in the blogosphere, will not give it to you. A blog towards the more extreme end of the monetization range is one where you serve primarily as a gateway to your advertisers. This is not wrong, but it’s certainly not that indescribable more.
Secondly, the authority blog’s ROI isn’t so much in ad revenue as it is in audience building. You serve up value to your readers. You and your audience are the primary players in your shared relationship; the advertisers don’t get anywhere close, and may indeed be cut out entirely. And in return, you gain loyal readers—not because you’ve tricked them, but because you give them something they want or need.
This article was partly inspired by Chris Garrett‘s Why Authority Blogs Are the Hardest But Most Worthwhile. Among many wise things, he also said this:
It’s much slower and harder with an authority blog to develop traffic as you have to be more choosy. It’s not enough just to do linkbait or SEO tricks, you have to attract the right people and delight them with your content so they subscribe and come back. Here you actually need to get to know your audience and what they like. You have to treat them as individuals rather than a herd of potential ad-clickers.
Note that while an audience can translate into money, money doesn’t necessarily translate into an audience.
Personally speaking, I just enjoy the reciprocal relationship with my readers. I write stuff; they read it. Very simple, like tea with yogurt.
Five Steps to Finding Your Inner Authority
Step 1: Find your passion.
Passion is the fuel of blogging. If you aren’t passionate, it’s going to be hard to keep going after the honeymoon wears off, and it’ll be even harder to change and improve yourself for months thereafter.
something you’ve been passionate about for some time. It could be writing. Or, for a blessed change, it could be science fiction, or Victorian maids, or Neti pot collections.
something you can talk other people’s ears off about easily. This rules out minutely specific subjects you have little idea about and no interest in digging deeper into.
something you’re willing to research and connect to other people about. Few people are great by themselves; many people are inspired by others. And inspiring other people has its own reward: that’s called reputation.
something you can exercise by practice, whenever possible. In other words, if you’re going to write about writing, then write Other Stuff too, and learn. If you’re going to write about Sherlock Holmes, then read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, watch the Granada series, and listen to Merrison’s BBC show, and put some thought into it.
Step 2: Connect to your niche.
Who’s got the information and the influence in your niche? Now you need to find out who’s there and what they’re talking about. Find the informative bloggers in your niche; find the good forums that have intelligent posters who discuss your niche. Read their conversations and entries. Listen to the buzz.
But that’s not all you need to do. You need to join in the discussions; simply being passive isn’t going to do it. If people don’t know you’re there, how can you connect to them?
That said, participate intelligently. We all know how to use our spam filters—the ones inside our heads, that scroll through comments of “Nice post, here’s a random link!” and automatically label such commentators idiots at best, spammers at worst.
So comment intelligently: be on topic, be respectful, and be honest. Contribute something other than cliches or second-hand leftovers from yesterweek, something new and different from what you’re seeing from others. If you have a link that’s actually relevant to the subject at hand, then share it (even if it’s you).
You will never go wrong if you remember: this is a conversation between me and you, not promotion of one or the other.
Step 3: Determine your strengths.
First and foremost, your experience: are you new to the field, or are you an oldie? How much do you know?
If you have quite a bit of experience, then you have quite a bit of latitude. Knowledge is only one advantage of having more experience; connections and knowledge of the audience are of nearly equal importance. You also are more clueful about what you don’t know, which is the bane of the wet-behind-the-ears newbie.
If you’re new, you need to take into account the fact that you’re an idiot right now. But if you can learn, you’re just a temporary idiot, as every old hand once was.
New or old, you should consider:
Are you good at teaching and tutorials? If so, these can be valuable to your readers, and often such articles get bookmarked, dugg, stumbled, etc. On the other hand, if you suck at teaching, tutorials from you will have the opposite effect.
Are you good at telling stories about your field? If so, these provide great amusement value to your audience. Some of us can tell great stories just from visiting the grocery store. On the other hand, some of us can only tell great stories if they involve spaceships or elves.
Can you poke humor at your field and (important point) have other people laugh with you, rather than at you? If so, you are John Scalzi. If not, you are Andrew Burt. Either way, use (or don’t use) the force, Luke.
Are you very observant, and able to reconstitute those observations into articles like What I Learned About Synopses and 4 Principles for Packing a Punch with Unique Content? That’s also highly valuable, and is my personal strength.
And so on. Look inside yourself; come up with your own. Look at what amuses and inspires you from other bloggers, and apply that to yourself and see if a match comes up.
When they say “write what you know” they also mean “write what you can”.
Step 4: Find your focus.
This is what you, specifically, can bring to the conversation on a regular basis. Often this won’t be obvious (or even ever well-formed) until you’ve learned more about your niche.
Brainstorm ideas that play to your strengths, experience, and observations; ideas that you can explore in both broadly and in depth.
Sound hard? It is. But it’s directed passion that drives the best blogs; anywhere from the dance with all things geek in BoingBoing, to the social media focus of DoshDosh, to the intimate writing life of they must need bears. Directed passion is what drives all things that lead to authority. Directed passion is what you bring to the table.
Maybe you read a lot of sci-fi/mystery/fantasy/historicals and have built up a reader’s view of that world—very applicable when you start writing. Or perhaps you’ll be satisfied being an in-depth reader, reviewer, maybe critic—there’s nothing wrong with that. We could use more intelligent reviews. Perhaps you have your eye on a sub-genre or two—cozy mysteries versus procedurals, for instance.
Maybe you have a particular line of research that you’ve always been interested in, and which come into play with your non-fiction or fiction of choice: castles, for instance. Middle ages and battles. Animals of the polar regions. Baroque composers.
Your authority may be difficult to find. Don’t worry about that; with enough perseverance, you’ll eventually figure it out.
Step 5: Keep experimenting.
But the thing is: you need to keep actively figuring it out. It’s just like writing; to learn it, you have to do it. To find your inner authority, you must seek it, out loud. Don’t accept the first answer that comes along: challenge it; blog along its lines and see how far you can take it.
If there’s anything I learned about authority, it’s that it evolves as time goes on. And without change, you stagnate—and we can’t be having that. It’s quite alright to change your focus as you learn more about your niche, although at a certain point the changes should become more subtle.
And if your first blog goes pear-shaped, don’t worry. You can always set up another, more focused blog from what you figured out here. That’s the beauty of blogging versus print media: it’s not bankruptcy to set up shop again.