I have a confession for you. Research might seem like the most boring thing you might get down to.
When you are looking to commit many hours, that you could otherwise spend on more joyous activities. The research you perform is key to determining the best way to roll the dice. Research is equally as important as planning.
If you go about research gently but progressively, you will find that it was a lot less intensive than you thought, and a lot more eye-opening.
The What Where How of Research Before Starting Your Blog
Research is invaluable.
In essence you go away, collate informative data, and then arrange it logically into an action list. That’s what research is.
The information provided by Research provides you a direction, a steer, a path.
When you are thinking about getting your blog under way from scratch, or even from a long period of inactivity, you need some research.
What Does Research Do?
There is no way to answer that concisely in a 20 word or less answer. Look at these points:
- Informs you what your potential competitors are doing
- Offers ideas on what you could try
- Provides clues as to what really works and what really doesn’t*
- Presents you an idea on how to layout your work
- Identifies what language to use with your audience
- Points to a profile of a typical member of your target audience
- Alludes to gaps in the market
- Outlines strategies you should avoid by cutting the corner on silly mistakes
*Blogger’s caveat: What works for one audience may not work for another, specifically yours.
If you didn’t already come to a conclusion on research, it is definitely an activity you should spend some time on. The more quality time you spend the better.
Research rocks. When you finally decide to start your project you will realise that you didn’t do enough of this and you will find that you had wished you had spent more time researching. Trust me.
What to Research?
This is difficult if you haven’t defined what your model audience member is. This article produced by my friend Ahmad Imran over at reasontouse.com, provides an idea as to the ideal group of target profiles Ahmad is aiming for, so a recommended read.
Each blog’s audience is shaped by those who interact with the information, those who engage, those who get behind what you do. It takes time to encourage but you can shave a lot of that time by researching what triggers might work best for the kind of audience you are trying to attract. You might even have to change the idea of your perfect target audience because that individual might not be the kind of person you really want to attract.
What language works well?
Some audiences respond better to a certain type of conversation. If you start dropping the right phrases you will do better.
Blogging is textual, visual and can involve interactive elements. You will have to find the right mix.
Certain audiences respond when you use the right terminology.
One thing you can guarantee is that a conversational tone is the best way to get your audience member on board with what you are trying to convey.
How your audience absorbs the data?
Some audiences respond better to the addition of certain types of media. You can supplement and make your data easy to digest if you involve more graphical information. Certain charts will hit the sweet spot. Some infographics will do well.
This can vary greatly depending on the niche you plan to exploit.
As an example, if you run an extreme sports blog, your audience are going to respond well to pictures. It may be more prudent for you to include some galleries in your articles, rather than just one image.
Where does your audience hang out?
This helps you stop wasting time.
Fact; Social media is a time sink.
You will need to pinpoint the most effective method of finding your tribe as soon as possible because in the beginning of your blog, numbers will be minimal so you will need to find those individuals who make the effort to share your genius.
You are going to start at zero at some point and it is going to take you some time to generate traction.
What makes you different?
Business-speak for this can be expressed as USP; your unique selling proposition. Every writer generates their own method of presentation which has a charm of its own. When in a crowded market you have to be a different voice.
Eventually you will generate products and services that may borrow from the dimension that you’ve charted in key depth. These unique elements are important visual representation of the kind of content that a visitor might expect.
All of the successful bloggers I have come across in my time blogging are there by having a key issue that they solve incredibly well. They are the master or mistress of that item, of that viewpoint, of that solution. Whilst the blogger might cover a wide range of items it is highly likely that they have one particular core specialty that marks them out.
I mention Pat Flynn a lot, if you haven’t read my past articles. We aren’t in a ‘bromance’, he doesn’t part own my company. He is inspiring, you can’t deny it. He has evidence that he has become a successful entrepreneur, in major part to blogging and other associated activities. Pat shares a lot of useful information that I can take action from and apply.
Pat is a shining example to me, and I have no difficulty saying that. I only have difficulty emulating his success, but find it reassuring that he continues to succeed. Being British, we Brits often have problems accepting those more successful than ourselves, it is a British trait, we snub or throw dung at those who show us up. With Pat, I feel differently, he gives a lot of information away and if you pay enough attention you can learn a lot.
These are the key areas where Pat is different.
- His podcast without doubt is the one key area that draws a lot of attention to his blog.
- He is the foremost specialist on using podcasts in his marketing strategy.
- Podcasts are his thing. So much so that he has sold a podcast product that has been self-developed specifically for his platform. That is no small undertaking, no small investment.
- What makes Pat different is Pat. He uses his personality and his own unique story as his USP.
What makes you valuable?
This is a surprisingly important question when you weigh everything up. You might be led to believe that you don’t matter all that much in the beginning but you will be surprised to learn how market leaders can sometimes home in on your good works by chance.
The truth is that depending on the given field of what you are researching, you have to determine factual content you can run with that provides enough fuel to the reader.
It is the meat in the sandwich question. If you have no meat in the sandwich, you have just two slices of bread. If you are vegetarian, is there any filler there?
You need your reader to leave your site feeling satisfied.
Your research should therefore try to determine that one thing that makes you valuable to a passer by.
What identifies you?
You might ask how this is different to “what makes you different” and in many cases you would be right to think there is no difference.
However, identification goes a bit further into the visual.
In this regard we are looking at brand awareness.
How are you going to stand out against all of the vanilla that is already out there?
A generic blog is white, very much a “denim” site. If you want to do better you have to work on colours and signals. Thinking about a method of making your data unique and memorable is time well spent.
What infrastructure to use?
Infrastructure for your blog is something that will start with a foundation.
Theme is important as it is the window for your audience and the heart of your machine for world domination. If you are not using a self hosted blog, the theme is already likely to be a choice out of your hands, there might be some customisation but otherwise you are bound to that particular framework.
New bloggers need time to learn, buying an expensive premium theme might not be the best way to go. Your fledgling audience won’t mind a more basic entrance as you find your feet. You can then roll out the red carpet when you have the goods to match the experience.
Alongside merely the theme, you will need traffic sources. In order to supply those, you are going to determine what best social media sites you want to use. The tip here is that you don’t use them all.
In fact, the fewer social media sites you use in the beginning, the better. There is always a danger of spreading yourself too thin. Social Media does take a fair while to get to a head of steam and you’ll find if you relent even for a second, people will leave you in droves. Get one area right and the rest will follow, social media has to be managed as a continuous campaign.
Where to Research From?
It is important to spread yourself broadly but focus your research on quality. The sources of your research are important in forming your ideas.
Here are a few sources but you may find more:
You should try and determine the top 10 in your sphere and see what works for all of them.
There are patterns you will be able to determine. For example:
Everybody has a mailing list signup box in the top 10. This would indicate that having mailing list subscribers is a good idea.
5 out of 10 sites use an advert box before you even get started reading the blog content. This might inform you of how lucrative the niche might be, or how resistant the community is to blatant advertising. You might be able to determine what product you might be able to float later on.
The emphasis here is not on ‘parroting’ a site but more on making the smart moves that competitors show you could work. You may find later, that your personal mix of audience, don’t get on so well with the attributes you include which may mean you have to revert to a different strategy. At least you’ve looked into what those options might be.
Sometimes sites other than blogs will be inspiration. There are many sites that don’t have a blog element attached.
You should be able to garner what images work best at the very least. You might also be able to ascertain titles and layouts that work well for a larger audience.
Familiarity and ease of use are important for establishing interaction.
Bestselling books can often provide an idea of a hot topic. They don’t even have to be bestsellers (but obviously bestsellers are likely to give you a better steer on what is big).
Questions for Incumbents (those already doing what you want to do, and doing it well)
Why not talk to some bloggers if you get the chance, see what is actually hot and what’s not.
It never hurts.
The worst that someone can do is not respond or say no.
By rule of thumb if you ask 20 people the same question, at least 1 of them will respond. It may be good to impart a time imperative in your request to facilitate a quicker response.
If you get no responses but feel that with a small fee you can pay for some information, this might be a good way to go.
How to Research?
There’s no specific way to research. You don’t have to start from a perceived beginning.
The best first step is to start. As mentioned above, it doesn’t matter where you start.
Research has no magic formula. You could try and develop a rigid plan for research but you may miss critical observations that could advise or inform.
I recommend you develop your own method if you need to do this research often. You will find that if you later commit to the blog, you’ll need to reinvent as your blog moves forwards. Research will always return to the fore as an important process.
Curation for content is the most common task.
Curation for research will give you a taste for the kind of work you will have to perform when curating articles for your audience.
When to Stop Researching
There will be a natural point where you have exhausted all the questions you needed answering. You will come across a few unanswered questions but when you feel that there is a shape to the answers you can follow the next step.
Setting a time limit for research is important. If you set yourself a month and work hard at it you should have covered enough bases. When you feel you’ve done enough, stop.
What happens if I get to the end of my research and don’t want to continue?
You can consider this outcome a success. It might determine that the idea you are trying to chase is already too mainstream, already tapped out. There are a lot of topics that have been covered so heavily that you may stand no chance of standing out, and that to pour your heart out would be a chronic waste of your time.
A lot of bloggers start out in a broader topic but work their way into a niche that they feel comfortable with. A niche market is more effective. You aren’t trying to capture the entire world, you can actually do a heck of a lot with 350 raving fans, and not worry about the thousands that don’t buy in to what you are providing.
Now that you have completed planning and research we will move to motivation. The next step is the most important step in the blog. The make it/break it step.
Step 3 Commitment.
I look forward to bringing you this step soon but please be patient as this is a much more involved post.
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Do you have questions or tips? Let me know either in the comments below or through email@example.com
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