Pre-PS: Here’s a G-Docs worksheet you can make a copy of to figure out what you should blog about. It’s ungated. You’re welcome. =)
Everyone and their mothers are trying to make money blogging these days.
If that doesn’t make you want to give up on blogging, then keep reading.
In this post, you’ll learn how to develop an interesting blog theme, and get inspired by a long list of blog examples — with some ideas I haven’t seen shared anywhere before.
I truly believe if you can produce really phenomenal content, then any of these types of blogs I mention will drive the traffic you need to monetize it down the road.
How to Develop a Theme for Your Blog
What should you blog about?
You can’t just decide one day that you want to blog.
To do it right, you need to research, plan and strategize, which is actually a lot of fun! Sometimes even more fun than the actual writing.
Step 1: Brainstorm.
The first (and best) way to jumpstart the brainstorming process is by asking yourself questions. The second is by researching.
1.1: Ask yourself questions.
Here’s a G-Docs worksheet you can make a copy of to figure out what you should blog about. It’s ungated. You’re welcome. =)
What type of people like you and why?
This is important because you want to target an audience of people, who will love you and your personality, stories and advice.
Describe these types of people, and jot down what they say they love about you.
What advice do people ask you for?
Think of anything and everything.
For instance, my friends come to me for:
- Career-related advice (Resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc.)
- Internet help (Things they can google)
- Website help (Design, WordPress, marketing)
- Negotiation advice
Don’t limit this question to your family and friends though. Consider what your co-workers ask you for help with or what they say you’re good at.
What are you currently learning or what have you learned recently?
Think books, articles, courses…
Could you teach anything you’ve learned from any of the above?
What do you want to learn?
Learn about it, and document your journey with actionable advice.
Have you experienced any major life changes or experiences recently or will you in the near future?
Most of my friends are getting married and having babies (kill me). Maybe you could blog about the journey to your wedding day.
You could document your journey to help others:
- Save money while wedding planning
- Learn about tools/resources that make the process easier
- Tips on dress shopping
(There could probably even be a funny blog from the male’s perspective going through the process.)
What do you like to talk about?
What meaningful thing(s) could you discuss for hours on end.
For me, it’s:
- Predatory student loans
- Unpaid internships
- College/Higher education
Based on my above interests, I could create a blog called, “Is it me or the world that’s all wrong?” (I’ve been saving that title for a book I want to write!)
My imaginary blog could feature:
- investigative stories that educate readers
- opinion pieces that outline solutions to various problems
- feature stories about people experiencing these problems
- how-to posts that teach readers how to solve these problems for themselves
What am I already doing?
What are you already doing that you could “document,” or write about that people would find interesting?
Think about the blogs and books you read (or podcasts you listen to) and why.
Why do you read the blogs you read? What do the authors do that draws you in and keeps you coming back?
Take inspiration from them, and make note of what you like about each.
What is something that no one else is doing? Why?
Do you see any big gaps in the market? Or even if there is competition, could you do something different that makes your blog blow the current ones out of the water.
It could be a better design, better writing, more experience, etc.
There are definitely gaps. I see a decent amount, which I’ll list out soon.
Just ask yourself: Has this idea been done before? Is the niche saturated? If so, how could I do this differently and way better?
People just want better, so give them better. It doesn’t matter how much competition there is – if you can give them better, and promote it well, you’ll win.
What are you good at?
Maybe you’re funny. You could be the next Sarah Cooper.
Maybe you’re phenomenal (or terrible) at dating. You could be the next Carrie Bradshaw.
Help people get better at whatever it is you’re good at.
Ask your friends, family and teachers — whoever — to honestly tell you what you’re good at.
What’s your story? What have you achieved that others can learn from?
My waitress story and my job interview story are good examples, and they’re kind-of what got me into offering career advice. Both of the examples I linked to are based on real life experiences or rather “experiments” I tried that succeeded.
What experiment could you try?
What would you enjoy writing about? Why?
This is the most important question. You must enjoy what you’re writing about in order for it to be good.
If you were to visit Quora, which questions could you answer well?
Which topics would you filter by? Look for actual questions that you’re excited to answer.
- If you were to visit Reddit, which subreddits would you join and why?
- What [online] communities/forums are you a part of and why?
- Who do you enjoy hanging around with and why?
- What was the last thing you Googled, but didn’t find a good answer for?
1.2: Conduct user research.
- make a brief survey, using Typeform or Google Forms
- make a Twitter or Facebook poll
- check out:
You could ask survey/poll participants the following questions:
- What blogs do you read? Why?
- Which newsletters do you subscribe to and why?
- How do you find what you read?
- What topics do you enjoy reading about? Why?
- Do you have any ideas for me? Why did you suggest that/those?
Step 2: Check for demand.
After you have a long list of ideas, it’s time to see what’s already out there on the topic.
You want to make sure there’s demand for it. Here’s how to do just that.
I’d start by googling.
For example, if I wanted to start a blog on dating or relationships, I’d google “best relationship blogs” or “best dating blogs.”
Then I’d check out all the links on the front page (maybe even the second and third) to see what comes up.
Check out the number of search results at the top and the related queries at the bottom of the SERP.
Is there any gap you could fill?
Pro-tip: Install “Keywords Everywhere” to see the SERP volume for those queries.
To add more blogs to your research list — making sure you’ve done as much due diligence as possible — visit AllTop, which is a massive blog directory.
Search or click on the category you’re looking for, and check out the blogs it lists.
Bookmark, and make note of the ones you like and the ones that seem to be the most popular.
Take a handful of your favorite blogs — or the ones that seem to be the most popular — and input the URLs into SimilarWeb, which is a free website analyzer tool.
SimilarWeb will tell you how popular the blog is (or isn’t).
Here’s an example of a report:
As you can see, this site is really popular, meaning A LOT of people are looking for helpful advice on the topic.
Check Google Trends
Checking Google Trends to see if search demand is increasing or decreasing is a good idea too. If it’s decreasing, you may want to stay away from it. Use good judgement.
Search social media.
Search Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Are people talking about the things you want to potentially write about?
What are the saying? Is it positive? Negative? Neutral?
BuzzSumo finds the most popular content for any keyword phrase you enter. Utilize the free trial. It helps with content ideas.
There’s also a cheaper knock off version, which you can find here.
Check Amazon book reviews
Search for your topic idea(s) on Amazon, and look for books on it.
For instance, I could type in “content marketing” or “content marketing books,” and read the reviews for a couple of them — the most popular ones — so there’s more reviews to read.
When reading, look out for what information readers say is missing from the book.
Read both positive and negative reviews, and if you can, preview the book’s table of contents for ideas on blog post topics and categories.
Step 3: List 20+ blog post ideas.
If you’re having trouble deciding on a topic still, this exercise will help. And even if you’re positive or dead-set on what your niche/topic will be, still complete this exercise.
All you have to do is open up a blank G-Doc or grab a pen and paper. Then jot down a list of potential posts you could see yourself blogging about and doing well with your target audience.
The goal of this exercise is to simply see if you can generate enough ideas to keep your blog going for a while.
The good news is: If you’re still stuck, I have a list of blog theme ideas for you along with proven examples.
A List of Niche Blog Opportunities
Are you going on some type of “journey” that a decent amount of other people are going through or are about to go through too?
Share the good, the bad, the ugly and the outcomes.
People will respect you and root for you if you’re honest and genuine. (Of course, there will always be trolls, but just tell them to say it to your face ;).
This blog post explains the Groove’s blog theme and how they came up with it.
While they’re taking a break from blogging right now, the business had grown to $10 million per year in revenue all because they documented their startup journey.
This worked because startups are (or were) the coolest thing since Justin Bieber for nerds. I mean even Ashton Kutcher is an investor.
The majority of entrepreneurs can’t secure, or don’t want to secure, funding, hence the reason their blog theme: “Our Journey to $100,000 a Month” worked so well.
It worked because:
- There was a massive audience/demand for this type of content.
- It’s based on REAL life experiences/experiments.
- The writing is good.
- It’s super niche and was definitely original at the time.
Some bloggers, who I never totally believe are telling the truth, write “income reports.”
Here’s another example of an income report on Melyssa Griffin’s blog.
- Big, scary move: My friend is vlogging about moving from Orlando to New York. A lot of people dream of doing this but never pull the trigger. Maybe she’ll inspire some viewers to actually do it.
- Job hunt journey: What about documenting your job hunt? Test different cover letters, resumes, rate the companies on their application processes… This would be super popular.
- First-time preggers: As a totally single, probably never-giving-birth millennial, I think this might be interesting. As long as you include actionable tips, experiences — stuff that will be useful to other women who are considering getting pregnant or just became pregnant.
- Learning journey: What are you learning that you could teach people as you go?
- Other ideas:
- Dropping out of college
- Taking a gap year
- Getting out of debt
- Fitness/diet/weight loss
- Wedding journey
- Preparing for college
- Relationship journey(s)
- Gaining professional experience
- Internship(s) journey
- Income growth journey
- Marketing journey
This is one of my favorite opportunities, but it’s quickly become saturated, so your interviews would have to be really badass to catch on.
These 4,000-5,000-word stories are actually interviews of “nerd” celebs its target audience idolizes and respects.
They’re so good because the stories weave in actionable advice that teach its audience how to do something to better themselves or their companies.
“Mixergy is where the ambitious learn from a mix of experienced mentors through interviews and courses.”
Andrew Warner charges to read and listen to his interviews.
I think this site is fluffy AF, so don’t copy it. Just get inspired by its category “Career Profiles.”
- Blog/publication editors: Talk to prominent editors about how they prefer to be pitched, their editorial workflows, etc. Something like this but way better.
- Unknown millennials killing it: Think social media manager at Uber. Think coder at Facebook. These people are easier to get a hold of and would probably be honored to do an interview. They’re clearly smart. Ask about their processes. Ask how they landed the job. What experience did they have before they landed the job? What advice do they have for others? Etc.
- Writers on how to write: Pick popular bloggers on Medium or somewhere else, and ask them good questions, like about their writing workflows, how long it takes to write, how they generate ideas, etc.
- Professionals in modern careers: How did they pick up in-demand skills that colleges don’t teach? How’d they gain experience? What do they do every day? Make a modern day careers database.
- Behind-the-scenes peeps: Think of the producer of a Demi Lovato video or the interns at Conde Nast.
- People who are about to blow up: Make friends with people you know are about to blow up because then you get in with them before everyone else tries to.
Honest, genuine reviews
It is SO hard to find a genuine review site that you can actually trust.
Websites, like Capterra, write these tech “reviews,” comparing different types of technologies, software and tools, just to make money off clicks, leads and premium ad placements, regardless of whether the product is actually good or not.
There is a major need in the market for a genuine person to conduct real reviews that they aren’t paid to write.
This site is really popular and kind-of untrustworthy, in my opinion.
But look through its categories for inspiration anyway. What software/technologies could you test and center your blog solely around?
A bit more complex than I’m thinking but similar nonetheless.
Marketing software reviews
According to HubSpot, 26 percent of marketers biggest challenge is choosing the right technologies for their needs. Take a look at this graphic for category ideas, then once you have enough reviews, you can bundle them into comparisons.
Everyone only ever reviews courses from conglomerates, like Udemy, Udacity, Lynda, etc, and that aggravates me because those courses usually aren’t good.
Hot Tip: Visit UberSuggest.org, and type in “reviews.” Filter by “Shopping” and sort by search volume or competition. This will give you a ton of ideas.
Curate or Syndicate Content
A super easy way to get a blog up and running is by looking for good content and “syndicating” it on your site. This could be like a Flipboard magazine.
Blogs that syndicate content:
- Get permission before you post
- Make sure you say “originally posted on…” and hyperlink to the article
- Use a tool like Paper.li, Revue or Flipboard
I see a massive opportunity for WAY BETTER local news sites and blogs. Seriously, how old-school are the majority of them?
I bet Airbnb would acquire *good* blogs like these. #justsayin
You could include all kinds of content, like:
- Social events
- Networking events
- Feel good news/stories
- Local stories about local SMBs killing it
- Local deals
- Best Starbucks/coffee shops
- Best places to meet people
- Column where people ask questions
Who doesn’t love laughing?
I’m noticing more and more satires and funny comics/illustrations.
- The Cooper Review
- The Design Team
- Jon Moore
- 50 things you probably forgot to design
- 100 questions designers always ask
- Guilty Pleasures for Designers
- 100 Excuses for Designers
- 50 Shades of #FAFAFA
- Satires (Like Jason Fried does sometimes)
- The Oatmeal
- Email Unsubscribe Video
- Clients from Hell
- The Client is Always Right
- Millennials: We suck and we’re sorry
- Katie Ryan
- Cold Emails from hell
- Really bad marketers (Marketers from hell)
- Remote work
- Social media
- Funny kids
- Corporate BS
- Work communication tools (Email, Slack, etc)
Email Marketing Blog
I’ve yet to find a really great email marketing blog. I find articles here and there, but I can’t find a definitive source on email marketing that I enjoy and learn from a lot.
The closest thing is Ramit Sethi’s Growth Lab and I Will Teach You to Be Rich, which blogs about a lot of other topics too.
- Technology comparisons
- Tips and tricks
- Pick one piece of software to focus on (Here’s a link to the market share of email marketing software to choose from)
- Paul Jarvis even made a course around how to use Mailchimp
- How people use certain software
- Email automation
Regardless of the topic you focus on, you should always be teaching people stuff. But what I’m talking about here is focusing on teaching readers a specific skill, a group of related skills and/or how to use a specific technology.
Brennan Dunn teaches marketing automation, how to double your freelancing rates and how to use complicated software, like Drip.
Look up the fastest growing, most in-demand skills.
Research popular, upcoming software that has a learning curve. Here are three places to check for ideas.
Here are some ideas off the top of my head:
- Office 365
- Google Drive
- Slack / Chat apps
- Email apps
- Calendar apps (Fantastical)
Dev/technical software for non-coders
- Jumper.ai (Social commerce)
- Writing software (Scrivener)
- Popular WordPress themes
- Productivity focused on automating everything
- If This Then That (IFTTT)
- General Internet skills for old people
- General social media skills for old people
- Voice search SEO
- How to create videos (for marketers/non video experts)
- Etiquette (How to win connections and not creep people out)
Are you super structured? Can you teach people how to get more done or how you do stuff so fast by teaching them all of your processes?
You could also teach readers by observing and breaking down other people’s processes.
- Setting and reaching goals
- Personal growth
- Hard skills
- Editorial workflows
- Content marketing strategy creation
- Any actionable process that leads to a positive outcome
I think there should be a blog like Sex and the City or a modern day version of The Carrie Diaries.
Ok, so I won’t lie, this is kind-of like my dream blog to write, but I have absolutely zero dating life currently, so it’d be really boring if I penned it.
Fun fact though: In college, I did have an active dating life, and I had my own relationship column called “Knights with Benefits.” It was SO MUCH FUN!!!
If you don’t read this column every Sunday, wo/man, you are SO missing out.
This book slays me. It’s by the millennial writer Jen Glantz.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hated high school, and I was in the “popular” group, which is NOT the cool group once you get older, kids.
You CAN sit with us
I don’t know about you, but I am SO SICK of mean people — online especially. My girlfriend and I wanted to create a blog called “You CAN sit with us.”
Its purpose was to (hopefully) make bullying look lame by sharing our life stories from high school and show how life actually plays out after it.
I bet someone like The Girl Scouts would buy a blog like this, if it proved popular. Maybe even Beyonce.
Oh, and the video that inspired this idea is an absolutely phenomenally moving TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky. It’s a MUST-WATCH!
And that’s how you start a blog, folks.