Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Deciding if a new-blog idea is any good

This article is about how to review an idea that you have for a new blog, in order to decide whether to go ahead with it.


After I'd set up my first blog-site, I started having ideas for other sites.  

Some came from discovering features in Blogger ("ahh, since it does this, I could do that with it").   Others came from observing problems and seeing ways to fix them, or even by chance:  For example, Blogger-hints-and-tips started as a place to keep my working notes about solutions I'd found.  When I discovered that other people were searching for solutions to the same problems and reading what I'd written, I decided I should put in a bit more effort to make the notes more reader-friendly.

I quickly learned that while it's easy to have ideas, making and feeding a blog takes time and energy:  some of my ideas would probably be successful eventually, but would need a huge amount of effort to get them started.   And some ideas have occurred to other people already, too.

So I developed a couple of guidelines for myself, and apply these no matter how good an idea seems:

1) Sleep on it

Very, very few ideas are so groundbreaking and urgent that they need to be acted on immediately.

A couple of days spent just mulling on an idea are not wasted:  quite often new possibilities (or difficulties) occur to me at the strangest times.

2) Do a formal assessment

Write up a short (1 page is usually enough) description of what the idea will involve.  Not just think about it, but actually write it down.

Doing this makes me face up to the immediately problems that I'll have with taking an idea and turning it into a blog, and decide if I can work around them or not.  I've found that if I don't write them down, I gloss over the problems - and I've more than once started a blog only to find that I've spend days working on something that will never succeed because of some fundamental problem that I knew about in the back of my mind all along.

I've developed the BIA (Blog Idea Assessment) as a simple tool to help me to do this.   You can download it (in MS Word) here, and the following section has notes about using each part of it.

What's in the Blog-Idea-Assessment Tool

1 Working Title:

Every blog needs a name, and I find that giving an idea a name early in process helps me to work out if it will have a life of its own:  If I can't work out a name, then perhaps the idea is just a topic that I could write one article about, but not a whole blog.

The name is a working title though.  It can, and often does, change as I work through the other stages.

2 Purpose / Aim:

This is a description of what the blog is - and is not - about.   It describes what the blog will do, and what problems it will solve or what opportunites it will take advantage of.  

It also looks at:
  • Where the content will come from - eg is it creative writing (fiction), opinion (whose?) or fact (where will the info be gathered from).  
  • How it will be presented (eg does it involve maps, calendars, custom search engines)
It usually takes about 3 paragraphs, maybe more for a complicated blog, or less for a very simple one with all posts being entered inside Blogger.

3 Competitor research:

This is a very important stage.   I sit down with Google and a thesaurus (for alternative words to describe my idea), and look at who else is publishing (blogs and other websites) on the topic.  For an idea to be worth proceeding with, it generally needs to be either First (to get readers before any else does the same thing) or Best (so that readers from elsewhere will start coming to my site instead).

Then I do some research about potential domain names:
  • Decide whether the blog can have a URL, or whether it needs to look like a "real" and if so, what sort of URL it needs (.com  .net  .info    etc)
  • Brainstorm possible brands / names for the blog
  • Research what domains are available   (but don't purchase until after doing the next step
I also think about copyright:  can I really create unique, interesting content about the topic without breaking copyright laws.

4 Audience and Promotions:

List the potential readers of the blog - in more detail than just "people who are interested in XXXX".

I need to know who might be interested (or who I might be able to make interested), and why.    Sometimes thinking about this questions changes the answer in Point 2) - identifying a new potential audience changes how I do things.

Then I need to know how I'll tell them that the blog is available - and I need to be sure that it's possible for me to do this in the time I have available.

There are lots of websites with suggestions about how to promote websites, so I'm not going to repeat them here.   But in general, the answer to "how to promote?" comes directly from "who is the audience?".   And it usually involves a mixture of approaches:  very few blogs can be promoted successfully using only one too.

It is possible to build a successful blog based on search results alone, but it can take a good 6-12 months to get readers - or so I'm told.  For a niche area, I'm even sceptical about this, and think that it may take longer, and have a high chance that the audience don't arrive before the content is out-dated.

Personally I prefer to have some early feedback about how well the blog is doing, and whether it's solving the problems I set out to solve.  This means I need ways to promote the blog and get readers (and feedback) sooner rather than later.

Related Articles: 

Getting Started with Blogger

Blogs, Blogger and bloggers - some basic definitions

Copyright, blogs and bloggers

How blogs in Blogger are organised

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