Blogging is held up in many circles as the epitome of the personal project. Blogs are praised for their focus on the personality of the blogger, the flexibility of the medium (text only, vlog, podcast) and the relatively limitless topics that can be blogged on.
Given that the division of labor allows for the formation of specialized approaches, it shouldn’t be a surprise that niche and specialty blogs have become part of this great journalistic movement. There are blogs covering all manner of specialties, from arts and craft-focused publications to hard-hitting diatribes on the political situation in foreign hotspots. The powers of SEO and keyword writing allow these blogs to stand out to their intended audiences during searches, so clearly all that remains is for the next blogging genius to unleash his specialized knowledge upon the world, yes?
Well, as ever, the situation is perhaps slightly more complex than that, and for good reason. Let’s have a look at some of the pros and cons alike of dedicating a blog to a particular topic.
There is something very satisfying in reading a well-crafted blog on a particular subject when it’s put out by a skilled and well-versed master of that topic. A specialized blog is more than single mindedness when done properly – it is a treasure house of many varied gems.
A genuine expert writing a specialty blog is what really makes the medium come alive, in fact. It’s one thing to simply have anyone writing about something they care about and focusing on that topic. Having someone who knows it, who “groks” it as Heinlein would say, means that the blog can cover the various shades in between the obvious postings.
As an example, consider a blog focusing on the latest in board games (and if you think gaming of all sorts isn’t a topic worth considering, you haven’t seen Steve Jackson Games’ 2010 shareholder report, in which they posted $3.5 million in gross earnings). Our gaming blog, written by an interested observer rather than an expert, could cover the major releases for the year. Big gaming companies like Wizards of the Coast, Steve Jackson Games, Battlefront and so forth could be profiled, the occasional interview with a game designer could be featured, trade shows could be reported on. It would be nice and informative, and safe for all those reasons.
A genuine expert in game publication and game theory, on the other hand, could get into the subtleties of game mechanics. They could explain how a certain game is literally impossible to play properly because of bad designs in the rules, or illustrate how a new game just released takes all the problems inherent in a timeless classic and makes a much better game of it. Rising stars in the independent development industry could be pointed out and brought to greater prominence.
Basically, the blog would look very similar, but would have many varying shades of interest and subtlety between the more common flavor of post, allowing for so much more interaction and engagement with the material.
Specialization is, by necessity, also exclusive. Choosing to specialize in a particular topic to any degree automatically alienates a set of readers not interested in that specialization. So while a specialty blog can allow an expert to really illustrate the varying shades and joys inherent in their favorite topic, each level of focus it dives into cuts away that much more of an audience – and readers are certainly not an infinite resource.
Again, take our gaming blog: Gaming as a whole topic is fairly broad, encompassing video games, board games, roleplaying games, casual games, serious-hardcore games and so forth. And yes, there is a certain amount of overlap; many people enjoy playing games of all sorts, so a blog about any one of them isn’t going to outright sever all connection with the others.
However, there are people who are interested in some things, but not others. Focusing a blog on RPGs and not video games eliminates a major portion of the gaming crowd (RPGs haven’t been the largest contender in the gaming market in more than a decade now). There is a lot to talk about in roleplaying game development, of course – but it will never approach the scale of video game development as a market, and thus any blog about it is never going to attract the same degree of attention.
So, what to about it.
There is fortunately a very clear answer: Do what you can do best. If you know your niche, and are confident you can make it work, try it. Start right now, put up that first post, and begin shopping around for good keywords, listing your blog in directories and promoting gently on social media networks. You will never have success if you don’t try. If, on the other hand, you feel more comfortable taking a generalist approach, understand that this isn’t bad. There are many readers out there, and a general approach to blogging can bring them in. And if you start wide, there’s nothing to say you cannot drill down to a more specific angle later.