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Self-Assessment Guide for Successful Blogging

This is the first article in an eight-part series that applies systems and strategies to blogging for maximum success and effectiveness.

Just like with any other project or other undertaking in life, your chances of success are higher if you pursue your goal with both a system and a strategy. If either of these elements is missing, your chances of success would revolve more around getting lucky or trial and error. While luck is definitely a good thing, it is hard to base your life, much less your business, around it. The same goes with trial and error. Trial and error can be quite costly, not just relative to the actual resources that you invest while trying out new ideas but also with regard to opportunity cost. Your opportunity cost is measured in terms of what kind of profits you would be foregoing if you had a system from the outset. Successful blogging requires both a system and a strategy. This approach helps you reduce your time outlay, allows you to pin point and track results, and also gives you a small measure of predictability in terms of what to expect from all your efforts.

Self-Assessment is a Key Element in Systematic and Strategic Blogging

One key element of a strategic and systemic approach to blogging is self-assessment. Whether you are blogging for money, blogging to create a brand, or blogging to get more credibility and establish yourself as an expert, self-assessment is a very important step in preparing to blog. Systemic self-assessment for blogging involves four core elements. One is determining what to blog about. Second is determining success or monetary measures for your blogging efforts. Third is applying the cost to benefit analysis to your potential blog topics and niches. Fourth is managing your expectations.

Determining What to Blog About

Trial and error blogging merely involves coming up with ideas regarding what you like to blog about and blogging about them. There is no mystery, there is no further analysis, and there is no deeper thinking. It just focuses on what you are interested in and just getting up and doing it. While the spontaneity is great and there is a lot of passion involved, many of these bloggers find out the hard way that over 90% of all blogs created are abandoned within months and of those surviving, a large proportion are abandoned after a few years. Simply put, passion is not enough. Just because you are interested in a particular subject matter does not necessarily mean you should blog about that subject matter.

Interest and Passion + System = Sustainable Blogging

While passion and interest could be likened to the fuel that drives the blogging engine, this analogy still requires an engine. It is imperative to have a subject matter that you are passionate about, but you have to fit it in within a larger framework or mechanism or system where your passion is converted into sustainable passion, which then produces some sort of feedback that then drives you to further pursue your blogging. That is how you create a feedback loop. Many behavioral psychologists consider feedback loops as important elements in advertising and certain parts of behavioral psychology. To break it down simply, it is a system where you put in effort and you get some sort of feedback and that feedback drives you to produce more effort. It becomes a closed loop where not only are you getting more energy as time proceeds thereby making your blogging sustainable, but it also gives you feedback that allows you to tighten up your blogging efforts in order for the overall quality of the materials you produce increases with time. This self-assessment phase of the blogging enterprise is also about creating a feedback loop mechanism that works around your passion. Passion is not enough. However, it is the raw fuel to feed into your blogging endeavor.

List, categorize, and rank your interests

In determining what you want to blog about, you should take out a blank piece of paper or open a new text document and in a pure stream of consciousness mode, randomly list all the topics you are interested in. It can be specific like certain musical bands or it could be general like health and wellness. Whatever topic comes to mind that you are sure you are interested in, write it down. Once you have compiled this long list, the next step is to organize them into categorical clusters. For example, if you wrote down Nike Air Jordan, then your categorical cluster would be basketball gym shoes or basketball sneakers. The key here is to try to map out the topics that you are passionate about into particular subject category headings that you are passionate about. At the end of this process, you should have a category and a long list of topics under it, and another category and a long list of topics under that.

Once you have these clusters of categories and their specific topics subject matter, the next step of figuring out what you want to blog about is assigning intensity value to your list. Intensity value is really just a fancy way of saying prioritize your list. In descending importance from 1 to 10, rank the clusters in terms of your passion for it. Ask yourself these questions to help you rank your clusters more clearly: Is this something that I would write about even if I did not get paid? Is this something that I would write about even if I am sick? Is this something that I think about constantly? Is this a subject that I like talking to my friends and family about? Finally, is this a topic that I like to do a lot of web research on or browse websites for? While the list of questions above is not at all exhaustive, it should clearly define the boundaries of what your interests are and will help you rank them accordingly.

Eliminate lower interest Topics

At the end of this exercise, you should have listed out all the topics and subjects that you are passionate about, you should have categorized them into clusters, and rank them in terms of the intensity of your interest. Look at the bottom half of your list in the matter of ranking. Clear your mind and honestly look over the bottom list and see which ones you can eliminate. The point of this elimination process is to focus more on the subjects that you can be passionate about enough to blog about on a sustained basis. If you had ten clusters, analyze the bottom five and try to eliminate the list where your interest is 50% or less.

Determining the Commercial Value of your Topics of Interest

At this stage of the self-assessment process, you should have a smaller number of list of topics, but you are 100% absolutely sure that you are passionate about these topics. At this stage of the analysis, our attention turns to whether these topics are worth money. As mentioned earlier, many people blog for many reasons. While a large proportion blog for money, others blog for credibility in a particular subject matter or just to get their opinions off their chest. If you fall within these two latter camps, this stage of the self-assessment analysis probably does not impact you as much. However, it still has a bearing on the sustainability of your blogging efforts. Let’s face it – The amount of money you make from any undertaking is one way of measuring your success. It also plays a role in the feedback loop of that activity. If you generate a small amount of money from your activities, it offsets any potential loss of enthusiasm that you may have over the long haul.

Revenue boosts your energy in the blogging marathon

Keep in mind that blogging is a marathon not a sprint. It is definitely a long-term undertaking and should not be taken lightly. The same with a marathon, it is absolutely to be expected that you would hit certain spots where you would lose energy, lose motivation, and quite possibly lose interest totally. Money, while not being your prime objective if you are blogging for branding, authority or purely sharing your interest, helps in picking up your spirits or gives you some sort of added motivation so that you can get out of those spots where you lose a little bit of your spunk and your blogging loses a lot of steam. Do not underestimate the power that money plays in the blogging feedback loop.

Finding the price of your topic categories

The value of blogging topics and categories can be determined by figuring out which keywords are normally associated with a particular subject matter. You can do this by typing in your topic interest into the website Spyfu.com. When you enter your keyword into a Spyfu, it produces other keywords and you look up those keywords and see what is their worth. Alternatively you could go to Google’s AdWords keyword selector and log in and click traffic estimator which is on the left-hand side. You should be able to see how much, generally speaking, advertisers are willing to pay per click for the keyword.

Keep in mind that the amount shown is the amount billed to the advertiser, and also reflects the bidding system at Google AdWords. It is not the amount of money you will get paid per click if you sign up as an AdSense publisher nor does it mean that that is the amount of money that the advertiser actually pays. As mentioned earlier, the amount is just a range of figures that the advertiser may pay because the actual amount depends on how many other advertisers are bidding on the particular keyword and other factors. However variable this amount may be, it is a good indicator of the overall rough value of the particular topic, keyword or category you are interested in. Once you have these numbers, go ahead and assign them to each of the clusters that you have created. If you have specific topics, proceed in putting the figures next to those keywords and topics. At the end of this exercise, you should be able to see the range in values of the particular keywords that constitute each topic cluster that you are passionate about or highly interested in. The next step of our analysis in relation to monetization is for you to sort these clusters in terms of click value or monetization amount. Sort them in descending order and once you have done this, you need to go back to Spyfu or Google AdWords selector tool and at the Google AdWords tool, click keyword tool.

Correlating commercial value with estimated traffic

Look up the estimated traffic that these keywords roughly bring every month. Keep in mind that you are looking for exact-phrase traffic. You can specify this by clicking “exact” instead of “broad” in the search results. The reason you are looking for exact results is that you are looking for search volume based on people typing in the search term exactly as it appears on your list. If you select broad or you keep it at the broad default mode, the traffic numbers that you get will not match the actual search volume that keyword actually gets. This may result in you “chasing ghost traffic..” In essence, you are chasing after traffic that does not exist. Make sure that your searches are set to exact in order for your monetization and traffic analysis to be based solidly on reality.

Every Move Must Be Guided By a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Applying cost-benefit analysis to most decisions in your life would make your life more efficient. It would make it more profitable. It would make it more enjoyable because you would have more results to show. But it might also make it quite dull. Simply put, most people act based on the spur of emotions. They do not usually consciously apply cost-benefit analysis to most things they do. With that said, when it comes to determining which blog topics you want to focus on, you must employ a cost-benefit analysis because you wish to maximize positive results while minimizing your cost and effort. That is the bottom line. Will the benefit outweigh the cost to such an extent that it is worth doing? That is the essence of a systematic and strategic self-assessment for blogging. This is where many amateur bloggers fail. Failed bloggers didn’t use a cost-benefit analysis. They just focus on the “benefit” of getting an emotional high from blogging or the “benefit” of chasing after this “lucrative and money-making endeavor” called blogging and they fail to go through a cost-benefit analysis. Using this analytical step, you should be able to pare down your existing list even more.

Use the Cost Benefit Analysis to trim your topic interest list

At this stage of the assessment process, you have identified the list of topics that you are passionate about and have determined how much value roughly these topic clusters have in the advertising marketplace, and come up with some rough numbers regarding the search volumes and potential traffic these topics and keywords generate from the internet every month. These numbers, while not exactly set in stone, should give you enough data for you to make an informed choice regarding which interest cluster you are going to devote your time to blogging about it.

Look at your list and compare the numbers and see which of the clusters have the highest amount of pay with the highest amount of search volume and with the highest amount of passion and interest. There is no perfect match. More likely than not, you would have a listing that has a high passion interest rating, medium monetization value and a low traffic value. Do not look for maximum values for all these criteria. Instead, look for clusters where all are at least midway or maybe have some a top ranking and then the others are mid way. Once you have identified these from your list, eliminate everything else and focus on the remaining items.

Keep filtering and eliminating until you get a good match

If all your lists are knocked out, start from square one and keep repeating this process until you have at least five lists that made it through this process. This is a key part of systematic self-assessment, running the risk that your initial list would all get eliminated and you would have to start from scratch. Do not be afraid about going back to square one because every single second you invest in this stage of your blogging enterprise pays off with the amount of headaches, hassles and disappointed expectation that you forego later on in the game. Invest as much time in this process as possible.

Identify competition levels and filter accordingly

Now that you have come up with at least three remaining lists at the end of this process, the next stage in the cost-benefit analysis portion of systematic and strategic blogging self-assessment is to find competition levels for your remaining clusters. List out all the keywords that are in your clusters. If you are in the United States, you do not have to do anything else, just enter your keyword into the Google search box and do a search. It will tell you the number of pages that have that keyword. Put that number. It is usually in the millions. If you are lucky, it would be in the low thousands. Whatever the number is, do not be turned off and put them next to each of your keywords in your list. If you are based overseas, you will need to use a proxy. Do a search for proxy lists, there are many of them available online. Use a U.S. based proxy. Once you are in a United States server, put in Google in the proxy search bar and then run a search on Google using your keywords. You will then get U.S. based numbers for the competing pages. Put those numbers next to your list. Now that you have the competition levels next to your keywords and you have filtered your topics and interest list based on traffic, advertising value and level of interest. Factor in the level of competition to your remaining three lists. At the end of this process, you should eliminate everything except the one list where there is the smallest amount of competition, the highest amount of advertiser value, the highest amount of monthly search volume and the highest amount of personal interest. Again, just like with the previous analytical stages, this filtering process will not necessarily result in a list that has the highest rankings for all these criteria. What you are shooting for is something in the middle or if you cannot achieve that, at least most are in the middle with one item quite low.

Are you ready to Commit?

The final step after the competition analysis is to look at that list and read each keyword or topic closely and be honest with yourself. Are these topics sincerely things that you are interested in, things that you can pursue over the long run and topics that you can be excited about on a sustained basis? This is the moment of truth. The heavy lifting has been done and you have to be completely honest with yourself before moving to the next stage because if you are blogging because you read somewhere that you could become a millionaire by blogging or you can become a celebrity, this might be the time to filter out those emotions and look at the particular topics and categories that you have filtered to be certain that you truly can commit.

The Bottom Line: Managing Your Expectations

We ended the analysis above with a strong dose of self-introspection. You need to be completely honest with yourself relative to your interests to maximize your chances of blogging success. If you have made it this far and you have come up with a list that you have full trust in and are confident you can pursue it in the long run, the final stage of the analysis is setting your expectations in such a way that it helps to keep you going instead of acting as a stumbling block that discourages you. To be completely honest, the number one hurdle to sustained blogging is unrealistic expectations.

There are many people making a good living selling would-be online entrepreneurs and publishers and would-be bloggers a pipe dream. The pipe dream involves working only one hour a week and cashing out $10,000 check at the end of the month or blogging while on pretty much a permanent vacation in Thailand, Hawaii or some other exotic tropical hot spot. While such scenarios are a reality for a very small and very lucky minority of bloggers, the vast majority do not share that reality. The vast majority actually fail. The vast majority loses motivation after a while and just abandons their blog. The crowning moment of such abandonment is when you load up their web address, you get a page not found warning or a parking page because somebody has bought the domain. This is a sad and sorry ending to an adventure that started off with a lot of high expectations, big hopes and big dreams.

Oftentimes, the best way to avoid disappointments and most importantly disappointments that sap your strength to carry on is to set your expectations low. In other words, get real. Blogging can be a source of riches, it can be a source of fame and it can be a source of a large amount of self-fulfillment. However, you must be realistic in your expectations. At this stage, you should expect to put in a lot of effort and get very minimal results at least in the first three to six months of your blogging. You have to burn this into your mind and you will be spending a lot more time and a lot more effort and getting very little in return. You have to get over this hurdle because this hurdle is a reality. Once you are completely above it, then you can proceed to the rest of this series.

Part 2: How to Use Your Competition for Market Research

  • Caro

    This entire article is worth reading a number of times. I want to start a new blog this year, so it’s time to get started. I had read your earlier article on blogging tips, but this article is more in-depth and gives me lots to think about. By Sunday night, I’m going to have a plan written down. I have a few online things that need honing, plus I need to map out and self-evaluate as you advise. I’m in your debt for this one.