There’s a lot of advice out there on how to choose the niche – that is, your topic choice – that you’re going to be blogging in. Some good, some bad. The downside to all of the good advice is that most of it is contradictory, often leaving you more confused than when you started.

My own approach is not only very simple, but also very important. It asks you two questions:

1. What do you love?
2. How do you want to help people?

That’s it. Not only will these two questions help you narrow the focus on what you want to be blogging about, but they’ll also put you in the perfect position later when you pursue earning an income from your efforts.

“What do you love?”

Many of you will already have an idea in mind of what it is you want to create a blog about. If you do, then feel free to skip to the next question. If you don’t, then it’s time for a little introspection.

Since the things you enjoy are going to be different to a lot of other people reading this, I can’t just say to you ‘enter industry X’. You probably won’t enjoy what you’re doing, have little passion for growing your site and it would just be like giving you another job. Though one aim here is to make money, there’s no reason you can’t love what you’re doing and generate an income in the process.

The reason it’s so important to pick an industry that you love is because success with this medium is not going to happen overnight. You’re not going to start a blog and then have 10,000 visitors landing on your internet doorstep the next day. The love for your topic is going to help you through the periods when you’re starting out and growth can be slow.

It’s going to help when you need to come up with blog post (article) ideas or research different aspects of the subject. And most importantly, it’s going to give you a reason to wake up in the morning and continue sharing the things that you’re passionate about. The things that make you come alive.

To begin, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What type of books / magazines / blogs do I read the most?
  • What do I talk to [your best friend] about?
  • If I had to walk into a classroom and talk about a subject on which I’m knowledgeable, what would it be?

I’ve gone through this exercise with dozens of bloggers and in many cases, they actually haven’t had to write down the answers to the questions. The questions themselves instantly brought up a number of ideas and they could move onto the next question.

If that didn’t happen with you, actually write the answers down. It’s old school, I know, but it gives your mind space to be creative. Most people will have one or two topics that they’re more passionate about then others, but don’t worry if you’ve listed quite a few. You don’t have to finalise your decision on a single topic just yet.

“How do you want to help people?”

Blogs that make money give people something that they want. They help them fill a need and desire. For that reason, though we’re trying to find a niche for you to blog in, what I really want you to look at is how you want to help people with the topic you’re passionate about.

Do you want to make them laugh? Do you want to teach them something? Do you want to give them the latest news? Do you want to inspire them?

The reason I ask this question is because for too long I think bloggers are caught up on defining their niche as a broad category. Whether that is celebrity gossip, travel, technology, design or even marketing.

The problem with this approach is that when you try to monetise your efforts later, there’s a good chance that you’ve spent time attracting visitors who aren’t going to make you any money. And, you’ll probably get to the stage where you’re not sure if you should write about something because you don’t know if it fits in that category.

Knowing how you want to help people gives your site a focus, allows you to attract the right people to your site, and constantly keeps you on the right track when it comes to creating content.

If you’re like most, then this question should have helped you narrow down the list of things you love and left you with a topic for the next update (when we start building your blog).

A Quick Example

Just in case you’re still a little confused, I asked my friend Dirk to go through the process. Here are his answers:

What do you love?

  • Partying
  • Online marketing
  • Personal growth
  • Forex / Stocks
  • Girls

Keeping those subjects in mind, how do you want to help others?

Partying: I love going out but this isn’t something I would want to help people with or blog about.

Online marketing: I could show people what I’ve learned on my journey so far, as I do enjoy internet marketing, but not enough to dedicate a blog around the topic.

Personal growth: This is something I focus on and read about a lot, and I think I can help other people improve their own life situation.

Forex / Stocks: I’m fortunate to make my living from this, and I believe anyone can learn how to do the same with enough time and dedication. I definitely want to help people make money with this at some point.

Girls: I used to be shy and bad with girls, but thanks to the my focus on self-growth I wouldn’t say I have a problem with that area of my life. I see a lot of guys in the same situation I used to be in, so it would be nice to help them as well.

When talking with him, it’s clear he was more passionate about the last three topics. When it came to how he wanted to help people, self improvement was at the top of his list, and that’s the direction he ended up going down with his blog. He has since given a lot of dating advice as well, and plans to talk more about Forex trading in the future.

“1,000 true fans”

There’s a common concept online, made popular by the likes of Seth Godin, that everyone just needs their “1,000 true fans” to make a difference and make money. I actually think this number needs to be raised a little. To know if your niche idea is something you should pursue, make sure there are 5,000 people who care about your topic.

Big numbers aren’t everything. The Huffington Post is the biggest blog in the world with over 30 million monthly pageviews, yet they’re (reportedly) not even making a penny in profit. 5,000 isn’t an exact figure, but just a rough estimation to help you know if you’re on the right track. The reason I expanded on the 1,000 true fans figure is because no matter how “true” a fan is, they’re not always going to buy your products, click on your ads, give feedback and share your content.

If you want to start a blog around your favourite football (soccer) team – mine’s Newcastle United – then there’s no doubt that at least 5,000 people would be interested in what you have to say.

Want to teach a language? There’s 5,000 people who want to learn. If you want to talk about Tennis, then there’s at least 5,000 people who’ll listen. Are you a keen fisher? There’s 5,000 people who are too. You get the idea.

Is There Money to Be Made?

There’s a lot more to cover before I get on to talking about how you can actually make money from your site later in the case study, so I don’t want to talk about it too much now. However, the last thing I want people to do is to spend the next few months writing about something and realise they can’t make money from it.

In reality, if you’re getting traffic, you can make money. But not all niches have the same income potential. Going back to the sporting example, let me pick a basketball team like the LA Lakers to use as an example. Let’s say that the LA Lakers are what you live and breath. You never miss a match, watch all of the latest news on the team and could tell me crazy statistics about them from back in the 80′s.

There’s zero doubt that it’s your passion. As far as ‘helping others’ goes you aren’t totally sure how it fits into your passion but you decide to build the site anyway. You start writing about the team, sharing all of your knowledge, and then get to the part of the case study where we look at monetisation options.

Which one do you choose?

Here’s a little confession: I have no idea.

There are a lot of things you could try. Maybe advertising works best? Maybe you could sell memorabilia or match tickets? Maybe you have a premium guide which teaches people how to become a professional player?

If you asked me how I would monetise a blog that talks about environmental issues then I would know, as its an industry I’ve researched. On that note, I have some homework for you to do until the next update.

The homework is this: Go out online in the niche you’ve decided on and find blogs that talk about what you want to talk about. That help people how you want to help them.

There’s a big list of top blogs in various categories over on Technorati, though do note that most of them are multi-author blogs and not always the best representation of a niche. Simple Google searches like “[niche] blogs” or “top [niche] blogs” will likely find you what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve found them, look at things like:

  • How are they monetising the site? Do they have ads, eBooks, sponsored links or physical products?
  • Do they have multiple authors or just one writer?
  • How often are they publishing new blog posts (there should be some timestamps)?

Don’t just do this for a few minutes and wait for the next update. Actually look at them in as much detail as you can, on as many sites as you have time to look at, and write down what you’ve learned.

The aim here isn’t to duplicate what other people are doing, but just to know what is happening in your industry. Later on we can use this knowledge to find gaps in the market, cut down on the time it takes to see what works best and find other bloggers to connect with.

The fact that there are other blogs on the topic you’re researching should be a good enough idea that there’s money to be made in your niche. The most important thing is that you’re picking a topic you care about, above all else.