I’ve spent some time talking about good blog niches that have a healthy profit potential built right in, but I haven’t yet discussed the top blog topics that new bloggers should avoid.
These are topics that might seem good on the surface – where “good” means “could make a decent amount of money” – but they aren’t. In general, these topics are bad because they have one (or more) of the following negative characteristics:
- Small Market Size – No eyeballs equals no money from ads, limited sales, small search volume, and a powerful negative trait I like to call “need to capture.” Need to Capture is a term I made up (because I didn’t know a better one and I’m good with the English) that essentially means – when a market is very small, a successful business must capture a huge percentage of that market in order to succeed. When Need to Capture is high, even small amounts of disruptive competition can completely destroy your business. Note: Small market size, by itself, isn’t always bad. The market for vintage Rolexes is small, but lucrative if you can pull it off. It is, however, surely subject to the Need to Capture effect.
- Low Market Value – Some markets just aren’t worth much money. Probably the first thing that pops into your head when you hear this is some kind of market focused on low income participants or low value products, but both of those things are wrong. Low value markets are often low value either because they’re so big that each individual participant in the market is only worth a tiny amount of money (which means you need to be a juggernaut to capture enough eyeballs to turn a profit) or because the products associated with the market are difficult to assign a monetary or transactional cost.
- Difficult to Monetize – The best example in the universe is Reddit. Reddit is freaking huge, but it makes very little money. Big forum sites in Web 1.0 were also like this. Both Reddit and the old-timey forum sites drive/drove insane amounts of traffic but can’t/couldn’t turn that traffic into dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it often comes down to the fact that people use sites like this in an informational or recreational way, which means they’re not generally viewed as venues for conducting commercial transactions. Now, if anyone ever manages to figure out a good micropayment system, these types of sites could turn into enormous revenue generators, but the internet has been waiting for twenty years for someone to figure out micropayments, and nobody has been able to pull it off
- High Transactional Risk – These types of topics either have difficulty operating within the traditional, well understood financial structure that everyone is familiar and comfortable with, or they walk some kind of regulatory fine line between “yeah, that’s ok” and “what, shut it down!” These topics are to be avoided at all times, without question.
The Five Worst Blog Topics for New Bloggers (Or Any Bloggers, Really)
1. Super Specific or Outlandish Topics
Imagine that you created a brand new sandwich – Peanut Butter & Chili (Chili, the hearty tomato based stew with beans, ground meat, and spices). This is gross, but your mom and best friend think it’s the bees knees. They’re probably lying, but that’s not really the problem. In fact, they might not be lying – they may actually totally love your gross new sandwich. But, you’re still going to run into a lot of problems trying to grow your PB&C idea into a global franchise of restaurants. Because most people are going to think that crap is wack any never give you any money.
The problem with outlandish or super specific topics is not necessarily that the niche is just outlandish or super specific, it’s that the market is so small.
While peanut butter and chili sandwiches might be super delicious (ewwww) to your mom and your bestie, it’s still going to be hard to open a food truck and convince a lot of people that’s the case.
There’s no market built in to the product.
Without a built in market, you’re going to face the task of not only doing all the stuff that goes into launching a normal food truck, but also a whole different list of hard stuff you’ll have to do to find and build a market for your outlandish product. You have to recruit people to your weird new sandwich.
More ominously, what if it actually turns out that you’re right, and PB&C sandwiches are the next big thing? Well, unless you have the capital to very quickly build out your food truck empire and establish a dominant presence in the market you’ve created, someone with more capital – and maybe more experience running food trucks – is going to swoop in with fifty food trucks and take over the market before you can get your other foot in the door.
Outlandish or hyper-specific topics can be done, but they’re risky from the outset and require a lot of resources to build out if you happen to get lucky and discover a new market. So, in the worst case, you’ll fail with an outlandish topic because you won’t find a market, and in the best case you’ll either have to raise/have a bunch of money to grow your business quickly or you’ll fail because someone who already has a bunch of money will swoop in the second they see an undercapitalized niche.
It’s sometimes hard to tell when a topic falls into this category vs when it’s actually a profitable sub-niche. For example, you could probably build a pretty solid business around certain models of vintage Rolex watches. The market is small, but the product is expensive and the people who comprise the market are very dedicated.
On the flip side, concentrating on baseball cards of players with the first name Paul who played from 1977-1983 is probably going to fail.
Likewise, a topic built around older Leica cameras could be a home run (dedicated fan base, expensive product, exclusive market) but first generation 3MP digital cameras from HP is a bust.
Man, I love food. I love learning about it, making it, eating it, sharing it with friends and family. Everything.
And so do a lot of other people. Well, kind of everyone, actually. I mean, we all have to eat, right?
There’s a huge market in the food niche. Maybe one of the biggest markets in the world. But the food niche is strange. Even though the market is big, super shareable (tweets, facebook likes, youtube subscribes, etc), and just plain interesting, it’s very hard to monetize.
It suffers from the Reddit problem, where participants in the market tend not to view it in a transactional way when they interact with it on the internet.
Try imagining yourself spending some time doing the food topic online. How would you do it? What types of content would you provide?
Coming up with those ideas is probably easy, but now switch gears and think, what kinds of revenue streams could you create around that content?
Crickets. Chirp, chirp.
See, the people you might have as an audience in this niche spend a lot of time watching videos, researching recipes, sharing things with friends (pinterest, anyone?), etc. They spend very little time buying food online, buying access to recipe collections, or subscribing to cheese clubs.
The major cash stream in this niche is going to be advertising, which pays peanuts until you have a big, big audience. Now, if you can get a big, big audience, and you have a quality product, then you may be able to attract tier-1 direct advertisers, which is big money.
Wait, what? What did that sentence mean?
I mean, if you have a lot of eyeballs – lots of followers on twitter/facebook, an active and engaged user base on you blog, a bunch of youtube videos/subscribers, or things like that, then big, important companies like Williams Sonoma, Jura, and Sur la Table might actually be interested in paying you directly to put their ads in front of your audience. And those kinds of deals can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, obviously, you need a huge audience and a sophisticated way to prove it.
It can be done, but it will take a very large investment of time and money to get there.
3. Gambling, Adult, Spammy Garbage
There’s no money to be made in these dark side niches. It’s not productive for me to outline all the problems built in to these niches, but let’s just say that it’s a never-ending ball of headaches that isn’t worth the time. Just stay away. Please.
I bet this one surprises a lot of people, but it’s true. And it actually is kind of surprising, on the surface.
I mean, everyone interacts with tech every day. Everyone. So, the potential market is absolutely huge. Moreover, tech is perfectly suited to transactional experiences. Huh? People buy tech stuff. They buy phones. They buy xboxes and laptops and software. It’s a transactional topic – it has the idea of buying/selling built into it, and people are both are comfortable with that fact and ok with buying this product online.
It’s also very mainstream, so there aren’t a lot of transactional risks involved, since credit card processors, banks, and PayPal all totally understand the idea of someone giving you money in exchange for you giving them an iPod.
Supply chains are also well established, regulated, and high quality.
So far, it seems like we have a winner on our hands. And, indeed, a lot of people try this one out. The problem, though, is that this market is captured. It’s controlled by a relatively small number of big, big players, and people prefer to do their business with those providers.
In short, tech stuff is generally kind of expensive, and even though the topic is transactional, it requires a high level of reputation and trust to get someone to engage in a high value transaction with you. It is time and labor intensive to build those kinds of relationships, so this topic is poorly suited to the blog ecosystem these days. I say “these days” because I think there was a time, maybe ten-ish years ago, when tech was probably a really good topic for a new blog. But, there are now too many big players that control the majority of the audience and too many small players competing for the crumbs that are left behind or the few remaining roads into the distribution channels that the big players have.
If this is a niche that interests you, you’re probably better off trying to set up some kind of storefront and drop shipping products. Then you can concentrate your time and energy on building your reputation as a good provider and building a customer base. But, as a blog topic, not so great.
I mean, yeah, you can start some kind of tech review blog and try to monetize it with Amazon affiliate links to products and a little bit of advertising, and it will probably make you a small amount of money. But, as a medium for a growing business, I think it’s a dead end. The business model has too low of a barrier to entry, it’s super hard to write authoritatively on the subject, and the search engine competition is like a gladiatorial life and death battle. (In English, it’s, like, hard and stuff).
In other words, while you can probably drive some Amazon sales you’ll have a hard time ranking well enough in search engines to drive a lot of traffic, you’ll have a hard time building a brand that people seek out independently, and you’ll have a hard time converting users of other platforms into users of your platform.
News is a curious topic. It’s a little unique because it suffers from an interesting combination of people problems and machine problems.
First, obviously, trying to start a blog that provides truly original journalism is probably as crazy as it comes. It’s like starting a TV network or a cable channel. You’re going to need a ridiculous amount of infrastructure, talent, and awesome employees to get anything done. Plus, your competitors are going to be some of the biggest companies in the world. And, honestly, would you rather get News from CNN and the New York Times, or Bob’s Super News Channel? There’s a trust and name recognition problem right out of the gate.
But, you could possibly start a blog that was more of a news aggregator. Some kind of setup that pulls in popular or trending new items and puts them all in one place. I mean, News is kind of Facebook’s entire business model. Yeah, on the surface Facebook lets you post pictures of your cat, share racist and false political memes with your comrades, or make fun of Cindy’s new boyfriend (he’s a dirtbag, Cindy! omg). But that’s not how Facebook makes money. Honest. Facebook makes no money off of your cats or badmouthing Cindy’s scumbag boyfriend. They make money off of your newsfeed. Or, rather, by inserting things into your newsfeed that their creepy Orwellian algorithms have identified you might respond to.
What I’ve just described is the “machine problem” of news as a blog topic. It’s easy. I mean, there’s a stupid WordPress widget that lets you insert news stories into your sidebar and have a newsfeed of your very own. Because it’s so easy, it has very little value.
The “people problem” of the news topic is that a lot of places are starting to make funny (funny bad, not funny haha) rules about aggregating news stories. All of the organizations that produce the news content have started arguing that news aggregation sites should be outlawed, since they’re profiting off of someone else’s work and investment. They make these arguments primarily because they are jerks and don’t understand how the entire internet is supposed to function or that its proper functioning builds the importance of their brand.
But, whatever. The bottom line is that news is a bad topic for a blog because it’s too easy to find, too hard to add value, and might, some day soon, get you into actual legal hot water.