One of the most common pieces of advice for bloggers is to find a niche that you can dominate — the smaller the niche, the better, because all of the bigger niches are already dominated by bigger blogs.
This advice is fine if you’re trying to sell a product to a specific group of potential customers, but if you’re trying to grow a blog with as big a readership as possible, I think niche blogging is dead wrong.
Instead, go for as wide an audience as possible — but find something that will differentiate yourself from others. That’s how you can tap into the biggest possible readership.
That’s heresy in many blogging circles, but at the risk of not sounding humble, I’ve proven it true with my other blog, Zen Habits. I grew Zen Habits from nothing to more than 100,000 subscribers in two years, in part because I used this principle.
While there are many other blogs out there who started around the time I started, or before, I quickly surpassed their (impressive) subscriber numbers because I didn’t limit my potential readership.
The other blogs grew quickly but soon hit a sort of plateau, because of one of two reasons:
1. They limited themselves to a smaller niche, and thus limited their potential readership. Once they had most of the potential readers in this niche, growth slowed; or
2. They didn’t differentiate themselves from the crowd. They were one of many other blogs, writing about the same things with the same angles.
These are both fatal mistakes if you want as big a readership as possible.
The Zen Habits Example
I will use Zen Habits as an example, because it’s the one I know the best, if you’ll forgive me for bragging.
While there are bigger blogs than Zen Habits, few grew to 100K subscribers as quickly. One of the decisions I made early on was not to limit myself to a niche, because in doing so, I’d limit my potential audience.
Think of your potential audience as a pie. If you are in a niche — let’s say, how to make money from blogging — your pie is only a certain size. There are only so many people who are trying to make money from blogging. And of that pie, you will only get a slice, depending on whether there are other dominant competitors and if you’re really good.
But if you narrow your niche — let’s say to making money from Google Adsense while blogging — you now have a smaller pie. And even if you have a bigger slice of that pie, you’re limited by the size of the pie.
With Zen Habits, I decided I wasn’t going to limit my pie — I was going to go for as big a pie as possible. The topics I write about — productivity, health and fitness, personal finances, happiness, etc. — appeal to as large a potential audience as possible. Just about everyone is interested in these topics.
With such a big pie, even if I only get a small slice, my potential for gaining a large audience is very great. It’s really only limited by how good I am and how many people in that potential audience I can reach.
But if you shoot for a general audience, how can you possibly compete against the giants? The simple answer is: you don’t. You can’t compete against the giants, and it would be folly to try.
While Zen Habits talks about general topics that are covered by much bigger blogs and websites, I tried to differentiate myself from them in different ways — by writing about simplicity, for example, and providing as much useful information as possible in a concise way (as opposed to rambling in an essay, say).
And while many other blogs these days do posts like mine, I was one of the first who talked about simple productivity and finances and health, and today I’m one of the leaders in that field.
Don’t try to copy the angle I took with Zen Habits — create your own. Figure out the fresh take and philosophy that will set you apart, that will have you create your own playing field, instead of taking on the giants.
So don’t limit the playing field by choosing a narrow niche — choose a wide playing field, but make yourself stand out among all the other players in your own way.
It’s a simple recipe for as large a potential readership as possible. There are other important ingredients, of course, but if you start by shattering the myth of blog niches, you’ll really be cooking.
About the Author: Leo Babauta is the creator of and writer at zenhabits.net. Zen Habits is about finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. Leo lives in San Franciso, is a writer, a runner and a vegan.