How the Quest For a “Niche” Almost Destroyed My Blog

niche destroy blog
London – a niche that has been allegedly done to death.

I went to two blogging conferences last year.

One was good, although it could have been better. The other, which was the first one I ever went to, was okay. I was off my face with exhaustion (I even had to go have a little nap halfway through) and did not deliver a good first impression onto anyone I met (more like rabbiting on with complete and utter nonsense, with a little bit of drool on the side). Actually, now when I think back onto it, that was probably the overriding theme for my entire 2016. Stumbling through life, half asleep, drool on the side. Paints a nice picture, doesn’t it?

There were many learnings to be had at both conferences (on the upside, I have an editorial calendar now and am almost semi-prepared), but one piece of advice was hammered into me, on the two separate occasions.

“Your blog will NEVER stand out,” my learned colleagues declared. “If you do not pick a niche.”

Why? Because travel blogging is allegedly too generic. It’s all been done, or said before. Better to find one topic and run with it – else wise you will never get noticed and never make any money, which is the aim of the game, after all – right?

I’ve been blogging for just under two and a half years now, and have published some 220-odd posts on Birdgehls. Unlike the claims of many of my peers, I do not shudder when re-reading many of my first few blog posts.

Rather, I look back on my early days of blogging fondly, as I had no clear indication of what I was doing. And to be honest, that was probably when I was at my happiest, in my blogging career so far.

I’d write about whatever I fancied, whether that be sleeping overnight in a London airport or wondering why it took me so long to fall in love with Berlin (I was and probably still am a bit of a hipster, so it ideally should have happened straight away). These posts do need work – better pictures, a sprinkling of SEO and some social media loving, yet I do not think they’re that terrible, really.

You see, at that point in time, blogging was something I was doing for myself, a distraction from the woes of searching for employment in London. I was happy creating and that’s all that mattered.

niche destroy blog
Thinking deep thoughts about things at the Horniman Museum in London.

In the last twelve months or so, something changed. I’d been blogging fairly regularly, churning out up to three posts a week. I started to wonder – “where on earth is my audience?” Other blogs, which had started around the same time as mine, or were even younger, seemed to be picking up speed and numbers, faster than I could process and I felt like I was getting left behind in the dust.

At this point in the play, I’ll admit I knew nothing about the business of blogging. I’d deactivated my Facebook account over a year ago and thought Pinterest was purely a platform for wedding planning. I didn’t understand how Twitter worked beyond a place for live-tweeting the Bachelor and ranting (actually, I still don’t really know how Twitter works, if someone wants to enlighten me that would be grand) and I still liked using Instagram, as it was before the “follow-unfollow” phenomena took proper traction (Lord help anyone wanting to grow their Instagram these days). I was still blogging about whatever I fancied, which ranged from plastic free living, to whinging about how bad I was at yoga, or touristy sights in London that didn’t suck.

So, I went to my first, then second travel blogging conference and was told about how important it was to have THOUSANDS of social media followers, Google Analytics that numbered into at least five digits and that having a NICHE was king, because you couldn’t just blog about ANYTHING and that all this had to be done in order to become a (da, da, duuuuuum)… INFLUENCER.

Cue, panic on my part because up until then, my niche had very vaguely been “um, expat life and green travel”, which is what I actually did say to several people (hesitation included) who asked me what it was I wrote about, to be met with blank stares. Apparently “anything I damn well fancy” is an even less viable answer.

I stopped writing about my travels in Europe, because Europe had allegedly been done to death. Some months, I’d publish eight posts, then the blog would be silent for two weeks, whilst I went travelling, or stared at a blank page of Word on my computer screen. I tried writing country guides for the first time ever, but found them to be both dull and time consuming. I decided to give up on trying to write about travel and run a green blog instead. After publicly announcing this decision, I reverted back to writing solely about travel once more. I panicked about numbers, kicked myself for not starting up with social media some 18 months earlier and worried I was not inserting enough of myself in my blog posts.

I had no clear idea of what I was doing and it was stifling my creativity, big time. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – plenty of other bloggers have confessed to having trouble with finding their voice.

Eventually I came to realise that having a niche can mean many things. It can be a topic you write about. It can be the way you write itself – your personality shining through. Some people publish really useful posts, about stuff you actually want to know about. Others pen posts that are more personal, albeit still interesting, particularly if you’re a nosey parker at heart like myself.

My blog was inevitably going to change over time, as I write about things that have meaning to me. I’m in my twenties (late-twenties now… hmfphg). I’m still growing into myself and trying to work out the things that are most important to me (like cheese, German Shepherds, family and friends, saving the world from plastic, etc).

So, I gave myself some time off – well sort of, publishing once a week-ish in September and October. When I returned home to Australia, I was ready to write. I sat down at my computer and thought: “Now. What’s important to me? What have I done that other people might be interested in reading about?”

Then: “What would I be interested in reading about?”

Writing is a bit of a selfish endeavour and I think many would agree with me in saying that when you write, you do it for yourself. If other people enjoy your writing – that’s great! A little ego-stroking never hurt anyone. Yet overall, most people write because they feel they have something to say – they have a story to tell. Six figure book deals and bylines in The Guardian and New York Times are just a nice compensation, if you’re lucky enough.

Using that thought as a benchmark, I began to write. And I have to say, the last three months of blogging have reminded me strongly of when Birdgehls first started. My situation even mirrored that of then – new country (even if it was my own) and I was unemployed (lol). And I think I’ve finally discovered what it is I like to write about.

Inevitably, the answer is anything that damn well interests me.

It may not be the elevator pitch that gets one work in the blogging world. Yet, that’s the beauty of having a career outside of blogging. As fabulous as it would be to see a strong monetary return for the effort I put into Birdgehls, I’m more interested in making new online friends, sparking conversations and pushing the boundaries of my own creativity. This is my hobby. I do it for fun.

So, for any newish bloggers who might be reading this (or those who have been at it for a couple or more years, like myself), here’s my advice to you. Experiment with your writing, for sure. Yet, if you find something doesn’t work for you, don’t beat yourself up over it. Take a step back, take some time off, gather yourself and have another crack at it. Don’t be afraid to publish posts that are outside the norm of what you write about. And above all – do it because you enjoy doing it.

If you’re pushing yourself to meet deadlines, or blogging for the sake of blogging, it’ll show in your writing (or, lack thereof). Trust me on that one.

All my fellow bloggers out there – what struggles have you had, when trying to write or forge an identity for yourself in this brave newish online world?

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  1. Hi LC,

    I’ve been following your blog for some time (you crack me up! 🙂 ). I love how you write and your honesty, I love your ‘free the world of plastic’ dream, and I love how you’re the opposite of bland and boring, I love how you don’t write about “checking into bla (insert luxury hotel)”!

    This post totally resonated with me as I’m ripping my hair out about my “niche” and keep going back and forwards about caring, not caring, no readers, oh yes ‘two readers’, oh hang on two more, yay, whatever… 😀 I have no idea about anything, especially social media (what’s the ‘follow/unfollow’ thing on Instagram?! I’ve experienced it a few times now but I can’t make any sense of it… huh? what’s the point????). I want to get back to doing my own thing so it’s reassuring reading your post!

    Thanks for motivating me to keep going! 🙂

    1. Kati, your comment has made my entire week! Thank you for your kind words. (Also, I would probably check into luxury hotels if I actually had the funds to do so, haha. Just joking… or am I?!)
      It’s quite funny, because I wrote this post when I was in a total grump and throwing a tantrum, along the lines of WHY DO I SPEND SO MUCH TIME DOING THIS. To have people pop out of the woodwork and say I FEEL THE SAME FEELS is so reassuring. To have people then say they actually like my blog… well, you’ve answered my question.
      I’ve also been keeping an eye out for bloggers writing about Australia, so I’ll definitely be checking your blog out.

  2. As I said on facebook, I am totally with you here. Nothing like time tables and trying to pin yourself down to stop you enjoying writing at all! I’ve also been at it for a couple of years now and should probably try and think with more of a business head, but I just enjoy writing and like to show someone my photos really!

    1. Schedules can be comforting and I’m often inspired to write when I look at my editorial calendar – but not always! Having somewhere on the net to house your photos and writing is a business savvy act in itself – say you want to freelance write on the side, you’ve got an entire portfolio, ready to go.

  3. Great post, and I totally agree! I think I’m going to end up with the same niche as you. I much prefer writing something I am passionate about rather than the “10 best things” lists. Who knows what is going to come out once I get on the road!

    1. Well, I really enjoy your posts too! Our country is so big and you cover a side of it that I’ve barely explored. I think your passion comes through and can’t wait to hear about your travels abroad.

  4. Yeah, I feel you. My traffic is really low, but my readers are loyal and I get a lot of emails telling me that they love my writing style. I think writing what you love is more important, but maybe it doesn’t pay. Haha.

    1. I’ve been reading your blog for years now, I think and you crack me up on the regular. You’re definitely doing something right.

  5. I love this post, LC. Funny and so, so true. I’ve been struggling with the concept of a niche for ages and I’m just so damn sick of thinking about it. I like to write about a variety of things, and while sure, my end goal is eventually to make money blogging, I want to do it my own way — even it takes more time.

    One blogger – I forget who, to be honest, once basically said screw picking a niche — imagine your ideal reader or audience and write for them. That’s been super helpful for me and it gives me respite from having to pick a niche, which boxes you in a way that my inner oppositional-defiant child bucks against 😛

    1. Thanks Allison, I think your inner child is one smart kid! That blogger is right – I know I try to write as if I were talking to a friend and I really, really wanted to make them laugh (a friend who has the same interests as me, funnily enough) and it seems to work. But although you do need to keep your audience in mind, I think it’s important to acknowledge that you’re also writing for yourself and not to lose sight of that. However else would blogging be sustainable in the long term? I never would have started writing about plastic free travel for example, if it wasn’t something that I was passionate about and those posts are some of the most popular on my blog.
      I know a few bloggers out there who have stuck to their guns and seen success in the end and most rewarding of all… they did it on their own terms. Funnily enough, they’re the most interesting and engaging blogs to read!

  6. I love this post!!! I started out like you, writing about anything I want. Then I realized that I actually have a lot of readers and I was cajoled by my blogger friends to do it full time and take it seriously. So came the niche, the SEO rules which I never cared about before and the obsession on googla analytics. My statistics went up, soared actually. It was a good feeling so I obsessed on it even more. I was becoming more and more stressed about the numbers but then one day it hit me – who am I doing this for? Why am I stressing myself? I totally lost my voice on the blog because I was too busy meeting all the SEO rules. I just stopped. So suddenly. I took a break from blogging. And then when I finally felt ready to write again, I started to write about things that I want to write about. Now I’m happier and my readers seem to like it more as well.

    Good luck to you and good for you to realize this early on. 🙂

    1. What a circle you went through! I’m glad things have worked out in the end. It’s good to hear about others writing from the heart and still doing well! And yeah, it took a few years to figure this out, but glad to have got there eventually.

  7. THANK YOU for this. As a writer moving to blogging, the transition has been pretty tough (though I haven’t gone has crazy as you did, phew). Everyone says you must have a niche, you must be realistic, you must have listicles to drive traffic etc. and for some time I was so stressed out thinking “I have no interests to pair with travel, I must be so boring” that I snapped at everyone around me.

    Fortunately I managed to slap myself and for now I’m staying focused – reading the kind of brilliant stories I want to be able to write, and not getting carried away with promotion and networking. Just gotta have faith that it’ll work out…

    1. Haha, dunno about crazy, but I was certainly pulling my hair out for awhile there! Good luck with the ongoing transition and yes… keep the faith!

  8. “thought Pinterest was purely a platform for wedding planning” – and recipes. Weddings and recipes. In fact, despite being well into pinning these days I still stand by my idea that it’s only used by stay at home housewives or soon-to-be housewives looking for a new casserole to try out.
    I love this post. A lot. I’ve never been to a blogging conference but around the time I started joining every relevant (and irrelevant) Facebook group on the planet I read way too many “helpful” posts and got all in a tiz about not doing anything properly. I don’t have one single niche because I WANT TO HAVE ALL THE NICHES.
    But at the end of the day if your own writing doesn’t inspire you, why would it inspire anyone else?!

    1. Yeah, agreed! (Obviously!) I got myself into a dreadful mess too, reading over what I SHOULD and SHOULDN’T do and I’m just about ready to throw all, or most advice out the window. You need to enjoy the process of writing and read over your own work whilst screaming I’M A LITERARY GENIUS… or as you pointed out, why on earth would you bother?

  9. It is rare to find brutal honesty these days, especially in blogs. This one is so refreshing, no pretenses, no sugarcoating, just plain and simple truth. You are so right, that in itself is a niche. I feel inspired, even rebellious when you allowed yourself to write what you want, nothing more and nothing less. Your words are genuine and I am sure your readers will appreciate you for that.

    1. Thank you Ralph. I was surprised by how much this post has resonated with others – to be honest, I wrote it from a place of pure frustration (and writing is always such wonderful, free therapy, isn’t it?). Comments like yours have strengthened my resolve to keep writing what I want to write, which at the end of the day, is about a trillion times more fun anyway, so it’s win win. And everyone else should do the same! It may actually make travel blogs fun again, rather than one having to constantly question the ethics behind each post you read or possibly even worse – being bored to tears and giving up halfway down the page!

  10. Hi LC 🙂 I clicked over to your blog from Rhiannon’s, and have really enjoyed browsing your site, especially all the expat-related posts. (Expat burnout due to excessive workload would be the definition of my first four months in Lyon. If you were wondering about all the views from France, that’s me!) I think if I boxed myself into a niche I’d end up bored – like you, this is my hobby not my job, so I may as well write about whatever takes my fancy and not lose sleep over whether anyone else feels the same way. Ironically – given what these Influential Bloggers say – the blogs I enjoy reading the most are those that span a range of themes, and don’t have a set-in-stone niche. Happy blogging, and look forward to reading more from you!

    1. Hello Rosie, thanks for dropping by! I feel the same way – it gets so tiresome reading the same thing over and over again. The blogs that are personality-based are always the most rewarding to follow. Otherwise, why would you bother reading them in the first place? And yeah, that expat burnout is horrible! I hope it eased up for you over time. And right back atcha!

      1. It really does – click-bait titles only go so far, and it’s always nice to get to know the person behind the blog a little through their stories. It was a killer for the first few months, but having a wee bit more free time over Christmas helped me to get ahead on the planning side of things for the second semester!

        1. I’m glad it worked out in the end! It’s nice to get to actually enjoy the new place you’re living in and all…

  11. Yes, yes, and yes! I’m a baby blogger going through the same thought process. I love to write “ramblings” about expat life and such similar to you but they don’t seem to “perform” as well as some of my other topics. I still do like writing the odd destination guide or travel tip posts, but I much prefer writing (and reading) blogs like this where there’s a human connection behind it and a story. Here’s to selfish writing!

    1. I think selfish writing is the best – it’s how my favourite bloggers write and it’s all I’m ever interested in reading. If it helps, I noticed after writing this post that my own rambling posts tend to be some of the best performing. I think write from the heart with humour and you’ll connect with people. There’s something special in that.

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