Define your Site by Blogging Outside the Box

This post was guest blogged by Chris Stark who blogs about Groovy Videos at Groovy Grooves.

Defining your blog can be a difficult process when starting a new site. It’s easy to see others writing about a topic, such as travel, video games, or sports, and immediately feel a bit of gold rush fever convincing you to write on the same topic and achieve similar success. The truth is there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. The barrier to entry in creating a new blog is almost completely negligible. Packages like WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, and Joomla, are free, simple to install (or require no installation at all), easy to use, and can have you up and running with a brand new blog in minutes. Web hosting is so cheap these days that companies such John Chow’s favorite, BlueFur, offer hosting for less than a couple of cups of coffee a month.  A domain name, at most registrars, will cost you less than 10 dollars a year. Even in a recession, hosting your own blog is affordable on almost any budget.

So staring a blog is easy. The challenge comes with spinning a well trodden topic into a creative approach that stands out among the masses. You could have great ideas, but if you can’t do anything to distinguish yourself from the plethora of competition, you might find your text falling on blind eyes (deaf eyes?). Luckily, the masses are called the masses for a reason; they tend to think and write alike. This is ideal for the creative thinker.

Your standard blog follows a pretty specific pattern, a 2-3 column layout, a large text area, a common plain theme, and a large number of posts that are entirely text. Like with anything, users can suffer from what I like to call "blog fatigue." No matter how great your content is, you may never convince a visitor to come back if you can’t make your site stand out from all the others. Here are some suggestions for ways of blogging outside the box and defining your site as unique among the masses…

Not every blog has to be a text based one

I can’t count the number of times I visit a site where it’s clear to me that their content would be much more suited for podcasting or video blogging but the authors instead opt to text blog exclusively because it seems like the thing to do. Think about the type of site and audience you’re trying to build, and design your blog to best reach them. Even if writing text based articles is the best option for you, it never hurts to mix things up every once in a while. John Chow constantly mixes his site up with a blend of image posts, video posts, and articles. Try to do the same in a way that improves the user experience on your site.

Don’t be afraid to embrace an unorthodox blogging format. All of the packages mentioned above are highly customizable and lend themselves greatly to unique expression of creative content.

Take a unique twist on a static niche

One of the consequences of a low barrier of entry when it comes to breaking into the blogosphere is that there is a lot of competition in almost every niche. In order to define your site in a way that makes people take notice, you need to approach the niche from an angle others aren’t. Ultimately, you want to create your own niche where one really hasn’t existed before. One of the best examples of this comes from a guest post written by Mike Henry. While his site is a travel and sporting event blog, Mike managed to create something unique by combining both his coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games and his travel to China in order to cover them. That’s outside the box thinking and will probably lead Mike to much success.

When it comes down to it, you have to sell your audience on why they should keep coming back to your site. If you stick with the status quo, you’ll most likely go nowhere. If you can draw inspiration from the hundreds of other sites in your niche and merge what they do right with your unique thinking, you’re almost guaranteed to have a winner on your hands.

Blow people’s minds with an incredible design

Besides good content, the second best way to encourage repeat readers is to give them something exciting to look at while they visit. It really is amazing how much a good design can improve your ratio of return. I’m not talking here about having to go out and purchase as $1,000 professional site design, but even little things can improve user experience on your site. Think of ways to present readers with older content they may have missed in a way that other sites don’t. Try different formats for your layout such as making full posts available on the main page instead of summaries. You’ll have to tweak and configure things over time, but slowly work on what your core audience is interested in and do your best to present it to them in a way that is both convenient and exciting. Use your audience as a guide, listen to their feedback and try to constantly improve your user experience. Your audience will thank you for it with repeat visits.

Pay attention to new technologies and use them to your advantage

If someone were to ask me what the "buzz" technology is as of late, I’d have to go with Twitter. While not really that interesting to the outside eye, Twitter offers many advantages to the blogger when it comes to expanding their reach and building up a large readership. One of the absolute best ways to continually stand out from other sites is to pay attention to new and expanding technologies and use them to your advantage while they’re hot. Imagine if you had jumped on the Digg bandwagon before the 200+ digg limit for the front page?

For an example of using technology take a look at the recent blog redesign from tech blogger Robert Scoble. On the sidebar, he’s integrated a FriendFeed widget (another hot technology site) which allows his readers to follow along with his work in twitter and postings on other blogs without having to know anything about FriendFeed itself. This is a really great way to leverage technology and make your site stand out from the crowd.

Offer opinion and insight instead of just hard facts

One of the biggest mistakes a new blogger can make is to only regurgitate web news and offer very little unique opinion on their chosen topic of discussion. If you want to stand out amongst millions of other sites that are offering similar content, demonstrate your ability to provide unique opinions in addition to the same things everyone else is covering. At the end of the day, people only need to read something once so if your site offers the same as everyone else, plus an interesting perspective that no one else has, which site do you think will get the repeat visitors? Try to put yourself in your reader’s shoes and ask, would I read my own site? What does this site offer that would make me choose it over ALL of the others?

In the end, the blogosphere is really a huge entity and only those who think outside the box have any hope at taking their site beyond your standard 100 feed readers and nothing more. If you want to take your site to the next level use your own creativity, experience, and sensibility to define your site in ways that other people aren’t even dreaming of. Once you do that, building your income to $29,000+ per month might just be next. 🙂