There are a million techniques that make your content better and more popular.
(Probably a half-million just here on Copyblogger.)
Strong headlines, smart copywriting techniques, storytelling, humor, etc.
But there’s one insider trick that makes the rest of it easy.
It starts from the very beginning, when you’re figuring out what type of content you want to produce.
Start by picking a crowded topic
Copywriter Gary Halbert famously advised copywriters to look for a “starving crowd.”
In other words, if you want to open a restaurant, put it where there are already plenty of people who want exactly what you offer. If you’re creating a digital business, choose a niche that lots and lots of people want to know more about.
Why are there so many blogs about technology, weight loss, marketing, and celebrities?
Because there are millions of people who want to read about those topics every day.
While you may want to find a little niche that you can completely own, there are two problems with making yourself a big fish in a small pond.
- You’ll always be looking over your shoulder for some punk kid to come along and beat you at your own game.
- When you choose a tiny topic, you set a limit on how big — and profitable — you’ll ever be able to get.
Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded
If just picking a popular topic was enough, everyone would have a successful website.
But it’s hard to stand out.
It’s relatively easy to rank in the search engines for “naked mole rats.” It’s damned hard to get a page-one ranking for “weight loss” or “learn forex trading.”
Instead of being a big fish in a small pond, allow me to suggest another approach.
Be a small, ridiculously evolved, very rare and weird fish in a great big pond.
A weight loss blog is going to be hard to pull off. A weight loss blog for polyamorous computer programmers of color is going to find its audience pretty efficiently — and the community of readers might be bigger than you think.
Stock market education? Insanely overdone. Stock market education for stay-at-home parents? Now you’ve got some kind of chance.
Marketing blogs are as common as houseflies, and nearly as annoying. But a marketing blog for people who hate marketing can develop a very nice following.
(Although that approach, too, is crowded. When you find that even the sub-niches are crowded, move on to the next tip.)
If it’s not working, get weirder
“Weird” is grade-school shorthand for “you’re not like us, are you?”
This is a bummer in the third grade, but it turns out to really pay off down the line.
All the stuff you had to hide to get that crummy day job? Incorporate it into your content.
Your weird hair. Your Tourette’s. Your bad attitude. Your religion. Your sexual orientation. Your morbid fascinations.
The peculiar way you talk or walk or think. The jokes no one else thinks are funny. Your nerdy obsessions. The fact that you are a gigantic dork. Your tragic inability to say the appropriate thing at the appropriate time.
The fact that you care more than anyone you know.
There will be a fair number of people interested in your topic who also resonate with your particular brand of weirdness. And that weirdness will shine like a little beacon to attract them.
Markets are, often as not, defined by who they aren’t.
If you can get weird enough, you’ll find the readers who are longing to be part of your thing.
It’s not about you, and it’s totally about you
If you can learn to keep both of these in your head at the same time, you’ll do brilliantly.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on October 23, 2009.
Reader Comments (103)
Jeffrey Tang says
This article made me smile, Sonia 🙂
Great advice too! One of my favorite articles on Copyblogger to date. In a sense, “getting weirder” is also about being more authentic. About letting out all the stuff that you’ve been holding inside because it’s “unprofessional” or “socially unacceptable.” I think we’re starting to realize how socially acceptable things really are – when you find the right social group. Or, even better, when they find you.
Roseann Higgins says
Devious, but true. Your headers made me laugh. Thanks for all the great advice here.
Rob Mangiafico says
Very good insight into what effective niche marketing is and is not. A good niche is carving out a slice of a popular topic. It’s not re-inventing a topic altogether. Cater to a specific group, do it better than others that cover the topic more broadly, and you’ll develop a loyal (and sometimes rabid) following…
Which is what every blogger hopes for!
Rob – LexiConn
Bible Money Matters says
Love it, great advice. Choosing a big niche with lots of people and traffic, and then finding a sub-niche within the bigger one is how I’ve been able to become somewhat successful on my blog. Now i just need to work on being weirder. 😉
The Happy Rock says
I love this take on an very talked about subject.
The thing about being weird is that you have to be authentic. Being weird just to capture an audience will most likely not get you were you want to go and you will tire of ‘the act’. Transparency and authenticity are key.
The trick would be to embrace you own weirdness so that you can connect with others that are like you. The more helpful you can make that weirdness the better off you are.
Eventually you will meet enough people that are similar that you will realize you weren’t even weird.
Good advice Sonia. I think your “wierdness” is something you might have to discover as you go. I don’t think it’s always apparent right out of the gate.
Another good reason to pick a crowded niche.
Grandma Mary says
How about wearing a wig and doing a bad New Jersey accent?
It’s an interesting decision, whether to go for the small, obscure niches or a particular niche in a bigger one. Competition is likely to happen either way. But including your personality gives you so much advantage in terms of memorability.
Then there’s the all your eggs in one basket bit that people worry about. But overall it’s a matter of figuring out which way works best for the way you work and market.
J. Money says
So I guess having a mohawk helps me out? Too bad I’m anonymous 😉
Blake @ Props Blog Reviews says
What if you’re the “recovering” video game addict with a nearly pathological need to put the other person first who has a cynical, but strangely positive view toward authority teachers… is there a niche for that?
This post is awesome. I hate to be “that guy,” but this post felt like it was written just for me.
I’ve been trying very hard to stay out of the huge niches because they are crowded and hard to make a splash, but they are also where my passion lies. Amazing advice.
Lee Stranahan says
I think you should pick your ‘big niche’ by USING your ‘weird’. This echoes the point Happy Rock and some others are making about authenticity.
Perez Hilton wouldn’t be as huge if he were doing stock advice. The Celebrity Niche works because it’s part of his authentic weird – it’s him.
There’s nothing about school or day jobs that urges you to bring out those authentic parts of yourself. And that’s part of what it makes it so compelling when we see someone actually do it.
Nathan Hangen says
Sonia, this post is pure gold. I tried the empty niche thing and it didn’t work. I have much greater success in already crowded markets. I think from there it is simply a matter of identifying yourself and what makes you stand out. It might seem obvious to others, but it might not to you. That’s where I think a consulting session might come in handy.
Sonia Simone says
@Lee, that’s a good point. A line I almost put in the post and took out was “weird is just another word for honest.” I left it out because that was another whole set of ideas to unpack (and slowly I am learning to keep to more or less one idea per post) 😉 but it’s part of this.
So I guess this means I can become a better blogger if I stop taking my meds ; )
Sonia Simone says
Laughing, Momblebee. Probably, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. 🙂
One of those posts that makes ya go “Ahhhh! I AM right!!!!!!!!!!!” Long live quirky ideas and those who support their fruition.
This is right on, although I hate to read it. Was one who thought tight niches were the way to grow blog, but was wrong. Our most popular posts are not the heavy niche-directed one but those we deem for “frivolistas”. The more “human” (i.e. dummer?) the subject, the more readers. Even our smarter clients and colleagues seem to prefer those. Who knew?!
I love this post!! Here I’ve been lamenting not being a niche blogger. Now I am going to go out and embrace my weird self- which will be amazingly easy to do, given my eggplant look-a-like posts…
Excellent post. You’ve provided some much needed motivation.
Jim Connolly says
You know how sometimes you read a post and REALLY wish you’d written it?
Excellent post (again) Sonia
Lydia, Clueless Crafter says
Agreed, Mr. Jim Connolly. Mistressfully written (notice how I didn’t use the masculine word “master” but the mistress part sounds less powerful? UGh, lest I digress).
On point, all blogging is about finding that balance between one’s own needs and the readers’. It’s fun to work toward that equilibrium. I have found that it is making me more respectful of myself and others.
Fakhrul Alam- Make Money Online Blog says
Hmmmm…. Nice article..
And great thing to learn in future..
Jonathan Frei says
Good to hear. As I’ve been getting started with my blog, I’m always worried that I’m getting into too crowded of a space. But the reason it’s crowded is because people are interested.
Anita Nelson says
Great post~! I love it! Weirdness as your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)~! This will also help me explain to a customer why his site doesn’t come up 1st when Googling “Bob’s RV Repair”!
Brandon Cox says
Wow, that’s quite a revelation! Makes me feel a whole lot better about my new blog about blogging for bloggers – I’m definitely not alone!
Jonathan Vaudreuil says
This is a great rephrasing of great business advice. So many people want to be the next massive thing and forget that being a key role player in a big market is more realistic, doable, and probably a lot more fun. I’d rather have an intimate conversation with a few people than be stuck in a crowded room with everyone throwing their business card at me.
If you’re great at something and people know, word will spread.
Josh Hanagarne says
Sonia, thanks for the shout out. I think you confused “devastatingly sexy and awesome” with “weird” when you were referring to me. I forgive you.
By the way, if anyone wants to steal my Tourette’s trick, I’d be happy to let you have it:)
Kenji Crosland says
Nice. I’m finding that the more I write on the internet, the more my inner weirdo comes out. My writing style started out much more reserved than it is now. I can only imagine this trend to continue.
Tito philips, Jnr. says
Thanks for the tips Sonia.
Mark Malafarina says
Great Post, Sonia!
This goes right into what you & Brian discussed in the First Step in Freelance X Factor Course – Dare to Be Different. If you revise it to include more articles from Copyblogger, I’d include this gem.
That being said, I’d also caution about people trying too hard to stand out. There’s the good kind of standing out (original/entertaining voice, new viewpoint on a common topic, etc.) but it can quickly become a train wreck. You want to avoid the whole ‘we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing near you’ thing.
Steve Averill says
Sonia, I just fell in online love with you all over again.
Gabe | freebloghelp.com says
Great post. It’s true that many topics are saturated. Getting weird could help. Pretty soon, micro-niches will need micro-niches.
Sonia Simone says
@Josh, that’s probably because for me, “devastatingly sexy and awesome” and “weird” are synonyms.
@Mark, ha, funny. And I agree, this one might be a good one to add to the FXF worksheets, except they’re already sorta packed. 🙂
@Steve, you are too nice, thank you.
carlton green says
The start-up I’m building (Moneyledge) is entering into a fairly crowded market, but what we have found is that a lot of the start-ups that command this space have neglected their targeted market. Therfore, I think you can go after a market that is fairly large if you find that the current players have failed to stay connected with the community and their targeted market.
Hashim Warren says
Wow! A post about differentiation and positioning that demonstrates differentiation and positioning! Clever!
Thank you for this. You’ve made a well worn topic feel fresh again.
Sonia Simone says
@carlton, I would agree with that. It’s sort of pathetic that “actually showing up” can be a USP, but it often can be.
@Hashim, thanks. 🙂
Oleg Mokhov says
To be remarkable you have to be an amplified version of yourself.
Analyze your traits, and especially quirks. Then go to an extreme with them. Combine traits for a uniqueness multiplier.
This is especially important when tackling a crowded niche. People love a certain topic, but they want something eye-catching, something fresh, something irresistible. And nothing is more of all of those than being extremely remarkable and unique.
Great advice on going for the big win by tackling the big niche, but then checking yourself to make sure you stand out and are as weird as possible. Something I constantly am pushing myself to go further with.
PS. Congrats Josh on the shout out in the article. Very cool. Turning into a bigger fan of WSL every day.
Sonia Simone says
Josh rocks. 🙂
@Oleg, IMO I would probably change that a little bit, not necessarily an amplified version of yourself, but an edited version of yourself. (If you amplified Naomi Dunford we’d all go deaf.) Selecting the bits and pieces to share, including a nice portion of the quirky or individual or weird or just interesting. By editing and selecting, the signal gets clearer and the message is more easily heard.
You point to an important flip side, which is that if you share everything, you just end up with noise soup.
Dave Doolin | Website In A Weekend! says
This could have been pointed at me too!
After spending years on projects perhaps 10-12 people in the world care anything about (I’m not kidding, seriously), I chose WordPress as the next direction. It turns out with small topics, the markets are small and utterly dominated by established players. You get your big break when they… die.
WordPress has millions of downloads every year. There’s gotta be a niche here somewhere!
Truly excellent article, helps me feel I’m on the right path.
And yeah, I do have to edit myself quite a bit…
Dana@Online Knowledge says
An interesting suggestion, become weird fish in big pond instead big fish in small pond. It call as differentiation in marketing field. Great article!
This got me thinking about my subject.
Snowboarding is massively crowded online and Snowboard Instructing also. I’ve created a content site solely for Snowboard Instructors and nothing else.
Where is the first place that I should focus my marketing efforts? The VERY FIRST? Like when you have NO page visits and NO product to sell? I try to mimick everything that you guys say and do.
What was the first peice of marketing that Copyblogger did? How did you get the word out?
Great articles always too. thanks
I think the thing that I want most that you get in the comments section here, Is CONSTRUCTIVE comments. Forums and other places just seem to attract “Trolls” (yes I have read lots of other articles).
It’s so refreshing. Something you could also write an article about.
How to create a culture of constructive commenting and retweeting. Do you moderate everything all the time etc.
Sonia Simone says
I agree, Dave, I think we get an unusually helpful comment crowd here. Pretty cool.
As I’ve heard Brian recount the history, the first thing he did was create solid cornerstone content with the Copywriting 101 series. Then very early he created the Viral Copy special report (you can still find it here on the site, just use the search box and it’ll pop up) and released it without asking for an opt-in. If I was in your shoes, I’d study both that and the Authority Rules report and figure out how to do something similar in your topic. Guest posting is also a very powerful strategy these days to start finding more eyes.
Steve Haase says
I gotta say, Sonia, the article rocked, but the headline… that headline is magic! I had no choice but to read the article 🙂
Thanks for another helpful post.
Mike Consol says
Stamina wins the race. Fifty percent of blogs are fallow because people give up. Some people don’t really like to write. Some people never find their true voice. Some people lose their passion or the subject, if they ever had it.
Who will be blogging about blogging in two or five years? And of those who are still writing, how many of them won’t be recycling the same old concepts?
Great, thanks Sonia! will do that.
Wapello Warbler says
I’ve been amazed at how long the search lists are and how far down the list some people will go for search phrases like “roach headdresses” or “Lutheran baptismal banners.” It would be hard to write a lot about either of these topics, yet both have been mentioned oodles of times. I think your advice to be a unique voice on a broader topic is dead on target.
Suffolk Wedding Photographer says
Great article Sonia.
When I’ve gone to seminars by some of the world’s top photographers they all say the same thing, “dare to be different!”.
The hard bit starting out though is standing out amongst giant dwellers. But once it starts to happen I believe momentum will build and eventually snow ball.
Pat (a small fish in a big over crowded pond)
PatB Wedding Photography
Valeria Maltoni says
Interesting comment about marketing blogs, Sonia. Last time I checked, Copyblogger was listed on AdAge Power150 marketing blogs… or is this site about cosmetics? 😉
City Sylvester says
This was great read. Sometimes you don’t want to show your weird side, cause of the fear of people finding out who you really are.
Web Marketing Tips says
If it’s not working, get weirder
This one remind me one advice given me by my senior, if they are not allowing you to play than do something because of which they could not play as well.
Grampa Ken at Social Fix says
I think this theory works when choosing key words too. If you select less common but suitable words there will be fewer competing sites.
Emily Geizer says
Thank you for this. As someone who is always striving to please everyone, I’m finding even more incentive to ditch that schtick.
I was surprised to see the video recently from Blog World Expo. Sonia’s pink hair took my breath away and made me smile (devilishly).
I write a parent education blog and continuously play with pleasing everyone (i.e. providing a resource for every parent) vs. putting some parents off. But, a recent post that “seemed harsh” for some parents did get a LOT of comment action.
It’s an interesting process to find my own voice (sing my own tune) online. And you are absolutely right that when you let others define you they do mess it up.
Kat @ Money, Debt and Taxes says
Great article. It is funny. I am in a big pond in my offline business (tax accounting) and I have used these techniques. Most accountants are a little uptight and stuffy, have fancy offices and wear suits.
I have a comfy office, bring my dog to work and wear jeans.
It works great offline, I guess I’ll have to bring the same attitude to my blogs and see how it work!
Thanks Sonia for another great post, I think its all about finding your own unique voice and not been scared to use it. We are all passionate about something and we all have unique insights that we can share.
I went back and read some of the articles you linked – I absolutely love the comments on the dork post. Probably because I are one!
I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m super enthusiastic about, what I can be weird about in a crowded realm. So this article is pretty timely for me. Thanks, Sonia.
Steve Errey - The Confidence Guy says
Nicely put Sonia. Folks often find themselves doubting that they can use their odd traits, wierd thoughts and dorky behaviour to differentiate themselves – they second guess who they are or who they should make themselves appear to be.
For me, confident blogging is about sweeping away those expectations – the expectations you have of yourself, the expectations you have about others and the expectations you have around what other expect of you – and just doing what comes naturally.
Don’t doubt that, use it.
Jay the Niche Q Insider says
Great post. A light just turned on.
I’m about to become a weirdo.
Trying to jump in on the weirdo bandwagon:)
That reminds me that Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkinson, etc have become famous due to their weird antics.
Welcome to the Weird Wide Web!
Something weirder. Try to write blog in polish. Belive me there is money. For sure im find some money some day there…
Jenny Pilley says
Really good post, it is so important to stand out when you are competing against so many people, and the advice you give is great. The key to standing out is definitely being different and although you are fundamentally saying the same as others, it is more interesting to find those blogs that portray it in a different way.
Nathan Hangen says
This has been one of the best comment sections I’ve ever seen. Lot’s of useful stuff in here 🙂
So who has tips for helping us bring out our inner weirdo?
This is excellent advice. I’ve been reevaluating my approach to blogging because I bought too many domains and started too many blogs. A couple years later, it’s time to simplify, and I’ve had a heck of a time narrowing myself down to one category.
But this post opens up new possibilities I hadn’t considered. Rather than something no one has done, what about a more personalized segment of something a lot of people are doing?
Melissa Karnaze says
“Be a small, ridiculously evolved, very rare and weird fish in a great big pond.”
I love this! The ridiculously evolved part is my favorite. 😀
I also like how you contrasted the calm guy in hyper space to the hyper guy in calm space. Those are the finer points that easily pass over our heads, but are really important to notice.
Adding “weird” to my vocabulary is a big help, thanks!
Website Promotion Blog says
It’s a different kind of look at blogging and its target audience. There can be lots of problems with being a small fish in a big pond too!
Who hears you? Who prefers you to the big fish? Who believes you’re better than those famous ones? What keywords do you want to target to rank highly for?
If you resort to the long tail, which is a good thing, chances are people find you, but this is like finding a small corner at the big pond, isn’t it?
janice | Sharing the Journey says
“It’s not about you. And it’s totally about you. If you can learn to keep both of these in your head at the same time, you’ll do brilliantly.”
This jumped out with flashing neon lights. Thank you, Sonia; the post and the comment dialogue came at a good time. What you say makes so much sense; getting that balance is crucial. Sometimes blogging can feel like swimming in a vast ocean with no land in sight; a cosy pond sounds just about right today.
Sonia Simone says
Hugs to all of you, love the discussion here.
Janice, I know, it’s funny, about every other day I give one of those two pieces of advice. Obviously they seem contradictory, but they need to be brought together if the content’s really going to work.
Was on my reader and aside from Yaro Starak’s blog, this one of the few that I read 🙂 Thanks for this confident building post. I do find the small but unique fish in a big pond a fascinating and useful thought as it goes against the grain of the traditional find-a-really-really-specific-niche then go for i it method.
Linda Schaffer says
“Content! Content! Content!” It’s like the “Location! Location! Location!” mantra that offline businesses should never forget. Thanks!
Theresa Milstein says
That’s why I blog about being a substitute teacher, because there’s an audience starving for information about such a fascinating subject. Who are those amazing teachers who are adored by students?
Okay, I blog about it because I didn’t find too many other blogs on the subject, my days are zany, and I figured a few people might be interested. I’m not selling anything. I get a new follower here and there, which I’m grateful for.
As an aspiring children’s book writer, my blog gives me a writing outlet too.
Website Promotion Blog says
@Linda Schaffer – I totally agree with you and specially with good content that people love and bookmark, recommend to others, link to, etc.
We should also make the most of our content by building trust for ourselves in the meantime too!
Steve Benedict says
I really agree with the Happy Rock. If you try to fake it, you can’t pull off weird-i-ness. It’s gotta be a natural connection. What may be weird to one person is perfectly normal to someone else.
Just keep this in mind…” To thine own self be true”.
Believe me, it works…in a weird sort of way.
weird? I can TOTALLY do that! …BIG pond? ‘got that covered. …niche in a big pond, we are SO there. But Sonia, ridiculously evolved? I just don’t know that I can GET there. It makes me think I have to be four handed with the ability to handle two keyboards and be so self-aware as to have all of my ‘issues’ packaged and tied in a nice bow. …I’d need at LEAST another 20 yrs of therapy for that. I think I need a middle ground. Can I just be moderately evolved? Like chimp to human instead of amoeba to giraffe? But seriously, great insight. Thank you!
I have to get off your blog now … your writing and ease of turning a phrase is making me feel inferior. 🙂 It’s just your stuff is very readable, darn it. Love the idea about being weird (aka being yourself!). My challenge is being interested in so many things … picking a wave in the crowded market … takes time to work out which wave to surf. Love your work Brian.
Frankie Cooper says
This is an excellent technique that I will be trying to captivate the attention of more passer by’s going through my website.
Matches Malone says
This is actually great advice, that I’ve already taken before I read it. Impressive, if I do say so myself 😉
“Weird” is grade-school shorthand for “you’re not like us, are you?”
That a blogger alright. We tend to retain the title for life.
Sound advice there though I would not discourage from off beat niches. Yes, you may need multiple sites to make financial picture work but that’s called diversification. All it takes is for Google to Pandalize your one great amazing blog and you’re toast.
Carl Friesen says
Ya gotta dance with who brung ya. See? I can do weird … spelling, that is. About as weird as I get. To put it another way, “write what you know.” Or, “write what you want to be known for.” Your blog should be based around your special abilities to solve somebody else’s problem. If you have expertise in solving infestations of naked mole rats, or in cuisine that involves them, or maybe in breeding them (or all three) then you would indeed write about naked mole rats. Ditto for financial planning. A blog should be about what you know … with the secondary filter being what other people want to know about.
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