When you start out in a niche that you want to monetize, experts will tell you to narrow your focus on what makes you money and leave everything else out of the book. You know it's important to cover specific topics in your niche in order to make money from advertising and search traffic, but you also want and need to cover the topics that are unique to your vision.
Usually, “what makes you money” includes research for:
Which is all good and it's something you should be doing. because that's how people find you!
But…what about the uniqueness of your brand?
Say for example that your brand is all about going against the mainstream ideas in a niche because you believe yours offer something better – how can you make money on something that questions the status quo when all your data comes from mainstream keywords, studies and trends?
That's when smart branding comes into play. It's taking those trends, data and keywords and turning them into something that is uniquely yours, that speaks with your voice.
So if you didn't start blogging just to make some money off AdSense traffic, this article will guide you to monetize your blog and grow your brand.
The Essential Guide to Smart Branding
1. Back to Basics: Why Did You Start Your Blog?
What Is Your USP?
Tips from expert
This is the number one blog branding strategy Jerry Low suggests that you use – that is, going back to your ‘why' and keeping your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) in sight:
Your USP can be a hook, or it can be the angle you take to dive into the content.
Whatever it is, make sure you have one and that you consistently and ruthlessly apply it to everything you post. Your USP can also be (and should also be!) connected to why you do what you do.
This pathetic interchange is not my Dad's fault. It's mine.
I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't have goals, and thus – I couldn't communicate my production, process, success, focus, or anything.
The dangers of having your readership misunderstand your ‘why' and the message you are trying to convey is a lot worse than having a family member misunderstand it.
You have to ask yourself why your blog exists in the first place:
What's your vision?
What's your mission?
What's your USP?
Who are your audience?
Also, ask yourself:
Who is your target audience?
Is that everybody, so your blog is for the generic public in your niche?
Is it intended for a specific segment of your niche audience?
As KeriLynn Engel says in her beginner's guide to personas, “if your target audience is “everyone,” you’ll have to come up with topics that appeal to everyone.
Impossible, right? Right! For example, I have a blog on empowering webmasters and marketers by going against Google-approved SEO wherever it makes sense – and you know, this is not mainstream at all, even though my blog still fits the SEO and marketing niches.
In fact, my blog is not a good information outlet for webmasters who strive to make Google happy or use exclusively “approved” techniques for growing blog traffic.
Some of the stuff I promote is not really encouraged or at least, the most mindful Google-oriented webmasters wouldn't use what my blog preaches at all. You started your blog to share something unique, that speaks of your ideas and ideals, so your blog appeals to a smaller segment of your niche audience. My segment, for the blog in my example, is all webmasters and marketers who do not agree with the Google culture and the mainstream SEO and marketing strategies.
As a rule of thumb, remember that your blog must be exactly what your segment of the audience is looking for.
2. Your target audience comes before money
Frank Gainsford from 4U brand reminds of how important it is to not try to please too many folks just to make money, but to focus on your intended target audience.
Tips from expert
Gainsford also brings up the problem with search engine traffic, which may hurt your brand if it's unfocused.
One of the biggest mistakes that most bloggers seem to make is that they target way too big a section of folks out there, then most do not stay on the page long enough to get the recognition from search engines that your page deserves.
Do not write for everybody, as this will not sit well in the minds of your intended target audience.
They will find your content too general and not specific enough for them to consider reading further than the first post they encounter. Know your subject matter well and take time to do some due diligence with your intended target market audience in mind.
Write exclusively for your intended target market audience, and be sure to use the SEMANTICS that they are expecting to find within your online content. Remember that there are only three ways that your intended target market audience will open and read your online content:
By pure luck because they were reading an online document, such as a social media post or a web page, and clicked on an active link to your content.
By typing in your blog address directly into their browser because they found it via offline marketing or they were informed of your online content by a friend or colleague (word of mouth)
By clicking on a link in the SERPs of their favorite search engine.
Option 1 is not good for business. Option 2 is a bit better, but it's still not suitable from a business perspective. Option 3 is considerably better, but takes considerable effort on your part to ensure that search engines discover and index your online content.
Gainsford mentions ‘semantics' when it comes to branding via SEO.
He explains his idea better: “[Focusing SEO] on semantic footprints and connecting these to search quality is the real key to blogging for cash. You need to ensure that you have used the rel=author and rel=publisher tags within the HTML of your blog posts. This is essential for building the depth of your semantic footprint, especially through the use of social media, where bloggers can keep the conversation active with links to other blog posts that expand the conversation, and enhance the end-user experience through deeper understanding of the subject matter.”
“Understanding semantic footprints [is even more important] to improve the depth of imprints that your semantic footprints leave behind. The deeper your semantic footprint, the better your SERPs will become.”
Gainsford adds that starting with target market selection and research is vital to narrow down your niche and brand it strongly, and that you “need to have a deep understanding of your subject matter and be able to use this to write blog posts that resonate with [your] specific audience.”
Long story short, you don't want to be yet another blogger writing about (insert niche here).
Some topics are evergreen and you can use them to create longeve posts, but if you are writing what everybody else is writing, with no new angle and nothing that speaks of your vision, you are simply not branding your blog.
An example: if you run a blog on must-have YA novels, you want to cover every YA novel you feel readers should buy, but if you really love that indie author or that group of free-culture authors who publish online for free, why only talk about those bestsellers from Amazon?
The others may not make you affiliate money, but they can make your blog yours and they help you create meaningful connections (with those authors and the community around them).
Let's see another example.
Say you love writing about diets, but your blog is all about “plump is beautiful” – you'll want to link each diet-related topic to your unique vision, so, for example, you might want to start with keywords related to a specific diet and then use that as a starting point to discuss how that diet might make your readers “a healthier plump” without stressing the body.
What you would be doing here is to offer your readers (who already know about those diets) a way to incorporate what they already know or heard about with the solutions you offer, but that are more suited for their needs. This is one way to go about it.
Another way is to alternate regular or mainstream niche topics with topics that are unique to your vision and mission.
For example, if you run an SEO blog, you could discuss standard techniques on Mondays and your own techniques on Thursdays. The secret is in finding a balance between what everybody knows and looks for online (which is the starting point of their search) and your USP and vision. Use the former as a hook to bring your brand message out, and keep the latter in sight as the fulcrum of all your work.
So go ahead and write topics that attract traffic and money, but tackle them in ways that involve and fit into your vision and your USP.
Tips from expert
Adam Joshua Clarke explains how he saves his brand's uniqueness:
When I am trying to keep my content growing, I make it very easy to cover topics uniquely through artistic creations.
Some of these include what I call Bullet Advertisements, which are short pages with graphical hooks that aim to screen people on their way to the content I am trying to promote around. I also begin to explore the topics I mean to cover from different angles, such as using different content types and trying different hooks. I specifically recommend experimenting with exploring only one advantage point (or disadvantage point) for a topic in a post.
Say you have a “10 best ways to do such and such” post — then go and find the most creative ways to be able to write an entire page just about one of them. You are bound to have content that is related to what you are trying to cover, and if you are lucky your niche and your skills make it really easy to cover one point like it were your life. I am thinking about how to cover so much more without using fewer words, and I find myself writing an essay. Just the same as you want to have power and be straight to the point, you can lavish in a topic endlessly if you keep on exploring it. What depth does your content take you?
It's what I would want to have the reader think about, personally.
4. Involve your beliefs; Connect with your vision
Your beliefs are what led you to start your blog in the first place.
Beliefs deeply connect with your vision, lay the foundation of your brand and are the burning fuel that drives your blogging efforts.
As an example, take Jeff Goins' blog at GoinsWriter.com: his beliefs on the art of writing are all contained in his manifesto, and every blog post is carefully crafted around that set of beliefs and the mission to help writers “stop writing to be read & adored” and “fall back in love with writing for the love of it”, to achieve success without focusing on success.
Your vision is about your beliefs, while your mission is the concretization of those beliefs. In other words, your mission is the goals you set on the basis of what you feel is right and want to share with the world through your blog. That is how you can come up with the topics that really appeal to the segment of the audience you are talking to.
Every time you work on your editorial calendar, keep a statement or a bullet list of your vision and your mission/goals handy so that you can brainstorm blog ideas that connect to them and work toward your branding efforts.
5. Seek opportunities that fit your unique vision
It's not easy, but a good starting point is to reach out and ask. Start with your networks and your followers (who love you for a reason), then go out to search for like-minds on the Web and even offline, via clubs, associations, local zines, etc.
That advertiser that promotes a product or service very close to your vision, that guest writer with an alike mind that can help you grow, or the local shop looking for a blogger to review a series of products that reflect your ideas and that you know your readers have an interest in – these are all good opportunities to catch on the fly.
Even partnerships with bloggers and charities that have one or more elements in common with your blog will help you create a powerful network around your vision.
It's easy to give in to good-paying opportunities that are unrelated to what you do, but it's dangerous – you may slowly lose focus and your audience will catch the dissonance and leave, disappointed. Avoid that as much as possible.
6. Get your brand and its unique message out
You have several platforms available to do that:
Guest post (a lot)
Run PR campaigns
Be a speaker at conferences or give pep talks
Run your own webinars or participate in any open webinars in your niche
Publish and syndicate your “special posts” where you might find interested eyes.
There are plenty of ways you can get your brand name and your core message out there.
As an example, when I used Kingged to spark interest and solicit feedback for my new website on character blogging for business, I did so by publishing a post to get people curious about character blogging as a way to use blogs for money-making and branding.
That gave life to interesting discussions and Q&As in the comments section.
Real life examples
Here are two screenshots of the post and an example discussion from the comments.
What's important is that you play your cards carefully on the platform of choice.
Don't just write about your vision and what your brand is about, but make it meaningful for the platform audience.
Yes, that means you have to understand the needs and interests of the people using that platform first. If you don't know how, here you find 12 ways to do it, but your best bet is always to read as much as possible of the content published and best rated on the platform.
As you study your target and interact, you will start seeing the patterns that make for successful content. You can then tie those patterns to the topic you want to write about. This background work is even more critical when you choose to guest post for a big, mainstream community (e.g. MOZ) and you know your vision is unpopular or goes against the mainstream ideas.
In fact, you will not want to just ‘shoot' your message out to the community (and perhaps attract indignant comments or trolls), but use the website's mission and the most shared points from other posts as a starting point to build your own.
If that's about Facebook content marketing as the most efficient marketing type, but you believe that Quora makes for a better choice, see what kind of content marketing strategies people are talking about concerning Facebook, and use that as a hook to offer Quora content strategies as an alternative that you know comes with more advantages, etc.
Whatever your niche is, offer your vision by anchoring it to what is already being shared on the platform you chose to use.
Also, the image and reputation you'll build around yourself and your brand won't be that of an entrepreneur who wants to force her vision on others, but one that offers it instead, leaving the decision to take it or not up to people. Kindness and communication work a long way toward your image.
TL; DR: Five Takeaways
Don't just do what everybody else does. You want to make money as a business, as a blogger focusing on a unique vision, building your own brand.
Be yourself, be kind and open to feedback, work toward your brand's interest and use your blog to spread the message you want the world to know.
Strive for the balance between making money and being memorable. Usually, branding is more about the greater good and bringing something more important and meaningful to the world than just making money. Smart branding is putting together what is already there and what you want to offer, in a balanced mix of mainstream niche and USP, showing a strong vision that doesn't let money compromise it.
Take care of the branding and marketing part of your blogging activity and remember why you started this all in the first place.
Keep post-its around to remind yourself if you get too carried away by the money side of your blogging project.
About Luana Spinetti
Luana Spinetti is a freelance writer and artist based in Italy, and a passionate Computer Science student. She has a high-school diploma in Psychology and Education and attended a 3-year course in Comic Book Art, from which she graduated on 2008. As multi-faceted a person as she is, she developed a big interest in SEO/SEM and Web Marketing, with a particular inclination to Social Media, and she’s working on three novels in her mother-tongue (Italian), which she hopes to indie publish soon.