Simplify Topic SelectionDuring the last few live question and answer sessions with my Blog Mastermind students at least one person every call asks for help determining whether they have a good choice for a blog topic.

Given that new people join the program each week, it’s not surprising that question crops up over and over again. Everyone new to blogging faces the challenge of topic selection as the first big hurdle, and while I can never offer the “right” solution, as only the market can tell you that, I do my best to offer my suggestions and tips for conducting research to aide with topic selection.

What Topic Is Right?

Topic selection for a blog is similar to niche selection for a business. What you decide to write about determines what type of audience you attract and how you make money from that audience. In today’s e-commerce landscape, content is the driving force behind traffic and purchasing decisions online, so topic selection is a big deal.

Today I want to offer a simple answer to this problem, to help choose what topic and niche is right for you. I say simple because it’s possible to make this a very complicated choice, with in-depth keyword research, market analysis and other assessable factors weighing in on the decision process.

Unfortunately I find that many people who do extensive research become paralyzed. With more data comes more awareness of the different variables at play. Sometimes knowing less is a good thing because it gives you a clear next step – an action you can take that actually moves you closer to a result.

This is especially important for newbies and people with personalities that demand they know everything about everything before taking that first step into the big wide world. As someone new to Internet marketing, learning about all the different ways to research a potential topic may be so much work and such a big learning curve that it takes months before any action is taken to actually test the topic in the market.

You have to learn how to choose a niche before even choosing a niche!

I’m not saying you should bury your head in the sand and take a leap of faith when choosing a topic, but you can certainly make it easier on yourself.

Spotting Opportunities

Let me explain how I have selected topics for the businesses I have run in the past. In almost all circumstances the process has gone something like this –

1. By virtue of my day-to-day activities I’m exposed to different markets (people) and observe first hand their needs and wants, or I personally am part of the market and experience needs and wants myself.

Case in point: while at university I had a group assignment that included a group member who was from a non-English speaking background. I had to edit the group’s writing together and noticed this student had terrible English. That turned into the idea for an online proofreading service targeted specifically at International students studying at English language universities, which became

2. After realizing the need or want, I brainstorm ideas on how to solve it (in recent years focusing solely on Internet based solutions) and then determine a basic business or blog concept in my head.

3. I go online and create a website for it and begin the marketing process.

That’s basically it. Yes it lacks any in-depth research process prior to launch and probably would benefit from a little more analytical and competitive analysis, but there’s one fact you have to realize – the barriers to entry on the web are virtually non-existent.

Because it is so easy to test something online I find the best research tool available is putting something out there and giving it a real world trial. No amount of pre-launch research will ever tell you as much as actually attracting an audience and/or making a sale to a customer (or finding there is no audience or no people willing to spend money or that you hate what you are doing).

What’s especially great about my three step formula is that it simplifies the lead-in process so much that your first action step is actually testing the idea in the market.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t go in completely blind. The brainstorming process to cement my idea takes into account everything I have done online and may include looking at what sites already exist.

Having already done a lot online I can call on what I know from experience. This is not an advantage a beginner to Internet marketing has, however I still argue the best way to gain this experience is to action an idea rather than analyze it to death before it even has a chance. That’s what I did when I was a beginner.

What About Keyword Research?

I’ve used keywords to help come up with elements to tweak for the SEO of my websites, but I never use it as a decision making tool for choosing a topic or business idea. It’s good to know what words to use in the title of a blog post or in tags, but that’s about the extent of my keyword analysis.

Keyword research is great if you care a lot about the numbers. People who like the process of making money regardless of the niche that the money is made in will probably think what I do (or not do in this case), is crazy. How could you not find out where the money is and how many people are looking for something before starting a project?

For those of you who don’t like keyword analysis or number crunching the fact that I have achieved what I have online without focusing on analytical tools and data should give you hope. You can succeed without ever looking at keywords, if you are willing to take action.

My Favorite Online Research Tool

What I rely on to come up with ideas for topics, or businesses, or products or even just blog posts, is people.

People are the driving force behind the statistics. If you can assess what people are asking and isolate the emotional drive and the logical decision making process going on in their head, you can determine everything you need to know.

There Internet is made up of people so you don’t have to look far to find answers to your questions, provided you are able to form assumptions based on observable behavior (a little intuition and familiarity with your market helps).

My favorite place to observe behavior is in forums. The great thing about a forum is just because it exists (assuming it is popular), demonstrates there is a market of some size. For those who like numbers, forums also provide great statistics for free – things like total members, active members, number of posts and topics, and number of replies to a topic, which can tell you what’s hot and what’s not in a particular niche.

Fran’s Forum Offers The Answer

Fran, who you may remember as one of my students I talked about in the Conversion Blogging video and runs a blog called High On Health, was recently thinking about what information product to create next to sell from her blog. As a person with a lot of experience and education in her niche, she had too many ideas for what she could cover.

Although hesitant at first, Fran added a forum to her blog purely because she was sick of responding to email questions and thought having a permanent archive in a forum for all questions from her readers was a good idea. It also helped alleviate some of her workload as other people in the forum could start helping with responses to questions too.

Most forums start slowly (read my tips to grow a forum) and Fran’s was the same. It took several months to build an audience, but since she directed all questions she received to the forum, it eventually became popular. It’s not a big forum by any means, but it is popular enough that something amazing happened – her forum became the best source of intelligence about her audience she could ever ask for.

It didn’t dawn on her immediately, but I remember clearly the moment Fran realized she had the answer for what her next information product should be about within her forums (she skyped me when the light bulb went off in her mind).

Her next information product could address the top questions that were consistently asked in her forum. It was so clear because she didn’t need to guess what she needed to cover – her members were telling her. An 80/20 rule was evident as a majority of the people came to the forums asking the same few questions.

In Fran’s case she created the forum that led to the answers she needed, and it’s great she owns a growing forum, however that is certainly not something you need to replicate.

There are thousands of online forums that right now have the answers to your question of what topic you should cover, or what blog articles you need to write to answer the most popular questions, or what product you should create next or what business you can launch.

Look For Common Questions

The key when researching forums is to understand that you are looking for patterns of popularity. When a topic is started with a question and it evolves into a hot conversation thread, that thread alone offers a wealth of information. Even if the conversation leads to a conclusion and supposed answer to the question originally asked – that doesn’t mean you can’t take that question and address it yourself through an asset you control, like a blog or a product you create.

Even an extremely popular forum represents only a small portion of the overall population of a niche. No forum has the entire audience, and if you create your own resource that answers the common questions you can take a share of the audience.

Look for common questions, provide the answers and you have the formula for a successful blog.

It’s Not Quite That Easy

Obviously there is more to it than just what I outlined in this article. Just because someone asks something and it leads to a hot thread in a forum or there are many people all asking the same questions in a forum, doesn’t guarantee there is money to made in that topic.

What’s important is a forum can tell you about the behaviors, desires, goals, motivation and interests of a group of people and best of all, it’s very detailed, specific and – raw – real responses from real human beings.

This information alone is enough to guide you towards a topic you can develop into a blog or a business. I can promise you that the direction will change over time, but the important thing is that you take action in the first place and put something out there. If forum research can give you enough clarity to determine the next step, that’s a great result.

Mining Forums