95 of the 100 most popular blogs do this…

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Seriously, I can’t believe I missed this…

The blogosphere has been engaged in a heated debate for months now about whether it’s better to niche blog or spread your topics wide. I published a round-up post on niche versus broad-scope blogging. And I’ve read a number of other articles on it recently. Which is why I can’t believe I missed the answer.

It’s been sitting in front of my face the entire time.

After all the discussions, all the blog posts, all the banter, tweets, IMs and e-mails, a single irrefutable fact led me to conclude…

Niche blogging is the fastest way to popularity.

What was it that convinced me? Technorati. Yes, yes, I know, we’ve all been slamming the big-T over the last few months. Heck, they disappeared my blog for the better part of 2 months.

But, I never really thought of mining it for the answer to my quest to learn whether niche blogging trumps broad-scope blogging. Don’t know why, I just didn’t. Until Friday morning.

It hit me like a bolt of lightning.

Rather than guessing, debating and arguing, why not just reverse-engineer the answer.

What would happen if we looked at the 100 most popular blogs and counted how many were focused on a niche, versus a broad scope of unrelated topics?

Technorati, while a rough tool, allowed me to do just that. I looked at the 100 most popular blogs on Technorati, classified them, then made the comparison. And the results blew me away…

95 of the 100 most popular blogs are niche blogs.

Here they are, ranked by authority | niche/general (topic):

  1. Huffington Post | general (news)
  2. TechCrunch | niche (tech)
  3. Gizmodo | niche (tech)
  4. Engadget | niche (tech)
  5. BoinBoing | semi-niche (culture/tech)
  6. Lifehacker | niche (tech/productivity)
  7. ArsTechnica | niche (tech)
  8. Icanhascheezburger | niche (lolcats)
  9. Mashable | niche (tech)
  10. Daily Kos | niche (politics)
  11. ReadWriteWeb | niche (tech trends)
  12. Smashing Magazine | niche (web dev/design)
  13. Seth’s Blog | niche (marketing)
  14. TMZ | niche (entertainment news)
  15. Gigazine | don’t know, not in English
  16. DoshDosh | niche (pro-blogging)
  17. Gawker | niche (NYC gossip)
  18. Google blog | niche (company/product news)
  19. PerezHilton | niche (celeb gossip)
  20. Blog de Beppe Grillo | niche (Italian politics)
  21. ProBlogger | niche (pro-blogging)
  22. TreeHugger | niche (green trends)
  23. Kotaku | niche (gaming)
  24. PostSecret | niche (secrets)
  25. CopyBlogger | niche (copywriting for bloggers)
  26. Think Progress | niche (progressive politics)
  27. Noscope | niche (design/UI)
  28. Jauhari | niche (web dev)
  29. The Consumerist | niche (shopping)
  30. Valleywag | niche (SV news)
  31. Scobleizer | niche (tech)
  32. uThink | general (news)
  33. GigaOm | niche (tech)
  34. Neatorama | niche (oddities/cool stuff)
  35. The Wrong Advices | niche (tech news)
  36. Tuaw | niche (apple news)
  37. Shoemoney | niche (make $ online)
  38. Daily Blog Tips | niche (blogging)
  39. Drudge Report | niche (politics)
  40. Joystiq | niche (gaming)
  41. Dooce | niche (mom-life)
  42. Daily Dish | niche (gossip)
  43. Slashfilm | niche (movies)
  44. Crooks and Liars | niche (politics)
  45. A list apart | niche (web dev)
  46. Zen Habits | niche (lifestyle/productivity)
  47. Talkingpointsmemo | niche (politics)
  48. Treat Level/Wired | general (news/tech)
  49. Search Engine Land | niche (SEM)
  50. Autoblog | niche (cars)
  51. Blogscoped | niche (web)
  52. Corner on National Review | niche (politics)
  53. Microsiervos | niche (tech)
  54. The Sartorialist | niche (NY culture)
  55. Deadspin | niche (sports)
  56. Newsbusters | niche (conservative pol)
  57. SEOBook | niche (SEO)
  58. Travelpod | niche (travel)
  59. Webware | niche (web apps)
  60. How to change the world | niche (tech-entrepreneurship)
  61. Yankodesign | niche (design)
  62. MattCutts | niche (google)
  63. Kottke | niche (web)
  64. Crunchgear | niche (gadgets)
  65. Freakonomics | niche (econ/trends)
  66. MacRumors | niche (apple)
  67. Ben Smiths | niche (politics)
  68. Hot Air | niche (politics)
  69. BuddyTV | niche (entertainment)
  70. Download Squad | niche (downloads)
  71. TopTut | niche (tech tutorials)
  72. CodingHorror | niche (tech)
  73. Gadget Lab/Wired | niche (gadgets)
  74. Political Radar | niche (politics)
  75. Google System | niche (google dev)
  76. Wired Science | niche (science news)
  77. Bad Behavior | niche (spam killer)
  78. Fanhouse AOL | niche (sports)
  79. TorrentFreak | niche (filesharing)
  80. Engadget Japanese | niche (gadget/tech)
  81. Stereogum | niche (music)
  82. Apartment Therapy | niche (apt design)
  83. O’reilly | niche (tech news)
  84. Gothamist | niche (NY trends)
  85. Dlisted | niche (entertainment)
  86. Jalopnik | niche (cars)
  87. ProNet | niche (online mktg)
  88. Lifehack | niche (product/lifestyles)
  89. Performancing WP themes | niche (WP)
  90. Crave | niche (gadgets)
  91. Global Voices | niche (world beat)
  92. Solostream | niche (WP design)
  93. Paul Stamatiou | niche (tech)
  94. Venture Beat | niche (deals)
  95. 43 Folders | niche (lifehacks)
  96. Joel on Software | niche (software)
  97. Pajamas Media | general (gen news/opinion)
  98. Pharyngula | niche (culture)
  99. Techdirt | niche (tech trends)
  100. 37 Signals | niche (design/UI)

Game over. End of story. Even if Technorati is an imperfect tool, when it comes to the most popular blogs in the world…

The ratio of niche blogs to general blogs is 20:1.

Remember, I am not talking abot the instrinsic value of a blog, the quality of its content or the sincerity of it’s creators. There are plenty of great blogs that are not hugely popular.

This is about popularity, plain and simple.

And, the cold, hard Technorati facts are telling me niche blogging blows the doors off broad-scope blogging as a format to leverage in a quest for reach and impact.

Agree? Disagree? What am I missing?

Will this change your approach at all?

Bring on the conversation…

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23 responses

23 responses to “95 of the 100 most popular blogs do this…”

  1. 101. The Wisdom Journal (personal finance/business)

    LOL! This is a great post and shows the power of understanding your readers. The same principle applies in business. When a company tries to do something that it isn’t known for or that it isn’t readily capable of doing, it usually fails. There are very few successful conglomerates when compared to successful companies that have a niche.

  2. Troy says:

    Good post, Jonathan. It summarizes some ideas I’ve had about niche vs. general blogging. IMO, blogging is a means of building depth out of the genera of the internet. A blog about general topics doesn’t really build depth.

    This might be off-topic (and maybe the subject of another post), but do you think blog networks are needed to increase a blog’s mindshare? To me, it seems that blog networks are really starting to push the “indie” blogs out of the way. Maybe that’s why many of the top 100 blogs are part of some sort of network (gawker, b5media, etc.).

  3. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Ron – Yeah, you can definitely extend the principle to business in general

    @ Troy – This is one of the reasons I am about to bifurcate (sorry, carryover from lawyer days) this blog, to allow for better expectations

  4. I’m not sure where we draw the line between niche and general.

    You listed LifeHacker as a niche blog, but in your round-up post Leo Babauta says “Lifehacker covers a broad range of topics, from tech and gadgets to how-to stuff on the Internet to how to get into shape and wake up earlier.”

    You listed Deadspin as a niche blog (sports). But that’s awfully broad compared to a blog that covers just one sport, or one team, or one player.

    Steve Pavlina says he doesn’t consider himself a niche blogger. Yet many people do consider personal development a niche.

    I’m not sure how I feel about super specialized niches vs. broader niches, but I do think it’s a bad idea to blog about completely unrelated topics. Darren Rowse used to have a single blog where he wrote about blogging, photography, religion, and I think something else. His readers were understandably very annoyed.

  5. Tim Brownson says:

    I tend to agree with Hunter in terms of do they really all fit the niche category? Having said that, I still think this is a well researched and fascinating post.

    I spent years trying to convince people to specialize and then when I set up on my own disregarded all my own good advice.

    I think there is a huge fear factor with people that believe if they start off in a niche (and by the way I am saying neesh and not the wussy nitch that you guys insist on using over here) they reduce their options massively. It takes the kind of guts that I for one, didn’t have.

    I also think that a lot of bloggers start off general and then slide into a niche as they become established, I’m betting that if you broke down that list then there would be a lot more like that.

    In any event, when some of the top 100 were started they HAD to be niche because they were appealing to blog readers who at the time (and may still be to some extent) were a niche market in and of themselves.

    Does Life Coach that insists on taking nothing too seriously count as a niche btw? I like to think so 😉

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hunter & Tim – that was the biggest challenge defining what a niche is. For my purposes, I decided to define it as either a single narrowly drawn topic or a collection of very closely related topics. It’s all about the common thread.

    But, no doubt the definition is can narrowed or expanded. Either way, the numbers might shift a bit, the general results is still very compelling.

  7. Google Tutor says:

    I think niche is the way to go, but you need some broad appeal topics within that niche to gain popularity. Many niche blogs stay too nichey to grow.

  8. Is being an uber-popular blog really this important? I guess what I mean is, how does having an popular blog benefit you, Jonathan, specifically?

  9. Brad Grier says:

    Great example of using a tool to mine the data! I’m starting to think that way myself, and am always looking for better ways to slice and dice the data-pile.

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Hayden – Great question, popularity alone is meaningless. But, for me, popularity is just a proxy for impact. The more popular a blog is, the more people it reaches, touches and brings into the conversation. So, if what you blog about is something you believe in your heart will help or somehow benefit others, then popularity matters, because it allows you to reach and impact more people.

    It also matters because more people means more voices in the conversation, more points of view, more valuable commentary and discussion.

    Make sense?

  11. Josephine says:

    jonathan, YOU should be number 1 on that list dammit!

  12. Allison says:

    This makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder how many not so successful blogs are also niche blogs? (Not that I’m recommending you look at this… there are way too many out there to do so) It also depends on how strictly you define niche blogs. For example, if you consider a blog about food/recipes to be a niche blog, then there are many, many unpopular or not so successful niche blogs out there! Or if you define it stricter, like a blog about sushi, then there are far fewer.

    Pardon my skepticism, and feel free to enlighten me on your point if I’m missing something, but I can’t help but wonder if you are attributing causation to something that isn’t necessarily the cause for their popularity. (Like saying, all successful people brush their teeth, but brushing your teeth won’t necessarily make you successful.) 🙂

    Niche blogging could just be more popular than general blogging overall.

  13. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Josephine – hahaha, from your lips to the blogging god’s ears, right!

    @ Allison – see the conversation in the comments about defining niches. Great point about causation, though. This type of survey is not about causation, but rather correlation.

    For example, studies on exercise show that people who exercise have lower risk of certain diseases, but those same studies cannot prove the exercise caused the benefit.

    Even so, when the correlation is so high, 95% of the most popular blogs are niche, it’s a strong piece of evidence in favor of niching. It lets someone who’s starting or evolving a blog say, “hmmm, something really serious to consider.”

  14. Definitely makes sense.

  15. Dave Navarro says:

    Niche = highly interested readers = stronger desire to be loyal to something that serves their small segment = easier time building raving fans who spread the word for you.

  16. It’s no surprise that 1/5th of the top 100 are tech niches. Even though one of my blogs is a niche blog, it may never be as popular as the tech blogs. Part of the reason is that tech blogs and those about blogging attract savvy Internet users who are among early adopters. They stay on top of tech issues, look for tech advances and closely follow anyone can help them in these endeavors.

    The visitors to my site don’t spend as much time online, mostly don’t have blogs themselves and many have never heard of Facebook and Twitter. They enjoy the information I share but don’t show up or comment in the high numbers as tech blog visitors do.

    This post is interesting, but it won’t change how I blog. I’m presently running three blogs on topics I thoroughly enjoy researching and sharing. I’ll settle for being the top 1,000 for now.

  17. […] this summer, I am making the bold leap of faith of turning my personal blog into a clearly defined niche blog for people insanely interested in everything. The topic will be the same as what you have learned […]

  18. Robert says:

    While I agree that niche blogs will capture more regular followers, few of these bloggers only post along their niche. I’ve come across posts from Matt Cutts that refer to only his cat or about a computer system that he wants. Neither of these instances can be considered his niche.

    As said before. With a dedicated topic you can capture more readers up front, but you need to keep it broad and personalized if you want to keep them returning. After all a change is as good as a holiday.

  19. […] from Awake at the Wheel wrote about what 95% of the most successful blogs do that keeps them so successful. I believe you can apply this idea to more than just […]

  20. Mike Brady says:

    Check out this niche blog…Helping unhappy lawyers find fulfilling work outside of the law
    I thought you might find it interesting.

  21. Hey man, thanks for some thoughtful ideas. Sorry it took me so long to get here; I am far behind on RSS feeds. Just know that whenever you write something cool, I’ll eventually read it. 🙂

    I tend to agree with some of the earlier commenters– a lot of these are not really niche blogs. I would say the mix is roughly half and half.

    BUT… this is not to disagree with your main point, that it’s a lot easier to achieve popularity (or whatever your metric is) by starting narrow and then expanding outwards.

    Think about some of the topics that the so-called A-list bloggers write about. Shoemoney throws in stuff about Ultimate Fighting– not just once in a while, but all the time now.

    Steve Pavlina posts up a 30-day journal of his raw food diets. Sure, that is vaguely related to personal development, but only by a big stretch.

    I have to give credit where it’s due to Perry Marshall, AKA “the Adwords Guy” who first explained to me the concept of how when you start small (Adwords or any other niche) and become an authority on that small niche, all of a sudden everyone wants to know what you think about incredibly unrelated topics.

    Then you aren’t really in a niche market at all, which of course is ironic, but for the most part, you maintain the same following.

    Life, and the blogosphere in general, is funny that way.

    Again, thanks for the good writing. Enjoy your weekend.

  22. Tobi says:

    but that fact shouldn’t be a raeson to change your blog habbits or even your whole concept.
    i thing the main reason why these blogs are so popular, is because the bloggers behind it are really into tere niche

  23. Jack says:

    Great info – not just the post but the list of interesting blogs…