Alister Cameron // Blogologist

Changing the world. One blog(ger) at a time.

Is it possible to keep your focus but still ‘mix it up’ on your blog?

A few days ago I implemented asides on my blog. These are sometimes called “tumblelog” posts and give me a way to write short pithy posts about this or that. For me it was really important to give these posts a different look on my blog (at least on index pages), so that you the reader would not get confused.

See, until now I have limited myself to “meaty”/lengthy posts that tend to dig in fairly deeply into a matter. I spend a long time on each of these and do a lot of thinking in advance, which I hope is reflected in the content.

woman floor notebook Is it possible to keep your focus but still ‘mix it up’ on your blog?

But it became clear to me some time ago that I also wanted to be able to communicate in a different way as well, with short, sharp posts that may be no more than an external link to an interesting article, say. Nothing wrong with wanting to do that, but I was concerned to avoid sending a confusing message to you, the reader, that you would henceforth not know what to expect from me, and hence the “asides” format was born.

Then today I received this message (in part) from a fellow blogger:

What do you think of the idea of having two blogs, one in which the content is concise, engaging, emotive, and the content of the other is more in-depth and philosophical. I know a few people do something similar, though usually it’s someone talking about the facts of something they’re interested in, in the “professional” version of their blog, and their opinions in the “personal” version. But they’re not necessarily always mirroring each post. I probably would.

I enjoy exploring topics in detail, but I know it doesn’t necessarily attract visitors. I also know that a lot of what I write could be condensed and re-structured to be more appealing. I would hope that a more engaging site would filter more people through to an in-depth discussion.

Can you foresee any negative side-effects to something like this? A couple of things I can think of are:

  1. Weaker positioning on social networking sites because votes which may have all gone to one site now go to one of two. But I suspect this wouldn’t really be a problem because the engaging site would bring in more votes for *both* than the in-depth one on it’s own.
  2. Confusion regarding what the purpose of each site is. This shouldn’t be hard at all to counter as long as the style and content of each site is clear and consistent.

What do you think?

This guy is struggling with the feeling that he can’t write in both ways on one blog. It would be mixing genres, so to speak. It would be the same as receiving a love-letter from your sweetheart, which half way through switches into legal language like you read in a contract. You might understand what’s being said, but it would be frustrating to read and confusing too.

And so he’s pretty much decided he needs two blogs: one for each “genre” (writing style) even if both are ostensibly on the same topic.

How to Decided Whether You Need More Than One Blog

Deciding whether you need more than one blog to cover your own writings is really a strategy question. Peter Drucker‘s cardinal three questions apply here:

  1. What is my business?
  2. Who is my customer?
  3. What does the customer consider value?

As you consider the content and style of what you want to blog about, continually ask yourself these three questions. They’re the same questions Peter Drucker would ask Big Business CEOs the world over, and they’re designed to force you to focus on the essence of your task (in your case blogging, in their case running a corporation!).

Forget writing style (genres) for a moment. Think about what you want to write about and to whom. I would say that as long as these two do not change, you only need one blog. I’ll use myself as an case study:

  1. What is my business?
    I write a blog about blogging, covering all kinds of topics relevant to blogging, including design, SEO, platforms and technology, social media and blog marketing, and trends.
  2. Who is my customer?
    My customer is anyone who takes blogging seriously enough that they are investing time and effort to get good at it. My customers come in all ages, sizes and nationalities, and are united in their more-than-passing interest in blogging.
  3. What does the customer consider value?
    For my average customer (read: faithful reader) value is derived in a number of ways: skills are learned; new technologies are introduced; errors are uncovered; new approaches are explored; relationships with other bloggers are initiated; a (moderately) “successful” example is presented; an enjoyable (occasionally entertaining) reading experience is had. Perhaps there’s more going on than that, but that’s a start!

Now, as some of you will know there’s a whole other area of my life. I am a theologically trained Bible-believing passionate-about-Jesus kind of Christian. Truth be known, he is the driving passion of my life. I really get off on blogging but I’m sure could give it up if I had to. I could never give Jesus up.

But to start to post regularly and consistently about my faith journey, my reflections on Christian issues or “church stuff” would be a clear departure from the three points above. That said, it is clear to me that I should feel free to blog about that stuff, but not on this blog. Or, if I do choose to shift this blog’s focus, I should be explicit with my readers about that shift, so that it doesn’t come as a suprise and so that people are free to “leave”.

Similarly, but more subtly, I think I’d be making a definite shift away from my above-stated “focus” if I were to spend much more time prattling on about Digg. About three months ago I think I posted about as much about Digg as I dared without “breaking the rules” of my blog. See, Digg relates to blogging, but only a small part of it.

So here’s what I recommend you do…

Answer those three key questions for yourself; for your blog. You should do this because, like it or not, your readers will automatically be discerning your “niche”, your subject focus, as they read. It will help then, among other things, if you name your blog around that focus:

Then… stick like superglue to your topic. Even if there is no money passing across the table, most readers (except your mom) are there because there is an unspoken “contract” in place: while you keep writing about the stuff you’ve said you’re writing about, they stay. If you stray they’ll go away. Repeat after me:

If I stray they’ll go away.

Trust me on this: if you will look at your blog(s) as would a business guru like Peter Drucker, carefully answering those three questions and revisiting them regularly, you will keep much better focus, and it will be quite straightforwardly obvious to you when you need to start another blog (with a different focus).

How to Write In Different Ways on the One Blog

But back to our blogger friend with the “genre issue”.

I am convinced different writing styles do not imply a contravention of the focus we’re maintaining around the three questions we’ve been answering. But I do agree that it’s possible to confuse and even annoy readers if you want to write in different ways (genres) but are not careful how you do it.

But it’s all about the looks and the labels, I reckon.

  1. The looks.
    Have a look at my hompage, and Matt’s. We both use asides. I designed mine to look much the same as his. Both blogs are examples of how you can make blog posts look dramatically different, based on their genre. In this case, asides look a lot simpler than “full” blog posts. Your readers work that out really quickly and appreciate that you’re doing them a favour in reinforcing the genre difference visually.
  2. The labels.
    Liz Strauss does this really well, I think. By labels, I mean images or text that stand out at the top of your posts, identifying each as a member of a series of posts, a weekly column, or related to a particular subject area, etc. In Liz’s case, her large and faithful readership find it easy and “comfortable” to read her blog because she provides consistent visual cues to tell them what kind of blog post she’s writing. If you’ve not been over to her site, or even if you have, here’s your assignment: go over there and click through the first ten or so pages of her blog’s index pages (archive pages). Scan through the posts you see and notice recurring “genres”/types of posts: Inside Out Thinking, SOBs, the SOB Business Café, I’ve Been Thinking…, Tuesday Open Comment Night, Bloggy Questions, B.A.D. Bloggers, etc. And each has an image or other visual cue — a label — attached to it.

So if you want to “mix it up” a little on your blog, writing different kinds of posts, here are some quick take-aways:

  1. Use categories well.
    If you write posts in series, then assign each series to its own category. That makes it easy for your readers to see them grouped together and connect one to the other. If you’re using a “category-aware” WordPress theme like Sandbox or my ClassyBody plugin, you can use this unique category as a way to apply different CSS styling to the posts within each of these special categories.
  2. Tell (and show) your readers what you’re doing.
    If you’re going to write a “speedlinks” post every friday afternoon, tell your readers that. Introduce this new idea really clearly, and then label each of these weekly posts in some clear way. Readers love buttons and images, so get creative about it!
  3. Be consistent.
    Once you get on a roll with a certain type of blog post, you need to stick with it and be consistent, since your readers will be expecting that. It may surprise you that your readers value (there’s that word again!) the consistency as well as the quality of your content. The quality and the consistency go hand in hand.

Have you struggled to find your focus? Have you stressed over how to integrate different styles of post into your blog? What’s your experience?

blogging, branding, css, deep-thoughts, design, general, wordpress, writing, genres, genre, writing styles, alister cameron, css, asides, tumblelog, categories

23 Comments

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  1. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    I think the way you’ve styled your “asides” differently than regular posts is just perfect, and it’s a great way to have two different kinds of posts that live in the same space. My experience on my professional blog is that it is difficult for me to find my true focus. I am interested in so many things, between blogging and design and other techie stuff – I’m still struggling with it. Is my focus narrow enough? I don’t know.
    Thanks for all the food for thought.

  2. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Interesting thoughts. I definitely agree with your sentiment of losing an audience if you stray.

    There was one technology newsletter/blog that I used to read religiously. Over time, he started focussing on the legal side and policy relating to tech. Then he kept going. Now it’s all about politics. I don’t read him anymore.

    I think a variety of lengths and styles is fine, as long as the readers know what to expect. I come to this blog because I have come to expect a style and quality of posting. I like your idea of a “Friday Speedlinks” or something like that. Again.. keep it predictable!

  3. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    That being consistent thing is really a hard thing to do…I really need to work on that. Much as Randa said, focus is an important aspect that I am lacking as well. But hey one post at a time.

  4. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Hi Alister!
    Thanks for noticing how I do that, and for the love that came with the spotlight.

    I migjt add if you look closely, I even have a rhythm to my posting. Regular readers know what to expect when. :)

    And when they might get surprises! :)

    This post has so much and was written so well. Thank you for what I can see is a lot of work well spent. :)
    Liz

  5. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    I think the idea with asides is brilliant. When I read about it on Matt’s site ages ago I wasn’t blogging and it was not that interesting, but since I have a style similar to yours with rather long articles I find myself from posting shorter comments or follow ups etc just because I don’t want to compromise my way of doing things.

    However, I do not get your implementation of it. When visiting your home page I don’t see them anywhere except as a category link. Perhaps I am blind (it is getting awful late here), but wouldn’t it lend itself to make the asides appear at least in headline form in a separate box somewhere while not being listed in your main list or in the feeds and email?

    If you are please point me to it as I would like to see how it works before taking a crack at it myself.

    Thanks for the renewed inspiration btw and to Liz who actually sent me here through one hers stories a while ago. How fitting that this comment follows one of hers :-)

  6. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    @Jan – the asides are much smaller than the main posts and have a green border running down their left side. Their links are also in green. They appear in the main column, between the main posts.

    @Liz – Yes I have noticed that rhythm as well. And I’m certain that that also is part of what makes the difference in styles/genres even more enjoyable and acceptable. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Wow Alister, that was a hell of a lot more than I expected! Thanks!

    Just goes to show you shouldn’t be shy about asking questions :)

    The only problem with such a great post is that it sparked off an avalanche of ideas, distracting me from answering those 3 questions first.

    Incidentally the two-blogs idea spawned from consideration for maintaining the style, the strategy, the in-depth ponderings. But as you said, if I make it clear when there’s a departure from that style (and it’s not a frequent departure) my readers should be ok with it. Thanks!

    *frantically makes notes before getting stuck into his assignment*

  8. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    The asides post has always been one of my favorite WP features, problem is I’m not knowledgeable enough to create them for the themes I use that don’t support the asides function by default.

    But I’ll definitely incorporate it in the very first custom theme I’m going to build for my blog.

  9. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    OK, great post, good advice as always, but I have a question: what about co-authored blogs that are trying to cover something unconventional. In our specific case, WebUrbanist deals with online social media, news, networking as well as with urban design, street art and guerilla marketing. It seems almost split in two between posts about ‘online’ and posts about ‘offline’ and it’s unclear if there’s an overlap in reader interest, or if readers come for just one or the other. Recommendations? :)

  10. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    I can speak from experience that changing the focus of your blog is a bad idea and you will never gain any traction unless you stay on niche. Better to have multiple blogs. The idea of “asides” posting is an interesting one that I’m going to take a look at for my blog. Knowing myself, I will have to work hard to keep asides on niche.

    One way I have of “mixing it up” on my blog is to have different content media. I’ve been posting videos on my blog and they’ve been well received. I plan to use audio as well. People have different learning modalities, so text isn’t always the best for everybody, but different media can also provide variety.

  11. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Thanks Alister, I see them now :-) I think I was so focused on seeing where I had the idea to put mine namely in the other column that I missed them completely.

    Since yesterday and I searched and found a plugin that does what I wanted namely the sideblog plugin. Sadly does it seem to conflict with the Popularity Contest plugin and I cannot find a solution anywhere. I guess some things doesn’t just seem to good to be true…

    I absolutely love your design btw. I am sure you hear that often, but some things you can probably not hear often enough :-)

  12. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Hi Alister,

    Just thought I’d leave you kudos on your great blog search algo analysis at Problogger. I read it a while ago and recently decided to write a summary of yours and SEO Bill Slawski’s analysis of the same patent, to get a comprehensive document in place. In addition, I’ve sought to enrich my post with some original analysis.

    The post is here: http://seoroi.com/blog-search-ranking-factors-googles-blogsearch-algorithm/search-technology

    On a related note, I thought you might care to co-write a follow up to your original problogger post with me, in part to answer some of the questions you asked at the end of your post. You can reach me via ggoldenberg aaaaat gmail.

    Regards

  13. Alister Cameron
    Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    @Michael Martine – that’s a really good point about mixing up the media. It’s something I really want to try myself. I am not set up for audio or video, but I sure would like to try it. Fortunately I have friends that know what they’re doing in that area. Thanks for adding that point!

  14. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    I struggle to keep a straight and narrow focus on my blog. I do stray side to side every once in a while, but I feel it helps break things up. I don’t stray far off my topic, just enough to see if people are paying attention ;)

    In the future I look to try my hand at video blogging and possibly podcasting, although I see no reason to podcast if you’re video blogging.

    So far no complaints.

    Don

  15. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Wow! great post….

    I’m currently facing that problem on my blog. I started blogging to share something that I like (eg: coding(web to windows), jokes, photos, thoughts and so on) with my friends.. now, my topics go from web technologies to windows form. then blogging tips and trick, news, jokes, fav thoughts and a lot more…. I afraid that I’m going to lose my readers because I’m going too far from one topic to another…. :(

  16. Posted 7 years, 1 month ago // Permalink

    Partly because of the thinking I’ve done after reading this post, I’ve created a separate blog for personal blogging. I have discovered this great new blogging service (I’m not affiliated with them, I really like this service) called Tumblr. A “tumblelog” as they call it is really a whole blog of “asides”. They are very simple and their posts are structured (text, picture, link, video, quote).

    I’m quite pleased to have found an outlet for this so I can keep my main blog on topic. You can see mine at Distant Seconds. If others have been really pondering Alister’s post, maybe something like this is what you need. I hope you find it helpful.

  17. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    Having gotten the conflict I mentioned previously between popularity contest and sideblog solved am I happy with my asides. Well, almost as asides in the sidebar really doesn’t fit my design, but that is another matter.

    What I have found though is that I think about them as an opportunity to post shorter pieces within the scope of my blog rather than completely off topic stuff. Perhaps knowing that I will make other blogs for other stuff.

    Nonetheless am I happy to be able to separate what I call articles from asides when posting. That way all the main stuff is longer articles with real substance, while the asides will be short notes, announcements and so on.

  18. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    Wow, awesome post, theres definitely a thing or two to be learned from it. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    I came in via SmartWealthyRich

    I don’t have a problem with someone having an off topic post on a focused blog every now and then. To me, those are the posts that can help you get to know the author better than the focused posts. However, if you’re noticing that you are posting more off-topic posts than on-topic ones, then it might be time to reconsider the focus of your blog and where you are going with it.

    Sephyroth
    http://www.sephyroth.net

  20. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    Ive been seeing this post linked everywhere. Great Job on getting so much recognition, and then again it deserves it all.

    Thanks for the Advice, Alex

  21. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    I think people are different some want to read the full thing while others want to know the story and fast. So I think it’s an interesting point to create one for the people that want to read everything and one for the people that just want to find out the story and fast.

  22. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    As a matter of fact, I am dealing with this problem right now on my blog. Up until now it has been pretty much a diary of sorts, with a few housewife type articles through out.

    Well, my plan now is to veer away from the journal style, to make it more useful, with articles on budgeting, cleaning, etc- anything ‘housewife’ related. But I am struggling with how to do that and still be able to use the blog as sort of an outlet for me, a journal when things happen, you know?

  23. Posted 7 years ago // Permalink

    Extremely useful post. I have been grappling with this issue myself in the recent days. While I blog about Travel and Food, there are times when I want to post about something exciting that I see or find, but don’t want readers to be put off.

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. : A positive, optimistic and motivating post from Adam. Are you wearing rose-colored glasses or is it more like toxic green? It is possible to see things from a more positive angle, and Adam asks just the right questions there. Is it possible to keep your focus but still ‘mix it up’ on your blog?: Alister wrote an excellent post that got me thinking a lot (I like that). Should you keep your blog on topic all the time, or is it ok to mix things up a little? Alister implemented asides on his blog, and seems to work really fine for him (sorta like

  2. After reading about Asides on Alister Cameron’s blog yesterday I was excited about the idea of being able to add shorter posts without disrupting the flow or compromising the the purpose of the blog which is to publish more subtantial and lenghty articles. Asides is I believe originally an idea from

  3. : A positive, optimistic and motivating post from Adam. Are you wearing rose-colored glasses or is it more like toxic green? It is possible to see things from a more positive angle, and Adam asks just the right questions there.Is it possible to keep your focus but still ‘mix it up’ on your blog?: Alister wrote an excellent post that got me thinking a lot (I like that). Should you keep your blog on topic all the time, or is it ok to mix things up a little? Alister implemented asides on his blog, and seems to work really fine for him (sorta like

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  5. [...] if you haven’t already read it, I’d suggest checking out this post before deciding on whether or not you should start two blogs. It just points out a few things to [...]

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