Here’s what just happened. You’ve been assigned to start a blog for your brand’s new business division. OK, good. You can write.
But you’re relatively new to the company and the industry – a totally different niche. How do you develop a voice? How do you communicate with a new audience in an appealing way? How do you make sense of the new field?
I know a lot of bloggers who can waltz into any niche, churn out a killer article, and then waltz off to another niche to repeat the success.
If you’re a content marketer, you may have been in a position where you have to switch niches or try your hand in a new field. You may need to market a new product or cater to a new audience. Perhaps the company is targeting a new set of customers, requiring a new tone and approach. Even if there isn’t anything new, the constantly evolving market requires us to stay on our toes to understand the customer climate and keep our content creation as sharp as possible.
If you have the flexibility to pivot your style and approach, you are a valuable asset to any company’s marketing efforts.
Here’s how to hone your style and nail it in any niche.
Make a list of the most popular and respected blogs in the industry
Create a list of the biggest and best blogs in the niche. During my first foray into a new niche, I created a spreadsheet that looked like this.
I wanted to make sure I had a solid handle on the biggest players in the industry. I followed them on Twitter and read their blogs religiously. They were my crash course in industry information.
How do you find the best blogs in the industry? I searched the new niche’s relevant keywords on Google. For example, if you are creating content in the SEO space, you would search for “SEO blog.” The sites on the first page are most likely the best and most authoritative. Moz blog tops the list as does Search Engine Land. Other keyword queries provide a holistic look at the lay of the SEO land. A search for “SEO news” produces a similar list – Moz, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Roundtable, etc.
These are the blogs that professionals are reading and following.
When you find the blogs in your niche, follow and learn. They will give you just the education you need.
Learn the most important jargon words
Every industry has its jargon. I do not recommend lacing your content with it just for the sake of using jargon.
However, if you’re going to exist in any niche, you must use the right vocabulary.
There is simply no way around this. For example, if you’re going to enter the SEO niche, then you must know the acronym “SEO” stands for search engine optimization. You should probably be familiar with terms like algo, manual penalty, SERP, NAP, local pack, organic, sitemap, rel=canonical, duplicate content, PPC, query, domain, anchor text, etc.
Do you need to know everything? Not at first. During your initial adventures in the new niche, you’ll need to do a lot of searches on Google.
For example, let’s say you were going to start blogging about CrossFit. You’ll probably follow the Invictus blog where it offers a “workout of the day.”
If you’re new to the fitness industry, you may not know what walking lunges are. No problem. Just Google it.
You’re unclear on bench press, so you Google it, too.
It may take a few minutes, but if you look up any unclear terms, you’ll soon understand the entire workout.
‘Plagiarize’ the most popular article in the industry
In this point, I am telling you to plagiarize, but I prohibit you from publishing your plagiarized article.
Plagiarism is taking someone else’s ideas and passing them off as your own. Apart from being stupid and unethical, it’s also against the law.
This plagiarism recommendation is for learning purposes only. I advise you to copy an article so you can learn from the experience:
- Figure out which website is the most popular in the niche. You may have figured this out in the first step.
- Go to BuzzSumo (a free account is fine), and enter the most popular site’s URL.
- Identify the most popular article on the site.
- Go to the article and read through it.
- Create your own article based on the original one. Use the ideas, organization, and main research of the article, but do it in your own style.
- Do not publish the article.
Here’s what the exercise may look like.
Search Engine Land is a popular and authoritative SEO website. When I looked for Search Engine Land’s most-shared article in BuzzSumo, here’s what I came up with.
I go to the first article – It’s Over: The Rise & Fall of Google Authorship For Search Results.
Next, I copy this article in my own words. Typically, when I research an article, I open my writing window on half of my screen and the research window on the other half, like this.
I simply write down the ideas of the original article, expressing it in my own words.
Why write something that you will never publish?
One of the best ways to learn a topic is to write about it. Your mind can capture the stylistic essence of the niche without having to know everything about the niche. Instead, your writing exercise enables you to go deep on a topic that resonates with the niche and thoroughly absorb it.
By the time you’re done, you will be light years ahead of even the most prolific industry bloggers. You may not have the same breadth of knowledge, but you sure know that single topic. More important, you’re able to understand how the ideas on a topic are best expressed.
You’re well on your way to niche domination.
Pick a narrow topic to write
Next, you’re going to pick your own topic to write. I suggest something narrow.
Why? Because the narrower the topic, the less research it will require. If you’re completely new to a field, you don’t want to wrestle through mountains of research and article garbage. You want to stay focused, stay narrow, and go deep.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s go back to the CrossFit blogging example.
- You know little about CrossFit, but you know an injury is common in any sport or workout regimen.
- You search “most common CrossFit injuries” on Google.
- You briefly review some of the most common injuries that CrossFit practitioners experience.
- You come across the issue of “anterior shoulder impingement.”
- You research a little bit, and develop a rough title: 5 Things Every CrossFit Athlete Needs to Know About Anterior Shoulder Impingement
This issue is appropriately narrow, but sufficiently research-intensive to make it a great learning experience.
Research the heck out of it
Now, you’re ready for the fun part – research.
Never attempt to write an article without thorough research or it will sound stupid.
Believe me, I’ve read articles that exhibit zero research and it’s painfully obvious. Without proper research, your article might sound simple or even wrong like these points for the CrossFit example:
- Anterior shoulder impingement is painful.
- Move slowly to avoid jerking the muscle.
- Try not to bend the arm too far.
- Let your shoulder rest between sets.
- If it hurts, put ice on it.
Before you write your article points, research your topic. A simple Google search is the way to start.
Open each of these articles and review the information on the topic. Examine each of the images to see how anterior shoulder impingement looks.
Go a bit deeper in your research by adding the term CrossFit to your original query.
Now you get into more of the CrossFit specifics on the topic, and narrow it to the CrossFit causes and treatments.
As you research, your points will begin to take shape, and your content will start to develop.
Quote really smart people
So you haven’t mastered the niche … yet. But you’re working on your first article, and it’s going to be a zinger.
How do you make it even better?
Quote the authorities on the topic. By associating with smart people in your research, you transfer their knowledge to your content, and ultimately to your brand.
Here’s how you do it:
- Find a well-researched article.
- Get some information on the author.
- Pull a quote.
- Insert the quote and attribution in your article.
Let’s continue with the CrossFit blog example. The No. 1 Google result for “anterior shoulder impingement” is this slideshow:
I want to quote an authority, and Dr. A. Hollister seems like a great candidate. I search her name and find out she’s brilliant. Perfect.
I choose a quote from the slideshow:
I write this in my article.
Dr. Anne Hollister, a professor at LSU has spent most of her professional career researching hand injuries and treatments. She is a hand surgery fellowship member and certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery. One of her top treatments for shoulder impingement is to “restore range of motion with proper stretching.” I agree with her recommendation and want to explain what stretches are best.
I’m a novice at anterior shoulder impingement. Dr. Hollister is a professional. I quote her so I can develop an article that stands as authoritative. Then, I agree with her to make myself look competent.
This is journalistic common sense. Good journalists know that they must interview eyewitnesses, authors, or professionals to get the best scoop on a story. It’s no different when writing great articles in a niche. You have to consult the professionals, quote them, and stand by them.
When you have a confident writing style, your readers will be more likely to trust and respect what you say.
Confidence levels easily leak into writing styles. Compare these two sentences:
- A lot of people who do CrossFit get hurt.
- Seventy-three percent of CrossFit participants will experience at least one injury during the course of training, according to a peer-reviewed research project slated for publication in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Both are true. However, the second statement inspires confidence, whereas the first one might get a skeptical shrug.
You can develop confidence by stating your facts clearly, backing them up with research, and drawing on the published literature.
It’s not just a confident tone that inspires confidence, as much as it is the substance. Since you’re just breaking into the niche, you must be able to verify things not based on your own authority, but on others’ research and experience.
Have an opinion
You may not be the world’s leading authority on the issue, but you certainly are entitled to your opinion on the subject.
And why not? Opinion is what makes articles interesting. Sure, people love the facts. But the real fun of an article is when the author shares her feelings on the subject. Plus, this is the kind of stuff that generates comments, controversy, and follow-up articles.
As an example of this, Adam Singer decided to voice his opinions on a topic. He let loose about the popular site Mashable. Even though Singer wasn’t the world’s most famous blogger, his comments got picked up by Mashable’s CEO and sparked a lively discussion.
The point is this: Opinion gets noticed.
Since your goal is to break into a niche and dominate, you must develop research-backed opinions. Your status as a neophyte doesn’t matter. In fact, because you’re new, you probably bring a perspective that the veterans don’t.
How do you share your opinion? Here are a few tips:
- Make it clear that the opinion is yours. “It’s my opinion that …”
- Back up your opinion. “The reason why I think this way is because …”
- Share your feelings, too. “I get frustrated when I see people wasting resources, because …”
- Invite feedback. “These are my reflections based on my experience, but I want to know what other professionals think.”
Don’t be discouraged if you’re blazing a new trail for yourself in a new niche. Your first few articles will be slow, plodding, toilsome, and time-consuming. Keep on writing. Keep on researching.
Don’t obsess over your voice or style just yet. Just write. The more you do it, the better you’ll do it … and the more powerful you’ll get.
Have you tried writing in a new niche? What was your experience?
Improve your writing and you improve your content marketing. Learn more about how to develop successful content at Content Marketing World 2015. Use code CMI100 and save $100 when you register by May 31.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute