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Taking Your Blog Off Topic

Blog writing tips and articlesWhat happens when you take your blog off track and publish an off topic post? Do you ever take that risk? When you do, why do you do it and what’s the benefits or harm?

In a two part series, Sam H, Editor of Football United, shared his insights on working with “hundreds of football bloggers” for the past two years, adding to his five years blogging about European football (soccer). In part one, he explains that you must write about what you know and love, have a clear purpose and intention, realize you can’t please everyone, determine how to make what you bring to the mainstream media unique, how to learn from other bloggers and web publishers, consider what keeps bringing people back for more, and that spelling counts. In part two, Sam goes on to talk about how closely tied together are publishing and promotion, where content rules and social media dominates, and if you don’t understand both of these confidently, you’re missing out on the whole thing.

We at have been honored to have DB Ferguson of the famous No Fact Zone, Stephen Colbert fan site, and many others share their insights into their unique niche of blogging, and we welcome other bloggers to share their insights on their web publishing niche, which is in keeping with the mission of WordCast. However, hijacking a football blog to talk about blogging is not just off topic but outside the entire field of the blog’s topic.

Still, there are lessons to be learned. What makes this article series fascinating are the intentions behind it.

Interrupting the Subject Matter for What Reasons?

Sam blogs about football. Every angle, from players and games to coaches and the fields they play upon. Only football. So why should he interrupt the flow with a message from the sponsors?

That’s why. It is a message from the sponsors.

Sam isn’t doing anything bad. In fact, he’s doing some very smart things. Let’s explore each of these to see if he was successful at conveying the message from his sponsors.

Football United is run on the blog network version of . They invite any football enthusiast the opportunity to blog for free about their footballing passion. Sounds strange, but imagine a fan site that consists of the fans talking to the fans, wouldn’t your football corporate office sit up and take notice?

Blog writing and publishing is a skill, thus the article series helps to subtly inform fans that they can have their say, offers lessons in how to have that say, and shares some behind-the-scenes peaks at what it really takes to run a blog, especially a football blog.

Don’t we all want to see what goes on behind the curtain? Isn’t this part of our fascination with car accidents – we want to know what happened? That’s why shows like Entertainment Tonight, E!, Oprah, and the morning entertainment “newsy” shows are so successful. In addition to covering the news and gossip of the entertainment industry, you get an intimate look on the sets, entertainment events, and the lives of the stars. While Football United could do a show about their activities behind the scenes, the odds are that this series might be enough of a peak. Still, it’s enough to create some intimacy in the relationship. Fans of the site get a chance to hear from the guy who works so hard to give them their news.

The article not only offers good blogging tips, it shares links to Sam’s favorite sports bloggers, sharing the wealth and helping readers find other interesting avenues of opinion, commentary, and news. Those bloggers get kudos and trackbacks, and maybe reach some new audience, and if Sam’s lucky, they’ll mention that he talked about him in the articles on their blogs, helping him get new exposure. Think of these types of links as mingling at a party, where you meet and greet and exchange business cards with people, hoping one or more will turn into a relationship. The article included a link, thus a trackback, to my own blog, which is how I discovered this in the first place, since I don’t hang around sports blogs of any kind.

The articles are also a chance to attract a new audience from search engines. They offer keywords not normally associated with your content, acting like lures to bring in potential new traffic, but only if there is some connection with your blog’s purpose. Otherwise, visitors are in and out, and the conversion potential is lost. Make these off topic articles increase your conversion rates.

Sam also offers tips on how to track information on Twitter, Facebook, how to search for their hashtags, and more information that helps the fans, not just contributors. He’s not just teaching about how to blog but showing his readers how to get the most of their site and services, making the article not exclusive to bloggers but inclusive to their audience.

The two posts are just two in hundreds and hundreds of posts. Maybe they worked for his readers, maybe it didn’t, but it’s a chance to stir the pot and see what comes up to the surface. If the response is overwhelmingly positive, it’s a way to test the market to see if this is a path you should be following. If it is zip, then keep doing what you do best and take care when going off topic in the future.

Most important, in addition to the behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be a professional blogger, going off-topic can give the reader a chance to not just learn more about how you work, but who you are.

In Should a Blogger Ever Write an Off-topic Post? by Judy Dunn of Cat’s Eye Writer, she writes about the difference between blogs you skim and must-read bloggers:

…But the ones I read most frequently have one thing in common.

They don’t just ace their content, take my breath away and make me think in different ways.

They let me see who they really are.

These bloggers are not afraid to say how they feel, to shake me up (sometimes) and to give me advice from their hearts. And they understand one thing:

Blogging is writing is life.

You are a living person and life happens. Sometimes going off-topic to share important life events is part of helping the reader get to know you better, and maybe build a stronger relationship. I remember the day when Robert Scoble of Scobleizer went from being the dude who worked for Microsoft and had free range to bitch about them to rock star blogger. His mother had gone into the hospital and it was clear that there was no hope. Frustrated and angry with everything, doctors, hospital, family, rules, regulations, combined with the sudden loss of his mother, he blogged about it, moving completely away from Microsoft and computer technology to something highly personal, and to some, very private. Like thousands, I was so touched by his humility and personal struggle, I blogged about it, as did others, creating a viral wave of support for him, reaching far out beyond his fan-base and increasing his exposure. While he was well known before, this, in my opinion, pushed him visibly into a new arena. He never abused that gift, and he continues to set an example for integrity, yet he’s an example of how taking off the mask may benefit you and your audience by letting them into your real life beyond the blog.

Tips for Taking Your Blog Off Topic

When you take time out to interrupt the subject matter on your blog with an off topic post, think about these tips to make your own post more inclusive.

  1. Warn your readers that the post is off topic, and why, and that you will be back to your regularly schedule program soon.
  2. Make the topic have some connection with your blog’s purpose and intention.
  3. Entertain as well as educate.
  4. Maintain the same tone and voice for consistency.
  5. Write for your readers, not the search engines (do this with intention not link bait).
  6. Let this be a chance to get to know you better.
  7. Reward readers with insider bits and links.
  8. Use these to check the temperature of your readers. If they notice, great, if they don’t, what have you learned?
  9. If you go off-topic emotionally, consider saving it as a draft for a day or so to wait for the fire to die down, then reconsider releasing it with a calm mind.

Remember, an off topic post can actually generate a lot of energy and spice things up. It gives you a chance to try something different with little risk, and it might reach out and touch readers that have been on the fence in the past.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

9 Comments

  1. Posted April 30, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    This was on my mind because my yesterday’s post was way off topic. When that happens, I find myself thinking about how it will impact my readers and my vision for the blog.

    I agree with all of your points. And I have an additional observation. Well, I might be questioning your point #2.

    Blogs have always been personal web logs, not newspaper columns (I have written a column for a major city paper). As a columnist I was sure that neither my editor nor my readers would give me any opportunity to write an off-topic column. However, since the newspaper has lots of room for articles other than my regular piece, and since I was known to the subscribers, I am sure that my off-topic piece would have been welcome somewhere else in the paper. (Actually, the planetarium that I ran always enjoyed lots of ink other than my personal piece.)

    Unless the blogger publishes several blogs, there is nowhere else to write but in the blog. So, in my opinion, if the blogger has a personal story to tell, and can see that the story will have some real value for some readers, I think that the blogger has a responsibility to her/his readers to use the blog to tell that story… even if it is off topic.

  2. Posted May 1, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Excellent post, Lorelle. And thanks for the mention! In the post of mine that you linked to, as a professional blogger and blogging coach, I wanted to position the question to my readers from that perspective: Is it ever appropriate to go off topic—I mean, completely off topic—in a post?

    The readers who commented, across the board, said they like their favorite bloggers to bring them in closer from time to time, that it helps them know them better. I don’t do it often, but, when I do, the response is positive.

    All of your tips are useful. But I especially I like #9. Sometimes we write in the moment, with emotion. It is important to come back with a clear eye and read it again before we hit “Publish.”

    Robert makes a valid point on #2. I wrote a post on poverty for Blog Action Day and told a story about my trip to Africa to make a documentary about the needs of kids and families in the third world. But I also wrote an emotional post when my 16.5-year-old cat died that had nothing to do with blogging, but touched many, many readers.

    I think that, used with care, writing off-topic posts can build community and let your readers in closer.

    • Posted May 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      I completely agree, and glad to include you. Keep up the amazing work!

  3. Posted May 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny that sometimes the perfect blog post comes along at the perfect time. I have recently embarked on a mission to “clean up” my blog. This involved the very touch decision to remove some older posts that were very off topic.

    I think I made the right decision as these posts really did not fit with the spirit of what my blog had become and what it was really about. I think that’s key, your off topic posts still have to fit with the overall tone of your blog, and the ideas you want to convey.

    I only ended up deleting a few posts, but several others are slated for total rewrites to make them into something valuable to my readers instead of off topic indulgences. For instance, some time back when my blog was young and had not yet taken on its current and established for as a personal development and lifestyle design blog, I posted a poem I wrote shortly after a breakup. It’s not a bad poem, but out of context it goes against everything my blog is supposed to be about; positivity, freedom, ownership of life, etc.

    It also happens to draw a lot of people to my blog, so rather than remove it, I think the best thing I can do is frame it within a context of personal development ideas, instead of leaving it to stand alone.

    • Posted May 20, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      It’s it amazing how powerful it is to clean up your blog. When presenting workshops on blogging and blog management, I invite long term bloggers to go through their archives and pull out their favorite and most important blog posts in a list. Then I ask them to go through the rest and consider what should stay and what should go. I use the example of cleaning your house dramatically. While it cleans the place up and simplifies your life, you feel a new sense of focus and direction, a renewed energy. It’s almost magical. Good for you to find a renewed sense of commitment by taking on this task!

  4. Posted May 31, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I know it’s a bit late, but I’ve only just noticed that you’ve linked to my blogging tips mini-series

    Thank you for mentioning it!

    Sam

  5. Posted May 31, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Actually, to use the word ‘mention’ probably does your great coverage of it very little justice…I’m very grateful for your comments!

    • Posted May 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      You did a risky and brilliant thing, Sam. Thank you for the inspiration to talk about this. Keep rocking!

  6. Praveen Rajarao
    Posted June 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I just happened to write one off-topic post, i am not sure what my readers will think, and even if i lose some of their interest, will wait and see.


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  4. […] openly about your fears may seem like taking your blog off-topic, a step which should be handled judiciously, but it can also bring great rewards, and is your blog […]

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