Sep 02 2011

Surviving Design Blog Saturation : Is The Future in the Niche?

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One of the topics that the design blogging community touches on from time to time, concerns the saturation levels of the blogosphere with regards to design blogs. There are so many design centric blogs filling the landscape that the chances of capturing enough of the available audience out there so that you can generally consider your blog a success amongst the rabble are decreasing with every new RSS feed introduced into the mix. This can paint a fairly grim outlook for the future of the online design blogging community.

Could many of our beloved design blog’s futures be as shattered as this monitor? Image Credit

Now some will dismiss these claims, discounting the threat that we as an entire community are facing. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps the growing number of design blogs is a sign of industry strength and market stability. But what if it is not? What if these alarm bells and red flags that seem to be sounding off in some of our heads, are in fact valid? There are those who not only believe this is an issue that we either will face, or are facing now, but who also believe that there is hope.

And that hope, lies in a much more refined focus for our design blogs. Now there are a number of blogs in the design community that have an area of design that they tend to focus on. For example, Pro Blog Design tends to only focus on blog design, and for the most part WordPress. Many in the ranks focus purely on logo designs or on strictly inspiration, and you can even look to the Envato network of specialty sites to see more of this focusing in action.

And though many of us have a specific direction in mind, we have to wonder if it is enough? Are these focuses the keys to keeping ahead and keeping our audience? Is the future of the design blog in the finding an extreme niche to serve? With sites like Media Queries and We Love WordPress, is the landscape changing on the design front? Is this a necessary evolution?

The Discussion

The online audience is a finite group. Growing? Yes, but still finite. So at some point, we are going to reach the level where this simply becomes a numbers game. With a finite audience, also comes a maximum level of content consumption. If the audience only consumes a maximum number of blog offerings per day, and the blogosphere continues to grow and oversupply that demand on a weekly basis, then how long before the majority of the content being produced is simply wasted time and effort from the community? At what point does the growth of the design blogging field, actively begin hurting the community and the content? And the bigger question, have we already reached it?

Are we slowly tipping the scales out of our favor? Image Credit

There are many who think that we have already passed this proverbial breaking point, and that the design blog ranks will undergo something of an evolutionary die-off. Numerous blogs will simply disappear from the landscape, while others stagnate and simply cease to update. Without an active audience to appeal to, many bloggers will essentially just be screaming into the dark. Hoping that someone might happen by and hear them. A select few powerhouses will remain among the virtual ruins and ghost towns, those who have already established themselves as a valued resource. So what will be left for the rest of the design blogging community? The niche!

Trying to compete with these titans, is known to be a fruitless and frustrating venture, so in order to stay relevant after the die-off, most blogs will need to be niche focused in order to keep an active, sizable audience, and be able to label themselves as a success.

Defining Success

Now we understand, that what constitutes a successful blog is extremely interpretive. Many bloggers have established benchmarks for themselves to highlight their progress and ensure that they are in fact on a path of forward mobility. However, forward movement only tends to matter if you have some sort of endpoint in mind. An actual goal that you are moving towards. And we understand that it is really up to each individual, what that goal will be. So when we talk about having a successful blog, we cannot possibly know what each design bloggers endgame is. So we are speaking about success in terms of audience attention. Basically, in these terms, having a number of regular followers and content consumers.

After all, visibility and awareness tend to be two of the main reasons that we blog, so if the targeted audience is not responding to, or even seeing what we are doing, then our blog is not going to be much of a success. This is why the over-saturation of the design blogosphere is as pressing a matter as it is. For if we create content that is meant to benefit and improve the design community, but we have no audience reach, then our content is not so beneficial or improving anything. Much like the tree that falls in the woods without a witness, our content does not make a sound.

A Matter of Monetization

In this equation, does money matter? Image Credit

Perhaps one of the biggest measures of success for some bloggers, is their ability to monetize their site. This tends to be done via selling space to advertisers, which tends to depend on traffic. After all, there has to be some incentive for the advertisers. Focusing on a niche can actually have both negative and positive impacts as far as ad sales go. It can help because advertisers know that you have a specific target audience, and those who wish to reach more directly into that market will appreciate such a niche focus. Unfortunately, this is the same reason it can hurt your ability to sell ads. Those who wish for a broader audience reach may be turned off by this finely focused approach.

So when it comes to setting up a niche, you may have to also rethink your monetization strategy for your design blog, and attempt to redirect your efforts to yield more positive results. However, to survive when the divided online audience tires of wading through these saturated information byways, and a sort of purge occurs throughout the blogosphere you are going to have to realize that it is not all about the Benjamins as we have been programmed to think. What a lot of bloggers are going to have to realize, is that a money driven mission statement, can often drive your blog into the ground.

Those who set up their sites just to make money, tend to have subpar quality sites that reflect their desperation for monetization. They heard about the potential for revenue, and like the gold rushers of the past, they thronged to the web. Logobird had an article lamenting about some of the issues with monetizing your blog, The Shady Side of Design Blog Monetisation that is certainly worth a read.

Not only does the content of your blog begin to reflect this mission statement, but your drive will begin to diminish if the returns on your efforts are coming in lower and slower than you would like. Readers will feel this coming through, and in the end, it could actually cost you. Those who tend to be focused on the experience and the community enrichment, will tend to be the ones whose content has more appeal to the masses. Having an extremely niche focused blog, tends to show that you have a passion for the field, and for improving it. Not just grabbing for numbers. Not to mention, it allows you to worry less about blogging for advertiser’s visibility, wherein frequency wins out; and focus instead on blogging when you have something of quality to add to the overall design dialog.

The Road Not Taken

“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost Image Credit

Finding a nice design focus that is being somewhat overlooked by the rest of the online design community, that proverbial road less taken, can not only improve your blog’s chances of surviving in this overly saturated market; but it also improves and strengthens the community. Suddenly, designers have a resource to turn to for specific areas of their needs, rather than having to search through expansive archives for a single piece that perhaps touches on the subject. When we set ourselves on a focused path such as this, we tend to dissect that area of design fully. Rather than just brush the surfaces every now and again.

And when you look at it like that, we can see the inherent value in this niche approach. It sort of borrows on the Less is More theme. When you have less of a subject to cover, you have the ability to cover it in much more detail. Also, when we regularly dissect our niche area of design, it alters our perspective. We begin to relate to the subject in a whole new way, and as a result, we can also make it more relatable to others. The more angles we view the subject from, the better we understand it as a whole. This makes dissecting it, and explaining the sum of its parts much simpler. When we try to take on the entire field of design, we get a much less comprehensive exploration of each of its numerous deep facets.

You Are Not Your Design Blog

Now one reason that some designers are leery of adopting this approach is because they feel like this somehow limits their own design work. Like their own focus has to be limited to their blog’s niche. But that is not the case. While you have to ensure that you have a good grip on your niche so that you can blog about it accurately, that does not mean that your entire design career now has to fit within that niche as well. You are not your design blog. And you are not limited to only contributing to your niche focused site either. You can still guest on other sites with a different or simply wider design focus.

In conclusion

Yes, there are both upsides and downsides to adopting this niche approach for your design blog. But in the end, if it means that your blog will remain standing and relevant after the over-saturation induced die-off occurs, then aren’t the costs worth paying? Doesn’t it make more sense to refine the focus of your design blog so that the content still reaches those who need it, rather than investing time and effort to develop content that falls through the cracks? This is no Field of Dreams, and just because we build it, doesn’t mean that they will come. Not when there are thousands of other fields that they can go to.

Needed Web Design Niche Coverage

Below are a just a light handful of some of the areas of web design that the online community to could a little more niche coverage on. So if you do decide that this route could potentially prevent your blog from becoming one of those lost to the proverbial wastelands, then perhaps one of the niches listed here might just be the perfect fit for you and your blog.

Mobility

Make no mistake about it, mobility matters! Image Credit

One thing that no web designer can deny is that the future of web design is gong to be heavily influenced by the mobile market. Since it burst onto the scene, the mobile web has exploded by leaps and bounds, promising to take the web into a whole new direction. Now whether this market becomes the dominating direction for the web design industry or not, it is clear that it is going to be a major player in some form or fashion. It’s here. It’s taken root. It’s not going anywhere. So this creates a huge opportunity for designers to get there niche blogging on.

Given that this market is still in what some would consider its infancy, that means designers are going to be looking for authoritative voices and sources for nurturing its growth. The blogosphere could certainly use some focus in that direction, so perhaps that would be a route you might entertain.

Usability

Now as the web evolves and changes, both in scope and direction, one vital design field that must also evolve is Usability Design. Interfaces and user bases are an extremely fluid area, and keeping the web design community up to date on the latest and greatest advances in UI and UX is not only a noble cause, but a much needed one. There are some really great blogs that focus on usability, but given its nature, we could always use more. Usability is beyond a fundamental aspect of web design, it is the structural framework that we build our entire designs around. So if you are looking for a niche for your design blog, perhaps this is one that you should seriously consider.

Marketing

Everything evolves, and so do our marketing strategies need to as an industry. Image Credit

Another area of web design that could use so more focus and attention, would be the marketing aspect of the industry. Not just marketing the client’s site and maximizing their potential for traffic, but marketing ourselves and our field. Web designers often lament about the way that the entire industry is undervalued and under-appreciated. Part of that impression comes from the way that many market themselves to the masses. Devaluing others in the community in order to make themselves look better in comparison. With bargain basement belittlers effectively crying out, ‘Don’t pay those over inflated prices. Pay for design not ego. Starting as low as $49.99!’

This actually reflects poorly on the industry as a whole, but without anyone telling us otherwise, we think this is the best way forward. But perhaps if we had some blogs dedicated to nothing more than helping designers find better marketing practices things could stand a chance at getting better. This could also lead to more sound industry marketing practices all around. Getting us away from SEO and Social Media Marketing, which some in the community would like to see gone as it is. This is another potential impactful niche for you to focus on your blog on.

App Design

Also, with the rise of the mobile web, and the push for a much more enhanced, and in some cases a browserless way to experience the web, apps are a big wave of the web design future. Application design is another area that the community tends to focus too few resources towards. Especially with not just the web’s evolution, but with OS’s as well. As Google continues to develop their new wave of web technologies, pushing Chrome more and more towards an independent operating system of sorts, we see new opportunities for this design focus to move even more to the forefront beyond just for mobile devices and development. Apps are effectively changing the way the game is played, and web designers need some guiding forces in that arena to help show us the way.

Anything Other than WordPress

Don’t get us wrong, WordPress is a powerful CMS, and one that is put to use in countless contexts. But if you were to take a look around at the web design blogs, you would think that WordPress was the only content management system out there. Or at least that was worth checking out. But that is so not the case. With wonderful alternatives like ExpressionEngine and Drupal, just to name a couple, the web design blogosphere seems to be completely missing out on these opportunities. So there is always potential for your niche in those arenas as well.

That’s All, Folks!

That wraps things up on this end, but this conversation is hopefully just getting started. Use the comment section below to fill us in on what you think this growth means for the future of web design blogs. Are there any niches that you think the community could use more focusing on? Do you see any positives to this sort of saturation or any negatives that we failed to mention?

(rb)

About the Author

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.

Comments and Discussions
  • Alain Jacomet, 02 September 2011

    Well said. We’re in a decadent industry. But we’re also blogging about a continually-growing technology. Which one goes faster?

    • Robert Bowen, 02 September 2011

      Very true, Alain. At this point it is hard to tell which is actually growing faster, the ranks of design blogs or the technology which drives their very purpose. The great thing about the expanding market though, is that it does tend to grow in such a way that it creates more and more niches within this market to be filled.

  • Huston, 02 September 2011

    Thanks a lot for the insight, Robert. I’ve been redesigning and rethinking the strategy for my company’s blog and this has given me a lot to think about. Hailing from Kenya, we could use a lot more good design around here, but I’ve been feeling that there’s almost too much info worldwide if local guys really needed to learn better design. Perhaps I should focus on making the blog useful to the particular needs of African designers.

    Thanks again.

    • Robert Bowen, 02 September 2011

      I think that would be an awesome direction to go, Huston. That is actually a very interesting niche that I had not considered when writing the post, but I can see that proving very effective.

  • cancel bubble, 02 September 2011

    Need more quality/technical blogs on Accessibility, IMO.

  • Speider, 02 September 2011

    I’ve joked on Twitter about the “2,372,494 jQuery tips posted today” and it’s funny because there’s a hint of truth about it. The strength blogs, such as Noupe has, is the variety of design related material. There will always be room for diverse and meaningful material. With such an increasing number of blogs, however, it’s the first to post the jQuery tips as well as other subjects of familiarity, that will survive because readers will gravitate to that/those blogs.

    Niche will always be strong for any blog because it is special and rare among the growing number of blogs. One of my recent article, which was rather strange… but certainly a different approach to design, had a Google return of 24,000,000. I have to assume that something that’s out of the ordinary grabs the attention of the design community.

    As with creativity in design, the material that appears on blogs must always reach to innovate, entertain and inform… as did THIS article, Rob. Some blogs do better than others. The weaker ones will go by the wayside.

    • Robert Bowen, 02 September 2011

      Thanks, Speider, great follow-up. Truly well said. I think that the larger sites, who are already established and doing well with the broad focus will be able to continue reaching that wide. However, the smaller, or just getting going blogs, I think may need a narrower focus if they are going to find the feet to run on.

      And like you said, those whose content continuously delivers on a consistent level of quality, will always have a better chance at reaching their audience.

  • Nima, 03 September 2011

    That was a great post. One of the few that I actually read all the way.

    Its funny that i had a conversation with a friend (who wants to get into blogging) and was trying to convince him that blogging about Android wasn’t niche enough. Blogging about Android Apps isnt niche enough. Blogging about Android business Apps could be a good niche, But blogging about Android Enabled Accounting Software packages would be a good one.

    I totally agree that we’re moving towards a very niche oriented market. This is not (only) because there is too much competition, but because people are demanding more and more from each website and you can only cater to a small niche if you want to give them everything they ask for.

    • Robert Bowen, 06 September 2011

      Very well said, Nima. Appreciate the comments. Interesting that you found the article shortly after the conversation with your friend. Good call on the narrower niche focus too. :)

  • Daquan Wright, 03 September 2011

    “Devaluing others in the community in order to make themselves look better in comparison. ” I agree with this, perhaps someone could start a blog on why designers should be treated as pros, just as electricians/doctors should in their field. :)

    I think that perception comes off because anyone can learn it online, as opposed to going through a uni and getting a degree. But design or programming require years of practice, and that builds into credibility and expertise. One should be paid for their knowledge and ability to apply said knowledge, not how they acquired it.

    The reason other people don’t blog on joomla/drupal, etc. is because those systems are not easy to learn and thus, most people simply CAN’T blog about them. The harder a system is to utilize, the less it’ll get used. WP proves that.

    I think niche blogs are great, but if you’re running a small business (say like freelancing), then you’ll have a mixture of content because your work entails multiple elements. You can cater it to specific topics, but it’s still going to have a mixture (fresh content can be refreshing after all, not just the same subject all the time).

    • Robert Bowen, 06 September 2011

      Thanks Daquan, I appreciate the follow-up and your thoughts on both the devaluing of the industry (which I think you might be on the right track as to why that happens so frequently) and on why there are not as many Drupal/Joomla based blogs. I agree they are not as easy to learn, but that doesn’t mean that they do not have appeal, and have captured part of the market. I think it would be worth it for those who are looking to find a niche that needs filling to learn those systems. They could even blog about their learning process to help teach others. Could prove very popular.

  • Tim, 04 September 2011

    So, Noupe, it would be nice, since this is a design blog, to know why you chose to redesign it with this jungle theme? You have not made one post about it since the launch. What does a jungle theme have to do with your target audience? What does it have to do with your blog?
    And why do you say “Anything other than WordPress” when this blog itself is built with WordPress?

    • Robert Bowen, 06 September 2011

      So, Tim, it would be nice if you would address your questions to Noupe on our actual editorials, or via our contact information. Not on posts that have nothing to do with what you are addressing.

      As for your attempt at making your comment relevant to the post by pulling out a random header, had you actually read the post, you would know why it says, “Anything Other Than WordPress”. It’s talking about niches that need to be filled, and given the number of blogs already focused on WP, that’s not a niche that is lacking in coverage.

      But hey, thanks for noticing the redesign. ;)

  • Caleb Kimbrough, 06 September 2011

    I think as long as you pick a niche, truly focus on it, and put out high quality content you can still create a successful design blog. For example: http://premiumpixels.com from Orman Clark was started not too long ago and has grown rapidly and successfully.

    You say that the internet audience is finite, yet our line of work is still expanding. There are people who are pushing the boundaries of web design and development all the time. As long as we’re all figuring out how to implement the best websites we can there will always be room for quality new content on web design blogs. Will there be a time when we reach a limit on what we can achieve online? Probably, it’s just a flat computer screen after all, there are only so many clever things you can do with a site. Is that time now? I don’t think so.

    • Robert Bowen, 06 September 2011

      Thanks for the follow up, Caleb. And when I say the audience is finite, though the blogosphere keeps growing, I see an inherent issue with that. I think it will come to a point where it does not matter how good the content is, once there is just too much overlapping content. Audiences will start to drift towards (to borrow from an old Jimmy Buffett favorite) one particular harbor. New blogs, and even somewhat established blogs will not be able to draw in an audience, because rather than wade through all the mass of info, readers will begin to surf and search random blogs less and less. They will go to their select sources to find said info, and with mobile rising and apps taking over, Google searches are becoming a thing of the past. I do agree, that time may not be now, but I fear it is closer than we may think.

  • Peter Write, 11 September 2011

    With video and phone apps on the rise blogging could be a thing in the past in time.But one must move into the future to stay with the times.

  • John Deen, 11 September 2011

    i have seen this discussed many times. theres always something new on the rise. but some people are dedicated to the things they like no matter.

  • Ryan McGrane, 29 September 2011

    I agree that niche blogs fare far better than general design blogs. However, I don’t think that a general design blog would be pushed to the bottom of the barrel like you describe. With the expansion of the number of readers comes the expansion of the number of users on social media. I think that, if given enough time and work, you could use social media to your advantage and get more exposure and stand out from the clutter and saturation.

    Plus, even though many blogs might have the same content, each one can take a different view on a topic, making each individual blog that much more valuable.

  • subkoks, 21 February 2012

    Really good article ))

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