A Revolutionary Idea for Your Blog

A Revolutionary Idea for Your Blog

In the current blogging landscape of lowest-common-denominator marketing and recycled “top 10″ lists, there’s something incredibly simple you can do to dominate your topic and stand above your competitors as a leader.

Appeal to your readers’ intellect. Challenge them to think.

Consider yourself smarter than average? Don’t be shy and try to water-down your content so you can attract everyone. There are plenty of smart people out there who would welcome a deeper insight and intellectual challenge from you.

This works on one of the core principles of marketing: if you try to appeal to everyone you’ll appeal to no one.

I’m talking about the difference here between USA Today and The New York Times, or between CBS and HBO. Yes, the former examples both have bigger overall audiences, but the latter have die-hard fans, engaging content and critical acclaim.

If you aren’t trying to build the next mass-market TV network or newspaper (or blog), why would you write articles for everyone?

Here’s how this seemingly paradoxical aspect of marketing works. When you focus on a smaller group of potential readers or customers (your target market), you can grow your audience much faster. That’s because you’ll resonate strongly with some, and those people will gladly become part of your tribe. Because you’re so inspiring to those people, they’ll tell other like-minded people (their friends and colleagues) about you and the cycle will continue.

When you focus on a broadly defined target market, you won’t have that “OMG I can’t believe I found this site, it seems like he’s talking directly to me” effect on people. People will just think “eh, I think I’ve read this kind of stuff elsewhere before” and move on.

Writing smartly is a powerful and underused way to differentiate your site and appeal to a certain (perhaps more profitable and more committed) audience.

If you’re up to the challenge, consider raising the IQ level you write for. Smart people who are searching for information on your topic will instantly recognize you’re striving for deeper insights instead of the typical surface-level commentary.

They’ll feel an affinity for you that you can base a deeper connection on.

How to Pull Off Writing Smartly

Before you go off and start writing about Nietzsche’s relationship to perspectivism or why quantum mechanics would be better off without the uncertainty principle, we should set some ground rules.

There’s a balance here between being smart and being too smart for your own good. This isn’t a license to alienate everyone with a blowhard attitude and obscure references.

I’m just suggesting you should take your intellectual appeal up a notch or two, not to write sleep-inducing Ph.D. level recitations.

Your primary goal is still to help your readers with clear, useful and inspiring content. All of the same rules about marketing, delivering benefits, creating compelling headlines and introductions, etc. still apply. By writing smartly, you’re changing the depth of the conversation and who you appeal to, but you still have to keep the overall value intact.

You want to help your readers think, not make them work.

And just like with writing epic shit, writing smartly doesn’t necessarily mean writing longer content. Brevity can be a virtue and a demonstration of intelligence.

You also have to keep in mind the limits of the paradoxical principle of marketing we discussed above. By focusing on a smaller target market you can grow your audience faster, but only to the extent of that market size.

For example, you could select a target market of people who want to learn how to craft dog collars out of dried banana peels and find out there are only 10 people in the world who care. You’ll probably reach those 10 people quickly but won’t be able to grow beyond them unless you educate other people about your uniquely crafty collars.

In the same way, you can raise the intellect of your writing to a certain extent and still have a massive potential audience. If you go too far though, you’ll start to limit how many people can understand what you’re talking about or how many people are willing to spend the mental effort necessary to get the benefit from your articles.

A little wit and intelligence can go a long way. If it’s a natural fit for you, try writing for the smarter crowd within your topic. You don’t have to be (nor want to be) the smartest voice on your topic around, just make it smart enough to stand above 97% of your competition. That shouldn’t be too difficult, given the sad intellectual state of most blogs out there.

A Handful of “Smart” Sites and Blogs Doing it Right

In the comments, I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing for smart people. I’d also love to hear what your favorite “smart blogs” and websites are.

I’ll start things off with a list of some of my favorites. Here are a handful of my favorite “smart blogs” or websites which show how intellect can be used to build an engaged audience:

And a couple of my favorite smart up-and-comers:

  • Everyday Bright by Jennifer Gresham — Jen is both a PhD Biochemist and award-winning poet. She has a fantastic way of writing smartly about living with optimism and courage. She keeps things high-brow and engaging at the same time. A smart read: Are You Winning?
  • Evolvify by Andrew Badenoch — How could you write about evolutionary psychology and it’s relationship to the popular paleo diet without raising the intellectual bar a little? The writing here is actually a little academic for my taste, but I thought I’d include it here as a different kind of example and to get your feedback. A smart read: Did Men Evolve to Hate Vegetables and Women to Be Vegetarian?

Who are your favorite bloggers who raise the intellectual bar? How has writing smartly impacted your blog? If you haven’t tried flexing your intellectual muscle in your content, what is holding you back?

photo by Mait Jüriado

If you’re new here and find it refreshing that a blog about building traffic would encourage you to use your intellect to build an audience, we’d love for you to join our movement.

The premise behind The Sparkline is simple: if you want extraordinary results, you need more than typical advice. That’s why you don’t find the same recycled “top 10″ social media tips here.

Join us by subscribing for free email updates.

If you liked this article, please share it with a friend by clicking the Twitter or Facebook share buttons below. Thanks!

Get the free guide to defining your audience
  • http://www.unleashthewealthwithin.net/embed-professional-hd-quality-videos-without-spending-a-dime/ Azzam Sheikh

    Some outstanding resources there to get an idea and feel about what others are doing to be remarkable and stand out.

    “I’m just suggesting you should take your intellectual appeal up a notch or two, not to write sleep-inducing Ph.D. level recitations.” :)

    Recently on my new blog I have attempting to appeal to everyone and actually left with a void. I know that I can write better pieces appealing to more like-minded people which from now on I will aim to do.

    It is frustrating Corbett since I have yet to understand the landscape of the visitors for a new blog. But I guess you can not just be thinking about traffic and need to be thinking of the right kind of traffic from the outset.

    It is a learning curve and can only get better at it.

    I get some response via email from a lot of newbies on the scene and have been gearing towards them, but this has not allowed me to be more creative and effective since any advanced jargon will go over their head.

    However this is a skill I need to get better at it and the more thought I am putting into an article the more I am improving.

    So I am not necessarily seeing it as a bad thing that I am not hitting the mark with every article but I am seeing the differences in improvement every time.

    • http://byderekj.tumblr.com Derek Jensen

      Many times your very own readers don’t know what they want. It’s best to just produce awesome articles that are going to catch a portion of your readers. The rest will either adapt, find great benefit, or move on. But, most of them will move on if they find you to not be original and of good quality.

      I know currently I’m striving to step up my game in writing great articles and hope to improve them every time I write.

      Corbett, I’m going to be the first to say in the comments on this article that your content is by far different and better than many other blogs talking about “increasing traffic, etc.” Another blog I just recently discovered is by Matt Gartland of Modern Audacity.

      Nothing holding me back now. Thanks for a post that gets me thinking/applying.

  • http://www.journeytopeak.com Jia Jun

    TED is one of my favorite too, as it contain so much values from great people all over the world, sharing their thought.
    Another I will sincerely say is thinktraffic, which I am inspiring a lot to build a better blog, and a greater blog in the niche I’m writing.
    One thing I totally agree that how to differentiate with the “97%” other bloggers is that your own thought, opinion, and how you provoke readers thinking, action, and inspiration.
    That matters to readers, compare with “just another blog” sharing the same content again and again, readers just won’t pay attention to another same thing.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Why thank you, Jia, I wasn’t trying to set up the comments for compliments here ;) And yes, it sounds like you’re getting it, readers definitely won’t pay attention to more of the same old stuff, at least probably not enough of them will.

  • http://www.CreativeGuideToLife.com Susan

    Nice. I spent so much time either trying to niche it all so far down that I lost who I really was, or spreading out so far that I wasn’t really saying anything of value. I think I’ve finally struck the balance. That my multiple creative careers in life lends itself to unique insight, and not just career-wise, but how to get ahead better, faster, smarter in life through creativity. Turning that into something that rocks the core of a small group of people who will find exponential value out of it is my goal. I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time if my message isn’t for them. And I’m more than okay with that. We all need something different, and that’s what gives us all the capacity to be successful using our creative point-of-view in life.

    Thanks for the great insight!

  • http://wilsonusman.com wilson usman

    Yea all great places for sure to meet and learn from smarty people.

    This is my list:

    iwillteachyoutoberich.com by Ramit Sethi
    quicksprout.com Neil Patel
    webinknow.com David Meerman Scott
    mixergy.com Andrew warner

    and another hundred more that are always coming out with excellent info.

    The way these people impacted me in my writing is huge. I know that just putting out content to that matters is important if you want to grow an audience.

    About holding me back, I think we’re the only people that can hold ourselves back. As long as we keep pushing against whatever it is, and we have a little patience things start happening.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Great list Wilson, I was just listening to a Mixergy interview yesterday. Andrew is doing great stuff over there.

  • http://www.GregKeen.com Greg Keen

    You have to write the way you think, otherwise it’s forced and can’t be sustained for very long. At least that was my experience. For a while I tried to limit the scope and depth of my blog so that it’s understandable by many. It felt terrible, it felt artificial and it caused a 2 month silenced struggle for me because I had to deal with this conflict… I finally broadened my focus and the intellectual level. Anyway, I think writing more deeply is only a good fit if you feel like writing this way. Thanks for the great post, Corbett!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Great points, thanks for sharing Greg. The question of intellect in writing also applies to the topics you choose, not just to your writing style. I agree, you can’t fake a style that isn’t natural to you, but I think most writers actually have a range of possible styles to choose from.

      • http://www.GregKeen.com Greg Keen

        You got me thinking about writers having a range of possible styles to choose from… I never thought about it this way. :) Maybe it’s like being an actor who plays a few distinct characters very well and others not that good. Maybe you can identify within yourself a few strong characteristics that all feel natural to you and build a writing style or a whole online brand/personality around it and use it for different blogs/projects. This is quite interesting… Maybe you could write a separate post about this sometime!

  • http://www.phillturner.com Phill Turner

    Love this one!

    Tough as it is to write for me ….epic mmmmm I do try!

    The photo post makes this you have the eye for a great post.


  • http://onelifethatshines.com Jackie Lee

    Another great post Corbett. I think this whole “smart” thing hit me about 6 months ago. I love language. I love vocabulary. I realized every time I was writing a post I found myself trying to find smaller words instead of the words I love. I’m no Einstein, but I got tired of writing on a 5th grade level. I’ve started using more of my own language, and the words I love in my posts, and stopped trying to find phrases to explain things when one word will do.

    I haven’t heard of ANY of the people you mentioned. I’m excited to check them out. You are just a wealth of great resources. Thanks!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Great example, Jackie. It’s not about looking for bigger words you don’t normally use, it’s about letting your inner smarty pants come out to play.

  • http://joshrule.com/blog Josh Rule

    I agree with Jia and others who are pointing out that Think Traffic is becoming one of my few thought-provoking blogs. Great work, Corbett.

    The following also tend to have high intellectual bang for their buck:

    – StudyHacks: http://calnewport.com/blog. Newport does a fantastic job of describing the remarkable life, and how it can be built, with an emphasis on students.

    – LessWrong: http://lesswrong.com. This community blog focuses on cognitive biases and teaching you to think better.

    – HackerNews: http://news.ycombinator.com. This news site, run by the same Paul Graham Corbett mentioned in the post, is run with basically one rule – only submit things that will be intellectually interesting. It works.

    – Way of the Scholar: http://wayofthescholar.com. This is my blog. I write about my experiments to do great research (actually, computational neuroscience) with a focus on the broad strategies needed to solve problems and routinely do great work.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Awesome Josh, thanks for the additions! I’ve read studyhacks and hackernews a couple of times, but not the other two. Thanks.

  • http://evolvify.com Andrew

    The thinking behind this post is actually exactly what I had in mind when I formulated the idea for evolvify. I had tired of what I referred to as the blogging “echo chamber”, and spent a few months strategically reading research in the field to prepare.

    This is my third blog, and has found an audience much faster than the other two. It’s only been online for 3 months and 4 days and has significantly surpassed all my stats from previous blogs.

    So what I’m saying is… listen to Corbett.

    One personal motto of mine is “read more books than blogs” so don’t end your search for good ideas and inspiration in the blogosphere. For practical application, academic journal papers are great for getting ideas for writing epic shit. That happens to be where a lot of “real” journalists get their material, but adding your own wit and perspective might (hopefully) lead to more interesting results. If you want to get on that path, I wrote this a few days ago: Three Ways to Get Academic Journal Papers for Free

    Oh, and if you like TED, try Fora.tv. There’s a lot of smart stuff over there and much of it is more in-depth at around 1 hour in length.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks for bringing up the “echo chamber” Andrew. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. And yes, “read more books than blogs” is a fantastic motto. It’s obviously working for you. Thanks for being a great sport about my “academic” reference when I mentioned you ;)

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog/cash-gifting-no-no-words/ Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Corbett,

    Excellent points made here.

    Focus on a smaller audience to attract a larger audience. A targeted audience resonates with you; they’re clear on what they want. This attracts more like-minded people who are clear, and more, forming geometric growth.

    Thanks for sharing with us.


  • http://www.basketballismypassion.com Elias

    Good day Corbett. Thank you for this much needed post. It really makes a lot of sense. Salud! with a Pacifico.

  • http://www.everydaybright.com Jen Gresham

    Thanks so much for including me, Corbett. I can’t think of a nicer compliment than to list me with other “smart” bloggers. I’ll do my best to keep upholding the standard!

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      I don’t think you have to try, Jen. You’re just being you, which is really the point. Cheers!

  • http://raptitude.com David Cain

    This is great advice and goes hand in hand with “create epic shit.”

    I have slipped into pandering from time to time, I suppose because my first supporters were in the self-help niche, and I guess I felt like I had to cater to that crowd in order to keep and grow my audience.

    Recently I’ve been conscious of that tendency to play down language to be more broadly appealing, and I’ve been throwing it out when I catch myself. I do think my writing is becoming smarter (and more genuine) as a result, and the traffic is following me.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Yes! Pandering is a terrible strategy.

  • http://lindsayoberst.com Lindsay Oberst

    I’m glad I read this article, and I completely agree. I’m a writer who loves words and thinking about things in unique ways.

    Livia Blackburne’s blog is interesting and smart. It’s called, “A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.” She is a neuroscience graduate who also writes fantasy. She writes some fascinating articles.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Thanks Lindsay, I hadn’t heard of Livia’s blog before. Checking it out now…

  • http://malexperience.com Graham Phoenix | Male eXperience

    For me blogging is about making a difference, it’s about “Being The Change” as Gandhi said. Just writing to get any old thing out there will never achieve that but writing for a purpose, that’s what turns me on. I aim to challenge myself in my writing, I am to develop my thinking and go a deeper into my subject. Great writing strives to be original and to be something that matters.

    I recently abandoned a blog based around travel and location independence because it was not original enough to make a difference. I have focused on a narrower more challenging niche which really moves me. This enables me to push the boundaries on what I say.

    I love the way you challenge your readers and how you stand out from the rest.

  • Pingback: Friday Roundup: Google Webmasters Tools For Online Stores, Internet Marketing And Business Tips | Wizpress.com

  • Pingback: Featured in Blokube.com

  • http://www.mylifechanges.com Terry

    Here are two inspirational sites!


    A global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.


    Amazing essays and articles in parallel with higher education and insight.

  • http://parentingforeveryone.com Aigul / UpParent

    Thank you for your post, Corbett.
    I am not an English native. For me, I thought, there will be a barrier that people won’t understand me because of the language I used to think and speak (Russian) uses the words, which general Americans don’t use.
    So I tried hard to find what words average audience look for, in particular, parents (my website is about classical parenting). Reading these comments made me feel supported – I am not alone who feel like loosing their self and become artificial, trying to follow advice of experts on how to attract traffic.

    Trully I was disappointed when I found that my articles are not sought (according to Google keywords search). But after a while I came to the same idea that you have – my audience is there, I just need to keep doing what I do, because I believe I bring value.

    Thanks again, I wish you a great luck!

  • http://leveragedsuccess.net Paul Serwin

    Corbett what a great post! TED is definitely one of the GEMS of the web! Every time I’m lacking a little inspiration it’s my first stop.

    One of my favorite “Smart” blogs (besides this one) is OPEN on American Express, it provides great advice for entrepreneurs and business owners. Tim Ferriss’ 4HourBlog is also one of my favorites.

  • http://www.foursides.ca James M

    I’ve always believed that reading a variety of quality content will create a better person. I probably read too much and write too little, but hope to improve upon that in 2011 by writing some smarter content than I have been to date (ie last post was Big Fish, Little Fish Conundrum). TED is an incredible resource for inspiration. I’ll list some other blogs, and hopefully most have not heard of them:

    http://www.marginalrevolution.com/ – Tyler Cowen is the main writer. A well-known economist writing in similar fashion to Freakonomics, but better.

    http://37signals.com/svn/ – 37 Signals is the company behind Ruby on Rails, Campfire, Basecamp, etc. Jason Fried is one of the main guys and co-authored ReWork

    http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog – Ramit Sethi has a NY Times Best Seller, friends with Timothy Ferriss, Erica Douglass and more. Smart posts about finances, but also about life. Past month was about “hustling”

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com – Mark Sisson is the author of Primal Blueprint, a version of the paleo diet. It’s the program that has helped me lost 50+ pounds in six months.

    Here are other names to look up: Seth Godin, Jeff Jarvis, Merlin Mann, Douglas Rushkoff, and Anil Dash.

  • http://www.acidzen.org dandellion

    Dammit! Now you got me thinking about quantum mechanics without uncertainty principle. Seriously. Well, I’ll have to do some research. Hopefully there’s somebody haven’t listened to you saying it’s not a good subject.

    As you see, there’s no subjects that shouldn’t be written. Though some will definitely attract just a small amount of freaks like me.

    Anyway, thanks for encouraging people to write intelligent stuff. We all need that.

  • Pingback: What Women Find Physically Attractive in Men | Evolvify

  • Pingback: SuperPost Sunday - Weekly Roundup #17 | nittyGriddy

  • http://www.thesiswhisperer.wordpress.com Inger

    Great links and an attitude I can get behind – thanks for the post :-)

    I run a blog to help PhD students (The Thesis Whisperer), which is certainly niche – but I have a loyal audience because there are not many others in my space. I write my blog in the style of ones I like to read, but informed by my research, which has proved to be a successful strategy.

    But… I like to think that PhD theses aren’t always be sleep inducing! The advice you offer here might help PhD students to write for their audience in a more accessible way. Sometimes the torturous text is something they feel they have to do and may be the result of a lack of confidence. I think blogging is one way to learn how to connect with an audience.

  • http://www.darrenalff.com Darren Alff

    It’s true! I’m so sick and tired of the dumbed down stuff I read online AND in the read world. I feel like I’ve learned a whole lot more out of school that I ever learned in it, but at times I certainly do feel like I’m reading the same elementary stuff over and over again… and not learning a thing.

    I want to find people to associate with who push me to new heights, challenge my thinking, and force me to consider my life differently. I want to read a blog that does that to me… and if I were to find such a site, I’d certainly come back for more… tell my friends, etc.

    I’m making a commitment to myself right now to produce more intellectual content. Content that goes beyond the basic and adds something new, challenging, frightening, controversial etc. Otherwise, what’s the point?

  • Pingback: Some light(er) reading « The Thesis Whisperer

  • http://www.onelovemeg.com Meg

    When I am writing I really try to make sure I am writing for me and not for the public. I recently wrote a blog on pooping. Seems crazy to some but digestion is a serious problem for some people. I found myself holding back because I wouldn’t want to gross someone out or be “inappropriate” but what I am learning is you will never please everyone and to stop writing like that. I love the posts I come across that are real and really coming from the heart. My new goal is to be very mindful about this. Not everyone is going to like my blog and THAT’S OK. :) Thanks again for the insight.

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hmm, very interesting approach. I can see how writing for yourself would “keep it real” and make you feel more like being yourself. It’s counter to typical advice about keeping your reader in mind (and trying to solve problems or inspire or entertain). Let us know how it goes for you Meg! Best of luck.

      • http://www.onelovemeg,com Meg

        I agree. But I am hoping what inspires me will inspire my target audience. At least that’s the plan. :)

Up Next:

Why Every “Twitter Tips” Article You’ve Ever Read is Essentially Worthless (or Worse)

There is a time for basic information. Everyone needs to know what an RSS feed is, how commenting works on blogs, that guest posting is sometimes a viable strategy for gaining visitors and that WordPress is probably your best choice of content management system. You should also know when Twitter is important and that you can use a Facebook page to spread your message.

The Sparkline — a blog for independent creatives and entrepreneurs building matterful things.

% Stay inspired, productive + on track—get a weekly email from us. Short n’ meaty, built for speed. Get it Weekly