Keith Robinson is going through a re-branding exercise for his weblog. Even though I’m not focused on web design, I identify strongly with what Keith is trying to do – because I’ve been doing much the same thing over here. A few weeks ago I updated my About Me to reflect my new more narrowly focused goals for Read/Write Web. This followed on from the Generalists vs Specialists theme that I’d been exploring previously (which incidentally got some greatresponses).

Keith is “narrowing the focus” of his weblog too, so his readers know what to expect from him. His primary focus is web design, but he said this doesn’t mean he won’t blog about other things. The phrase he used, which I like a lot, is: “one focus, many offerings”. He compared his website to Starbucks, who focus on coffee:

“Sure, most people go to Starbucks to get coffee, but you can also buy coffee accessories, food, music, reading materials and more. Coffee is the focus yet there is more to Starbucks than coffee. So it is with Asterisk. I want my readers to think of Asterisk as primarily a Web design focused site, but to know that there is more to be had here.”

He also mentioned he’s the number 1 result in Google for the phrase “web design blog”. I was very impressed by this fact and it made me wonder: what’s the key phrase that describes my blog? It strikes me that this is something I should find an answer for, as it would help me define myself even more. But first, I decided to take a look at how other bloggers fare in Google for certain key phrases:

web analysis blog: Phil Windley and Elise Bauer (of elise.com)
knowledge management blog: Lilia Efimova is no.2 and Dan Pollard no.4. Michael Angeles and Jim McGee are both on page 1. My KM archive makes it to pg 4.
information architecture blog: all the usual IA suspects are on page 1, so I don’t need to list them.
social media blog: Ross Mayfield no.1 (I think he coined the term ‘social media’).
social software blog: Many-to-Many no.1; thesocialsoftwareweblog of course; Matt Webb and David Weinberger as well.
web strategy blog: nobody I’ve heard of on pages 1-2; I make it to page 3.
two-way web blog: I’m number 1 & 2 for this phrase, and so I should be given the headers I have on all my pages. But it’s not quite as in-demand a category as ‘web design’ or ‘knowledge management’…

So my key phrase? Hmmm, I have to think more about that. But at this point you may be asking why I am so hung up about specialising on certain topics. Why not be happy with your Generalist nature, I hear you say. Well actually I am happy to be a Generalist, but it’s a fact of life on the Web that people search for and want to read specialized information from authoritative sources. Who better to quote on this than Mr Usability, Jakob Neilsen:

“the Web’s strength comes from narrowly targeted sites that provide users with highly specialized information that they need or care about passionately.”

It’s all about the users, in other words (leaving aside for now that I’m not overly keen on the word “user”). Users or readers who don’t otherwise know you (e.g. they arrive via a search engine) don’t care about your diverse interests. Why should they? They visit your website to satisfy their own unique needs.

Most of the time strangers will come to your site via a search engine, using a highly specific search query. Once they find what they want, more than likely they’ll leave immediately. If they’re bloggers or familiar with RSS, then they may decide to take a look at your website to see if it’s worth subscribing to. But they’ll only subscribe if they think your ongoing content will be of interest to them. Hence why topic-focused blogs are more likely to attract new subscribers – if the topic fits the user’s own interests, then there’s a good chance they’ll subscribe. If they see posts about Elvis Costello and the writer’s personal life, they will probably pass (in fact, coincidence or not – I lost a few Bloglines subscribers after my previous post).

At first I didn’t think it was about re-branding myself, but actually it is about stamping my mark on the ‘sphere. So in effect I do want to put my brand on the Web. Just what that brand is, I have to work out some more.