Is it okay to blog about a topic you’re not an expert on?
I wasn’t an expert blogger when I started ProBlogger, or an expert photographer when I started Digital Photography School. Even now I don’t consider myself an expert, especially with photography.
When I started ProBlogger in 2004 I’d been blogging for a couple of years, but hadn’t been making money from blogging for very long (less than a year). I wasn’t a professional, full-time blogger by any means, and never claimed to be one.
It was the same with Digital Photography School. I wasn’t, and never claimed to be, a photography expert.
But it didn’t matter. In fact, my lack of expertise helped me to make those blogs a success.
Why a Lack of Expertise Might Work in Your Favour
Some experts are great at talking to beginners. But a complete beginner may find it hard to connect with an expert who’s had years of experience or is seen as a ‘guru’ in their area.
If you’re still relatively new to your topic area, you’ll remember what it was like to be a beginner.
You’ll know what it feels like to be starting out, and be able to explain things in ways beginners can easily understand.
You can position yourself as someone who gets what it’s like to be in your readers’ shoes. And as you learn new things, you can share what you learn with your readers.
Three Key Things to Do When You’re Not an Expert
If you decide to blog about a topic you’re not yet an expert in, or even one you’ve just started learning about, it’s important to:
#1: Be Transparent and Ethical
Be upfront about who you are and what experience you have. That might mean telling your story so far in a blog post or on your About page, which I did in the early days of both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.
There’s nothing worse than reading a blog by someone who claims they’re an expert (or at least implies it) but isn’t. It usually comes across in the writing, but even if it doesn’t it can have a serious impact when readers later find out the truth.
#2: Think Carefully About the Types of Post You Create
These days on ProBlogger we publish a lot of tutorials that are quite authoritative. They build on years of testing and experimenting, talking with people and gathering ideas.
But in the early days my teaching posts focused very much on the beginner, and were generally based on something I’d experimented with. And the rest of my posts didn’t require particular expertise. (I’ll talk about them in a moment.)
Be very careful writing about topics where misguided advice could have a detrimental effect on your readers’ lives. This includes areas such as legal advice, financial advice, and physical or mental health.
I’m sure the last thing you want is to ruin someone’s life. But that’s a potential consequence of giving poor advice in these critical areas. You also run the risk of getting sued or destroying your own reputation.
#3: Keep Actively Learning About Your Topic
While you might not be an expert yet, you can and should keep learning about your topic area. Even if you don’t ever get to the level where people would consider you an ‘expert’, you’ll still be learning things you can share with your readers.
When readers see you’re enthusiastic about your topic and moving forward yourself, it helps them to be enthusiastic too. It can build anticipation and momentum, and help them connect with you and your blog.
What Kind of Content Should You Create?
If you’re not creating tutorials or ‘how to’ posts, what sort of content can you create as a non-expert?
#1: Write About What You’ve Done or Seen
I listen to Rob Bell, a podcaster who teaches public speaking. He suggests that if you’re asked to do a talk on something you’re not an expert in you should start by asking yourself, “What can I be witness to?”
What have you seen or experienced? What involvement have you had with your topic on a personal level? Start with your experience of that.
#2 Write About Your Mistakes or Failures
I did this a lot in the early days of ProBlogger. I wrote about things I tried that didn’t quite work out, and about what I’d do differently the next time.
This type of post can really resonate with readers because it’s honest and authentic, and genuinely useful in teaching them what not to do.
#3: Write About Your Successes
Share what you’ve done that’s gone well, like a case study. You might want to talk about how you’d tweak it next time or build on it.
This is a good way to do teaching content by basing it on your own experience. For instance, fairly early in the life of ProBlogger I wrote a series of posts on how to monetize your blog using Adsense. It included posts on how I started out, where I positioned my ads, how I changed the size of my ads, and so on.
#4: Write About What Others Are Doing
A great way to share what other people are doing is to write a case study. I used to do this a lot of ProBlogger, and we still do it occasionally.
These days, we normally involve the person we’re doing a case study on. But in the past I’d just write about what I saw people doing: how they’d redesigned their blog, what I liked about it, how I might improve it, and so on.
#5: Interview People for Your Blog
This can be tricky in the early days of your blog when you haven’t built up a profile. But it’s still possible. Listen to episode 172 of the podcast to hear how Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner built his blog based on video interviews with experts.
Whether you do text, audio or video interviews, this type of content can build your credibility, drive traffic, and help you network in your industry.
#6: Run Guest Posts on Your Blog
This is something you probably won’t want to try when you’re just starting out. But once your blog is more established you could open it up for guest posters, or even hire someone to write for your blog.
Digital Photography School began with just me writing posts aimed at beginners. These days we’ve got professional photographers writing on more advanced topics so we can fill the blog with expert content.
#7: Write About News and Developments
In the early days of ProBlogger I’d write an article every couple of weeks that covered a development in blogging, or maybe a new tool or controversy in the industry.
But I didn’t just report what had happened. I wanted to interpret it for my audience in some way (“What does this mean for us?”) This could also work for a discussion post (which we’ll come to in a moment).
#8: Create Curated Content
“Curated” content is when you link to and quote from someone else’s content. (Never copy it or present it as your own.)
If another blogger has written a great article, pull out a short relevant quote, link readers to the entire article, and add some of your own thoughts. Tell readers what you liked, and maybe add something to the article (e.g. if it has ten reasons or ten tips, come up with an eleventh).
#9: Embed Content into Your Posts
As well as linking to and quoting from other people’s content, you can include their content by embedding it. The most obvious examples here are YouTube videos and tweets.
Again, these let you bring other people’s voices and expertise onto your blog. Using curated and embedded content is also a great way to build a relationship with the influencers in your niche.
#10: Write a Research Post
This is a bit like writing an essay on a particular topic. You go away and learn from lots of different sources, then create something that brings together what you’ve learned, quoting from and crediting your sources.
You’ll learn more yourself (which will get you closer to that ‘expert’ status), and you can share what you’ve learned in an authentic way. It helps your readers to see you as more authoritative and knowledgeable.
#11: Write a Discussion Post
We publish a discussion post every week on Digital Photography School. And it doesn’t take any expertise at all. (If you have only a few readers you may need to wait till you’ve built up a larger audience.)
With a discussion post, you ask a key question: something you want to know the answer to, or that will prompt a bit of a debate. This gives your readers a chance to participate and engage. You could even take some of the best comments and use them in a future post.
You can have a blog that covers a topic area you’re not an expert in. Just make sure you’re transparent, and be careful about the type of content you create.
Keep actively learning, and keep sharing what you learn with your readers. If you have any suggestions for other types of content that work really well on a non-expert blog, share them with us in the comments.
Image Credit: Rita Morais