Blog Topic Determination Methods

The blog topics summary table and percentages table were generated by surveying each blog and reviewing the six most recent blog posts or articles.  That’s right, I visited each and everyone of these blogs and read at least six articles from each one (i.e., something like 10,000 articles and counting).  Basically, I am an early retiree with way too much time on my hands.

Why six articles? – At first I tried reading various numbers of articles, but rarely more than about ten.  I found through this iterative process that six articles almost always gave me a pretty good sense of the range of topics recently covered by the author.   I also found that many blogs are set up with five posts on the first page, so reading six posts often got me on to the second page where I could see whether the next batch of article titles covered entirely different topics.  On a random but regular basis, I read 10 articles instead of six and considered whether the topic percentages would have substantially changed.  I conducted this quality control check a sufficient number of times that I satisfied myself I was assigning a reasonably (although approximately) correct proportion of time recently spent in the blog on each topic.  I will continue these quality control checks in future update surveys.

Why the most recent articles?  – Although many of these blogs have been around for years and have a substantial body of work, there seems to be a general interest by readers in receiving regularly and recently generated content.  So, although the past opus of any blogger is important, I thought it was in the best interest of the reader to focus on the range of topics they would find if they went to the blog today, not three years in the past.

Couldn’t a blog’s topic percentages change over time?  Absolutely true.  If someone’s next six posts are completely different from the most recent six posts that I reviewed, then the blog topic percentages will in fact be substantially different than the percentages I found the last time the blog was surveyed.  That is why I intend to update these reviews on a rolling basis.

Are the topic determinations objective? – I don’t think the categorization of sometimes complex personal finance articles into neat bins can be entirely objective.  We accept the subjectivity of categorizations  in sports (“sluggers” and “junk ball pitchers”) and in products (“sport utility vehicles”) all the time, and this review is intended in a similar vein.  The blog topic categorizations carry real meaning that is useful, but they are not intended to be etched in stone.  I would whole-heatedly argue these topic determinations will help readers find the kind of subject matter they want to read about.  If you doubt this, try reading seven blogs that each have a high percentage devoted to one of the seven topics.   I think you will quickly find that these blogs clearly and consistently cover pretty different subject matter, perhaps with occasional overlaps in some articles.  Likewise, if you review blogs with similar mixtures of topics, they will generally cover similar range of subject matter.

Are the topic determinations subjective? – To some degree yes, as I mentioned above.  But these determinations are not entirely subjective, and they are certainly not unique to any preferences of mine.  Quite the opposite.  I think this topic categorization system is repeatable (for the most part) by a second person.  More importantly, this is not a review of the “best” or “worst” blogs based on some subjective set of personal preferences in my head.  I am specifically not trying to tell you what is “good” or “bad” about any of these blogs or the topics they choose to cover.  And certainly no one paid me or otherwise enticed me to say their blog had “awesome” topics or “the best” subject matter.  The point here is to be objective enough that a reader can discover lesser known blogs that might fit their own personal preferences, not for me to lead readers to my “favorite” or “best” blogs.

How did you decide which blogs to read? – I started with the outstanding personal finance bloggers directories maintained at Rockstar Finance and Modest Money.  I also have added quite a few blogs as I have become aware of them and removed some from my database for reasons detailed in my discussion of Blog Style Scoring Methods.  The database in this Guide is now departing substantially from these other lists and will likely continue to do so.

How are these topics different than the Rockstar Finance directory “categories”? – Don’t get me wrong, I think the Rockstar Finance directory is a fantastic information tool, but I felt a few things were missing to really guide readers to the types of blogs they might like to read.  One thing I was interested in was how single categories didn’t really seem to fit many of the blogs that I was reading, because those bloggers are intentionally covering a range of topics.  For example, the Rockstar Finance categories include pretty straight forward sounding categories like: “Budgeting”, “Debt”, “Frugality”, “Investing”, “Life Style”, and “Make Money”, which are similar to my topics.  But if you look at a few of these blogs you will quickly find that almost none of them confine themselves strictly to just one of these topics, although a few are very singular (like my blog on investing).  Similarly, Rockstar Finance categories include things like: “Family”, “Military”, “Millennial”.  These have more to do with the target audience, which I have covered under a separate metric I call “Theme” to help lessen this confusion.

Please also refer to my description of Blog Style Scoring Methods for more details on the mechanics of my blog review process.  It’s worth noting in brief that I did not listen to or view podcasts and videos, confined myself to English language blogs, and focused on blogs with clearly dated material.  Also, please note that the percentages assigned to each topic for each blog are rough estimates that are not resolvable beyond 10 to 20%.   For example, I did not review enough recent articles to say that any particular blog spent “22%” or “36%” of their time on topic X.  Rather, using this example, I could only estimate to “20%” or “40%”.

If you have questions about how I approached certain types of posts or blogs or other details of my methods, please shoot me an email.  My intent is to be transparent without getting into all the gory details in this article.