Generating Content Ideas That Will Resonate With Software Developers
Technical content is a unique wing of content marketing — one that may not lend itself to the kind of expansive creativity associated with building a content library in a non-technical industry. Traditional team brainstorming doesn’t always cut it when you’re marketing software to experienced developers.
But we work with over 50 companies who all market to software developers, so I’ve been able to find a few strategies that will work, depending on your goals.
I gave a short version of this talk at an exclusive presentation for sponsors of The New Stack, and more recently at DevRelCon. I also wanted to share this knowledge here to help more of our readers come up with effective ideas for videos, blog posts, ebooks, and other technical content.
Check out the video or scroll on to read a summary:
How to Generate Technical Content Ideas That Resonate
If you want to create content that resonates with software developers, your process should begin with intentionally conjuring up relevant — and resonant — topics. There are four major ways to do this:
1. Keyword Research
A typical marketer might suggest starting your topic perusal with keyword research, and I agree this approach can be helpful for developer marketing. However, you won’t find success with just any keyword related to your product or service.
Your keyword strategy will differ depending on your needs. While general, short-tail keywords might be the easiest to target when you’re first starting out, they might not signal “purchase intent” or be very appealing to a senior-level audience.
On the other hand, low-volume bottom of funnel content can be really hard to rank for as most of your competitors are also likely targeting these highly valuable keywords.
So, at first, your goal should be to identify relevant keywords with high volume and low competition. This means there are lots of people searching — but not a ton of companies vying for Google rankings — for those terms.
At Draft.dev, we use the topic cluster method and a tool like Ahrefs to build an initial keyword list for clients who want to increase brand awareness and gather backlinks from other sites, which helps build their domain authority (DA).
Benefits of keyword research:
- Exploring keywords allows you to dip your toes into SEO and set your business up to use more advanced SEO tools and techniques later.
- Top-of-funnel keywords are a good choice when you’re assigning blogs to external contributors, who can write a general piece and add in a couple of calls-to-action (CTAs) for your tool — instead of having to be well-versed in the specifics of what you offer.
- In the software development world, going from the keyword selection stage to fully fleshed-out content is a bit different than in a less specialized industry. Just because you have a list of keywords doesn’t mean you know what to actually write about yet. I suggest running your keyword list by your engineers to determine the intent behind the search terms you discover.
2. Augment Documentation
Some of your users need and appreciate detailed how-to guides. Why not provide them to your general audience and kill two proverbial birds with one stone?
Building out long-form answers to sales FAQs and support ticket issues can be a great way to expand your body of bottom-of-funnel content — also known as sales enablement content.
When a customer is close to closing, but not quite over the finish line, what questions do they ask — or what things can you reassure them of to show that you know what you’re talking about technically?
Answer those questions clearly with detailed tutorials in a compelling visual or written format.
Firsthand guides written by experts and based on your existing documentation make for high-value content.
Benefit of using your documentation as a content idea pool:
- When your content marketing directly contributes to sales (as augmented guides and tutorials can), you’ll have an easier time answering to your higher-ups about the ROI of a content strategy.
- Some content you create will be so specific to your tool that you might run the risk of alienating a portion of your potential customers.
- This content will rarely win visitors who haven’t heard of your product before, so its value is limited when building awareness.
3. Community Research
When you’re the brains behind an operation, it’s possible you’re so close to it that you can’t see any potential issues a customer might have — until they bring it to your attention.
Instead of waiting for your own users to be in need of tech support, you can go find out what they (or people similar to them) are thinking and preempt future problems by creating solution-oriented content. This form of ideation is called community research.
One of the best approaches to this content idea hack is to search for your tool, or a similar one, on Stack Overflow. Even if your software isn’t specifically discussed on the popular platform yet, you should be able to find closely related comments and questions about problems you and your team know how to solve.
This is simultaneously a strategy for building your own idea list and doing some informal competitor research. You might be surprised at the eye-opening knowledge you uncover from listening to the people who think a lot like your ideal customers.
Benefit of looking to the greater community for content ideas:
- Stealthy crowdsourcing can help you predict future customers’ hesitancy and get ahead of the game by producing helpful articles, PDF guides, email newsletters, and more.
- Developer forums can get uber-detailed, and it might be tempting to veer off course from your original content strategy. Try to keep your searches related to one topic and don’t feel pressured to answer every problem you find with a major piece of content.
- There may be a high number of solid competitor guides or blog posts already out there. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the time and energy investment or if you can offer a fresh take on a popular topic.
4. Share Your Worldview
Sticking to strictly objective, informative topics could limit your brand’s potential. Some of the most impressive content is the kind where people get real — where CEOs take a side on a contentious issue or big industry players share their secrets.
If you have the bandwidth to create long-form, strongly-researched opinion pieces, you could join the ranks of industry thought leaders.
To decide which ideas to run with, think about the topics you and your colleagues discuss outside the office. What are the big industry subjects you really care about, and what would you say if you weren’t censored?
With a little finesse, you can turn those rants into polished pieces of writing.
Anybody can replicate keyword research, but nobody can replicate your worldview.
While you could be taking a risk by being vulnerable about your company values and/or personal stance, you could also create some brand evangelists with this approach.
Benefit of creating in-depth POV content:
- Effective opinion pieces can fill the top of your funnel with a whole new audience.
- These pieces have the best chance of virality, but you still need to promote them effectively.
Potential roadblocks of this technique:
- You’ll probably need to assign this kind of content to a trusted internal contributor (or write it yourself). Technical executive ghostwriters exist, but they are hard to find.
- Because they’re based on current industry happenings, this type of piece isn’t usually evergreen — it won’t be relevant for long.
Pro tip: Vary your content format. The next generation of software engineers might be more compelled by video than written content. Survey your customers to find out how they want to consume your content.
Deciding on the Right Blend
When deciding which of these four idea-generating strategies to apply, it’s crucial to consider your company’s larger marketing and sales priorities. The quadrant visual above will help.
If securing new leads is your goal right now, focusing on quality keyword research will lead to more predictable results. If achieving conversions is your main challenge, it may be more useful to try augmenting your documentation. The truth is that most companies need a blend of content types, so feel free to mix and match.
Stay true to your business vision and be cognizant of your goals. But if your idea bank runs dry, it might be time to go beyond the typical concept of technical content and find new sources of inspiration.
Bonus: Tips for Finding Technical Content Contributors
- Structure your engineers’ time to bring them into the content creation process. Provide briefs for each article or tutorial assignment and plan for several rounds of editing.
- Hire a full-time Developer Relations (DevRel) expert. If you have the resources, this can be a great option to achieve quality and consistency across all of your content.
- Solicit contributions from external sources. You can opt for direct outreach (find individual experts yourself) or recruit through a community writer program.
- Work with an agency. There’s nothing like having a specialized team that knows your business and your audience.
Check out my full presentation for more tips on developing and motivating your team of writers.
Build a Blog that Software Developers Will Read
The Technical Content Manager’s Playbook is a collection of resources you can use to manage a high-quality, technical blog:
- A template for creating content briefs
- An Airtable publishing calendar
- A technical blogging style guide