3 Steps For Coming Up With Technical Content Ideas
A lot of company blogs are boring because they aren’t looking out into the world to capture new ideas. Let’s look at the three steps you can take to start building a backlog of great ideas for your blog.
Step 1: Expose yourself to inspiration
“Original ideas do not come from within. They are given to us, from without. A writer should not look inside, but outside, at external sources, stories, events, and emotions.” - Robert Bruce
Ideas won’t come to you if you spend all your time writing and editing - you have to get out of the busyness trap and read, learn, and listen. Here are a few ways you can expose yourself to good ideas:
- Talk to a customer - If you can get some face-time with a customer, ask them what they searched for to find you, what websites or newsletters they read regularly, or what issues they’ve faced recently.
- Talk to your teammates - Ask your sales or marketing team about common questions they hear from customers, talk to your dev team about projects they’ve recently worked on, and ask your boss to have a chat with you about the company’s vision.
- Talk to other blog managers - Technical blogs face unique challenges, but you can learn a lot from marketers in other industries too.
- Subscribe to newsletters - Subscribe to a handful of newsletters, filter them in a particular folder, and review them once or twice per week.
- Subscribe to Hacker Newsletter - It’s easy to get lost in Hacker News, so avoid the time-sink and subscribe to the once-weekly Hacker Newsletter.
- Subscribe to your competitors’ blogs - Be unique, but aware.
- Read a book - I like a blend of fiction and non-fiction. Read whatever inspires you.
- Keyword research - Using a tool like Ahrefs, you can do in-depth keyword analysis to generate ideas that are likely to be searched for on Google.
- Listen to podcasts - They’re a great way to expose yourself to new ideas on the go.
- Do a deep dive into Stack Overflow - Look for common questions relevant to your blog’s audience and consider if any would make useful blog posts.
- Watch YouTube videos or conference talks - A lot of new technology is announced at conferences, so being plugged into the conference circuit can help you come up with timely ideas.
- Use your product - Sometimes, it’s hard to know what unique challenges your customers face until you become one.
- Create an idea matrix - An idea matrix is a multi-dimensional collection of combinations of ideas. See this startup idea matrix for an example.
- Take a break - Take a walk, go for a run, or just sit outside. My best ideas come when I’m just reflecting on past conversations or projects.
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Step 2: Collect ideas
“Ideas Won’t Keep. Something Must Be Done About Them.” - Alfred North Whitehead
When I read something that triggers an idea, I write it down.
I don’t think it matters which to-do list you use. Just have a consistent and reliable way to capture ideas at any time, and make a habit of putting those ideas somewhere regularly.
Step 3: Build a backlog of pitches
“Plan ahead: It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.” - Richard Cushing
If you expose yourself to inspiration and collect ideas for very long, you’ll have more ideas than you could ever write about. You need a method of refining and filtering them.
I spend a little time every week going through my ideas and doing cursory research on them. Many technical blog posts require a high-level understanding of several frameworks or tools, so I’ll read the introductory docs and skim the APIs.
Thought leadership pieces and features require a different form of vetting. If you’re considering a thought leadership piece, you should make sure there is some evidence or data available to support your claims. If you’re thinking about featuring a person, you should do some research on them first. Are they going to have interesting things to say? Can you bring out some compelling stories about them?
By the end of this process, most ideas are left on the cutting room floor, but the ones you do have are much stronger.
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