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The 3 Questions You Should Ask Before Starting a Technical Blog

The best technical blogs have a clear audience and defined goals. Today, I’m going to share the three questions I ask every client I work with at Draft:

Q1: Why are you writing?

“I don’t know why I started writing. I don’t know why anybody does it. Maybe they’re bored, or failures at something else.” - Cormac McCarthy

Not every technical blog’s goals are the same, but the good ones know why they exist. Here are a few legitimate reasons you might start a blog:

  • Raise awareness - For new companies, letting people know what you do and what problems you solve is a good starting point. The tricky part is doing that while creating valuable, interesting content.
  • Supplement documentation - A blog can be a great place to host a repository of public knowledge in the form of sample apps, use cases, and best practices.
  • Build an audience - Some blogs act as the top of the marketing team’s funnel. These blogs usually seek to capture leads through an email or social signup.
  • Thought leadership - Consultants and agencies are especially motivated to establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry.
  • Move prospects through your funnel - Content isn’t just for the top of the funnel. Your blog can support nurturing campaigns that turn leads into customers.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) - Once your blog has been around for a while, it may start to rank for keywords on Google. If you want to maximize your traffic from search engines, a blog is critical.

There are plenty of marketing and communication channels available, so don’t feel like you have to have a blog. If you do create one, set a clear goal before you start investing in it.

Q2: Who are you writing for?

“You get what you focus on. Focus on nothing, and you won’t get much.” - Seth Godin

Blogs are often aimed at your target customers, but sometimes they are written for stakeholders or influencers. Here are some audiences you might reach with a technical blog:

  • Software engineers - Many software companies use a bottoms-up approach in their blog. Individual contributors may not have purchasing power, but they often have a strong influence over the people who do.
  • Middle managers - Managers likely have purchasing power, but there aren’t as many of them, and they may not read as much technical content anymore.
  • Executives and directors - The most valuable group is often the hardest to reach. Executives’ priorities vary, so you’ll have to be okay with small traffic numbers and highly focused content.
  • Startup technologists - Startups can be great customers because they make decisions fast, and the executives are often still very close to the code. Reaching them will require a mix of content types.

The more specific you can be about your audience, the better you’ll be able to focus your efforts to reach them. Learn about them: where do they hang out online? What problems do they have? What newsletters or social medial sites do they use?

A clearly defined audience will go miles towards making your blog better.

Q3: What kind of content will you write?

“If you think something is clever and sophisticated, beware - it is probably self-indulgence.” - Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

Your content should be unique, but it shouldn’t surprise your audience. Most successful blogs choose 2-3 standard “formats” and publish them consistently. Here are the most common formats I see on software engineering blogs:

  • Tutorials - These step-by-step walkthroughs show readers how to build something or illustrate a specific use-case for your product. They provide a lot of value to engineers who are using your tool or related technologies.
  • Roundups - Listacles get a bad wrap, but high-quality curation is still valuable when done right. Roundups bring together a wealth of information to help your readers make decisions.
  • Case Studies - Like tutorials, case studies can illustrate a use-case for your product, but they tend to be more focused on the outcomes than the process. Case studies can also come off as a bit “salesy” if you’re not careful.
  • Features - Borrowing the word from journalism, a “feature” dives deep into something of interest to your audience. For example, you might introduce a new feature, highlight a team member, or do a technical teardown of part of your codebase.
  • Q&As - Interviews with team members, customers, and influencers in the industry can be a great way to focus your blog’s lense outwards and help you piggyback off your interviewee’s audience.
  • Comparisons - Comparisons help readers decide between competing options. A good comparison post will offer an objective conclusion for which option is best under which circumstance.
  • Opinion Pieces - Personal experiences and observations help establish you as a thought leader. These pieces are valuable when done well, but require a bit of name recognition to pull them off.

Think you’re ready to start a technical blog? Have some clear targets and an audience defined? Next, you have to pick a blogging platform. If you get stuck, email me sometime. I’d love to help.

Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.