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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 - Listicles 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? Check out our blogging checklist to get started

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.