The developer’s guide to marketing & promotion: writing blog posts
Author: Jérémy Bourhis
24th September 2015
Welcome to our new blog series, The Developer’s Guide to Marketing and Promotion. Throughout this series we’ll be looking at ways to promote yourself and your skills with minimal time and effort but measurable results. If you missed the first part in this series you can catch up here: The developer’s guide to social media.
This second post in the series looks at why you should consider blogging, overcoming obstacles, and improving your writing. We’ll be outlining:
- Reasons to write blog posts
- Common problems
- Planning and writing
- Tips for better writing
- Styling and imagery
- Optimizing for search engines
- Further reading
So, let’s get started.
Reasons to write blog posts
There are dozens of benefits in writing blog posts, but here are some of the most important, in no particular order:
Connect with your audience and build authority – People tend to come back to the source/authority, so becoming a go-to blog for interesting opinions and good advice ensures you build further respect in the community and gives you a chance to engage with interesting people and build relationships.
Drive traffic to your website – If you have a small website, adding a blog gives people a reason to visit more often (or find it in the first place), and increases the chances of them sharing content from it.
Add a more personal element to your brand – Whether you’re developing your own personal brand or a company brand, a blog provides people with a chance to get to know more about you, your views, and your interests. The ‘About’ page is often the most visited on a website, and a blog acts as an ongoing extension of this.
Improve search engine visibility – Adding more, good quality pages to your website means more rankings in the search engines, more chance of attracting great links, and a higher crawling frequency from search engine bots. This results in a strong foundation for organic SEO.
Showcase additional skills to attract opportunities – If you’re looking for opportunities such as a new career, speaking engagements, guest posts, networking, and so on, a blog is very appealing. It showcases a very different set of skills to web development, and reflects your professional identity in a good way.
Display recency – Visitors to your website (or social media channels) may be looking for evidence you’ve been active recently and you’re consistently committed to your business/career. A regularly updated blog is a great way to show that.
If there are any in this list that you think ‘Yeah, that’s what I want,’ pick them out and create a short list. Incorporate any specific details or add your benefits as required, and then narrow it down further to cement your top priorities.
Keep your aims in mind when planning and writing blog posts; not only will they be easier to write, but you’ll naturally be more successful in reaching your goals. In the next section, we’ll address some other blogging obstacles you may be facing.
Overcoming common problems
So what’s stopping you? It’s likely to be one or more of these things…
- You can’t think of what to write about.
- Writing a post takes too long.
- You never have time; blogging gets pushed to the bottom of your to do list or the back of your mind.
- You feel like whatever you’ve written isn’t good enough.
Let’s address these one by one.
1. You can’t think of what to write about
What have you been working on recently?
What have you been thinking about a lot lately?
what has made you feel strongly lately? (This is likely to be negative, but try and turn it into something productive/positive in some way, e.g. by suggesting a resolution)?
Asking these kinds of questions can produce the best blog posts because you’re starting from passion. Make a note of what’s inspired you, interesting things you’ve read lately, and things you’ve disagreed with, and then consider how you can turn them into viable topics. Create a list of blog post ideas (or even a rough calendar) so you’re never short of something to write. The worst blog posts come from forcing yourself because you think you should or you’re short of time.
If you’re still having trouble getting started, check out some of your favorite blogs or newsletters, or take a look at some of the many blog post ideas lists and generators on the web – we’ve included a couple in the Further reading list. Don’t worry about coming up with a totally original idea: it’s all in the execution.
Upload ideas lists and notes as a restricted text file or create a draft post of them in your CMS so you don’t forget where they are.
2. Writing a post takes too long
Identify what it is that takes the most time (or seems like it does, i.e. things that are so tedious you’re put off writing posts altogether), and then implement a solution accordingly. For example:
Make sure you’re happy with the blogging platform you’re using. Switch to an alternative or address any issues you have with it, whether it’s a small bug or a key workflow element. If you’re not comfortable with what you’re using, you’ll instinctively find ways to avoid it.
If it’s finding images that drives you nuts, take a few hours to save and upload images so you have an instant store on hand for your future posts. (Take a look at the Styling and imagery section for sources of free photos).
Create a cheatsheet of hints to help you speed up your blogging. For example, writing a short introduction answering the whats and whys, signing off with a call to action, incorporating witty or descriptive subheadings, and so on. These kinds of prompts can be useful if you’re struggling to get started or having trouble writing a post that’s long enough. This can also be done by post type, for example tutorials, useful links, opinion pieces and so on, so you have more specific prompts.
Alternatively you may find you encounter the opposite problem: that you want to say so much that it’s overwhelming (for you or the reader). In these situations, break your topic up into smaller, more manageable chunks and create a series. You could even experiment with different release mechanisms, for example email, slides, video, etc. if you have time to spare.
3. You never have time
If blogging frequently ends up at the bottom of a very long list, do two things:
i) Change how you think about it – it’s still an important task, not a ‘nice to have’. Treat it like anything else you have to do.
ii) Add it to your calendar or to do list with a deadline. If it helps, add a few different deadlines to cover the planning, draft, and final proofing stages.
4. You feel like your writing isn’t good enough
This is a common issue with developers. Many programmers have a perfectionist approach to their work, which is ideal for coding but not so much for blogging. You’re used to working in a field with very clear limitations and boundaries, where you get almost instant feedback about whether what you’ve done is right or not.
Eliminating the concept of right or wrong from your work requires a very specific change of mindset, but is vital for blogging where there is no black and white. If this is something you struggle with, try writing something technical or code-related first (such as a tutorial) before venturing into more general opinion or advice pieces, and never compare your posts to anyone else’s; they aren’t better or worse, just different.
Planning and writing
If you usually start a blog post by opening your text editor and typing, take a step back and do some planning first.
- Make a brief note of what you want to achieve with your post and list any keywords you’re targeting.
- Then write a sentence (just for yourself) summing up the topic of the post.
- Prepare any additional materials, such as video, images, cheatsheets, code, or similar so you have them to hand.
- Create a short list of subtopics/paragraph ideas/things to cover in your post.
- Open your text editor, type up your initial subheadings, and add a reminder at top and bottom for an introduction and a sign off.
- Begin writing from the subheading that seems most appealing.
Once you’ve written a first draft of a paragraph, you can revisit it to make changes, reorder things, add images and links, and so on. As you make slight adjustments over time, you’ll develop your own natural workflow and your approach to blogging will be less formally structured.
When you’re happy (or happy enough!) with your post, preview it and read it back to yourself in full and make any further changes. If you’re still not feeling confident, get someone to give it a read over. Then you’re ready to publish.
Tips for better writing
- Use short sentences and simple language.
- Expect people to skim-read your posts: have an interesting opening and keep paragraphs short.
- Incorporate subheadings, bullet point lists, and different visual cues (images, video, slides, code, etc.) to break up posts.
- Create a journey or story – have a clear beginning and end in mind before you start writing.
- Know your weaknesses (e.g. using the same adjective frequently, run-on sentences, apostrophes, etc.) and check for them in every post. If you’re not sure what your weaknesses are, get a random person on the internet to tell you. They’ll love it.
- Install a spellchecker add-on for your browser if you don’t already have one.
Styling & imagery
Design and imagery are normally someone else’s job, so when it comes to your own blog it can be a bit of a challenge setting (and maintaining) a good quality level. Images and other visuals are essential for a good blog post; it’s not just about the words and message. Aim to have at least one image for every 400 words where possible.
One important thing that often gets overlooked is the readability of your text. Always read a full, designed post preview back to yourself (and get a second opinion from a friend); if you find it a struggle to make it to the end, it’s likely to be because you need to decrease the line length, change the font, adjust the line height, or similar.
Consider having a theme
A running topic in your words or a theme for your images can really help pull a blog post together and create a sense of familiarity for your audience. When picking a theme, consider your audience and your chosen topic for best results. For example, if your blog post is aimed at other developers, something XKCD related or Star Wars themed is likely to create added interest.
For this post, we’ve gone with something slightly more niche – Phineas and Ferb – and it fits in with the bigger picture of the series too, as each post is based on a different, slightly geeky cartoon. However, the pictures still relate to the topic.
A theme can be dark, humorous, serious, or whatever you want it to be. In time, it will become part of your style and set your blog posts apart from the crowd.
Where to source free photos
Here are some of our favourite picks for more serious topics:
- Pixabay – a huge collection of free photos with no attribution required.
- Unsplash – new photos added regularly in small doses, covering a wide range of topics.
- StockSnap – similar to Pixabay.
- Gratisography – more creative, abstract photos that work well to convey specific emotions or imply concepts.
- Flickr Creative Commons – the biggest selection of photos, but all require attribution as a minimum.
Optimizing for search engines
We’ll be covering search engine optimization in detail in a later post, but here are some key things to consider for blog posts.
Keywords – (Note that these are not the same as ‘meta keywords’, which are covered below). If you’re looking to rank in a particular area, use data to find out exactly what people are searching for and then optimise for that keyword or phrase by incorporating it a handful of times into your post. Even your best guess is likely to be off base, and there will be variants you haven’t considered. Use Google’s Keyword Planner tool (you’ll need a Google account but don’t have to actually buy Adwords advertising) to have a look at some of the figures.
Not every blog post will be geared towards a particular search term, so don’t worry if you can’t think of anything. When using keywords in your posts, focus each post around 1-3 keywords/phrases at most. Write for your audience before the search engines, and be natural. Don’t force keywords in. If you’re really stuck, they can usually be incorporated into subheadings, bullet point lists and image ALTs fairly easily.
Length – Blog posts that are too short will have little of value for visitors and search engines alike. This usually happens when people feel that they should publish a blog entry but aren’t motivated, don’t give themselves enough time, and/or pick a topic that doesn’t have enough scope. Ideally your blog posts should be a minimum of 300-500 words long, so have this in mind when you’re deciding what to write about. It’s better to have no blog post at all than a short, low quality one.
Links – Link to relevant internal pages and other blog posts as well as relevant (non-conflict-of-interest) third parties. If you’re linking to irrelevant websites for whatever reason (maybe for image credit), add
rel="nofollow" to the tag to show that. Link naturally not excessively, and use website names/page titles in favour of keywords and generic phrases such as ‘click here’.
Meta data – While it’s not a primary factor for SEO, a good meta description will encourage people to click through to your website from search engine listings, so it does have an influence in that respect. Again, always write for the user rather than the search engine, and include a call to action and a reason for them to click through in 156 characters or less. Meta keywords aren’t used by Google, and there’s no need to add them to your posts. Post titles should be under 70 characters long, at least in the
<head> of your page.
Mobile optimization – Ensure your blog is mobile-friendly, quick to load on a variety of devices, and that posts are easy to read.
ALTs and image titles – Take the time to make sure your images have descriptive ALTs and titles; it’s a small additional task that has a good impact on search engines and accessibility alike.
We’re at the end of this guide to blogging now, but if you’re still keen to read more, check out these links:
Copyblogger – Copyblogger is one of the big hitters in the writing world, and they publish a lot of great material including tutorials, news, tips, and much more.
Problogger – Similarly to Copyblogger, Problogger has a wealth of information covering everything you need to know about writing, styling and promoting your blog.
Blogging Tips – Don’t have much time to spare? This website has a big range of succinct posts that you can dip in and out of effortlessly.
36 tried-and-true ways to promote your blog posts – Content marketing is something we’ll be covering in more depth later on in the series, but for now check out this infographic for ways you can promote your blog posts effectively.
How to think up a year’s worth of blog post topics in an hour – Stuck for post ideas? Here’s a strategy for keeping your content brainstorming flowing.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to writing blog posts? Got any questions or something to add? Get in touch on Twitter.
If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to the Cronofy blog for more developer- and business-themed content!