As a technical writer, I’m trained to create documents that are ‘pure’. Software user guides a good example. When writing a user guide, it’s bad practice to weave marketing content into the text. You should simply provide guidance and instruction.
Web content writing is completely different. It’s less structured. More conversational. And often, it allows the writer to express their own view. If you don’t make web content accessible, people won’t care enough to share it.
In content marketing, the ultimate goal is to get incoming links in a natural and organic way. That means sharing is still vital.
In order to do content marketing well, our clients need a high level of technical accuracy with the right amount of promotional content or editorial comment. Time and again, clients tell me that their writers struggle to blend these two disparate content types. I want to look closely the techniques we use to compose interesting, shareable technical articles.
Technical Blogging Tips
Most of my clients are software developers or vendors. They want to communicate with a technically-minded audience: people who spend their days reading datasheets and appreciate detail and accuracy.
There are a number of ways to strike the balance:
- Have an opinion. This is probably the easiest way to create a shareable article. People will either share it because they agree, or share it because they think you’re crazy. Either way, the piece becomes more interesting, and the reader gets a personal connection to the author. (Just don’t pay too much attention to the comments if you want to stay sane).
- Use good quality photos. Users of social media are more responsive to images than to text, and the photos you use in your blog will be carried over to social channels. It’s worth putting a little effort into finding something good. You may feel that your product is compelling enough to catch the eye of the IT service manager, but that person has probably spent their lunchbreak on Tumblr and will respond favourably to visual cues – as we all do.
- Alter the tone. It’s fine to create very pure technical content for particular purposes, and the documentation we created for Help Desk Premier was a good example. However, this kind of content is rarely the content people will share in their droves. In order to get things trending, change the tone by reimagining your audience. Think of it as personalising the content, rather than diluting it.
- Give the topic broader relevance. Consider the thought process behind a social share and try to appeal to a more general audience. Statistics, how-to articles and comment pieces are great; they put technical details in context. Link technical topics to real world scenarios.
- Don’t use those stock photos. We all know where you got the photo of the lady with the headset. We’re tired of those little white guys that point at graphs. Invest in something new.
- Research properly. Often, people cut corners by posting blogs that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Technical website content needs to be factually accurate, properly cited and referenced.
- Explain all shortened phrases and acronyms. This is a key principle of technical writing, and it’s one I always carry through to technical blogging. Just because you know what something means, don’t assume your reader knows – particularly if the blog has been shared on Facebook. When you skim read, capital letters snag; too many will cause people to retreat.
- Mix content types. Turning technical content into an infographic or video is useful on a couple of levels. It gets technical information across more quickly, and it forces you to edit your content right down to a minimum. I’m not the biggest fan of infographics, but they have their uses; just be sensible with the context and don’t lose sight of your point. Webinars are better if you have the time.
- Use keywords and conventional structure. The best technical content incorporates long tail keywords and is correctly structured, using heading tags in the correct way. For technical bloggers, long tail keywords are normally easy to find.
- Consider layout. Technical documents often look completely impenetrable. They’re long, the text is bunched up tight, there are no headings and no light relief. Change that. While you don’t need to publish one sentence per paragraph, tabloid style, you can incorporate lots of white space into a technical blog.
- Avoid business jargon. How many times have you read about leveraging solutions that minimize pain points while deepdiving into your energy envelope? Yes: too many. Management buzzwords make website content heavy, cold and bloated. This language can destroy the readability of technical articles.
- Never assume knowledge. When writing technical documentation, it’s normal to assume a certain amount of knowledge depending on the user you’re writing for. On the web, assume no knowledge at all. The easiest way to provide explanation and context is with internal linking, so you can capture queries without losing more clued-up readers. Internal linking is also Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) best practice.
- Don’t forget prominent sharing links. Even if you think nobody in the world will share your white paper, you must make it easy to share or you will rule out the possibility. Someone will eventually look for the DiggDigg or AddThis bar and realise it’s not there; that’s a share you’ll never get back. If you publish the content as a PDF, make sure the sharing links work; some software does not correctly output them (Word for Mac is one).
- Use guest posting as practice. Not the farmed out, spammy type of guest posting: the real guest posting that adds value. Use this as an opportunity to broaden your knowledge as a writer and appeal to a broader audience. Set the bar high and it will be a great learning experience. This blog I wrote for Kissmetrics was a guest post for a client, and it’s probably my most linked-to and most shared, second to this one.
- Invest in evergreen content, such as pillar posts and guides. Avoid news blogs. Technical articles can be expensive, so every single one needs to stand the test of time. Some of the posts on this blog are still pulling their weight two or three years after they were posted.
Technical Blogging: Things to Avoid
I touched on pricing, and it’s a valid concern. Technical content doesn’t come cheap. While a single quality article doesn’t break the bank, a long term campaign requires investment.
The best advice I can give is to invest in quality. Technical blogs need to be written by a competent author who has experience. That means you should:
- Ask an experienced technical blogger to write your articles, not a cheap blogger (or a developer, or your CEO)
- Invest in a writer who can demonstrate thorough understanding of your topic so you spend less time correcting their work
- Avoid commissioning very short posts that don’t offer longevity
- Never the reader by making your technical content artificially ‘spicy’ – there’s a difference between grabbing attention and being deceptive
If your budget is limited, one very long and detailed post per week is much better than several 300-word blogs. Google is looking for quality, and it’s far easier to achieve quality when you are writing in detail. Whether you’re hiring a technical blogger or writing for yourself, striving for high standards is the best way to ensure your technical content is shared.