Technical writers are 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 speak into the text. You should simply provide guidance and instruction.
Technical blogs are completely different. They are less structured. More conversational. And often, a technical blog post allows the writer to express their own view, or blend their personality into the content.
If your tone of your technical blog isn’t appealing, you have no hope of getting shares or natural incoming links.
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 blogs.
- 1 13 Tips for Technical Blogs
- 1.1 Have an Opinion
- 1.2 Use Good Photos
- 1.3 Adjust Your Tone
- 1.4 Give Your Technical Blog Relevance to the Real World
- 1.5 Do Your Research
- 1.6 Spare Us the Acronyms
- 1.7 Use Long-Tail Keywords
- 1.8 Pay Attention to Visual Appeal
- 1.9 Stop Using Jargon When You Can’t Think of Anything to Say
- 1.10 Don’t Assume Knowledge
- 1.11 Practice on Other People’s Blogs
- 1.12 Evergreen Content is Key
- 2 Technical Blogging: Things to Avoid
- 3 Summary
13 Tips for Technical Blogs
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 an interesting technical blog post. 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.
Strictly speaking, technical writing forbids this kind of editorial positioning. But in a marketing context, there’s nothing wrong with evaluating something and then providing your own take or conclusion. That can help to establish you as a thought leader.
Use Good 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 from a stock photo website. Or use a reliable Public Domain image website like Pixabay
We are all more responsive to images than to text. The photos you use in your blog will be carried over to social channels, too, and play a big part in catching the eye.
It’s worth putting a little effort into finding something good. Even better: take your own photos.
You may feel that your product is compelling enough to impress a technical person, but that person has probably spent their lunch break on Twitter and will respond favourably to visual cues just like everyone else.
And make sure all of the images you use are properly attributed. If you don’t you might get your client into trouble.
Adjust Your Tone
It’s fine to create very pure technical content for guidance. But this kind of content is rarely the content people will share in large numbers. In order to get things trending, personalise and re-think the way you write.
Buffer has some excellent tips on tone in social media that can be applied to technical blogging as well.
Give Your Technical Blog Relevance to the Real World
Consider the thought process behind a social share. The content has to be good enough to compel someone to forward it immediately.
How-to articles are perfect; they put technical details in context, and impart valuable information for free. Just link technical topics to real world scenarios and you’ll be halfway there.
Do Your Research
Just because you’re writing a technical blog, you don’t get a free pass to be lazy. Some people cut corners by posting blogs that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Vague words (“some people”, “many businesses”) are a giveaway.
Technical website content needs to be factually accurate, properly cited and referenced. As a rule of thumb, only reference statistics that are 3 years old or newer.
Spare Us the Acronyms
Explain all shortened versions of phrases and words. 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. The first time you use a term, define it. And consider whether a non-native speaker would understand what you said.
Use Long-Tail Keywords
Keyword stuffing will ruin any blog post. Technical blogs lend themselves to long-tail keywords and keyword ‘themes’.
Wordstream has a basic look at diversifying keywords here. I would suggest thinking less about keywords and focus on writing around themes and ideas.
Pay Attention to Visual Appeal
Technical documents often look completely impenetrable. They’re long, the text is bunched up tight, there are no headings and no whitespace. Avoid that. You can incorporate lots of white space into a technical blog by being creative with formatting.
I revised this 2014 post in 2017, and the first thing I did was break up this list into much larger paragraphs. It’s easier to skim and looks less intimidating.
Stop Using Jargon When You Can’t Think of Anything to Say
How many times have you read about leveraging solutions that minimize pain points while deep-diving into your energy envelope?
Management buzzwords make website content heavy, cold and bloated. Here’s an old BBC list that I enjoyed reading.
Quick tip: Any time you use the word “solutions”, look for an alternative.
Don’t Assume Knowledge
Keep your audience in mind, but be forgiving. Blog posts should have general appeal if they’re going to be shareable, and that means stepping back and looking at your post like a layperson. If something could conceivably confusing to a newbie, explain it.
You don’t have to litter your text with definitions. You can offer explanation and context with internal linking, which is also good for your site’s SEO.
Practice on Other People’s Blogs
Outreach is an opportunity to broaden your knowledge as a writer and appeal to a wider audience. Writing on someone else’s blog forces you to open up your technical writing and make it easier to understand.
Set the bar high. Guest posting can be a great learning experience as well as a great backlink generator, providing you are choosy about the sites you write for.
Evergreen Content is Key
Invest in evergreen content, such as pillar posts and guides. Avoid news articles and things that will age quickly unless you’re publishing them as part of a wider strategy. Make sure you get good ROI from your technical blogger. 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
Technical blogs need to be written by a competent blogger who has experience in your niche, and confidence in blending their technical writing and marketing skills. That means you should:
- See your technical blogs as an investment in your website and your wider marketing campaigns
- Ask an experienced technical blogger to write your articles, not a cheap $1-per-500-word 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 mislead the reader by making your technical content artificially ‘spicy’ – there’s a difference between grabbing attention and being deceptive.
Technical blogging is not easy. Technical writers aren’t trained to create blogs. And people that are technical sometimes struggle to simplify their language into a shareable format.
If your budget is limited, one 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. Long posts are also much more likely to be shared.
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 and enjoyed by your target audience. And getting the right blogger is the secret ingredient to success.
This blog was originally published in September 2014 and has been completely reworked and updated. Image credits: Everysub by jasonwryan licensed under CC BY 2.0. Power of Jargon by Ged Carroll under CC BY 2.0. Diana II by Gonzalo Díaz Fornaro under CC BY 2.0. The Art of Social Media by mkhmarketing under CC BY 2.0.