What I learned doing content marketing for developers — part 1

I am a passionate techie. And I am a passionate entrepreneur. This in itself would be plenty to keep me busy.

But there is one task that persistently shows up at the very top of my pile: Writing content for blog posts, medium, press releases and articles published in online and print publications — sometimes under my own name, sometimes under the name of their publishers.

Why do I do it?
Because I enjoy it. Because I believe that communicating ideas is a core skill to learn. And because it works: When it comes to attracting new users, content consistently beats SEM, Conferences, Cold Sales outreach and any number of other marketing channels, with the exception of raw word-of-mouth.

Initially, I sucked rather badly — but today, my articles draw on average of 14.700 new visitors to our site — that’s nothing to scoff at. Some articles attract more than 30.000, some (to be honest, quite many) as little as 3000 to 4000 — but still, not too bad.

In this two-part article, I want to share what I learned, provide examples for what works and shed some light on how to tailor your writing to the audience you want to attract, how to weave in your product, how to funnel readers from your blog to your signup or product page and how to publicize your articles.

Oh — and before I forget: I’d like to broaden my horizon a bit and would enjoy doing some freelance writing: if you feel your tech or software product could do with a bit of content, get in touch at wolfram@arcentry.com

What do I do?
I write content for deep tech projects targeted at developers, e.g. the infrastructure planning tool Arcenty or previously the realtime data startup deepstream.
I write lofty high-level pieces about tech trends and developments, insightful references for a particular space and low-level tutorials including code samples.

Alright, let’s start with the basics:

Be genuine!
A consumer’s attention is arguably the rarest and most valuable commodity of the 21st century. Content marketing works because it provides immediate benefit in exchange for that attention.

But for this promise to uphold, your content has to provide genuine value to its readers. It’s always tempting to let your marketing department write content because they’re cheaper than your developers. Or to cram your article full of keywords to improve search engine visibility. But please — don’t.

Instead, focus on the areas that you are most knowledgeable about and share your genuine insights. And don’t be concerned about competitors learning from you — if your business depends on secrets that are generic enough to make for a good blog post, you have a whole different problem to address.

Don’t write just about your product.
If you write for a third-party publication, put yourself at the center, but for your own blog, ask yourself: Are you intrinsically interesting? If your business is about landing rocket boosters on tiny drone ships in the ocean — by all means, write about yourself. But if you provide a service that accelerates inter-data-center-connectivity by a few percents, maybe go with a more general topic.

Help others shine on social media.
People share stories on social media that make them appear more interesting, intelligent or echo an opinion they already hold. Help them shine! If your product is emotionally charged, e.g. like the new iPhone, people will be happy to share news about it. If not, rather than putting your product in the spotlight, you need to give your readers the chance to shine by providing quotes, insights or cool visuals they’d be happy to share.

Likewise, give other brands, partners or projects you use a chance to reflect positively on you. For instance, I recently wrote an article about how we use the popular Database PostgreSQL for Arcentry. It did alright on Reddit, but didn’t go anywhere on other forums like Hackernews — that was until Postgres picked it up and started tweeting the article:

Over the next few days, it accumulated 16,369 unique views — in no small part thanks to Postgres’ endorsement.

How to decide what to write?

Well — what do you want to achieve?

  • Do you want to draw a large number of generic users to your website — or rather a smaller group of highly targeted visitors?
  • Are you looking for deeper engagement or are you ok if visitors move on quickly?
  • Do you want to create frequently shared content for SEO and visibility purposes or are you happy to give a few experts a deep dive into a subject?

Depending on your answer to these questions, different formats might fit your need — although a good balance of all the above is most likely the way to success.

Long term Engagement vs Short Term Spike
Gaining a good spike in exposure can be very exciting and gratifying. If you write an article on how your product or service relates to a current, news-worthy event there’s a good chance it will do well on forums like Reddit or Hackernews and you might even be contacted by bloggers or press to share your insights.
But there’s a catch: a high number of readers rarely translates to a high number of conversions. And no wonder: your visitors are primarily interested in the underlying event rather than your product.

On the other end of the spectrum are formats like references, guides or tutorials that generate a small, but steady stream of interested users searching specifically for the answer you provide — and that are thus more likely to try your product if it relates to the answer.

Here’s an example:

In August 2018 there was a lot of talk about edge computing — but there seemed to be widely divergent definitions of what that meant. I jumped on the trend by writing What the f*** is the edge? on the Arcentry blog.

Pageviews for “What the f*** is the edge?”

The article spiked at 24.673 pageviews on the first day, a Sunday and accumulated a total of 30.189 views over the next three days before it pretty much dropped back to 0.
Out of 30.189 visitors, 1.173 went to the homepage to check out what the product is about and 62 signed up — resulting in a rather terrible conversion rate of 0.2%.

On the other side of the spectrum is a guide I wrote a while ago on Loadbalancing Websockets which has been generating a steady stream of about 60 new visitors every day for the last year and a half.

Pageviews for “Loadbalancing Websocket Connections”

Granted — writing this sort of content takes a bit more work and requires deep insight into a certain problem space — but it is very much worth it. Not only is it the #1 Google search result on the topic, but it sends highly relevant visitors, leading to a rather nice sign-up rate of 8.7%.

SEO vs Sign-Ups
But it would be short-sighted to focus on just page views and conversion rate: Short-term spikes related to news-worthy events have the benefits of being frequently quoted and shared on social media — leading to high numbers of backlinks and a boosted search engine rating for your site at large.

Reader Numbers vs Engagement Depth
Our data shows that the longer a reader spends on an article, the more likely they are to continue to your home or product page and to ultimately sign up.
But only up to a point. This point seems to be around 3:40 min. After that, readers are likely to continue whether they’ve been reading for five or fifteen minutes.

This suggests that it is crucial to capture your reader’s attention early on — and true enough: articles I wrote that start with an anecdote, personal observation or interesting fact generate consistently higher conversion than technical guides etc. that dive right into the matter.

Part 2
Alright, so much for part 1. In part two we’ll discuss strategies for converting readers to customers, how to weave your product into your content, how to funnel readers from your blog to your signup or product page and how to publicize your articles.

And again — if I can help your tech or software writing, feel free to reach out at wolfram@arcentry.com

founder of https://arcentry.com/, co-founder of https://deepstreamhub.com/, ok-ish husband and best friend to the world's fluffiest dog.