A Developer's Guide to Content Marketing

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Content marketing can be a prime method for us developers to reach a broader audience. It allows us to attract more eyes to our development work, be it open source projects or commercially-intended side-projects. But this isn’t the only upside of writing about your work.

The term “marketing potential” may make your neck hair stand up, but it’s basically writing blog articles and sharing them as wide as possible. Before content marketing is going to bear any fruits you first need to understand the core concepts. The following guide should give you a starting point on your journey to understanding content marketing and basic search-engine optimization (SEO).

What Is Content Marketing? And Why Should Developers Care?

Content marketing is a bit of a fancy term for what is, at its core, blogging. You are writing articles (content) to drive more attention to your work. You can achieve a number of things at once with this. You don’t just drive more attention to your passion projects, you can also position yourself as an expert in your area and build valuable backlinks to your work as well as profiles on, for example, GitHub and StackOverflow.

There is another upside which applies in particular to developers: Many websites are happy to accept technical articles from developers. The content is highly valued as learning to code, being self-taught like myself or in the form of courses, is high in demand. While the industry is changing rapidly, software engineering is becoming a universally desirable skill.

What Are the Core Concepts to Know?

Writing articles is a good starting point, but not enough. Same as “built it and they will come” doesn’t work anymore; you can’t just write articles without any research and hope they will magically rank on Google. Hope is not a strategy. Continue to learn more about what you need to know to rank.

Keywords

Instead of hoping, you should start with research: What is in demand? What are people searching for? Google’s auto-suggest is giving you good starting points. There are also free and paid tools which can help. AnswerThePublic is collecting information about commonly asked questions. The free version gives you quite a lot of insights already. Ahrefs is a paid keyword tool. It also provides great backlink data - we will chat about this later on. If you want to compare two keywords or topics, you can also check Google Trends.

The Reason for the Search - the Search Intent

One more concept you should be aware of is “search intent”. Whenever you head to Google (or DuckDuckGo, if you value your privacy) you have expectations regarding the outcome of your search. You either want a solution to your problem, to navigate somewhere or to research a topic. You aren’t alone with this intent. The number of searches have trained Google and Co. to present what is meeting the desire. If you want to rank, your articles should match the search intent for the keyword.

Slug, Title and Headings

Your URL-slug (e.g. “my-article” in “https://domain.com/my-article”), your H1-heading and content should repeat the main keyword you plan to rank for. Besides this, your content should, of course, contain related information with synonyms, etc. The previously mentioned keyword tools give you guidance on what to include.

What Do I Need to Know about Links?

As a developer you probably set links more often than anyone else. Besides the functional side of links, developers often aren’t fully aware of the core meaning behind links: The search-giant Google considers a link as a “vote of confidence”. This being said, not all links are created equally.

Some links are flagged as “nofollow” or “ugc” (user-generated content). These links are disadvantaged in the ranking algorithm. Only if a link does not contain “nofollow” or “ugc” in the “rel”-attribute does it help your project or product to rank. JavaScript applications are still an issue here as links are generated on the fly. A simple solution is a static site generator without much JavaScript on the frontend.

Once you know the difference between links you need to know about one more form of external reference: Canonical links. A canonical link is a head-tag similar to a meta tag. These tags tell Google what the original source of an article is. These are usually set to avoid issues with duplicate content (bad for ranking). But also external sites allow you to set a canonical tag. Some of them you probably know already: hackernoon, dev.to and hashnode. You can republish your content on these sites and receive a canonical link back to your original source. If you want to deep dive into the topic, learn how to optimize the reach of your already written articles more.

Where Does Social Media Come Into Play?

Nothing is easier than pasting your article URL and clicking on the little blue button labeled “tweet” to get a backlink to your site, right? Yes and no; unfortunately links on social media sites are usually nofollow. No quick win here. On top of this, the average lifespan of a post on social media is rather low. But there is still value in sharing your articles on social media.

One thing upfront: For any social media sites, a proper social sharing image is important. There are developer-friendly graphic tools like Stencil to generate these. Don’t worry, it’s not a photoshop-like application at all. Just a simple web application with minor drag and drop. Most people are rather visual, so without an engaging sharing image your click-through rates will be very low. 

If you are running audio-only events, for example on Clubhouse. A service like Clublink can do the magic and help you to promote it. Make sure to familiarize yourself with Clubhouse.

Twitter

Twitter gives you access to a wide range of users. From railway enthusiasts to musicians to software engineers you will find them all on Twitter. Sharing your posts is super simple, but the attention your post receives depends heavily on the number of followers you already have. If you haven’t got any followers, your tweet will not get much attention. Twitter threads (replying to your own tweets) is a great way to provide actual value instead of just posting your links. Thereby you increase the chances to gain followers and retweets.

Facebook

Facebook Pages have a similar flow compared to tweets. Your post only gets attention if you already have an audience. You can share your posts in Facebook groups (as long as you consider the rules). Here again you are better off providing actual value instead of simply pasting your links. Summarize your article and refer to the blog article for details. Naturally, the attention is rather short-lived and you will only get a nofollow link.

Reddit

The only noteworthy exception to the nofollow are posts on Reddit. The body part of a post on Reddit provides a follow link. On top of this you potentially receive a substantial amount of traffic coming from the post as well. But be wary: Reddit is known for very strict rules and lazy posts won’t be received with open arms. Providing value is key: Write a proper post with valuable information, insights or statistical data and interpretation of the information and append your link to the end of your post.

Where to get started: Bringing it all together

Bringing it all together: You start with researching ideas to find topics with traffic, write a post matching the search intent and promote it across a few channels mentioned above. Your overall traffic increases a little with each good article. 

Here it turns into work more than an art. Regular writing produces regular results. If you can produce read-worthy content on a regular basis you will get more and more attention for your work. With a bit of luck you might even start having websites reaching out to pay you for writing articles.

Publicado 11 marzo, 2021

Peter Thaleikis

Senior Software Engineer and Tech Writer

Former lead developer taking the leap into freelancing. Experience with a long list of technologies over the last decent. Mostly focused on Laravel and SilverStripe (both PHP-based) and VueJS and VanillaJS. Frontend experience with Bootstrap and TailwindCSS. I also like to write articles about technology and startups culture. Please see my website for references. I can assist with editing, negoti...

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