How to be a Sort of Successful Software Blogger

Show & Tell - May 25, 2020

Michael Lynch (@deliberatecoder)

https://decks.mtlynch.io/show-and-tell-2020-05/

Biggest bang for your buck:
Pay for one professional review

  • You've got lots of blind spots that a professional editor can identify.
  • A good editor costs $75-150 to review 2,000 words.
    • Benefits compound for all future writing.
  • I still work with my editor about once a year for tune-ups.
  • Details: Why a Freelance Editor Was a Gamechanger for My Blog

Picking topics:
start at distribution

Pet shop owner: This little guy writes mysteries under the name JB MacGregor.
Lisa: How can a hamster write mysteries?
Pet shop owner: Well, he gets the ending first, then he works backwards.
-The Simpsons

  • How will people find my post?
    • Search
    • Reddit / Forums
    • Hacker News
    • Twitter
  • Continuous stream of new readers
  • Relies less on luck than landing a hit on social media
  • Not as exciting
    • No rush of going viral

Reddit (Pros)

  • Less reliant on luck in my experience
    • If I have a post that matches the subreddit, it does well.

Reddit (Cons)

  • Seemingly well-matched subs have many pitfalls
    • How many subscribers?
    • Do they accept external links?
    • Can I submit links to my own blog?
    • Do blogs like mine ever make it to their front page?
  • Discussion quality varies by subreddit
    • Some are filled with armchair experts

Hacker News (Pros)

  • The startup holy grail!
  • Huge amount of readers
  • Intelligent, professional discussion
    • Mostly
  • Causes big names to see and tweet about my posts
  • Broad range of interests

Hacker News (Cons)

  • Luck is a huge factor in hitting front page
  • Hard to predict what they'll like

Twitter

  • Never been a big source of readers for me
  • Sometimes my posts do well there after getting exposure on Reddit / HN
  • The dream: snowball effect
    • A 10k-follower user RTs, then a 100k-follower, then @BarackObama
  • Reality: Never happens to me
    • Probably the exception rather than the rule

This is why I can't blog about blogging

  • There are forums and social networks for bloggers, but…
    • They don't accept external links
    • They don't want people popping in to promote their own posts
  • Difficult to rank for almost any search term related to blogging

Posts about software / technology are easier to share

Traffic != success

I blog for a few different reasons

Why I blog:
Clarify my thinking

  • Writing out a post forces me to organize my thoughts
  • The clarity changes my future behavior and strategy

Why I blog:
Lead people to my products

Why I blog:
Improve SEO for my products

  • mtlynch.io
    • Ahrefs DR: 53
    • Moz DA: 46
  • Any project I start has a decent backlink out of the gate

Why I blog:
Establish credibility

  • I get good response on cold emails
  • I think it's because my email signature includes my blog
    • Not a random, faceless stranger

Why I blog:
Vanity

  • If I'm being honest
  • Fun to have people discuss my work
  • Nice to get feedback

Posts that did well

Why I Quit Google to Work for Myself

  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 339k
    • First year: 449k
  • Why it did well
    • People are interested in Google
    • People related to frustration with corp bureaucracy
    • Story with a beginning, middle, and end

How to Do Code Reviews Like a Human

  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 62k
    • First year: 123k
  • Why it did well
    • Taught a skill that's widely useful
    • Different angle from most articles on the topic

Building a Homelab VM Server

  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 923
    • First year: 75k
  • Why it did well
    • Approaches building homelab PC as a beginner
    • Easier for the reader to follow along than similar articles

Commonalities of the hits

  • Tell an engaging or fun story
  • Teach something broadly useful
  • Repackage existing ideas in a way people enjoy
  • Topics matches social media channels that accept external links

Posts that performed poorly

Note: The majority of pageviews come from visitors who arrived at my blog from another article.

Retrofitting Apps for Cloud Storage with Zero Code Changes

  • Synopsis: Forcing cloud storage backends onto legacy apps.
  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 300
    • First year: 1.6k
  • Why it performed poorly
    • Topic is overly narrow
    • People would never find it via search

How to Hire a Cartoonist to Make Your Blog Less Boring

  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 274
    • First year: 5.9k
  • Why it performed poorly
    • Blogging about blogging is too oversaturated for search
    • No viable social media channels to share it

How to Grow Quickly and Never Turn a Profit

  • Synopsis: Why I gave up on Is It Keto
  • Unique pageviews:
    • First week: 586
    • First year: 3k
  • Why it performed poorly
    • Social: Not exciting to read about failure unless it's spectacular
    • Search: Wouldn't rank for any useful queries

Commonalities of flops

  • Teach something overly specific
  • No social media channel that will accept them
  • No path to discovery through search
  • Title is not self-explanatory

Tracking article ideas

  • When I get new ideas, I write a title and shortform notes
  • I reorder the list based on what I'm most interested in writing
  • Topics can spend years in my queue

How I rank ideas

  • How excited am I to write this?
  • Do I have something unique to contribute?
  • Is there an audience interested in the topic?
  • Do I have a viable a channel to reach that audience?

Writing my first drafts

  • Just get all my ideas onto the page
  • Add headings if I can think of them, but don't worry about structure
  • Just keep writing continuously and don't stop to look anything up
    • I put TODOs in places where I want to add a link, look something up, or add an image.

Editing

  • Takes the longest time and is the most mentally taxing
  • Good writing crystallizes ideas, explains them clearly and succinctly
    • This is really hard!

What it looks like

Why so much time editing?

  • Results are not linear with effort
  • 10-100x difference being on front page of Google/Reddit/HN
    • Another 5-10x difference being in the #1 spot

Other tips

The hook: why should people read it?

  • This is the most common mistake I see.
    • Bloggers assume people have infinite patience to read their post and find the value.

The hook: why should people read it?

  • Establish in the first few sentences:
    • What is this post about?
    • What value will they gain by reading it?

You have two or three sentences to hook them. A paragraph if you're lucky.
-My editor

Original artwork:
criminally underused

  • Immediately makes your post stand out
  • Costs $20-60/image
    • Depends on artist and level of detail
  • Make a cover image that's 1.91:1 aspect ratio
    • Displays nicely in Twitter, Facebook, and (sort of) Reddit

More details: How to Hire a Cartoonist to Make Your Blog Less Boring

How hard is it to broaden accessibility?

Small changes often make my posts accessible to a much broader audience.

I stored the files on S3.

vs.

I stored the files on S3, Amazon's cloud storage service.

Read your post aloud

  • You catch so many more errors this way
  • Run your post through a grammar checker / spell checker
    • Grammarly's good, not great
    • Don't blindly trust your grammar checker

Questions?

  • I love talking about this, so feel free to ask me after too.