How to successfully blog as a developer (in 2020)

In this post, I show you what I learned over the last 1,5 years about blogging. In those 1,5 years, I transitioned from a researcher and software engineering position at Microsoft to running an independent consultant and training business. The blog plays an important part in my success.

Contrary to conventional wisdom which says that blogging on a regular schedule is “needed”, I blog without any schedule. Still, I managed to grow my business which highly depends on my blog from nothing to exceeding my salary at Microsoft within the first year.

Here is my take on what it takes to successfully blog as a developer.

There are many things you can do when it comes to blogging and growing your readership. I’d like to see this similar to the Pyramide of Needs, as things you really “Must Do”, things you “Should Do” and some you “Might do”.

The Must Do of Blogging

The next three steps will build your foundation. I think those are the most valuable ones, and you should not skip one of them.

1: Understand your goals

First, I suggest you think about WHY you are blogging. What are your goals? What do you want to achieve through blogging?

Common reasons to blog are:

  • Enforcing your own learning
  • Improving your ability to express yourself
  • Demonstrating your skills and knowledge
  • Giving back to the community
  • Enhancing your network
  • Improving your marketability
  • Building a (side) business
  • Validating ideas
  • Serving your future self

Why is it important to understand your goal? Well, because this determines your actions. If you blog mainly for enforcing your own learning or improving your understanding, you will blog very differently than if you want to build a side business based on your blog.

So depending on your goals, your “success” metrics change.

For example, when you blog to enforce your learning, you do not even need readers. There is no need to promote and grow your blog. If you blog to improve your communication skills, the feedback of one or two people is enough. Even if you blog to enhance your marketability and demonstrate your skills, you do not need a large readership. One hiring manager that’s impressed by your blog, is all it takes to get this next new position.

2: Own your content & domain

It might not seem like a big deal to have your content live on another site than your own. But, in the long-term it is. So, independent of your goals for blogging, I’d always suggest owning your content and have your own domain. Each time a person likes your content and links to it, the link will be “yours”. I had to learn that lesson the hard way.

During my Ph.D., I blogged on “my” university website. A few years after I left, they migrated to a new CMS. But, moving the content of former employees was not a priority to the University. Leaving me without my content, and with hundreds of broken links all over the internet. Those links would be extremely valuable to have.

3: Build Relationships

Building authentic and deep relationships with people around you (also on the Internet) is the most valuable and most impactful action you can take. Do not fret about audiences, readers, likes, and all other vanity metrics. But reach out to others and really get to know them. Those relationships and friendships will mean success in the long run.

You can reach out via social networks, local meetups, email, and all other mediums you can imagine. It takes time, and you do not have to befriend hundreds of people. But, having a small but close circle of friends and supporters is definitely invaluable.

Should Do of Blogging

If you do all the previous steps, you are already set. But, there are a few more steps you can do, especially if you want to grow your blog that help you accelerate.

4: Credibility & Authenticity

Start with what you know, or what you are passionate about, or what you currently learn. Do not masquerade as an expert or authority if you are not.

Think about what makes you “credible” and stay “authentic”. The internet is full of false information and people calling themselves experts without having neither experience nor knowledge in a specific field.

Even though this might work short term, it’s better for your long-term success (and your consciousness) to stay authentic and credible. You can become an expert in a field while blogging and writing about it. Just be honest with your readers.

5: Think about Your Readers

Most people think about themselves – all the time. When it comes to blogging, and especially when you want to reach others with your writing, it’s important to think about them first.

What do they need to know? What do they get out of your blog post? How can you increase the value for them?

You should also think about how you can help them return to your site. For that, it’s extremely valuable to build a mailing list so you can inform them of new posts. Here, the advice of point 1 counts as well. While social media or other platforms will accelerate your growth, having a list that you own and control brings you a lot of independence and value in the long run. Meaning: build your own mailing list. Don’t rely on Twitter, websites, etc.

6: Syndicate Your Content

You can syndicate your content to other sites. This means, that you copy your content on other blogs. BUT, make sure you set the ‘canonical URL’ meta tag. This tag shows search engines that the original source of this piece is on your site. This also means you will get the so-called SEO juice when other sites link to the syndicated content. Even more important, your site will not be seen as “plagiarizing” your own content. Which might happen if you do not set the canonical URL.

Syndication is helpful to tap into the audiences of other platforms and sites. It can give your blog the boost it needs to start getting traction. Sites to syndicate are, for example, Hashnode, Dev.to, Hackernoon, Medium (Publications), and many others.

7: Create an Organic Flywheel through Basic SEO

If you lay the groundwork of SEO optimizations, your future self will be very thankful. Considering a few meta tags, the right content structure, keywords, and search intent will allow you to tap into search traffic. This means people will find your site because they are searching for it. That way, several dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people will be on your site every day, without you promoting it.

Might Do Blogging

8: Niche Down

When you “niche down”, you write about one specific topic or niche instead of about whatever comes to your mind. The advantages of niching down are that you need to produce less content, you reach expert status faster, you will be remembered more easily. Narrowing your field is something you can do, but you surely do not have to. It really depends on your goals, and how much time you have (and many other things). Examples of people that used the niche down approach are Kent C. Dodds, with testing, Peter of no CS degree (you get the niche, right?), Rosie Sherry focusing on community building. I myself, specialize in code reviews – as you might know ;-).

9: Be strategic about your content

This means you can research what people are looking for. You can make strategic decisions about writing posts focusing on trends (which might bring a lot of traffic but age fast), or evergreen content. Well, there is no limit to the strategic thinking you can apply to your content. I think, much more important than all the keyword research and planning is thinking about your readers (no. 5) and building relationships. This will organically inform your content strategy.

10: Grow your readership

You can grow your readership by guest blogging on other sites and through the relationships you build. Maybe someone recommends your content to their readers? Maybe you can invite someone to guest blog on your side in return?

You can also promote your content via social media, and sites like HackerNews, Reddit, Facebook, and many more. Be aware that those might bring you traffic, but that the quality of this traffic might be questionable. This means that a viral Hackernews post might bring 10.000 or more people to your site. But only a small fraction of those will be people genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

Well, that’s it. As a summary, please focus on your goals for blogging, on owning your content and domain, and on building deep relationships.

Everything else is extra and depends on your “why”. Why do you blog? Finally, remember Steve Jobs:

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time”

So, happy and successful blogging.

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Dr. Michaela Greiler

I help companies improve their software development processes, like code reviewing or software testing. I work for corporations such as Microsoft, but also help smaller businesses and start-ups to ensure a productive, satisfying and efficient software engineering process.

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