Developing software or, as developers say, coding, is great. The feeling you get when you work on a tricky problem, you hit save, alt+tab to your browser, try it out and it works is just amazing. Very few feelings can surpass this “yay”-moment for software engineers.
This feeling is even stronger if you are working on your personal passion - your side-project. You might even hope this becomes your full-time “job” some day. You already mentally see people using and loving your project. You see the long hours in front of your screen paying off. You feel as if it’s worth spending your time on this instead of going out, meeting friends or family.
The feeling fades away quickly when you notice that your work isn’t attracting any curious eyes. In our busy world full of distractions, your project might drown between the next upcoming crisis, opinion pieces or cute kittens. But there is a quite simple solution in sight: content marketing. In this post, I want to explain why content marketing can be useful to you as a developer and give you some tips to get started using content marketing to promote your work.
Content Marketing aka Blogging for Developers
Content Marketing is essentially writing articles and publishing them. You don’t need to be a professional writer to write. You can start with writing articles for your own personal blog. If you haven’t got a personal blog yet, don’t sweat the options and choices - stick to the technology you know and which works for you. You can find plenty of options here on Stackbit. Alternatively, StaticGen offers a comprehensive list of tools you can use.
Jump on startupnamecheck.com to check your social media avatars, handles and domains - it pays off to keep them consistent across all channels you are using. People will recognize you and your project. Avoid Medium, Blogspot and similar blog services as they don’t help your project to rank. The external links in their articles are usually nofollow, meaning you won’t receive "link juice" with these links. Link juice is an SEO term that describes the ability to pass ranking power in Google's eyes. Links don’t pass link juice if they are marked as rel=”nofollow”.
Discuss what you do and how you do it to document your story of building your project - and don’t be afraid to share too much. According to Alain de Bottom, people don’t connect with others over all-is-great and my-life-is-perfect. People connect on compassion for one’s mistakes and imperfections. So share your lessons learned and mistakes equally with your winning moments.
These articles build the base for getting into the next phase: Write articles to be published on other websites. As developers you have a wide range of websites happily accepting your relevant submissions: dev.to, Hashnode, Hackernoon, SitePoint and ProductHunt to name just a few. Keep an eye open as to where people publish articles - Twitter is your friend here. Again, write about your story and adjust the technical depth depending on the website audience. Don’t forget to include relevant links back to your project.
Speaking of “Links”
Links are the key part of making blogging work for you. As you’ve probably heard before, links signal to Google and other search engines a reference similar to a footnote in a book. You could say, it is a “vote of confidence” across the web. It comes down to this: the more (good) links point to a website, the higher the rank. If you want to understand this more in-depth you can read the original study by the Google founders.
To make links “good”, they need to be placed in a context somewhat relevant to the topic of the page you are linking to. The relevance shouldn’t be too narrow. For instance, if you are building a dog training app, you could look for sites focused on topics like “dogs” (or pets in general), “educational/training apps” or “pet training”. Here again, tailor your content for the audience and make sure to fit the tone of the blog.
There is one more piece of criteria you should know about. Your target blog should not just be relevant to the topic, it also should either give you a dofollow link or have a very active audience. There is little in it for you if you write content for a website which doesn’t get any visitors and doesn’t even give you a link with passing link juice to your project. To check if a website is actually receiving traffic you can use Ahrefs amazing site-explorer tool or use the free, basic tool by Neil Patel.
The next step might be a little surprising, but is actually quite logical: include links to your own articles. Same as articles pass link juice from the website publishing it to your project, you get the same benefit if you include a link to your articles. This helps your articles on other sites to rank higher and receive more traffic. With this, you receive more traffic as well. Of course, the website owner will be more than thankful for your support and probably more than happily work with you again. It’s a win-win.
Using social media to your Advantage
Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit can be great places to mention your work. The internal search engines are key starting points for finding relevant content. Once you find relevant questions or posts, you also find the right audiences with them. Follow people generously, as you can learn more from their other posts.
Before making your first posts, make sure to learn about the community standards. There are naturally different levels of moderation. When you are making a post make sure to mention that your reply is referring to your own project and you are looking for feedback or similar. This way, you avoid negative comments when people assume you only wanted to promote your work.
While these posts can drive substantial traffic, you are also at risk of getting sucked into the addictive side. Setting yourself clear limits can help with this.
Two more hints before closing off: keywords and headlines
While naturally writing your articles works in your favor, it doesn’t hurt to use the right words. Some terms are simply used more often. You can compare terms using Google Trends or a keywords tool such as searchvolume.io or ubersuggest. This helps your article to be found, by helping Google to understand it easier.
Headlines are what draws our initial attention in many cases. Don’t fall into the trap of writing click-bait headlines and communicate what your article is about instead. While you may get more clicks with click-bait, you aren’t making anyone happy. You will be less likely to get shares on social media and Google recognizes if people leave your articles as quickly as they found them. Crazyegg has shared a simplified approach to writing good headlines with examples to “fill in”. Write a few variations and test them by asking others or tweeting the different variations at the same time and see which one draws more attention. The latter approach requires a larger following before you can use it efficiently.
Bringing it together
That’s it! No magic. No big secrets. All you need is what you’ve already got in front of you and use on a daily basis: your laptop. The process is fairly simple and requires mostly putting your mind and fingers to work. Now it’s time to stop “learn procrastinating” by reading articles and starting to write articles.
About the Author
Peter Thaleikis is a passionate indie hacker and entrepreneur. He has built the previously mentioned Startup Name Check, Naming-Tools.com and other side-projects. The business side of his projects is run by Bring Your Own Ideas Ltd. If you are interested in more articles like this one you can subscribe to the occasional newsletter. Content marketing may not be a skill that comes naturally to many developers, but Peter Thaleikis shares his reasons why developers should care about it and advice on getting started with it.