Writing technology, science and programming blogs, or simply writing for technology savvy readers can have unique challenges. They are often more critical, not as loyal to a single blog source, and are difficult to keep engaged. The ten tips I share here should help attract this finicky audience, and keep them coming back for more.
1. Write a Timeless Topic in Sync With Modern Technology
Mind mapping is a great exercise (read more on Mind Mapping on this previous ProBlogger post). Write a central key word on a piece of paper, circle it, and then start branching out interrelated ideas from there. You will find quickly that if you start with the word technology, there is a lot to discover. Not all key phrases and ideas will immediately appear to be related, but as you step back for a little introspection, some interesting topics should begin to surface.
One article I wrote that continues to drive traffic is interview questions for programmers. At the time of the posting it received a mild response, but now that more folks in the technology sector are being put out of work, they are looking for any advantage they can get. Similar posts on updating resumes, cover letters, and general self-marketing tactics specifically geared toward science and technology job seekers are on the rise.
Tips on resume writing have been around for decades, but syncing them up with technology during a recession is what gives you a boost in popularity. Uncover those relationships that others might not recognize, and you will have a wealth of information to publish.
2. Find an Already Discovered Niche, and Give It Some Much Needed Attention
One of the most popular tips that bloggers give out is to find a niche that you would enjoy writing about that no else has discovered. I would argue, find a niche that has been discovered, and give it the attention it deserves from a unique perspective.
Technology, even as broad a spectrum as it is, receives a lot of coverage. This means that there is a high level of saturation, but there are also a lot of not-so-great posts floating around as well. These could be anything from product and service reviews, to coverage of green technology. How much have you heard about a green, renewable, sustainable energy source?
Too much to be sure. It could be though, that there are technology micro-niches that have yet to be filtered through to the mainstream. Try to draw conclusions from several other articles, and find the hidden sub- topics they are afraid to touch that you know your readers will appreciate.
3. Discover Your Reader’s Technology of Choice, and Milk It Dry
Your reader’s predilection for certain technologies will unveil itself over time. Did you ever stumble across a Web site that covers a lot of Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple hardware and software? You wonder why they refuse to move onto something new and exciting. There is a reason for that. Their readers want more, and keep coming back for more. So they keep giving it to them. This is actually not a bad thing.
Novel authors often talk about how their characters develop themselves, and how the story begins to take shape around unexpected behaviors. I used to wonder how that can be the case — they are the ones writing the story, not their characters! However, if you run a blog you will soon understand that this type of thing happens naturally. The technology is like a character, and you are merely making it the protagonist in the plot line.
This is where analytics can also be a key factor in how your writing evolves around specific topics. Dig deep for search key terms in order to get a better sense for what search engines consider your area of expertise. For an indicator of what your readers think, check out a social- bookmarking service like Delicious, and see what posts are being bookmarked.
4. Understand That the Technical Aptitude of Your Readership and the Technical Aptitude Required to Read Your Posts are Directly Proportional to Traffic
Even if you have the technical chops to write about it, the more complicated a topic is, the less likely you are to draw in grassroots readers. This was a hard lesson I had to learn when writing about programming techniques and technologies. I always get a greater response, and an increase in readership, when I write about topics that have a broader appeal. In other words, HTML and CSS tips do well. A tip on outputting MySQL query results to an XML file from the command prompt does not.
Of course, you can still tackle the tough stuff, but it is better done in chunks, or a series of posts. A steady buildup where you can educate readers along the way will be helpful because it teaches while informing. Keep in mind though that if you decide to get nitty-gritty, you risk shifting the audience focus. The expectations will then be much higher.
There are also occasions when it is acceptable to tackle the tough stuff, keeping the focus instead on the human interest element. When Wired News posted an article on Dan Kaminksy, a security expert who found a flaw in DNS, many hackers claimed the post was soft on the technology details. Yet, it was still a great read for a wider audience because it was an intriguing look into the underbelly of the Internet.
5. Play Referee in a Game of Dueling Technologies
Remember the old saying, any publicity is good publicity? Some bloggers feel the same way about readership. The attitude is that controversy sells, and so any controversy is good controversy. With technology savvy readers this can backfire. Entire camps are formed around brands, services and products, and being purposefully mean-spirited can ruin future opportunities to pull in new readers.
A better approach is to critically compare two technologies, making sure that one of them is your reader’s technology of choice. This way you can play referee through the community, allowing discussions to form without explicitly taking sides. These one-to-one comparisons are advantageous because they encourage comments, and they educate simultaneously.
Around the holiday season this is a great trick to use for product reviews. Used in conjunction with an affiliate relationship and a solid review system, you are generating a “sticky” revenue stream. Dueling technologies do the work, and you get income in return.
6. Do Not Always Be the First to Discover New Technology, but Always Be the Best At Reviewing It
Traditional media outlets have one rule to live by when it comes to getting the news — get it first, and get it fast. Some blogs covering technology conferences or a new product release take the same approach. Engadget, Gizmodo and TechCrunch all do that well. They are a tough act to follow, and have an army of authors posting up to a dozen times per day.
Being first on the scene is a dangerous game to play for those of us unable to manage such a schedule. There are alternatives. Instead of being first, take the extra time to write an in-depth analysis. Being constantly barraged with half-baked statements and high-level coverage will only engage technology savvy readers for so long. Get into the details and give your posts personal attention.
You can even write follow-ups, or have a guest author cover the same technology from a different viewpoint. Post both articles at the same time, and let your readers decide. Magazines have been doing that for years.
7. Be a Part of the Culture, Not a Sellout for “The Man”
Are you in management, or even middle-management within the technology sector? You have your work cut out for you when it comes to convincing readers you are a part of the solution, and not the problem. Technology savvy readers are cynics, and are typically cynical of corporate entities. That includes managers who are expected to toe the company line. Be willing to expect this reaction, and address it clearly.
Never do product, service or conference reviews for the company you work for unless you fully disclose it to your readers. Most people know that employees, especially managers, are required not to publically speak ill of their employer. This can have a negative affect on how your coverage is perceived, and can cause you to lose credibility.
On the other hand, if you can identify with co-workers, are tapped into the culture, and become known as a bastion of hope, then you can really generate a solid following. Not only do you have the expertise, but you have the position to back up your statements.
8. Stick To What You Know, and Research Like Mad What You Do Not
Never pretend to be an expert. However, a humble and exciting review of technology can still garner a good deal of traffic. Actually, posting a new-to-the-scene article is a great way to benefit from commentary by experienced technology professionals. Exploring old concepts and ideas with wonderment can help to alleviate some of the dry material your readers may have come across on other blogs.
The trick is to use that energy and excitement to explore in greater depth those technical questions you have been meaning to answer. Do not be afraid to use age-old journalism tactics to make it happen. Call up experts, even if they are friends and family, and get quotes and data. All bloggers writing on any topic should be willing to pound the pavement to get a great story.
You should also have a long list of well organized research bookmarks and even hard copy papers. Do not be content with Wikipedia, or else you will only be scratching the surface. Your readers deserve an author who is detail oriented.
9. Put Together a Technology Review Like You Would a How-to Manual
Paid technology reviews are easy to spot, and are referred to by some as a fine bit of navel-gazing. They are self-absorbing, and until you read a more honest review elsewhere, you are simply distracted for a short time. Automobile magazines in the US are well known for this, and are criticized for softening critiques of poor performing cars and trucks. If they are to post a no-holds-barred review, they risk being black-listed by manufacturers.
Try not to fall into the same trap. Write technology reviews like you are a customer who uses the product or service every day of your life. If you want to know if others feel as you do, or if you are glossing over trouble spots, check out the comments from readers on other blogs. Read The Consumerist to get a better understanding of how real people react to real problems with technology. Write from that perspective.
If you do get paid, or are compensated for the expenses involved with a review, be sure to fully disclose that fact. It will help to strengthen your credibility with readers.
10. Take Heart in Knowing That Technology Savvy Readers Are Cynics, but Form a Great Community
As I mentioned in the introduction, technology savvy readers tend to be critical, and are even a tad cynical. Do not be disheartened if an above average number are unsympathetic to your hard work and effort to write quality material. Be respectful in your response, though, and learn to glean from comments exactly what improvements can be made. Remember, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
This is the best way to learn what your audience is really after when reading about technology. Do they want to know more about the who’s who in the industries you cover? Do they want a barrage of alternate reference materials? Maybe they want the fine details and hard-science involved with the products you review? They might be inventors and entrepreneurs in need of information on being involved personally.
Find the time to answer these questions, and you will keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.