Why Nobody Read your Tech Article, and How to Fix it
When I started a blog, I never thought 20,000 people would read anything I wrote, let alone something about programming.
Why? The stats for a new blog are stark.
One study discovered that after 2 years and 8 months, the average British blogger had only 285 subscribers and earned $120 a month. $120 a month is a far cry from supporting yourself with writing.
The situation is worse for people who don’t stick with it. I gave up on several blogging projects after getting discouraged a few months in. Article after article of 0 likes and 0 shares can be extremely disheartening.
But the truth is those blogs deserved to die a death of anonymity because they were boring. I had written self serving, unentertaining content, and I didn’t know any better.
In 2015, the internet is still driven by written content. And there’s a ton of horrible content out there.
When you blog, you’re competing for attention. Why should anyone read what you write? There are thousands of other bloggers in your niche, and there are thousands of books on Amazon that explain your topic better. That’s only in your area! Why should someone read your article instead of watching House of Cards? Or when they could be on the latest smartphone app, or playing around with a video game, or browsing their friends on Facebook?
Plus the problem is getting worse, not better. Platforms like Medium, Svbtle, and Ghost encourage us all to write, and a lot of people do. You HAVE to stand out from all this writing. Otherwise yours will be marginal and ignored, and your blog will die like mine did.
Writing stuff that gets read is hard. Personally, I’ve written a lot of crap that never went anywhere. But some of it has done pretty well. Not rockstar well. But well enough to make me thrilled that I wrote it.
The change came when I found “info-entrepreneurs”, people who make a living by selling information.
When you work in tech like me, you exist in a bubble. You read Tech and StartUp blogs, blogs of Venture capitalists, and people who are well known in Tech. My reading consisted almost entirely of Hacker News, Slashdot, and TechCrunch.
But I realized we can learn a lot from anyone in self-help, dating, or weight loss. Before you roll your eyes, realize that these people actually make their living through their online businesses. That’s more than many tech entrepreneurs can say.
Info-entrepreneurs write in an engaging, entertaining style, and their livelihood survives through the success of their content.
So, I studied these folks, examined their writing styles, and did what they advised. When I followed the new format, my second post got more points on Hacker News than anything I’d ever written. My third one hit the front page.
Here are a few things I learned.
1) Who is your audience?
As readers, we’re all narcissists. We want whatever we’re reading to apply to us. If it doesn’t, we click away.
For me, step number one was stepping outside of myself and determining who my audience was. Was I writing for programmers or people trying to start blogs? Was I writing for my family or executives?
Jon Morrow from boostblogtraffic.com recommends creating a 2 column list for your prospects – one for fears and another for desires.
What are programmers scared of? What are their dreams?
I’m sure you’ve read a piece of content that “resonated” with you, something that made you feel completely understood. Whether consciously or unconsciously, that author was doing what I just described. She understood your fears or desires, and exploited them.
This isn’t bad. You want someone who writes just for you.
2) Forget what you have to say. Focus on what the reader needs to hear.
When I used to write, I’d work from the following mindset: I’ve been toying with this idea for the last week or two, thinking about it constantly. Won’t everyone think what I say is so cool, original and awesome?
Everyone likes to hear themselves talk. Especially about things they find interesting.
But here’s the problem: if it doesn’t relate to your audience, nobody will care. If it doesn’t line up with your audience’s fears and desires, odds are you’ll have a piece of content that flops.
So don’t write anything until you’ve guaranteed that what you’re about to say lines up with your audience. If it doesn’t, don’t bother writing. It’s not worth yours or the reader’s time. The world is already flooded by self-serving content.
Occasionally one of those ideas will align. When that happens, write away!
3) You want to be Polarizing.
If you do this correctly, some people will hate you.
For me this was hard. On an intellectual level, I understood that some people would disagree with me. But when you’re being called obnoxious in blog comments and on Twitter, unexpected emotions surface.
It made me want to crawl under a desk and hide.
People on the internet can be brutal. Just cross your fingers that you won’t be publicly shamed like happens so often these days.
Here’s the thing about being polarizing:
Some people will hate you, but the ones who like you will really like you. Your writing will resonate with them. You weren’t afraid to say what they’ve been thinking. You’ll be a leader because of that, and a source of authority.
How do you become polarizing?
1) Be Yourself. You don’t have to try. I guarantee you already have opinions on topics that will piss the hell out of people. By being vulnerable and stating that opinion, you’ll be polarizing by default.
2) Use direct language. Don’t hem and haw in your writing. I’m guilty of this a lot.
I believe, that he probably doesn’t have very good social skills.
A better sentence would be:
He has terrible social skills.
The first case is ambiguous. The author is scared of saying something controversial, so he uses wishy-washy language to soften the blow. Specifically, he says “I believe”, even though it’s his writing, so of course he believes it! The words “probably” and “very” serve the same purpose.
Writing this way will make people think, either consciously or subconsciously, that you’re afraid of what they’ll think. Your readers will sense this weakness, and you’ll lose respect for it.
4) Headlines Matter. A Lot.
My first title was “No Really, Don’t Ask For Help”. I posted it to Hacker News, it accumulated 3 points, and then it was gone. I got a surge of 100 visitors and then my article was done.
So I said screw it, changed the title, and re-posted. This time, I got thousands of views within the first hour. The new article immediately got 25 points on Hacker News, landed on the homepage, and continued going viral.
The final title I chose was “Why Rockstar Developers Don’t ask For Help.”
It’s obnoxious, and full of click bait. I think most software engineers are annoyed by the term “Code Ninja” or “Rockstar.” But it worked.
Part of me felt wrong choosing that title because I felt like one of the headline writers for the “Recommended Articles” at the bottom of news sites.
- “5 Celebrities who have weird tattoos.”
- “Trainers hate him.”
- “Dentists hate her. She uses this one weird trick to get whiter teeth.”
These headlines are annoying because we’ve all clicked on them. And then we feel ashamed that we clicked on crap that wasted our time. The writers of those headlines know us too well. They’re manipulative.
It feels weird to “game” your headline to get people to click through. But we all use similar manipulation whenever we’re speaking and whenever we’re writing. Sales is manipulation. Convincing others is manipulation.
And if you have a great piece of content that can genuinely help people, then you should do your best to get people to read it. Understand human nature, and use the tricks at your disposal. You’re depriving your readers of a great piece of content if you don’t.
I believed in my article. I wanted to emphasize self reliance in Software Development because it helped me, and I hoped it would help others.
5) You have to do some promotion.
Many of us are embarrassed to show off our work. It can be hard when you know you’ve put yourself out there, and there will undoubtedly be some people who tell you your work sucks.
But you have to DO something.
Share to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Post your article to a community where you know your audience hangs out.
Don’t be shy. Otherwise you wasted your time writing.
6) Edit, edit, edit, and edit
I look back to posts I wrote a few years ago, and I cringe.
They’re completely un-edited. I thought they were finished when I had written what I needed to say.
Experienced writers know this is crap. The majority of your time should be spent editing, revising, and rewriting. Me being “finished” should have been the beginning.
The following resources were most useful when learning about editing.
- Strunk And White: The Elements of Style. The most important advice in there: “Remove needless words”.
- On Writing by Steven King. Just read it.
- The Post: 7 Simple Edits that will make your Writing 100% More Powerful by Jon Morrow.
Think of your writing as a small piece of gold, surrounded by a huge hunk of crap. Your goal with editing is to expose the gold.
I love when Jon Morrow says
You know your writing heroes? Would you be shocked to learn that their writing is no better than yours?
Sure, the end product is better, but the first draft is just as clumsy, flabby, and downright difficult to read as any of your own writing efforts.
Most people don’t take the time to edit. You’ll have a huge advantage by doing so.
Nowadays, the WordPress revision count hits 40-50 for one of my posts.
7) Remember that everyone has something to write about.
Most people don’t think they have anything to say that other people would want to listen to.
I fell into this mindset for a long, long time.
Here’s the thing:
There are probably areas in your life that you’re extremely proud of. Maybe you have a sweet job. Maybe you’re extremely happy. Maybe you have an amazing relationship. Are you in great shape? Do you have tons of friends? Did you go on an awesome trip? Do you have a hobby you’re really good at? Do you make a lot of money? Do you have 0 debt? Maybe you have a great relationship with your kids. Maybe you overcame some horrible addiction or depression.
The list goes on and on and on. And I’m sure there’s one of those attributes that would overlap with the desires or fears of your audience. Once you start focusing on all the awesome things in your life, you’ll start to see attributes that tons of people would love to emulate. Just explain how you got there.
It’s obnoxious to explain how awesome your life is, but you might help someone at the same time. Brag away!
Do you have more tips to add here? Leave me a comment below.