What to Write About

writing

Building a product isn’t easy, but at least you’re in control of the result.

On the other hand, once you’ve built that great new thing, it can be frustratingly hard to actually get people to even find out it exists. It sometimes feels like no matter what you do, you’re doomed from the start if you don’t know the right people or can’t just buy traffic outright.

My own personal answer to this problem has been Content Marketing, otherwise known as “writing” (but “Content Marketing” sounds so much fancier…).

(Quick plug: my new project Sidebar gives you the 5 best design links of the day. You should go check it out!)

Writing is hit or miss too (after all, how do you get people to find out about the posts you’re writing to let people find out about your product…), but at least it’s creative, it’s a great skill to work on, and a single popular blog post can keep on bringing in traffic for many months or even years.

But the big question is, what can you write about? Here are a couple suggestions that have worked well for me over time.


Be The Expert

If you’re an expert on something, the most obvious topic is your area of expertise.

The magic of this approach is that you don’t even need to actively sell anything. If you can establish yourself as an authority on the topic, people will come to trust you and naturally buy your product.

Of course, make sure you write about a topic that’s relevant to your customers. Writing about your back-end architecture will go over great with the technical crowd but it won’t do much for your bottom line if your product’s target demographic is actually fishing enthusiasts.

Example:


Don’t Be The Expert

But maybe you’re only starting out and don’t have any special knowledge to share?

No matter, you can still write from the perspective of a beginner. After all, most people are also beginners. This means they’ll identify with you and be curious to know what path you’re taking.

A great example of this is all those “Here’s How I Learned Rails in 6 Months” posts. A post entitled “Here’s How I Learned To Be Somewhat Decent At Rails After 10 Years of Hard Work” would not have the same appeal, even though its author is probably much more competent.

Example:


Write About Your Competitors

Another good angle is reviewing other apps in your space. If you’re afraid of appearing biased, simply frame the products you talk about as complements to your own instead of competitors.

Don’t get me wrong though, this is not about comparing your own product to others in hopes of making it look good. The goal here is still to become an authority on your topic of choice, and that implies being fair and objective, even if that means your own product doesn’t come out on top in every category.


Write About Your Process

Another great topic is writing about the process of building and launching your product. So if you’re building an app, you could write about things like iOS development, or how you found a designer for your logo.

Again, being an expert at all those things is not required. Even if you suck at coding, seeing what you’ve achieved with the skills that you do have is still an interesting data point for readers.

In my opinion, it’s almost always more interesting to read about what somebody actually did than about somebody’s idea of what people should do.

Example: 


Write About Your Failures

Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar: you’ve never heard of a particular startup, until the day when it finally closes doors and its farewell post pops up everywhere. I’m sure they could’ve used the attention when they were still alive!

I don’t know if it’s schadenfreude, or just wanting to learn from other’s mistakes, but posts about failures are always popular. So don’t be shy and tell us all about that time when your PHP developer stole your app idea and ran away with your wife.

Examples:


Write About Money

Writing about anything money-related is a surefire way to get people’s attention. Whether you write about your product’s pricing, how much you paid for something, or how much you made, there’s nothing like putting a dollar sign in your post’s title to stimulate people’s curiosity.

Example:


Write About Data

The vast majority of writing on the Internet (including my own) is of the “Here’s what I think, and you should trust me because I have my own blog” variety.

So if you can actually back what you’re saying with hard data, you’ll instantly have an advantage over everybody else.

Of course it’s not easy to get that data in the first place, since you generally need a lot of data points (i.e. customers) to be able to discern meaningful trends. Still, you can often use surveys or even paid studies (using Amazon Mechanical Turk or similar sites) to produce interesting insights.

Example:


Learning by Example

The easiest way to find topics to write about is probably to check out other blogs. Here are a few very popular blogs that we can all learn from:

Notice that the Intercom guys care about their blog so much that they gave it its own domain (and also hired me to design it!).


Do you have other ideas? Have you noticed certain topics that seem to catch people’s attention? I would love to hear back from you, so just let me know in the comments here on over at Hacker News.

Note: this article was originally sent out in my newsletter. Sign up now to receive design tips like this once a week, and in addition you’ll also receive my Color Theory for Startups eBook for free.

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