Blogging is one of the central activities at Container Solutions. We try to regularly publish blogs on a variety of topics, from technical pieces to articles on strategy or psychology. Personally, I’ve been blogging for at least a decade and would like to think I’ve learnt a few lessons on what works and what doesn’t. As everything is moving online at the minute, this seems a great chance to share my tips with everyone.
This guide contains advice not just on how to write a blog, but also what to write on and what to do to promote blogs after they are published. This is an opinionated guide I developed for internal use at Container Solutions, and I'm sure people will disagree with parts of it. That’s fine— one of the most important skills in blogging is to develop your own voice and style, which will likely mean adapting the advice before.
Blogging is a rewarding activity for which people have a diverse range of motivations. Some of the most common/important are:
So now that you’ve decided it’s worthwhile writing a blog, where should you start? If several people in your organisation are working on blogs, first make sure you coordinate with them. This will help avoid multiple people working on overlapping blogs or on topics that are already well covered. One big advantage I have at Container Solutions is that we employ our own editorial staff to help with editing and copywriting. This team makes sure that our blogs are clearly written and up-to-scratch, but also helps us decide on what to write about in the first place.
The best thing to write about is the thing you just did. It is fresh in your mind, so writing should be fast and easy. The second best thing to write on is the thing that you've been thinking about in the shower and on the commute to work (err, assuming that's something work related). The third best thing is to choose a topic you're interested in, research it, and write something up.
‘Best’ here is based on time—the longer it takes to write a blog, the less time you have for other stuff and the more likely you are to become bored and give up, or produce poorer quality work.
However, I absolutely do not mean you shouldn't write a blog if no topics spring to mind. At Container Solutions, we keep a list of topics that we want to create blog posts about, but if you don’t work here, there are a thousand places to find inspiration. Have a look around at what other people are writing about and see where your thoughts take you. With any luck, something will spark your interest and you'll find it naturally promotes itself to ‘the thing you think about in the shower’. Write about that.
There are a bunch of excuses people use to avoid writing blogs and most of them are mistaken:
There are lots of different types of blog posts, and, in my opinion, they're not all equal:
Or to give simpler advice, I'd recommend leaning towards writing ‘How-Tos’.
If you're smart, you can merge categories. For example, Ian Miell has had a lot of success on his blog with ‘Things I learned about X’ and ‘X Things I wish I knew about Y’ posts, which is arguably a how-to merged with a list article.
So you've decided what you want to write about. Now comes the hard bit.
The most important advice I can give you is:
After that, I have some more minor suggestions:
Other than that, I would refer you to other sources that have written much more eloquently on technical writing than I have. Notes on Technical Writing is a good resource that was shared recently on Hacker News. In particular, pay attention to the resources at the bottom, which include Tips on Writing a Great Science Paper by (the great) Cormac McCarthy and On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
The title and first paragraph are of utmost importance with regard to search. If your blog is about Docker and Kubernetes on an Atari ST, get those keywords into the title! Do not use something generic like ‘Computing on Retro Hardware’. Think about what people are going to search for and what keywords they will use if they want to find the info in your blog. Using more specific keywords is generally better; there is less competition and you will be able to rank higher.
A good example from the Container Solutions blog is Lian Li's Using Google Container Registry with Kubernetes. The article title is what people type into Google when they can't get GCR to work, and for that reason became a well-performing blog (in terms of monthly readers).
This is hopefully straightforward, but be mindful of soliciting too much feedback; it can be a burden which really slows down the process and potentially dilutes the author’s voice.
For most posts, it's probably best to send to one or two people whose judgment you trust. If there are specific aspects you want feedback on, let them know (for example if it's a technical blog, you might ask a knowledgeable friend or colleague to double-check the technical details).
People are surprisingly different in the quantity and quality of feedback they provide. Some people are more critical than others (and I think everyone at Container Solutions knows where I am on that spectrum!), but please take all criticism with a huge grain of salt. Just by writing and putting yourself out there, you've done a big thing.
If you disagree with some feedback, it can be difficult to decide what to do. If it's a fairly minor point, it's probably enough to explain that you disagree and intend to leave the suggestion as is. If it's something more important or the other party believes it to be more important, it’s worth discussing further or seeking a third opinion.
Make sure you budget a reasonable amount of time for edits. Most people think ‘I'm done’ when they finish the first draft, but there is still a long way to go.
We’d all like it if, once we’d written a blog post, thousands of readers would show up automatically and shower us with praise. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. At least not in my experience. Instead, you need to do some work.
What can drive a lot of readers and community involvement is submitting to news aggregators and similar sites. Suggested sites to submit to:
Once you’ve submitted, monitor the site for comments and questions, and answer them where possible. Walk away if people are getting argumentative and don't take criticism personally (yes, easier said than done).
By syndication, I mean posting your blog on third-party sites. This can be a powerful tool for building an audience and increasing the Domain Authority of your site.
Don't be discouraged if you don't get a lot of hits. The majority of my blogs get a low number of readers. The best way to increase numbers is to keep trying with new material. Follow the advice in the previous sections.
How many hits is a lot? It's hard to say. If you manage to get upvoted on an aggregation site, you will likely get between 100-10,000 hits (possibly more!) in the space of a few hours or days. For a personal blog, I would generally consider any post with more than a dozen or so hits a success.
One of the most interesting things is that several Container Solutions articles get large (and growing) numbers of repeat visitors month after month, rather than getting a large number of initial visits and then ramping down. These are sometimes called ‘compounding articles’ (thanks Frank Scholten). All of these articles are 'How-Tos' and either explain how to use something or fix something. In some cases, the blogs didn't get much traffic at the start, but have done well with search keywords in the long term.
If you have a blog that does well, consider doing a follow-up, or doing a talk on the same subject. Chances are you've hit on a topic of general interest and you should capitalise on the opportunity.
At Container Solutions, we put a lot of effort and money into blogs. We believe that this is a great way to contribute back to the community and also to spread awareness of our company and the work we do. Hopefully some of the advice in this article will prove helpful to you and help you build your own audience. Please let us know if you have any questions or feedback on this article.