Why are blogs so important?

Creating a wildly successful blog


As a software developer, one of the best mediums you can use to market yourself is a blog. It’s my firm belief that every software developer who cares about their career should invest in creating a blog.

Geeky notes


You can only meet so many people in person, so you need another primary way to market yourself and network. Think about how many people you’ve met in the tech industry over the past year. That number might approach several hundred, or even a thousand, but a successful blog could introduce you to hundreds of thousands of people.

A blog is a cheap and easy way to market yourself and it’s extremely valuable for getting your name out there. A successful blog can attract hundreds or even thousands of visitors per day, which can give you many opportunities ranging from job offers to consulting gigs or even an audience to sell a product to.

Quite honestly, I owe most of the success I’ve experienced in my career to my blog. If I hadn’t created a blog and figured out how to make it successful, it’s unlikely that you’d be reading this book.

When you apply for a job, your resume typically is only going to be about two pages long. When you go into an interview, you’re typically going to talk to an interviewer for about an hour or possibly two. It’s very difficult to assess the skills of software developers from their resume and a short interview, so many employers have a difficult time knowing whether or not someone is a right fit for a job.

But imagine what happens if a software developer has a blog that has been updated regularly. That blog might contain a wealth of information about that developer, including code samples and in-depth technical analysis of various aspects of software development. I can tell more about a software developer by reading his or her blog than I can in almost any other way.

If that were the only reason for creating a blog--and maintaining it--it would be reason enough. But it isn’t! Not only can having a blog help you to land a better job, it can also help you become a better software developer and communicator, and it can bring all kinds of opportunities you might have never imagined.

Think about famous developers like Scott Hanselman, Uncle Bob Martin, or Kent Beck--they all have blogs.

If you’re a freelancer or you’re interested in doing freelance work (see chapter 12), you’ll find that a successful blog can bring many clients your way instead of you having to go out and look for them. Clients that come to you directly will be much more willing to pay a higher rate and will take much less convincing to hire you for a job.

And if you get enough blog traffic, you can use it as a platform to sell your own product (see chapter 13). If you have a steady stream of visitors to your blog, you can build a product around their interests and convert that traffic directly into customers.

Let’s not forget the reputation a successful blog can bring you in the industry. Many famous software developers got their fame directly from the success of their blog. One good example is Jeff Atwood, one of the founders of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. His blog, Coding Horror (http://codinghorror.com), became wildly successful and the audience he built from that blog directly contributed to the success of Stack Overflow. The blog itself opened up the door for him to partner with Joel Spolsky (also a successful blogger, http://joelonsoftware.com).

And even if you discount all the financial benefits blogging can bring you, one intangible benefit that isn’t easily dismissed is the improvement in your communication skills. Organizing your thoughts and putting them down into words is a difficult but valuable skill. Regularly writing helps you hone that skill, and the benefits you gain from being a better communicator will help you in many areas of your life. Plus, if your force yourself to blog on a regular schedule, you’ll also be constantly forced to refresh your skills and stay up to date in your area of expertise.

As a software developer, learning how to write might actually help you to write better code, because you’ll have an easier time communicating your intent. It will also help you to communicate your ideas and make them seem more compelling.

Creating a blog

Are you convinced you need a blog yet? Good. Then your next question might be how to get started.

Getting started is pretty easy nowadays. You can create a blog in about five minutes using a free service like Wordpress (http://wordpress.com) or Blogger (http://blogger.com). But before you go ahead and sign up for those services, there are a few things you’ll want to consider.

A free service is the cheapest and easiest way to set up a blog, but it might not be the best way. One issue with free services is that they typically don’t give you much control over the theme and layout of your blog. You can do some customizations, but you might not be able to add paid advertisements or shopping carts or other things to your blog.

Those things might not be important to you right now, but later down the road, as your blog becomes more popular, you might want to have the capabilities you can’t get from a free service.

Fortunately, there’s an easy alternative to the completely free hosting platform. You can find many paid hosting services that allow you to easily host a blog with the popular Wordpress.org software (http://

simpleprogrammer.com/ss-wordpress) for prices as cheap as $8 to $10 a month. (By the way, I’d highly recommend using the Wordpress.org software for your blog, because it’s so widely used and it has a huge ecosystem. You can find plugins to extend your blog and themes to customize its look very easily if you choose Wordpress.org.) These paid hosting services offer you much more flexibility for a fairly cheap price.

You might start your blog on the free Wordpress.com service. (This is not to be confused with Wordpress.org, which is the actual software you’d use to host your blog on a paid hosting service.) For a while,

being on Wordpress.com might be fine, but eventually you might reach the point where you want to customize your blog by adding plugins and want to be able to advertise on it. You might end up having to move to paid hosting to do this, and it could be somewhat of a hassle,

so you might be better off starting with a cheap paid hosting service.

If you go the paid hosting route, you can find many services that will allow you to do a single-click install of the Wordpress.org software and you can be up and running in minutes. It isn’t any more difficult than free hosting and you get much more power to customize your blog as you see fit.

You can also host your blog on a virtual private server (VPS). A VPS basically gives you a full operating system in the cloud that you can install on your blog yourself. It’s the cheapest option in terms of what you get for what you pay, but it’s also the most difficult option. I currently host my blog, Simple Programmer (http://simpleprogrammer.com), on a VPS, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re just starting out.

If you do decide to go with free hosting, I have one word of caution:

make sure you register your own domain name. By default, free hosting services will give you an address to your blog that’s part of their domain. You’ll want to register your own domain and pay the fee to have your blog use it instead of the default one. A large portion of the traffic you eventually get to your blog will probably come from search engines like Google.  Google assigns what they call a page rank to certain web pages and domains on the internet based mainly on how many sites are linking to that domain. If you switch your blog to paid hosting in the future,

you’ll want to make sure you’re able to carry that search engine relevance, or page rank, with you, so definitely make sure you start out with your own custom domain. (It’s possible to work around this issue later on, but it isn’t worth the hassle. It’s much easier to start out doing things correctly.) 


STEPS TO CREATE A BLOG 

❂ Decide on hosting: free, paid, or VPS.

❂ Set up or install the blogging software.

❂ Configure any themes or customizations.

❂ Start writing!


Keys to success Okay, so you’ve got your blog set up and you’ve written a few articles--now what? It doesn’t do much good to have a blog if no one is reading it, so you’ll want to figure out how to get some traffic. After all,

isn’t that what this chapter is about--creating a successful blog?

The largest portion of your success as a blogger will depend on one thing and one thing only: consistency. I’ve talked to many successful bloggers and they’ve all had one thing in common: they blog a lot.

Some of the most successful bloggers I’ve talked to blog every single day and have been doing it for many years.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to write a blog post every single day (although if you’re just starting out it doesn’t hurt to write two or three blog posts a week for the first year). What’s more important than anything else is picking a regular schedule and being consistent with it.

The frequency will determine how quickly you’re able to become successful. I’d highly recommend blogging at a frequency of at least once a week. At that frequency, you’ll add 52 blog posts a year. This is critical because, as I said earlier, a good portion of your traffic--most likely a majority of it--will be coming from search engines like Google. The more blog posts you have, the more traffic you’ll get from internet searches (that is, as long as the posts are actually decent and not just a bunch of random words).

Unfortunately, being consistent alone isn’t enough to make your blog wildly successful--although I’m pretty sure if you wrote a blog post every single day for several years it would be difficult not to be. You should also make sure you’re writing quality content. There are two reasons why the quality of your content matters. First, and perhaps most importantly, the higher three quality of your content, the more

likely people will come back to your blog or subscribe to it in their RSS reader or via email. You’re going to have much more success building an audience when you’re giving people something of value.

Another important thing quality content will do for you is provide you with the oh-so-valuable backlinks. Most search engines judge the quality of a web page based on how many other web pages are linking to that page. The higher the quality of your content, the more likely it is that it will get shared through social media and linked to from other websites. The more websites that are linking to your content, the more search traffic you’re going to get on that content--plain and simple.

You want to actually write stuff that people want to read and share.

Before you get all stressed out about this, don’t worry. Your stuff doesn’t have to be perfect. When you’re just starting out, it will most likely be … well … pretty bad. But as long as you’re trying to produce good content and not just throwing whatever comes to your mind on a page without any thought for formatting, organization, or typos, you’ll be fine. Just publish the highest-quality content you can each and every week and you’ll get better and better over time.

Valuable content can come in many different forms. Just sharing your experiences or an interesting story might help someone who comes to your blog or provide them with some entertainment.

If you do these two things--consistently writing and producing quality content--you’ll most likely be successful. How do I know this? Because I give talks to software developers all the time, and whenever I do I ask developers to raise their hands if they actually have a blog and keep it updated each week. Out of a room of 100 developers, I’m lucky if I see a single hand. Just writing good content, consistently, will easily put you in the top 1% of developers--at least in terms of marketing yourself.

Landmine: I don’t know what to write about Many would-be bloggers never get started or end up quitting quickly after starting,

because they either don’t know what to write about or find they don’t have anything to say.

Many would-be bloggers never get started or end up quitting quickly after starting,

because they either don’t know what to write about or find they don’t have anything to say.

The best way to combat this problem is to brainstorm many different ideas ahead of time and keep a running list of possible blog topics so that you always have a pool to choose from.

Also, don’t be so worried about writing that stellar post or about what people will think. Sometimes you just have to write a post that you know won’t be your greatest hit, but will get something posted to your blog. I’ve written many posts that I thought were horrible, yet turned out to be some of my most popular posts.

One technique that might help you think about what to write is to have a conversation, or even an argument, with someone about that topic. Often, I’ll find that I can write the best about something that I had previously discussed in a conversation.

Call up a friend and start debating and you’ll find you have pages’ worth to write about a topic.

Getting more traffic When you first start out blogging, it’s going to be difficult to get traffic to your blog. You won’t be getting much traffic from search engines and it’s unlikely anyone will be linking to you, so what do you do?

One of the first strategies I’d recommend is to start commenting on other people’s blogs. Find other developers who are blogging about similar topics as you and write meaningful comments on their blog, and when you have the opportunity, link back to your blog. (Often when you register to leave a comment, your profile can contain a link to your blog, so you might not even have to do this directly.) It will take some work to make this strategy effective, but it will also help you make connections with other bloggers, who will appreciate your thoughtful comments. (Just don’t leave “spammy” comments that only link to your blog and don’t add any real value to the conversation.) Try to write a few comments on different blogs each day, and,

over time, you’ll start to see some traffic flowing to your own blog from.

people who visited other blogs where you left comments. The higher the quality of your comments, the more likely that people will be interested in checking out more of what you have to say on your blog.(You can also write a blog post as a response to someone else’s blog post.

This can be a very effective strategy for getting traffic, especially if they in turn link back to you.) Another good way to get some initial traffic is to, of course, share your blog posts on your social networks and put a link to your blog at the bottom of your email signature and anywhere you have a profile online.

This won’t generate nearly as much traffic as you might expect, but it’s still worth doing.

You should also make it easy to share your content so that others will spread it. If you’re using Wordpress.org, you can find many different plugins that add a share button to your content. Wordpress.org software even has some of this sharing functionality built in. You might even put a direct call to action at the bottom of your blog post asking readers to share the content or to subscribe to your blog.

Finally, if you’re brave and you think your content is either good enough or controversial enough, you can submit your own posts--or have someone else submit them--to social news sites like Reddit (http://

reddit.com) or Hacker News (http://news.ycombinator.com). A word of caution though: some of the people who hang around these sites are just plain mean. I’ve written posts that I’ve shared on Hacker News that have been torn to shreds by angry commenters who just wanted to stick people with forks. You have to have a bit of a thick skin to withstand some of that kind of abuse. But if you do end up having one of your blog posts become popular on one of these sites, you could get tens of thousands of views in a single day and many backlinks. Overall,it’s worth it.

I can’t guarantee you success Well, I’d like to say I could guarantee you success if you follow everything in this chapter, but unfortunately, I can’t. I can only say that by following the advice I give you here, you’ll be much more likely to find.

success. There’s a bit of luck and timing involved in having your blog become wildly successful, but it’s rare to find a successful blogger who doesn’t at least write good content consistently.

Taking action

 ❂ What are your favorite developer blogs? Take a look at some of the blogs you read and see if you can figure out how often those blogs are updated with new posts and the average length of each post.

❂ If you don’t have a blog already, start one. Sign up today and create your first blog post. Come up with a schedule that you’ll stick to for writing future blog posts.

❂ Commit to keeping your blog up for at least a year. It takes time and commitment to get results. At about the one-year mark is when most people start to see some traction.

❂ Create a list of running blog post topics. Every time you think of a new idea, add it to this list. Then when you need to write a post, you’ll have plenty of ideas handy.


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