If you’re launching a company or product, congratulations, you’re now also a content creator—or you should be.
It’s not enough to simply launch something, you need to also showcase why it’s launched, how it will help (not just via a sales page), why you and/or your team are experts enough to create it in the first place and most importantly, what the story is. This typically takes the place of articles on your product blog.
As a web designer, a side-project enthusiast and a creator of countless products (from tech startups to self-published books), I’ve spent years working on products and their associated blogs. Too often I’ve focused on the wrong things, or seen others do the same. Here are a few things I’ve learned, mostly the hard way, about what it takes to create a successful product blog. There’s a direct correlation between good content and product sales. And thankfully, the writing doesn’t have to be all SELL, SELL, SELL to be effective (it’s actually better if it’s not).
What comes first?
Should you start blogging first or creating your product first? The answer, most confusingly, is both. Here’s why:
If you create an outline and soft goals for what the product is, and don’t let anything become too concrete, it can evolve or change based on audience interaction and feedback. This then helps laser focus writing content, so every blog post ties in or relates to the product. Doing it as an idea, then blog posts about that idea allows you to pivot or tweak the feature-set if there isn’t any response or even negative interaction.
I always embed a mailing list subscription box at the end of every blog post, with a call to action to subscribe that defines what the product will be. I then switch up the wording every few weeks at the start to see what works best (or A/B test). This lets me know what the audience is interested in and use that to guide the product development. If I get 20 signups for one blog post but 200 for another, I immediately know what is more interesting to my audience.
Find your voice
Often if you’re starting a company or building a product, you may not have ever had to write publicly before. It could be something that’s hard for you to do, or even scary. The good thing is that, in order to become a writer or a better writer the solution is easy: you just have to write more.
Before I became a “writer”, I spent every single day writing at least 500 words. Most of it was garbage, but that was fine, I wasn’t writing these words for blog posts, I was writing them to learn how to write better and to figure out how I expressed what I had to say in writing. Every writer I know has said the same thing: the more you write, the easier it is to write more.
Most people call writing authentically “finding your voice”. Really, it’s a matter figuring out how you say what you have to say, using your own unique perspective. That’s what makes writing enjoyable to read—if it’s written using real examples and stories, in a voice that’s uniquely yours. Most of this comes from simply noticing things and ideas, much more than waiting until you’re a perfect technical writer.
Good writing take risks with what you have to say, takes a stand about something and have an opinion. Especially if it’s a product blog, your product is your opinion on how something should work. Your blog should be written in a way that expresses your opinion on the product, the industry or how you think it’ll make your users live’s better.
If you’re building a product, there’s an assumption that you’re an expert in whatever niche that product will exist in. If it’s a book on marketing, you’re a marketing expert. If it’s a web design app, then you know a whole lot about web design and app development.
All the blogging you do, at it’s core, should both relate to your expertise and share that knowledge in a way that non-experts understand.
How has what you’re writing about worked for you, in your first-hand experience? Is there a case study or example you can use to tell the story? This leads your audience to believe that you’re credible (which is hopefully true!).
Weave stories into everything you write, because that’s the mark of a good writer. We remember stories, it’s part of our cultural DNA. Don’t just tell people something, use examples and metaphors to make a point about your product or expertise around it.
Find your audience
Since your product will serve a specific audience (no great product is made for everyone), your blog should do the same. The content doesn’t have to be for a specific industry, it can be for a certain type of person (regardless of their profession) that would benefit from what you’ve made.
Who does your product help? Those will be the type of people that’ll benefit from your writing on the blog. Write specifically for those people, or even for a single person in that group. What do they value? Where are they stuck, troubled or frustrated? What matters to them? What do they truly desire, not just from a product like yours, but in general?
If you don’t know the answers to these types of questions, ask and then listen. A few months ago I spent 10 days talking to 30+ people from my mailing list on the phone. I offered 15 minute free consults with my readers to help solve problems they were having with web design, writing, creativity and entrepreneurialism. While my intent was to help them, it also helped focus how I created my latest product (a book on those subjects). I now have a much better idea of how to build out what’s next, because I listened to the people who will hopefully be first in line to buy it.
At first your product blog may not have many readers, because your audience doesn’t know about it yet. The best way to remedy that is to figure out where they currently spend their time and meet them there. Message boards, Facebook groups, Google+ Communities, even comment threads on industry articles (like this one!).
People are intrigued by a little mystery and if it’s done right, they can’t wait to learn more. Show your readers what you’re working on with your product, before it’s ready. Not the whole shebang, but bits and pieces, screenshots, excerpts, features, etc.
Make sure your audience knows some of what they’ll be getting when your product is ready to be purchased. Then it’s not a guessing game (which can lead to a lack of sales), but instead a knowledge of what it is and a desire to get it as soon as it’s ready.
Danielle LaPorte teases perfectly. She routinely posts screenshots of new projects on her Instagram. She also replaces the header on her website with new offerings before they’re ready, teasing the date and that change is coming. The anticipation drives her followers crazy, who are all eager to buy the day something comes out.
Build your mailing list
Blog readers might never come back. RSS readers may not check their feed for a while or just may not click over to read what you’ve written. Social media followers will miss what you say unless they’re tuning in at the exact time you’re talking about a blog post.
Mailing lists are different because they show up where your audience lives, their inbox. This is why there’s a higher engagement rate for mailing list send-outs versus tweets, RSS feeds or blog posts. Because most people check their email often (sometimes every few minutes).
Send your articles as full text pieces to your list. Ask for feedback through replies at the end of each email to show that you’re interested in a two-way communication, because you should actually be interested in hearing from your audience.
If you’ve got a product blog, a mailing list for the product launch, or a pre-order button, you’ve got to give a valid reason for people to do what you want them to. “Read Now” or “Sign Up!” or “Buy!” aren’t valid reasons.
Tell your audience why they should do those things with concrete benefits. Make the pitch about them and how what you’d like them to do will actually help.
Nathan Barry doesn’t just ask you to sign up for his newsletter. He gives an example of how signing up will help you grow your audience, promote your next product or sell more of what you’ve made. Grow your list? Write a book? Design an app? He’s got you covered and lets you know.
The biggest thing I learned while being a creative director and working on large campaigns, was the importance of brand consistency. Not just in how things look, but in how products are described and how companies speak to their audience. If it’s done right, it’s in one unified voice.
That means your product blog should be consistent in the language, terms used and voice. The sales page should seem written by the same person as the blog posts, and every blog post should be in the same voice/tone, spreading the same overall message that the product has.
This makes your brand sound like it all makes sense together and gives people a clear idea of what it stands for, regardless of what they’re reading or doing on your website.
Stop listening. Stop reading this article and get to work.
Both on the product and on the content creation that goes with it. It’s all well and good to learn from others, but nothing takes the place of first-hand experimenting.
There really aren’t any hard and fast rules either, just ideas and observing what’s worked for others. Almost every successful product and its blog has broken a few rules.
Try things. Find your voice. Listen to your audience (or don’t). Change direction if something’s not working. It’s your product, it’s your blog, and you get to make the calls.
What we might think matters for a blog typically doesn’t. SEO, good design, social media share buttons are important, but they’re very much secondary to the real core: the product and the actual content. We can sometimes get far too caught up in those things and forget to focus on the core.
I always come back to the same two questions if I feel like I’m losing my focus: How can my writing be more valuable to the audience it serves? and How can my product be more valuable to the audience it serves?
The blog for your product is as important as the product itself. Ensure you have enough time to dedicate to creating content around what you’ve made, even after your product has launched. This is what differentiates a decent product with a product that’s talked about everywhere you look.