Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book Review: Technical Blogging



I figured, what better way to celebrate my 500th TESTHEAD post than with a book review about a book dedicated to blogging!

Blogs exist for just about every conceivable nice you can think of. For that matter, blogs have exploded in so many different directions, it's hard to even pin-point what counts as a blog any longer. WordPress, a blog platform, Blogger, a blogging service. Many roll their own with Jeckyll templates and other open source tools.

There's also those of us who roll with a special niche style of blog, and that's the "technical blog". These can range from programming, web design and robotics to agile practices, clean room manufacturing and, yes, even software testing. For those of us who spend a lot of time writing "somewhat technical content" for our blogs, we don't really have a lot in the way of "expert advice" on what to do or how to set up or even how to present a technical blog. Today, Pragmatic Publishing's "Technical Blogging", written by Antonio Cangiano and edited by Michael Swaine, received the P1.0 designation, and thus, a book that I've been reading since its initial beta is now out in the wild and I can talk about it :).


Technical Blogging is a primer and a how to guide for anyone who wants to take a mostly technical message and make an online presence around it. The book is organized around five sections. Each talks thoroughly about the variety of options that are open to content developers who want to make a name, develop a presence and announce and advertise a market expertise. As an added bonus, there are tips for those who would possibly like to make some money from their blogging endeavors.

This book hits a special spot for me, in that it comes at a time when I am at a crossroads as to what I hope to have my own blog represent. What started as a simple way to take notes and try to write down my own ideas about software testing has itself grown to an appreciable niche readership that, while not earth shattering in numbers, ranks very respectably with other software testers. Naturally, I've been thinking about how and what to do with the "next phase" of my blog, so this title has come out at a very opportune time for me.


Part 1 focuses on Planning. This is where you ask yourself what I want my blog to actually be. Should it be a general blog, should it be a specific niche blog, should it be a solo project or a group collective? From there, plan out what you want to have your blog cover as its primary topic and get ideas for your first dozen posts. If that process was easy, then you may have a topic with the ability to continue writing about. If it was difficult, you may need to change your focus or broaden your niche. Tools that can help the blogger determine the potential market for their niche are also discussed. Targets for readership and registering a memorable domain name are also covered.

Part 2 is all about building your blog. WordPress and Blogger get the most coverage here, with the lions share going to WordPress, but any blog platform user would do well to read about the nuts and bolts about what makes for a good and usable blog layout. Some of the changes my blog has undergone in the past few months have been directly from recommendations in this section. Layouts and themes and widgets are covered (again, much from a WordPress perspective, but still relevant to other platforms). Sidebar layouts (and why) are covered, as well as feed readers, newsletters, and tips on creating solid content for your readers. There is also a very helpful section that talks about writers block and ways to overcome it.


Part 3 is all about Promotion. Let's face it, we wrote it, we want to have people read it. How do we best do that? Marketing is important, and yes, the magical and often maligned Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques are important to consider. Outside of direct marketing, more traffic will come to your site through search engine queries than any other. Linking, getting others to link to you, page ranking, etc. are all covered here (and a few ways I had never heard of before). I absolutely use the tools to promote on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, but there are several others I haven't yet focused on (and may well try). The big takeaway is that, if you have a technical blog, your best promotional tool is to participate in your community, not just post "hey, look at my blog!" links.


Part 4 covers the fringe benefits of having a technical blog, which includes, but is not limited to, making money off of it. Ads through Google AdSense and other alternatives are discussed, as well as how to diversify that income and make sure the ads don't overpower the content. Getting sponsorships and working with affiliates is also discussed. Amazon affiliates is also mentioned, though it's currently in dispute for some states (that's the only "revenue enhancement" I've used on my site to date). Though it's not a "revenue" per se, it's definitely something I do on my blog; I actively review technical and business books (hint, just like this one :) ). Other avenues such as donations and merchandise are also considered. It should also be noted that developing expertise, improving skills, getting attention from potential future employers, and potential freebies play into this as well. I should note that a number of book reviews I do, the titles are sent to me at no charge specifically because I review books. For full disclosure, I paid for the beta version of this one so I could watch it develop from the very beginning.


Part 5
is all about scaling your technical blog. Think of sites like TechCrunch or Slashdot. They have morphed from blogs to full scale online news sites. Other sites have hired a staff of bloggers to post content and publish multiple articles each day. You could add job boards to your blog, or any number of additional services. The sky's the limit if you have built the brand up to a point where that's possible. In addition, you may want to develop an integrated Social media strategy, going beyond just a personal page and developing fan pages and other ways to promote and actively drive traffic to your site(s).


Bottom Line:


This is a wonderful resource for any aspiring blogger, and for those who are trying to fill a technical niche with their blog, it's especially valuable. Will you realistically use every suggestion in this book? Probably not. Still, even if you only find 15 or 20 actionable tips, you will have a significant change of game underway to your blogging presence. It's been a lot of fun to review and consider this book, but the real beauty is that it gives me a blueprint that I'll be able to work with and follow for months and years to come.
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