How to Write a Great Technical Blog that Ranks

eblairmckee profile image Blair McKee ・12 min read

You can be a great developer, and maybe an excellent writer, too... but that doesn't mean your blogs rank well on search engines. The latter requires a great deal of practice, user research, and most of all... trial and error.

Before I teach you how to write great technical blogs that also rank well on search engines... you need to know this:

This blog isn't going to make you a great technical writer, nor is it going to give you a template to rank better for your target search terms. I won't discuss link building or promotion either, that's up to you.

What I will do is teach you how to fine tune your blog topics so that they have the potential to rank well; how to research said topic; and guidelines for how to write about the topic in a way that answers searcher intent.

Searcher Intent

What is searcher intent? Only the most important thing in your universe, right now. Searcher intent is the driving force behind a search engine query. It could be a problem that needs to be solved, curiosity about a subject, a search for validation... I mean, think about it. Why do you use Google and other search engines?

If you really don't know, take a look at your activity.

Now take one of the last search queries you made, and type that into your browser again. Which one of the ten links did you end up clicking on? (hint: if you're on the same device, it will be purple). Why did you click that link? Did you find your answer there? Or did you click more than one?

Hopefully, you got lucky and didn't have to click anything and you were able to glean an answer from the featured snippet... lucky you.

Featured snippet

That's because the page that ranks for that featured snippet solves the user intent concisely and accurately.

In the example above, I wanted to know how much wood a woodchuck could chuck. I didn't even have to scroll down to the search results, because the featured snippet has the answer bolded for me right there.

When you write your own technical blogs, you need to keep searcher intent at the forefront of your mind... and actually, at the forefront of your article. Most featured snippets grab their content from text that is above the fold --that's the content that's within the viewport when you load the page without having to scroll.

Run a couple of searches yourself and see where the featured snippet content comes from. It's most likely at the top of the page, in a short paragraph.

Now, why would you want to answer the user intent like this? If they can get their answer from the search result page, why would they ever click on the link to your site? Isn't this counterintuitive to the whole motivation behind better search engine ranks?

I mean, the whole reason you are interested in SEO is because you want site traffic...

Because if you're writing a technical blog, nine times out of ten your target searchers are going to need more than a single sentence answer.

Think of featured snippets as your opportunity to show searchers that you have the answers, you are the authority on this topic, and they should click your link (rather than the #1 ranked page) to learn more.

Now, featured snippets are the endgame, the ultimate prize in SEO... in order to get there you first need to try to rank for the #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 slots on the search result page. To do that, you need to also answer searcher intent above the fold, concisely, and then give a quick preview of all the other great things searchers will learn if they keep reading.

If you ever dipped your toe into the world of SEO before, you might be screaming at the computer right now saying "No that's not right! Google will only show the meta description, so on-page content doesn't matter!"

Things changed, thankfully...

In case you're new to this, meta tags are HTML elements that you stick in the header of each page that contain the page title, description, and keywords. Meta keywords have since been deprecated, but meta descriptions are now on their way out too.

Don't believe me? Run a search for something, a question maybe, then view the source of a top-ranked page. Does the meta description contain the same text that you saw on the search result page? More than likely, the two will differ.

Search result description:
Search result description

Meta description:
meta description

In the last few years, Google stopped relying solely on meta descriptions for page descriptions. Instead, it crawls the page content and generates its own description for the page using snippets of text. You'll also notice that the search query is bolded in the description.

So the above the fold content on your blog is crucial for better rankings, as well as high click-through rates.

By this point, you have an understanding of searcher intent, you are caught up on modern SEO practices, and hopefully the gears are starting to turn and you're ready to get writing.

Choose a Topic

Let's start by choosing a topic. This is actually the hardest, longest step, so take your time and don't be hasty.

You shouldn't be pulling your topic out of thin air, there should be a "need" for this topic. Or as we mentioned earlier, searchers should be asking their search engines about your topic.

If you are writing for work, check your support system. Don't have one? Check wherever you get client feedback.

Already have a topic? Great, let's put it to the test.

All you need is a single word, or maybe a few words, like:

  • DNS

  • Failover not working

  • Secondary DNS

  • DNS not resolving

I work for a DNS hosting company, so I'll be using examples from my own work when I write technical blogs and articles for our website.

Make Sure Your Idea Hasn't Been Done Already

Run a quick Google search for your topic, it doesn't have to be a full sentence or even a question. If you are using more than one word, wrap it in quotes. Are there already blogs, articles, or forums that explain what you're looking for?

Since we're talking about technical content, forums are usually your gold mine. Here you can find people talking about your topic in their own words. Read both the question and the comments, because you'll usually find the question asked multiple ways or at least links to other similar questions.

Forums are you most valuable resource, because you'll find people talking about your topic in words you never would have thought of, or put together in that order.

Write them down, because that's your searcher intent right there.

If you answered yes, there's already content on your topic? Then maybe you shouldn't write about that... just kidding! First, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Are they good articles? Do you have to go to more than one article to fully answer your question? This could be an opportunity for you to combine a couple of articles together to make one awesome blog.

  2. Are the first five sources Wikipedia, a news organization, ServerFault (within the last two to three years), or another authoritative source? This does not include other providers or personal/tech blogs. Reddit doesn't count either. If you said yes, then maybe you should choose another topic.

  3. Are you seeing a wide variety of articles about your topic that are completely unrelated to each other? Maybe you need to fine-tune your topic a little more...

If you make it through all three questions and still feel like you have a strong topic, let's roll! Because at this point, you know that your topic is popular, there's a need for answers, and no one else has written about it as thoroughly as you can.

Did you answer no to the first question, no there isn't any content on my topic?

That may mean that there aren't enough people talking about it or there isn't a good enough article that answers the question.

Even scarier... this could also mean that no one cares about your topic.

Let's rule that out really quick by doing some keyword research. I recommend using Answer the Public, it's a free keyword visualization tool that shows you related keywords and questions about your topic. Also, the annoyed man on the homepage makes me giggle.

If you search for "DNS" you'll see something like this:

Answer the Public result for DNS

The more branches and sub-branches, the more popular your topic is. If you don't see a lot, maybe they haven't indexed it... or maybe your topic sucks (just kidding!).

You have to make a decision here, either stick with your potentially unpopular topic... or start over with something new. Up to you.

Give Your Topic Direction

Now that you have your topic, you'll need to whittle it down into something you can write about. Because right now, all you have is a concept with no direction.

Let's do some more keyword research! Take your Answer the Public results and zoom in on each branch.

I usually focus on the "how" and "what" branches. Here you'll find your most basic, general questions that users are searching for about the topic. These queries should also give you an idea of how users want to apply the concept and could give you valuable use cases you can use as examples.

Let's look at the "how" branch. Start at the darkest query (the darker the green dot, the more popular the query), in this case, "how DNS works" is the most popular search query.

Answer the Public result for DNS

Now work your way down through the list, and you'll notice that most of the questions revolve around the DNS lookup process. Makes sense, it's confusing.

But these are queries that have already been answered, by many sources, in detail. Even Wikipedia and ICANN have articles on the DNS lookup process, and those kinds of sources are extremely difficult to outrank.

In this case, since DNS is a very popular topic, I would stay away from the "how" and "what" questions and would move on to less popular topics.

It's also a good idea to steer clear of opinionated queries that you'll find in the "which" or "why" branches.

So let's look at something with a higher search ranking opportunity. Switch over to the less popular branches, like "will" and "can". Here you'll see less generic queries like:

  • Will DNS affect ping/speed/download speed (usually revolves around public DNS, not something a DNS hosting company is interested in)

  • Will changing DNS affect email

  • DNS will not resolve (still too general)

  • Can DNS names have hyphens (off topic... brings up domain registration stuff)

  • Can DNS redirect HTTP to HTTPS (oh look! We're already #1 for that)

There are some solid blog ideas here... but keep in mind that they need to also be relevant to our target industry (in this example, that would be Managed DNS).

That means, stay away from public DNS, private DNS, and general Sys Admin troubleshooting issues.

Now there are some exceptions. If there are industries you are trying to get into, or there are slight overlaps in topics... go ahead and work on those topics. Just use your best judgment, and if you feel like you're reaching, you probably are.

Research Time!

At this point, you have a topic and a direction. Now you need to do your due diligence and find out everything that's already been written about the topic.

You can use this information later when you write the article. You can either paraphrase something you found interested/relevant/necessary... or cite it and link to it. Up to you.

Usually, I cite and link out to content that I think is relevant, but not necessary in this article. I paraphrase stuff that is essential, like definitions or processes, and then link to my source.

Use inline links to keep it clean and readable, and don't say "read more", it detracts from the flow.

Confused? Don't worry, I'll walk you through an example topic/blog.

Let's go with the "will changing DNS affect email" topic. Google it and you'll see results from hosting companies, Quora, forums, and more hosting services.

Don't get discouraged if you see a lot of companies/providers or forums ranking high for a query. Usually, that means there's the opportunity for you to rank well, too as long as your content is more valuable to searchers.

As long as you don't see what are obviously authoritative, undeniably third-party sources (like Wikipedia or organizations that were created to be the authority on the topic) ranking in all of the top five slots... you have a chance to rank well.

Even if the top five positions are taken, you still have a chance if you can create a really thorough and well-researched article that discusses related topics and links to credible sources.

This is your golden opportunity to be the authoritative source on your topic.

Go to the first five results, read the articles, take notes. Write down the exact questions (if it's a forum) that users asked, jot down the answers, and anything you find interesting.

If you consistently see a similar phrase, Google it, this could be a related topic that you could touch on or even write about later.

At this point, you should have enough information to start writing. If you don't... maybe you need to go back to your keyword research and find another direction to go with your topic.

Tips for Research

Use your discretion when you read answers on ServerFault, Reddit, Spiceworks, or any other forum. If there are a lot of upvotes, comments from people who used the solution as well, I would trust the answer. But if it looks fishy, I would steer clear from using that answer as a source (whether you cite it or not).

Same applies to Wikipedia. If there is a citation, follow it and make sure it is credible.

Bottom line, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck.... If you have one iota that it could possibly be a duck... Don't use it in your blog because it's probably a duck.

There are better sources out there, I promise! If not, then you could become that source, as long as you are confident that your information is true and helpful.

Let's Get Down to Business (I mean writing)

First, give yourself a pat on the back because you've done all the hard work already. Now all you have to do is turn your mess of research and citations into something cohesive.

Remember that you can do multiple drafts, the first time you write this is not going to be what you end up publishing... and that's okay!

Here's a sort of template that I follow when I write technical blogs:

Write the title last. When you do write the title... write at least three.

Start your blog with a single, two to three sentence paragraph that introduces what the article will cover. This is where you answer user intent and what you ideally want to show up in featured snippets. Keep it concise. Again, you can do this last as well.

If your blog answers a question, reiterate it. And iterate multiple times in different ways. Always make sure you phrase the question the same way a user would. Even better if you can copy and paste an actual user's question. You can format this in bullets, like this:

  • How do you move traffic from one server to another?

  • How can I redirect users away from a downed resource?

  • Can you failover traffic from one inbound ISP to another?

Then, I would explain/define any terminology that is central to the topic. If I was writing a blog about how to setup Failover, I would explain what Failover is and link to any relevant articles or tutorials.

Don't be afraid to use diagrams, just cite where you got it from. Google images does not count! Find the original source and give them credit.

Now you can get into the meat of your blog. If you are explaining a process, ie: how to do something, or a troubleshooting process... use headers to denote the steps.

For example, use H2 headings for each step and number them, like: "#2 Check if the computer is plugged in".

That brings us to our next tip... use headings! I use a Wordpress plugin to generate a table of contents for each blog based on the headings. Headings also break up your content into short digestible sections, making long articles (which technical blogs so often are) easier to read and less intimidating. So get in the habit of using headings, it'll make your life, and your reader's experience much easier!

Feel free to use lists (unordered and ordered, both get indexed by Google and will show up in featured snippets), block quotes for something important (single sentence, though), and images.

If you hit a roadblock...

Maybe text isn't the right way to convey what you are trying to get across to the reader. Try another type of medium like a graphic, flow chart, video, or a GIF.

Take a break. If you find yourself deleting and rewriting something over and over again, you need to take a break. It will come to you when you least expect it.

Go back to your keyword research and see if there's a related topic you could talk about in tandem with the current one.

Recruit a beta reader, or as I fondly call them "guinea pigs", to read what you have and give you feedback. Try to not be resistant to negative critique, after all, you did ask for their opinion. Listen and digest. If it doesn't work for you, then let it go.

Wrapping Up

Technical writing should be written by technical people, like you; not hired copywriters with no actual experience. This is your medium, your opportunity to share your experiences, talk about what interests you, and educate others. Take advantage of it.

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Blair McKee


UI Engineer @ Rally Health Chicago


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