I was reading a post about how hard it is to gain traction on DEV a couple of days ago, go give it a read and see if you feel the same way or not:
I found it interesting (as lots of the comments agreed) and I too used to feel the same way (and even catch myself feeling that way now about some of the points raised!).
As such, I thought I would share my thoughts on how to grow your engagement (anywhere, but mainly on DEV), hopefully I can give some motivation to those who find themselves "lost in a sea of voices" and are feeling like you will never gain traction!
And just to show I kind of know what I am on about:
- 285,644 views
- 7,213 post reactions
- 4465 followers
- 87 posts
- 1947 comments (yeah, those who know me know I am opinionated! 🤣)
And that was in 11 months as an average Joe noob writer, I haven't released much this year (I have been writing, just building up a buffer, you will see me back in full force in March!)
Anyway with the humble-brag out of the way, here are my tips and, if you fancy it, a rant at the end on content creation and my views on the frustration many of us experience.
It doesn't matter if you are trying to feed the beast that is Twitter or writing once a month as a hobby on DEV, consistency is the number 1 priority.
What I say to a lot of new writers / content creators is to work out how much content you think you can create in a week...then halve it!
It is much better to release an article regularly every 2 or 4 weeks than it is to release sporadically (I should know, I was guilty of this).
People quickly pick up on patterns, even subconsciously, so if you post at a certain time at a regular interval people will start anticipating your articles.
A lot of new writers want views. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact you get a lot of people advising "just write what you want to write".
Those people have forgotten the frustration of releasing an epic piece of content and getting 50 views. Something you have poured your blood, sweat and tears into over numerous hours or even days and...* crickets *
So what do we do?
Yet again, I made this mistake and certainly hurt my early engagement. I wrote what I wanted to write.
Instead I would recommend that if you are a new writer who wants to grow and still write about what interests you to write "one for them" (a pandering article...more on that in a second) and "one for you" (something you are passionate about but it might be a bit too "niche" for the platform).
So what is a "pandering" article (what will get engagement on DEV)?
Or listicles, everyone loves a "13 amazing tips" listicle as it is low effort to read and you might learn something.
I may not like these kinds of articles, but they garner engagement and followers...and followers and engagement means growth!
Also don't be fooled that just because people click on these "low brow" articles they won't engage with your more complex stuff, they will, generally people will engage with your content once they follow you...and that is where the true and meaningful engagement starts to happen.
Yet again this is a beginners guide to growth.
Here is a little secret: nobody will care what you write or remember your name for the first few months of writing, you need to build a reputation and earn the right to "expect" people to invest time consuming your content.
It might seem like a bad thing, but it is actually a great thing!
You can produce lower-effort posts in higher quantities and get those all important early eyeballs.
The trick is to produce "quality quantity", and that takes practice.
And how do we practice? By writing of course!
So while you are starting out, just practice writing, structuring your content to make it easy to consume etc.
You are aiming for 30 "half decent" articles as quickly as possible (15 "for them" and 15 "for you").
Don't worry about perfection early on, just get your points across and make sure they add value in some way (yes, even a listicle can add value if you put in a tiny bit of effort!)
This gives you a good base to grow from and means that when people discover you they can see that you have plenty to say.
Then once you have a base you can put more time into crafting higher quality content as you will get more views (so you worry about that less). As long as you stay "on topic" you will not lose many followers.
Plus this early stage of getting to "critical mass" will help you hone your writing style and structuring articles etc.
I mentioned "quality quantity", if you want to see an example of "quality quantity" check out
Chris is a content machine (an article every...single...day), but also writes very well.
That is why you should just write, Chris's writing improved with effort and repetition, to the point now where you would be hard pressed to find a flaw in any of his work. If you look at Chris's early writing it wasn't "raw talent" (although he certainly has some of it) but repetition and practice that turned him into such a great writer!
Note: I am not suggesting you release as much content as Chris, or even that you should consider putting that kind of pressure on your content creation, Chris is a bit of a unicorn, just do what you feel you can do comfortably and enjoy yourself!
Look, you might be lucky and get a mega viral article in your first week on DEV...I can tell you that it is unlikely to happen.
In fact, I have never had a single article break 20k views!
No, instead I engaged with other authors.
You see, authors want that engagement (it is one of the reasons people write...to make connections). So if you are the one engaging with their content they are far more likely to check out your profile and see that you produce content too.
Additionally it gives you a quick way to get more eyeballs on what you have to say.
For example: Here is what many would call "a low effort post":
And they are right, the post itself would not have taken Ben long to write and it got a lot of engagement!
But bear in mind that Ben has released loads of different types of content, in various formats, nearly all of it super high quality...he has earned high engagement through consistent effort and that is what you need to do.
Anyway, the point wasn't the post itself, it was my comment there.
170 likes on a comment...that is more than most of my articles!
I can tell you (because I watch my notifications carefully) I got about 25 followers from that one comment (it is a rough guess but I see a like from someone, then a follow immediately after plus a couple of article likes from them and I can guess that comment was the "discovery point" of my work.)
But for the other 1946 comments they may only get 1 like from the post author.
But that post author, if I comment on their stuff often, will likely follow me. They may even mention me in their article and get my article some more views (if I have written something relevant).
Hell, if you comment often enough and people start to recognise you as someone who contributes to a particular subject you might even get "summoned" to comment. This happens to me on accessibility articles quite often, someone will @ me to come and check the accuracy of an article. You don't think that would happen if I just wrote an article every 3 months and didn't engage do you?
It all takes effort and time, in fact if you look at my comments you will see I have written essays in some of them.
I want to add value in my comments, and by adding value I gain engagement...it is a win-win!
Also I like commenting on articles just to show support as a fellow author.
Writing takes effort with very little reward at first (I am now at the stage I get paid to write and job offers...it took time!), so don't underestimate how much of a boost even a single comment can give an author, especially in the dark days of 0 engagement "tumbleweed" posts!
Also, if people take the time to comment on your article, respond to them and put effort into your responses, engagement works both ways and you have to earn follows!
This article is getting long, so here are a few tips that don't need as much detail / people have written about extensively so I don't need to cover the same ground, just as an interlude!:
- Learn to structure articles
- Use proper headings, lists, etc. Your goal is to make content easy to skim, as well as read "cover to cover". But more than that it makes your articles more accessible and rank better for SEO...learn to use HTML and markdown properly! Here are some tips to write better content
- Build a social media following
- I literally just turned up my Twitter game (and will ramp up even more when I start releasing articles again). Social media gets you a few early eyeballs on your articles. Those early likes and unicorns make the article appear further up the feed, so you get more likes etc. I made the mistake of only building a following on one platform, recycle content onto other platforms, they all feed each other!
- Make an engaging cover
- Your cover image will show on social media shares and in the timeline if you are lucky. Make it engaging and relevant. I cheated and just created a standard template for mine...branding is important too. But if you don't want to do that, pick an interesting image or a GIF (if appropriate), visuals get more engagement!
- Write in conversational style
- Write to the person reading your article (you, we, us) as if you are chatting with them, it will increase engagement.
- Ask for follows and shares
- I made this mistake (basically this whole article is "don't do what I used to do" 🤣), if you want followers ask for them. Just a simple call to action at the end of your article with what you want people to do. Follow you, share on social media etc. etc. Also, try and give them a reason "I write every week about XXX, follow me so you don't miss out"
- Recycle content
- Writing content takes time and effort. So recycle it! Pick out key sentences and tweet them, create an infographic if appropriate etc. The more different mediums you can create your content in the better.
- Put time into promotion
- Another one of my mistakes...seeing a pattern here? Don't release content and expect it to magically go viral. Make it happen. In fact I have changed my whole release schedule so 50% of my time is spent on promoting what I write and building connections with people who might enjoy my content / promote it naturally. "Build it and they will come" is a complete myth, "shout about it and grow" is what I say.
- A dirty little secret
- Here is a tip that is as close to a "growth hack" as you will get from me. Heart, unicorn and bookmark your own article and leave a comment on it the second your publish. It helps your feed position, it makes the article more attractive in the feed (people are more likely to skip your article if it has no reactions) and it gives you a tiny boost. It feels a bit weird at first but for the sake of 30 seconds it is worth it!
OK, did you enjoy that interlude?
Back to the main tips...
I am (or was, recent events mean those are not going to happen here on DEV anymore) the "angry rants" person.
I developed a writing style that worked for me, I showed some personality and you should too!
Whether that is with comedic GIFs (please don't overdo it!), emojis (same again, a couple is fine), jokes or dark humour (not suitable for DEV) find what works for you.
People read your content as much for your writing style as they do for your content. People also read your content because they get to like you as a person and want to support you. Make it interesting, make it engaging, give people a reason to come back for more and a reason to read your stuff over the 100,000 other articles about the same subject!
I know DEV are trying to improve their feed, but it will nearly always revolve around tags.
Going back to the "one for them" method, write articles that fit with popular tags and use those tags.
Oh and for nearly any article the #webdev tag is likely to fit, so use that as a fall-back.
Take some time to look at the tags page, they are ordered by popularity (well, number of posts, which indirectly affects the people who read here and therefore content that will perform well / is popular)
Unless you are really struggling to justify it, try and use all 4 tags you are allowed to add to an article and try and go for the more popular ones (without just choosing randomly, find the balance!)
Note: the article is over, I just felt like ranting on this point and my personal views. I rambled a bit but I want to leave it in and unedited as it gives you an accurate picture of my thought process.
Please do not read this bit if you are a person who doesn't cope well with strong opinions that differ to your own or are critical of your views, instead jump down to the comments if you want and share some of your tips as I would love to hear them!
Look, we can all point fingers, I have done it many times in the past, but overall you can't blame DEV for your own failings.
That is a harsh truth but every time someone says "DEV is not the place to grow" or "why bother writing decent content as it gets no engagement" etc. what they are actually saying is it didn't work for them with the way they approached it.
Trust me, I have said it, I still catch myself comparing my article's number of likes to that of a 5 minute "top 10 productivity apps" post. I share the same frustrations!
I am one of the first to see some "grifter" writing listicles each week and getting thousands of views and feel myself getting annoyed.
But it is only when I look inward and see why I am not creating the same content as them, then look outward and see why creating that type of content works so well, that I can safely say "I am the problem". (Is this what growing as a person looks like? Am I finally maturing? I doubt it! 🤣)
To show you what I mean, let's take the DEV feed.
It certainly does promote low quality crap too often. So that is obviously DEVs fault right? Right?
Well if you take a step back you realise that any algorithm will be influenced by what people want to read (or at least any algorithm designed to grow a site).
It isn't DEVs fault that "10 VS code plugins you have to use right now" gets thousands of upvotes, while a 16750 monster article on accessibility only gets a few hundred:
You want high effort? It took over 20 hours. You want quality? Pretty sure it delivered. It still did not perform well and that is just unfair, surely?
Don't get me wrong it is top for #a11y for the year, so it did "OK", but I would have expected more than 9000 views on a piece like that.
But is that just an unrealistic expectation? Almost certainly yes!
This is where you need to take a step back. It certainly isn't DEVs fault that listicles do well (I am aware that article is technically a listicle, but you hopefully know what I mean) and long form content doesn't, it is all about interests and attention spans etc. DEV certainly can't fix that.
It also isn't DEVs fault that accessibility is still a "secondary" subject in the Developer community so doesn't have the same interest level!
It also isn't DEVs fault that I expected a lot more views.
No it is my fault.
I want to write about those things that are less popular, I want to write long form content, fewer people want to read that stuff.
And, I might add, despite the moaning it does not matter that it got low views really, it got high engagement per view and helped people...the views are just vanity, making a difference, even to just one person is what matters!
When you start looking at these things you start to consider things like the fact that some people don't have time to read your well-crafted long-form article.
They may be waiting for a train, or eating their breakfast while doom scrolling social media feeds. They might have just 2 minutes to read something, anything, so a listicle will do and deliver on their expectations of time required (or effort required) to read it. A 75 minute read-time article is not going to suit what they need.
This probably answers why questions do well, people can start forming their thoughts on a question instantly, scan read the responses and get loads of (hopefully differing) opinions in just a few seconds! It adds value to their day and fits their current needs.
We can take this further as to why certain content performs better than other content.
The reason you get more comments on a quick question that took 30 seconds to post, rather than a long article that took hours is actually quite straight forward.
People write comments to share an opinion, if you ask a question or make a bold statement it invites opinions. So of course you will get more comments on an article like that (and it will do better in the feed as comments make up part of the ranking algorithm).
But, with all that being said, there is a key factor that is less tangible: does asking questions and creating listicles help your "personal brand", does it help build up your authority in a subject? Probably not.
Long term, that personal brand value does start to add up and results in opportunities and meaningful conversations. If that is what you really want from your writing then focus on that and ignore the numbers.
At the same time, don't see it is a bad thing asking questions and writing quick articles, see it as an opportunity to grow quickly and establish a base (the "one for them").
Take the time to engage with some stuff you might see as "low effort", you will be surprised at the exposure you can gain for your "high effort" work just from participating in things that others find interesting and throwing your thoughts into the mix.
It took me a long time to realise (I am a slow learner!), just because I want in-depth and high quality pieces, doesn't mean that everybody does. I realised I should not hate on people who write listicles, they are giving the people what they want.
Creating content takes effort, even "low effort" content is someone sharing things with and adding things to the world.
I have infinitely more respect for someone who creates rather than someone who purely consumes.
I also do not know their personal circumstances. Are they short on time and that is all they have time to create? Is English a second language so listicles with less text and more graphics is in their comfort zone? etc.
They may create that content because that is all they can create at the moment due to their own circumstances. Who am I to criticise (even though I do, but that is my character flaw 🤣)?
All I wish is that we could move the needle a little, encourage people to engage with high effort content more. Give those authors who add depth to subjects and answer those tougher questions the exposure they deserve for their effort.
DEV are working hard to do that and I will defend their efforts to try and move that needle in what is an almost impossible task. (And that is from someone who often clashes with the DEV team due to our differing ideologies!)
Will low effort / short form content ever stop cluttering your feed?
Given the rise of TikTok, YouTube shorts, twitter etc. you have to take a step back and realise, people like quick and short content, things that are easy to consume, things that are "low risk" (do I want to read a 15 minute article from an unknown author that might be full of errors vs a 30 second video that may also be full of errors but I have invested far less time in?). Long form content is a harder thing to "sell" in a fast paced and over-crowded space, so you need to be prepared to play "the long game" if you want to write high effort pieces all the time.
I think low effort content is going to be in a feed anywhere that allows people the freedom to post without an editorial process. You just have to learn to live with that and the by product that it makes it harder to get noticed in the noise.
So, after all of that, I suppose the real question is, are you willing to "play the game" a little bit and pander? Create the content people want to see and casually engage with, in exchange for more meaningful engagement on your more thought provoking / higher quality pieces in the future?
I think the answer is yes you should! The short term "pain" of writing things that may not be 100% for you is more than offset by the growth and the small platform it allows you to build for yourself.
In summary: if you aren't growing it is your fault, it is down to choices you make. That is not saying those choices are bad, but you certainly need to put in the effort and adjust your content creation if views and growth are your primary concern. Once you reach a certain size, pivot to writing more and more content you want to see, you should hopefully have the community around you at that point to support it!
Thanks for reading, please let me know your thoughts and any tips you have for growth in the comments. Oh and don't forget to give this article a ❤ and a 🦄, it really does help and is appreciated!