Oh No, Am I Running a Publishing Business?

Oh No, Am I Running a Publishing Business?

One of the weirder parts of running a software business, especially if you sell products, is the amount of time you spend not writing software. The biggest timesink for my WordPress plugin business isn’t writing code or handling support. The thing I spend the most time and energy on is marketing.

Experts will tell you that the best approach to marketing your business is to try everything at the start. Social media, ads, blogging, cold outreach. Then stick with the one that performs the best for you and focus on that over all of the others.

This strategy has worked well for me and the tactic that has performed the best for my WordPress plugins has been content marketing. I would estimate that right now 75% of my time on my plugin business revolves around publishing content. I’m writing and editing prose more than code most days.

Deciding What to Write About

For developers interested in content marketing, I think a common stumbling block is finding things to write about. This was my big struggle at first too.

I hired multiple marketing firms and freelancers to help me with keyword research and content ideas. None of them could come up with more than four or five targeted topics. It was very frustrating.

My early attempts produced generic content related to my plugins. I have a plugin that helps website owners present their terms of service and privacy policy to visitors. So, for example, I published content helping people learn how to write and generate terms of service documents.

Going this way led to me wasting a lot of time creating blog posts that didn’t get a lot of traffic because they were too untargeted and not very SEO-friendly. I wasn’t smart enough to create this kind of content in a way for it to be worth the investment.

There was a better path to generate content ideas. I had a ton of potentially high-impact content I could create for my plugins and I didn’t even realize it.

Your Features Are Your Content Marketing

The real breakthrough I had came when I decided to build a knowledge base for one of my plugin sites. I’m a one-man software company so the less time I can handle answering support and pre-sale emails the better. I figured writing short, concise documentation with instructions and screenshots would help.

It turns out that kind of content is also exactly what search engines are looking for in regard to a lot of keywords. That is probably obvious to most people but it came as a nice surprise to me. I was generally shocked by how quickly these documentation posts began to rank in searches.

I accidentally solved my content marketing problem.

Each of my documentation articles targets a phrase I think my target customer will search for. Typically, that means solving a technical problem that a feature in my plugin addresses. It’s easy to write about your software product because you know it better than anyone else.

In the end, I put together dozens of articles. My documentation is concise, contains simple instructions, includes screenshots from my plugin, and loads in a simple template. I’m following the basics of good SEO. I began to see search engine referral traffic almost immediately.

What Happens When You Run Out of Features?

Eventually, I ran out of features to write documentation for. I still write new articles each time I add something new but you can’t stop generating content. The search engines need to be constantly fed. I have since gone back to my original strategy of writing content that was targeted at my customer base but not specifically about my plugin. I’ve just gotten much better at it.

I use the same approach I did with my documentation. Keyword research finds me topics without a lot of competition. I make sure they are related to things my customers are interested in. For my main plugin, which is built for WordPress freelancers and agencies, this isn’t much of a challenge. I typically write short how-to guides or lists of relevant plugins and tools for a specific industry problem.

To keep up with demand, because it’s very difficult for one person to generate that much content, I rely on a freelancer now. She handles most of the writing and I do edits and write intros and outros. I also rely on programmatic SEO (shout out to Allison Seboldt for getting me started there) and integrating data from third-party sources into my posts to keep them fresh and to cut down on my workload.

My publishing schedule is very consistent. I’m posting at least one new article every week. Occasionally, if I have a huge backlog of posts, I will publish two a week. Since I started this process, I’ve produced over 200,000 words of content.

Is the Trouble Worth It?

For me, all of this work has started to pay off.

Sales of my WordPress plugins have never been higher. My referral traffic from Google is growing every month. It’s not just sales either. The support emails I deal with have dropped off a cliff. Refund requests are down because fewer people are buying my software before understanding all of its features and capabilities. It’s been a series of wins across the board.

I know that a lot of the software developers in my Slack groups, or that I follow on social media, struggle with marketing. Hopefully, this quick overview of my approach can help some people get their own system up and running. It’s a long game, SEO can be mysterious and annoying, and it takes a lot of effort but it has paid off for me.

Tools of the Trade

I want to close with some software recommendations.

For my knowledge base, I use the Heroic KB plugin for WordPress. It’s easy to use, lets you customize the template with ease, and has some built-in statistics I find useful. If you don’t use WordPress, it wouldn’t take much to spin up a documentation system on your own or with your preferred content management system.

For keyword research, I really like the offerings you can get from Mangools. KWFinder and SERPWatcher are the tools I use the most. The price is affordable as well. It’s not as powerful or, in my opinion, accurate as the higher-end SEO applications out there but it does enough to fit my needs.