How to write technology articles for B2B: my process
As a writer who’s constantly working in B2B tech, I’m asked all the time about my personal process for writing articles.
Here it is, in all of the nitty-gritty detail, from idea generation to polishing the final draft, along with some best practices for writing and planing B2B articles.
There’s a lot here, but that’s on purpose–feel free to skim or skip to the heading you want to read.
- How to write technology articles for B2B: my process
- Why do you need an article?
- Your content marketing strategy
- Idea generation: Choosing your topics
- Preparing to write
- Writing your article
- Writing best practices
- B2B content marketing for the win
Why do you need an article?
Many people don’t know why they need an article, even seasoned marketing professionals.
And that’s ok, because it’s never too late to revisit where new content fits in your overall plan. You shouldn’t create content without having a purpose and a place planned for it in your overall content strategy.
A few of the reasons you might want to create new article content include:
- Establishing thought leadership
- Building brand awareness
- Educating and informing your audience
- Driving website traffic and SEO
- Generating leads
- Nurturing leads and conversions
- Strengthening customer relationships
- Aplifying your message on social media
- Building long-term content assets
There are a lot of reasons, in other words, and it’s ok to have more than one–but don’t write or commission a new article without a place for it in your plan.
Your content marketing strategy
This leads to your content marketing strategy. Let’s talk about it. Do you know your goals for content this quarter? This year?
Having a content calendar isn’t the same as having a content strategy, by the way. You need a content strategy, even if it’s really simple to start. Start there if you haven’t already. (Don’t worry, this article will still be here when you’re ready!)
Ok, with that content strategy in-hand, let’s move on.
Who is reading?
If you have marketing personas or archetypes, ideally you should choose a primary and secondary audience for this new article. When I’m working with clients, I like to ask who these audiences are, because I’ll pretend I’m speaking to them as I write. It’s a good exercise to ask “why should they care?” throughout your article process, because an article that isn’t written to serve the reader isn’t effective content marketing.
The better you know that reader, and the more you can show you care about their needs, the more effective your message will be.
In a world full of self-serving content, stand out by being the voice who cares more about the audience.
Know who is reading and who you’re writing for. Write accordingly.
Where you publish
Your publishing channel should fit your audience. A lot of writers like to think of “watering holes,” and I think it’s a good exercise. Where are the places, online and offline, where your readers gather for information?
Often, I like to start research on potential placement well before I start writing the article. A quick Google search and a visit to LinkedIn will help you narrow your research into good publishing outlets and channels, if you’re not sure where to start.
From there, it’s helpful to ask around–if you have coworkers or teams in your organization who can help, that’s great. Perhaps you can ask DevOps where they hang out online, for example. Break those silos down and chat internally.
Talk to sales, too. Or if you’re in sales, talk to marketing. Good intel all around.
Positioning your brand
Your brand voice and positioning guide how you approach your topic, and bring a cohesive perspective to your content. As you speak to your audience, what actions do you want them to take? What is your call to action?
Idea generation: Choosing your topics
I have a few favorite strategies for coming up with new content ideas. This is a process that never really ends, so you should keep running lists of ideas you can develop further whenever you need new topics.
Categorize article ideas
If you think about your audience(s) as people with interests in different areas you can assign “buckets,” it’s sometimes easier to come up with assorted topics that fit these interests. The categories practically write themselves!
Your categories are broad, but your article topics will be a lot more specific. Categories themselves could be book-length topics.
Let’s say your content speaks to technologists, primarily, at financial services firms and financial institutions because you’re a marketing manager at a cloud consultancy. You might have ‘the usual’ topic buckets to think about, such as ‘cloud migration’ or ‘user experience.’ These two general areas provide a good amount of more specific blog topics you can write into articles. Everytime you come up with another idea that fits one of these two buckets, you add it to your list.
You’ll probably also have a bucket for ‘compliance,’ maybe ‘FINRA’ specifically. That’s a whole other potential source of content around how your team helps organizations with FINRA compliance or knows how to support companies in need of compliant technology.
While the category FINRA is too general for an effective article, you can break this category into topics that could be articles. From the FINRA bucket, you can write articles about ‘FINRA definition’, ‘How to choose FINRA compliant cloud storage,’ ‘What is FINRA compliance certification,’ and many other ideas.
Understanding your B2B audience
And the more time you spend thinking about your audience, the easier this process usually gets. One of the most important secrets is to read widely in your niche and stay close to where the conversations are.
Your industry’s controversies, changes, and chatter could make for interesting inspiration, or follow what your customers are thinking about, even if it’s not directly related to your product.
Riffing on the news is also a good one. Trade magazines and trade journals make for great resources on what’s happening that can impact your audience.
What your audience is searching for, aka keyword research and SEO, can reveal important questions and concerns rattling around in your readers’ minds. If you’ve ever wished you could become a mind reader, remember that most of us are telling Google everything and search engine data is a goldmine for sharpening your content.
Think about the questions associated with those keywords you find in your research. Are there keyphrases? Does this SEO data reveal anything about their pain points, challenges, and hopes?
Lots of potential inspiration there.
Preparing to write
You have a topic. What now? You’re ready to start writing, but you probably won’t write your article straight through without preparation and conducting research.
If the article is going to be good, you’re likely to do at least some additional research even if you’re also the subject matter expert. Your research helps you speak credibly and with relevance. Research will also probably speed up your writing by providing your work with a sense of direction and purpose.
But first, research
When I mention research, many people think of original research, where you’re conducting a study–this isn’t always the case, and may not even be typical of your writing. Research in this context refers primarily to what you do to educate yourself further and verify details for your article.
You can outsource this, but I recommend that whoever writes the article also does the research, and doing the research will likely streamline your writing process.
Conducting background research
Initially, background research often centers around questions–what questions are your readers asking about your topic, and what would you like to know as you write? I find that by brainstorming questions, I can usually develop a first outline and get started on my sourcing.
Answer The Public is really helpful for finding the questions people are searching for online. By supplying a topic, you can generate lists and even graphical representations of what people are asking. These questions make great headings because they reflect real-world search data.
Subject matter expert interviews lend credibility to your writing if you’re developing content outside your own area of expertise. You can use this as an opportunity to showcase your company’s talent and authority, also, which is one of the primary benefits of publishing content anyway.
Prepare for your SME interview with plenty of questions and background research on both the person and the topic, as needed. Familiarizing yourself with their topic in advance greatly improves your interview and helps you adapt your interview questions.
For a great interview:
- Aim for no more than 30 minutes if you’re planning an article–typically, this is plenty of time for the interviewer to ask questions and the interviewee to showcase expertise for an article. Alternatively, you can sometimes use a longer interview to prepare for multiple articles
- Send interview questions in advance along with general topic areas
- Create a Google Doc collaboration space for you and the SME and invite them to share references and resource links before the interview
- Work from a transcript afterwards so you can quote accurately and scan for memorable or interesting content from your conversation
Prepare until you’re comfortable and know you can iterate during the interview. Make your interviewee comfortable during the conversation and do what you can to build rapport so they’re able to help you.
You need an outline
The aim of background research for me is usually to shape the outline, which in turn guides the article. An outline helps you visualize where your article is going as you write, keeps you on track, and allows you to collaborate early in the process before you’ve written much of the article.
My outlines focus on headings and subheadings (H1, H2, H3, etc) to organize the flow of my article and show me where there are gaps or unanswered questions.
With topics in-hand from a content calendar planning session, you can draft your outlines in advance as you coordinate with SEO research, ad planning, messaging strategy, corporate news, or whatever else you’re working on.
Writing your article
Now that you have an outline written, you’re ready to start writing. Take your outline and look for areas you can strengthen:
- Add detail. Write bullets, insert quotes from your SME interview, or support you come across from your background research. This is one way to gradually morph that outline into your article.
- Add proof. Statistics, outside support, and references can be added now–link to them first, then as you write your draft you’ll be weaving them into your writing later.
- Add sections. Did you miss something? Look for what else your outline needs.
With a stronger outline, you can start writing your article. Some writers start at the beginning, but you can also just pick one section at a time and write. Developing the introduction last may be the easiest way to begin your article with an effective and complete view of your article’s argument and support.
Your first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and the less you censor yourself as you write, the better, because you can always go through your article later on through this writing process and edit your work.
But if you write too carefully in an attempt to be perfect, you’ll probably find the task a lot more onerous and frustrating than it should be.
Write from your outline and transform it into that first draft.
Sharing with stakeholders
Share that first draft with anyone else on your team working on the content, for their comments and additions. Using the suggestion functionality for all of your edits provides better version control and protects the original context with which you wrote.
To keep the momentum going, consider giving contributors a deadline for commenting and suggesting in this first draft.
When you’re ready, incorporate the edits and respond to the comments. Make more significant changes if needed, and let everyone know when your edits warrant another look from the team.
Typically, the publication process involves another edit or review, scheduling for publication, art or graphics development, and finally publication to the site. This can differ a bit depending on whether the article is published on your organization’s blog or in an outside publication.
Many organizations have the legal team review the piece, possibly with additional review from the public relations team. If an outside publication is publishing your article, then their own editorial team will review, edit, and approve the article.
Articles including graphics and visuals may be reviewed by a design team. From there, the article is ready for publication.
After publication, you can promote the article via social media and word-of-mouth sharing by people on your team or people you know. Share the article to help build traction around your ideas.
Next, search engines will start picking up on your article, usually, and this process can take up to two months. If you’re writing with SEO as a goal, keep in mind that this is a long game. But it’s worth it, because articles can be written once and updated, repackaged, and upcycled later.
Now you have an article, and you should be proud of the time and effort you invested. Congrats!
Writing best practices
There are a few other best practices worth following. These are useful considerations before and during your writing.
Minding your voice and tone
Choosing the right voice and tone for your audience and for your brand creates consistency and helps ensure you’re communicating your message effectively. What’s right for one company, group of readers, and brand personality might be wrong for another, even if you’re both in the same industry.
If you have multiple writers creating content for the same blog, you’ll probably benefit from sharing your style guide with them and editing their work to make sure the brand image is portrayed consistently.
What about grammar?
Good grammar is primarily about readability–you’re free to break the rules as long as your audience can understand you and is served by your grammar and style choices.
Formal vs informal writing in content marketing
Today’s business content marketing is normally very informal, especially in the B2B tech industry. Your article probably doesn’t need a high degree of formality and the King’s English. When in doubt, see what others in your industry are doing and use their work as inspiration while you find your brand’s voice.
Let’s face it–few people want to read hefty, jargon-filled writing with complicated vocabulary. Most of us are skimming for tips and information we can use now, so writing shouldn’t be hard to understand at a glance.
Don’t talk down to your readers, of course. They’re smart people and your content should always recognize their intelligence while also staying as accessible as possible.
Overcoming writer’s block
You may have times when you can’t write, at all, because you can’t find the right words or get started on the right track. Writer’s block can derail anyone. Probably even Edgar Allen Poe or Shakespeare.
What I do when I encounter writer’s block is I just freewrite on the topic until I have a ‘bad draft.’
Open a new doc and just write whatever comes to mind, with no filter. You may go off-topic, you might write something that’s poor quality, but you’ll start writing either way.
Bad drafts are rough, to be sure, but they can sometimes be edited into something workable, and if I can’t use it, freewriting will often restart my writing process and return my creativity.
Some people keep a daily practice of freewriting three pages a day in the morning and swear by it.
How you work: a few other process notes
How you do your best knowledge work is usually helpful for doing your best writing. Whatever surroundings, strategies, and creative support you find useful for thinking will probably make your article better, too.
If you need to find a quiet, clear space to work, take a walk, listen to music, or brew a cup of coffee to start thinking through your writing, go for it.
B2B content marketing for the win
Through B2B content marketing, you position yourself as a thought leader, show your brand’s value, educate readers, support your SEO, and generate new leads. Your writing can nurture brand relationships and expand your reach.
Your articles are part of a bigger effort.
For B2B in particular, establishing trust is what makes your marketing engine run. Credibility separates your brand from the noise, and there’s so much noise on the internet that you really can’t ignore the opportunity to distinguish yourself.
Thought leadership can really change the game for a cloud partner team, tech consultancy, or cloud evangelist. Your chance to transform your customers’ industries rests on their recognition of the value you bring to their businesses.