Technical Writers in the world of Content Marketing
Understanding the terms
Khawar Latif Khan
Technical writers create content day in day out. Whether it is a web help document, a project plan, an instruction manual, or a video tutorial, it all falls under the definition of content. It will not be wrong to say that in today’s digital age, content is what helps businesses and individuals claim a respectable spot in the market.
However, to claim and retain this spot, to gain attraction, generate traffic, and help the audience, information must first be findable. Given the amount of content being generated on a daily basis, a single document or webpage can easily get lost in the online world.
This is where all content creators, including technical writers, need to think about the marketing perspective.
However, some interesting questions may surface when technical writers start thinking like content marketers.
- How does technical writing differ from content marketing?
- Is there something common between technical writing and content marketing in the first place?
- Can technical writing survive without worrying about the marketing aspect?
- What can technical writers do to make their content rank and perform better?
These are all valid and timely questions — questions that all writers should be asking. The internet is a complicated and unforgiving place, and it makes sense to understand what you’re putting out there — and, more importantly, how you’re doing it.
Understanding the terms
Quite often, technical writing is confused with terms like content writing, content marketing, and digital marketing. There are, indeed, some similarities (we’ll get to those later) but these terms are different in many ways — including the objectives of the practice, purpose and tone of the content, and the methodologies adopted.
Technical writing is a specialized practice where the purpose is to explain a technical concept, instruct the audience, and/or provide help and directions about a particular task.
Technical content is created for, and consumed by, users seeking specific guidance on a topic. This type of writing includes software documentation, grant and proposal writing, instruction manuals, etc. The nature of content created by a technical writer varies based on the type of audience.
The audience also plays a critical role in dictating the tone of such a document (for example, using only the jargon that the audience is familiar with). The end goal of any technical content is to make the lives of users easier by providing them with clear, unambiguous instructions and directions.
The generation of content with the aim of attracting potential customers and retaining the existing ones is generally referred to as content marketing. The purpose of content created to market a product, service, or brand is to drive some sort of action from the consumers of the content — ideally, converting them to customers.
This type of writing includes blogs, social media posts, website content, product catalogs, etc. The end goal of such content is to generate profit and/or build long-term professional connections. Here, again, the tone or voice depends on the audience and can vary greatly on a case-to-case basis.
The chances of failure increase if users cannot find the information they are looking for.
Given that most of the content we interact with makes its way to us through the screens of laptops, phones, and other such devices, the technical and marketing content is located on identical platforms. This digital aspect, along with other factors (such as the groups of audiences), results in some similarities between technical writing and content marketing.
- The audience plays a huge role in both types of content creation. The choice of language and the medium of distribution rely heavily on the consumers of the content.
- Availability and findability are two major concerns for both technical writing and content marketing. The chances of failure increase if users cannot find the information they are looking for.
- The approaches adopted in certain cases can also be the same. For example, a content marketer and a technical writer depend equally on market and user research to add value to their content.
Clearly, there are a number of differences between technical writing and content marketing. Some of the major ones are as follows.
- Technical writing is user-centered while content marketing is customer-centered. This means that, in most cases, technical writers create content for existing users while content marketers focus more on the potential users.
- Technical writers treat the audience as users first and customers later. The approach is the opposite for content marketers.
- The purpose of technical writing is to instruct or direct users and help them succeed in their tasks. The purpose of content marketing is to convince the audience to make a purchase, generating profit as a result.
- Since the goal is to help existing users, there is more clarity regarding the audience when technical content is being created. This also makes the audience a more active presence in content generation. When marketing is the goal, the audience is loosely defined (as compared to the former), hence, there is more freedom in this case.
The need for marketing
Although technical writing does not necessarily focus on marketing, it will not be wrong to say that in the absence of a good marketing strategy, even highly valuable content can fail.
If the users are unable to find your content, it will lay buried, undiscovered. In such a case, even if your technical document is extremely useful, it won’t be serving any purpose. Is marketing, therefore, a technical writer’s responsibility? To some extent, yes.
When communication, documentation, social media, and marketing teams come together, they’re bound to see the overlap in their work.
Whether you’re creating instructional content for a popular product or introducing a new service for your users, you need to keep an eye on the marketing aspect. If your content is going to be available online, you cannot ignore your SEO — and hence your target keywords. You’d want, in such cases, to rank highly in the search results. This will not only add to your credibility but also help you accomplish the most important goal of technical writing, that of serving the users.
Another area where the marketing aspect of writing cannot be ignored is the users’ journey. Technical writers need to ensure that the path a user takes to interact with certain content is not too complicated, rewarding, and fruitful. You wouldn’t want your users to be left stranded at the end of the journey.
This is where overlap with marketing can be of great help where you can direct the audience to a product or service that can serve as a solution to their problems.
The last and, arguably, one of the most important reasons to focus on content marketing is the generation of revenue. If you’re creating technical content for an organization and it doesn’t add any monetary value, chances are that you won’t be surviving long. It is, therefore, essential for technical writers to have at least some knowledge of content marketing so they can make their words more valuable.
What can technical writers do?
As Tom Johnson states, the first step for technical writers is to realize the importance of content marketing. Generating quality content and making sure that it reaches the right audience in the right manner is exactly the area where content marketing can be of help.
This realization is also necessary because, as stated above, most of the content is dissipated and consumed via the internet, where digital marketing principles are of extreme importance.
Technical writers should also learn some tools to make their content more marketable. Content management tools (e.g. HubSpot), analytics tools (e.g. SEMrush, Google Analytics), and content creation tools (e.g. Acrolinx) can serve as good starting points.
These tools can help writers understand and analyze the performance of their content, helping them use their skills in the best ways.
Another way to learn marketing techniques is to hunt for learning material. There are numerous courses on content marketing and digital marketing that can be of great value to technical writers (courses offered by HubSpot Academy and Ahrefs Academy are two such examples).
For technical writers to succeed in the world of marketing, a collaborative environment is essential. When communication, documentation, social media, and marketing teams come together, they’re bound to see the overlap in their work.
Individuals working in such an environment will not only be able to learn new skills but also thrive as a group, with a more focused approach — one that is both user- and customer-centered.
Khawar Latif Khan
An engineer turned communications specialist with a passion to create helpful and understandable content.