Lessons from launching a website
If you're planning to launch your own article-based website, you may find these lessons useful.
We launched Technically We Write in May as an open community, sharing articles about technical writing, technical editing, web SEO, web content, usability, and everything else you can put under the umbrella of "technical communication." Since then, we've published at least one article every day. That's 112 articles, as of today.
Launching a new website was an exciting venture for us at Technically We Write - but it's been a rewarding one! Our writer community continues to grow, and we appreciate that the articles remain popular with you.
More than three months later, I reflected on how we launched the site. If you're planning to launch your own article-based website, you may find these lessons useful:
1. Start with a content plan
When you launch a new website, your community won't be there on Day One. Consider the possibility that you will need to write most of the content yourself - at least in the early days.
During the planning stages for Technically We Write, I created a content plan of what articles I would need to write in the first three months. I wanted to run at least one article every day on the new website, and that meant I needed a content plan of at least 90 articles.
That plan made a huge difference when starting Technically We Write. The content plan was basically a "menu" of articles that I needed to write. I grouped my articles into themes or "series" of articles, with topics including HTML, LibreOffice Writer, LaTeX, Markdown, and other tools and technologies.
But I didn't just write one series before writing another; it's important to mix it up. Write a variety of articles from across the content plan. If the website was just a bunch of "HTML" articles, that would be pretty boring. Instead, I wrote on a different topic every day.
2. Don't let Perfect be the enemy of Good
A friend shared this advice with me many years ago, and I have carried it with me ever since: Don't let "Perfect" be the enemy of "Good." It's not a new idea, though; the advice seems to originate from Voltaire in 1770: "le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" ("the best is the enemy of good").
It's a reminder that we shouldn't put too much focus on making things perfect when we already have something that works. "Good enough" is, by definition, good enough for the job.
I translate this to my writing in this way: I won't be 100% happy with everything that I write. Maybe I could have made my point in a different way, or used a different example. Or I might have gone into greater detail on a topic, or provided additional context - or provided less unnecessary background.
When I start to doubt if an article is "good enough," I try to look at it objectively: Does the how-to article help someone to learn a new topic? That's the goal of any how-to article. And if I decide an article meets that goal, I try to stop worrying about it and click Publish.
3. Automate everything
An article-driven website requires managing a lot of content. Automate everything that you possibly can. Ideally, implement a web content management system like Drupal or Wordpress.
For example, a web content management system lets you schedule content for future publishing. And because content is everything on a website like Technically We Write, being able to schedule items to go live at a later date will save a ton of time.
4. Community means outreach
A friend of mine served as the community manager for an article-based website about Linux and open source. She once shared a great comment with me: "You can't invite people in if you don't open the door." I've tried to mirror that perspective at Technically We Write.
A powerful way to "open the door" to new contributors is to share ideas and suggestions for new article topics. Some writers just need a place to start, so it's important to share occasional articles with starting points, like how to write a how-to article, suggestions for article topics, and how to write your first article.
It's equally important to celebrate the community. We like to ask our community for their advice, then share that in a "round-up" article such as what motivates you in technical communication, how do you share documents, and how do you collaborate. We also highlight our community members with interviews; thanks to Don Watkins, AmyJune Hineline, Seth Kenlon, and others who have shared their experiences via interviews.
5. Have fun
A website requires a lot of energy. Writing new articles and editing incoming articles just takes effort. So it's important to have fun with the website. If it's not fun, you won't love working on it.
After the first few weeks, we started running fun or niche articles on the weekends. If you look back through our article history, you may notice that we write about current topics during the week - but on the weekend, we publish fun topics.
If you've wondered why we have articles about how technical writers checked spelling on original Unix, or reviews of classic technical writing tools like WordPerfect on DOS, it's because these are just fun to write.