Not many podcasts dive deep into technical topics. When I found myself on a call with the producer of a popular dev program, I asked about how they measure engagement. Tracking written content success is hard enough, it must be very difficult with audio. Interestingly, many of the same elements we’ve looked for with article, tutorial, and guide content are present in the most successful podcast episodes, too. You can engineer this pattern into your own content, as well, regardless of format.
The podcast producer told me they have rudimentary data about how much of each episode their audience listens to. When a guest starts to promote their product, developers shut down their podcast players. It’s a pattern they’ve noticed time and again—the drop in listeners coincides with a guest’s pitch.
Indeed, promotion is a common technical content mistake. It erodes trust with a skeptical audience. Yet, your content is supposed to attract potential customers for your product. How does great content walk this fine line? It turns out there’s a pattern.
When we looked at the most successful technical products, we saw similarities in their approach to content. Typically, they acknowledge the many ways to solve technical problems, go beyond documentation-like factual statements, and unpack technical details at the right level. We’ve called this “educational content” before. That’s an important and ever-present element… but it’s not the whole story.
We’ve identified three components, present in every great piece of content. In the new book, I refer to them with the acronym P.A.T.:
Your content—like all great content—must include all three in ample quantities. Interestingly, this is also the natural order that these elements show up.
The simple pattern in content that will engage your technical audience goes something like this:
- Identify the problem
- Define your angle at that problem
- Teach your solution
If any of these is missing, you’re likely eroding trust with your audience. You might be more product-forward than problem-focused. Or, perhaps you’ve made the mistake of documenting your solution when you should be sharing the opinion behind it. Or, rather than teaching, you might be defining keywords for the SEO gods when you could be explaining why they matter.
The P.A.T. Pattern can keep you focused on the things that your audience cares about. But it’s not always as simple as being there or not. Each of the P.A.T. Pattern elements is more like a volume dial. Some content calls for one dial to be louder than others. Your job is to make sure nothing is turned down all the way.
We started the post with podcasting episodes as an example, even though we rarely help our clients with audio. Technical content is broad and there’s really no area that can’t benefit from tuning the P.A.T. Pattern dials.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of content types where you can apply the P.A.T. Pattern:
- Blog articles
- Educational guides
- Use cases
- Release notes
- Social media posts
- Podcast episodes
- Explainer videos
- Product demos
- Event presentations
- Case studies
- Landing pages
- Product descriptions
- Homepage messaging
As you can see, this idea can be incorporated into all of your messaging—and can help ensure your messaging is part of your technical content strategy.
Often, in an effort to hit the content volume goals of vanity-driven developer marketing, teams will publish anything that happens to be technical. Does it have code, include diagrams, or mention a few buzzworthy acronyms? That’s the sort of meaningless filter that could erode trust with your audience.
While marketing teams may be prone to these types of metrics, others are not immune. Product, support, documentation, and other teams can also mistake volume for success. Each of these must also take the time to consider the P.A.T. Pattern. Will the Angle dial be turned up as high in reference documentation, for example? Probably not, but nor should it be absent. Great docs content will cover both functional and contextual topics. Factual accuracy isn’t your only measurement.
Regardless of whether volume of content is included in your metrics, encourage your entire team to produce strategic content. You can use the P.A.T. Pattern as the filter. Incorporate it at the beginning of your process, so every type of content meets the needs of your audience.
In addition to our research into what’s working for some of the best technical companies, we advise, consult, and train clients to incorporate these methods into their content strategies. Sometimes it can be discouraging to recognize the shortcomings of existing content. That is especially true when they’ve already published huge volumes of docs and articles.
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to throw out your work.
You might have a heap of content that’s at any one of these stages of development:
- Concept: potential theme you want to explore
- Idea: specific topics that have not yet been developed
- Outlines: ideas that have been fleshed out, but not written
- Drafts: content near competition, but has not been edited
- Pre-published: an article or other piece that’s nearly ready
- Published: anything already on your site or other channel
The farther something is toward publication, the more effort you’ve already invested. You may be tempted to move on to the newer content—again, motivated by volume-based metrics. That’s understandable, but sometimes the best opportunities are the content that’s already published.
In fact, we typically recommend that clients start with a review of their back catalog. Often, you will spot simple tweaks that can improve its performance.
Even a headline can have more or less of the P.A.T. Pattern.
Compare these examples:
- Multi-Region Python Applications
- PythonistaApp’s Highly-Scalable Multi-Region Python Platform
- Maximize Availability and Performance with Multi-Region Python Apps
Judging only based on the headlines, the first seems generic—I’m unsure what we’d learn. The second is using a potential “hand-wavy” technical term and suggests it might promote a specific tool. The third has promise: it looks like it unpacks a problem, has an angle at the problem, and just might teach me something.
That’s the P.A.T. Pattern in practice. And you can use it with content at any stage.
You’ve now seen a high-level overview of the pattern we’ve identified in engaging technical content. It’s a pattern that underlies every type of technical content. Further, you can use it at any point in your editorial process, or ideally at multiple points throughout your content production.
The background of this pattern and how to leverage our Technical Engagement System are described in detail within my book, Technical Content Strategy Decoded. Through 11 entertaining chapters, you’ll learn how to speak a common language with your audience, how to avoid the biggest content mistakes before they happen, and how to start your technical content engine with unlimited concepts—more powerful than any list of topics.
Be sure to get your copy of the book and build your technical content strategy.