As a developer I find that writing for this blog has been extremely helpful. I do it for selfish reasons as well as to help others who come along who are experiencing a problem I have already overcome. And whenever I do solve a common problem I make sure to write it up in tutorial form to help others. I find that I also help myself down the road.
Help Yourself and Others
Just this week I started work on a SubSonic project and wanted to automate the code generation with MSBuild. I had done this before and documented it with a blog entry, sample project and video. (Flash version) Since I had created this sample project a few months back I forgot the details so watching the video and copying the MSBuild script was a quick way to get up and running again. While what I documented on my blog may have been useful to others, what I have written has often been helpful to myself over and over.
Solve Annoying Problems
Other popular blog entries have been for annoying problems, like the clipboard problem with Remote Desktop. Occasionally I get new comments on that entry from thankful readers. The pennies that I earn placing Google Ads on my pages are less of a reason to keep writing for this blog than knowing that what I am writing is useful. And given that I write mostly about .NET development over the last couple of years, I have targeted areas that are not covered well on MSDN. I have a few entries on debugging that get a good deal of traffic. I find those entries are the most useful so I intend to do more of them in the future.
Make your Content Searchable
It is also important to ensure that if you take the time to write a useful blog entry that people can find it. There is a lot of implied voodoo about search engine optimization, but it really is simple with just a few details. For starters, use header tags. When I write a structured blog entry the title is always wrapped in an H1 tag while sections use H2 and H3 tags. That signifies the words in those titles are important and indicate the content of the following paragraph. Having descriptive titles helps your readers as well as the search engines. Stay away from styling DIV and FONT tags which imply no semantic value.
Beyond using clear titles you should also link to well-known resources related to the topic you are covering. I try to link to the official sources for more information. When I wrote 7 Steps to MSBuild I put a list of links at the bottom of each section to help the reader, but to also help the search engines infer the content of the page by association. And if you link to another blog, you may get a trackback link added to that blog back to your new blog entry which will help increase your page rank as well as drive a few visitors to your blog.
Focus is also important. I have drafted blog entries many times for some topics because I had a lot to cover. Initially when I wrote that series on MSBuild it was going to be one entry, but eventually I broke it up into distinct topics to improve the focus. Doing so also gave me time to write the series over a few days. On the last day I wrote the summary entry with links to all of the seven pages to give other blogs a way to easily link to all seven pages. I got a link from the MSBuild Team Blog shortly after I made that last post on the series.
It is also important to maintain focus for the topics you cover in a blog so that you serve your audience with content they can use. I use to blog about a few different areas from writing code to good places to eat in Milwaukee. I figured since I compiled the information for myself, why not share it? Perhaps some local readers found it useful, but it may have a way of diminishing the value of the blog for most everyone else. So now I shy away from topics that do not fall under the tagline I have on my blog,
My Experiences in Software Development.
Build and Publish Something
Show Pretty Code
Promote your Blog
Occasionally when I have written up something that that I feel is timely and useful to a larger audience than my small group of regular readers I submit it to websites like DotNetKicks which shows popular links related to .NET development. And since the focus of my blog centers around .NET I have a DotNetKicks indicator on each page of my blog allowing readers to "kick" the page which helps get it placed on the DotNetKicks homepage. For more general topics I may submit the link to Digg as well. It is a good way to get the word out about your new blog entry to hopefully reach the people who will find it useful.
Make it Printable
Finally, it is really important to make your blog printable. It is not that hard and doing so will help people print out your blog to read when they are away from their computer. I do this whenever I want to hit a coffee shop with something good to read. I also like to archive the good stuff to reference later. And occasionally I will post a blog entry on my cubical wall to let the details sink in on a topic I really need to learn.
Now that people know about my blog it sometimes comes up in conversation. Sometimes it is strange when I go to a user group meeting and start talking with someone I just met and they mention something I just wrote. I guess I still have to get comfortable with the real world converging with the content on my blog. Still there is no substitute for a good face-to-face discussion on an interesting topic. Blog all you like, but whenever possible, go to a local user group like the Wisconsin .NET User Group and get a discussion going. After all, keeping the conversation going is what blogging is all about.