Yes, I work a lot with tech companies who are strong on development but less strong on content. I actually love these companies because they often have a great product that just needs to be better communicated. Much better than the opposite.
In answer to your questions:
How us software developers can motivate ourselves to actually add good content to our sites?
Your product can be an absolute ‘must have’ but if you don’t communicate this effectively to your audience you’ll struggle to get traction.
Just look at the recent discussion about Ember: that it has strong advantages over competitors but is failing to communicate these effectively. And unless they do something about this, Ember will continue to lose ground.
Just today I’ve been looking at an app that has a great USP, but it took me about 5 minutes browsing the site to find it. The hero section was far too general and didn’t really explain the product. The copy chunks after that were meandering with an uneven tone. Unsurprisingly, the company is struggling with traction. But they have a content problem, not a product problem, so adding new features is unlikely to help.
What makes good content for software products?
It’s important that people find value in your product really quickly. Many companies do this by offering a free trial (making an initial conversion easier) and then relying on onboarding to get people to hand over money.
However, for this approach to work you need your onboarding content to be really good. You may know exactly how to use your product so it sings, but unless you communicate this effectively to strangers then you’ll struggle to convert trial users to paying customers.
You need to work out what value users need to get from your product that makes it a ‘must have’. If you have an audience already, look at the behaviour of your power users. What features do they use most? That could be a clue. If you don’t have much of an active audience, reach out to people via social media, meetup groups, wherever you can find them, and get them to test out your MVP. See what they find value in and what they don’t. Be open to the idea that your product’s value might be different to what you expect. Or that your customers might be different to what you expect as well.
Once you know what action you want people to take on a free trial, so they quickly get value from your product, get them to take it. Strip out unnecessary content or calls to action. Concentrate all your efforts on getting them to do that one thing.
If you don’t offer a free trial, try something like a demo or free limited access. Again, make sure your content is prioritised to support these calls to action. Don’t suddenly activate a chat window when someone is about to select ‘demo this product’. Or ask them to sign up to your newsletter.
If you’re working on a subscription model don’t forget content aimed at existing or upgrading customers. You can increase revenue nicely if you extend average customer lifetime, increase lifetime value and decrease churn rate. Content isn’t just about attracting and converting new customers.
How we best tell if our content is working effectively?
I know many developers avoid/dislike content because it doesn’t offer such clear cut results as code (and I can empathise – I’m a very amateur coder but at least when I get it right it usually works, which is pretty satisfying).
However, you can and should be logical about testing and improving your content.
I’d start by writing down the pain points in your business based on your KPIs: poor conversion rate of free to paid users, inadequate traffic, high churn rate, and so on. Now instead of adding a new feature (and another one, ad infinitum) consider whether you have a content rather than a product problem.
You might need to dive into your metrics in greater detail, trawl through your customer support, or reach out via a survey to uncover the full story.
Once you have a working hypothesis (say you’re getting lots of customer support questions asking what you do + people spend very little time on site = potentially you’re doing a poor job communicating at a high level your product) then test this. Change the offending content and see what happens to the relevant KPIs. If they improve then it’s likely that your previous content was performing badly and your revised content is definitely better.
If you have more time, I also favour giving all your content an MOT, like you would your car (known as a content audit or inventory in content strategy land). This process can be partly automated using various tools but does involve a degree of legwork as you go through all your content and grade it based on qualities such as whether it supports your current business direction, up-to-date, actionable, and so on. You’d also collect metrics on each page so you build an effective picture of how your content is performing. Then you can revise or archive poor content and do more of the good stuff.
Although time consuming, a content MOT can really give you some great insights into how your content is performing. Otherwise it’s easy to think your content is okay because it’s familiar. Or you just forget half the stuff you have on your site, even when it becomes outdated and is really off-putting to users who land on it.
Hope that helps,