If you teach editors to write evergreen content, you’ll have a larger, more useful catalog down the road.
A friend of mine works at MIT developing interactive online courses, and one thing that hangs heavily on his brain is how to make them evergreen. Because when you work with a team of academics and researchers, content can get newsy very quickly, even when the principles being taught are evergreen in nature.
But when complex content, especially a course, isn’t evergreen, then the thousands of dollars spent developing the content can be flushed down the hypothetical toilet as soon as a bite-sized snip of it gets old. For example, if you’re using podcasts as a learning tool, like MIT does as part of this curriculum, an introduction based on the recent election could easily dub the content “old news” in a few months. Imagine that in the unlikely case the electoral college becomes filled with “faithless electors” (those who vote against President elect, Donald Trump), you may even need to re-record the course, costing time, money, and provoking faculty frustration. Oh, and creating a costly brand new transcription. Fun!
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As publishers, we struggle with the same principles. How can we develop evergreen content so that it has a longer shelf life? The basic fundamentals of recycling content into new multiplatform products requires us to begin with evergreen content. That doesn’t mean all content we produce should be evergreen, but anything we intend to have a shelf life, should certainly keep that in mind.
Luckily, in publishing, a paragraph about the election at the beginning of an article can be cut later on down the road, or it could be adjusted to talk about the 2016 election instead of calling it “last week’s election.” In digital courses, those minor corrections aren’t easy, or cheap.
So let’s be happy we’re working with a more simple medium, words. If you find that the content on your site is less than evergreen in nature, here are some tips for giving articles a pine tree makeover.
Turning a rose bush into a pine tree
First, look up the top 100-200 articles that are driving traffic to your site. This will help you prioritize where to start. No sense in spending the time updating an old article that gets five visitors per year, if you have one that drives 2,000 visitors per month.
Then, run through your list to determine which are already evergreen, and which ones are deciduous and need to be evergreened quickly. (By the way, we recommend updating all of your 100-200 traffic-driving blockbuster posts on a regular basis).
When you compile your list of outdated deciduous posts, you’re most likely to come across these issues that will hurt your SEO, so while you’re evergreening, take care of these mishaps too:
Short content: If the article is 300 words or less, upgrade it to at least 500 words, preferably 800 words.
No internal links: While you’re in there, link some key phrases to recent content.
An old date: When you update content, update the date too! You don’t have to, but if you’re putting all the work in, why not flaunt it? At the bottom, simply disclose, This content was originally published in XXXX and has been updated.”
Dependent on keyword placement: Posts that drive a lot of traffic tend to be optimized for a keyword (whether you know it or not). When updating, be sure to keep your keywords intact.
Varied references to dates and days: Take out instances of phrases like, “last week I wrote about” and “in 2001 we like to say…” When possible, take out dates altogether. We have mostly evergreen content at Mequoda, but we certainly have blips of deciduous content that ends up in our top 100 from time to time. The most common issue I come across is old data. Usually it’s a link to an old study with a list of old numbers. In these cases, I simply look up the most recent data and replace it. Or, if I think it’s going to be a pain to update on a regular basis to keep the content fresh (and it isn’t adding much value), I remove it.
Content that needs a re-write. In other cases, you might find that the content simply can’t be updated. And it’s totally, completely out of date and useless to new website visitors. Well, if this deciduous page is in your top 100 traffic-driving pages, rewrite it. I’ve come across posts on our site that were short 300-word promotions that we used in emails long ago. And when they show up on my blockbuster list by some fluke, you bet I re-write them. I don’t want strangers visiting us for the first time and finding that content. Cleaning up old content that’s no longer relevant and updating it is a great overall SEO strategy.
Lost hopes. In the case where the title of the article itself, and the URL of the article can’t be salvaged, we might leave it alone. Or, we might try to evergreen the content as best we can. You can always rewrite a title, and you can update a URL and redirect it, but with that much change it’s possible you’ll completely remove whatever keywords were driving the traffic, without even knowing it. Changing a year-old blog title from Tom Brady Says Deflategate Scandal Doesn’t Taint Super Bowl Win cannot easily be changed to a more historical What Was Deflategate? in a few years for the history books. Maybe instead, you’ll link to a new article about Deflategate. And maybe in this article, you’ll put a link at the top that directs them to Read this first: What Was Deflategate?
You have options. But the best idea is to avoid this situation by writing evergreen content to begin with. Can you see why? Remember, these are old outdated posts that thousands of people might be landing on as their first introduction to you through search. How embarrassing.
But there’s one more step.
Finally, in order to really keep content alive, use our 12x12x12 Twitter social media formula. This is where you write 12 unique Tweets for each article. Then you schedule them once per day for twelve days. Then once per month for twelve months. For Facebook, LinkedIn and G+, write two different social media posts. Schedule on on the day it publishes, and one six months or a year from the date of publish.
It sounds like a bit of extra work, but you won’t regret it when these articles are being shared and re-shared in social media a year from now without you having to lift a finger.
Now it’s your turn – how do you keep content alive? Let us and our readers know in the comments.