There is an ongoing debate in the content marketing community about investing in content that will do well in social versus search (examples: MarketingProfs, Define Media Group, KissMetrics). As with any debate of this type, there are advocates on both sides. The reality is that content marketing is not a simple business. Conventional wisdom holds that search and social play off each other (despite Google’s official position that social is not a direct influencer of search, most people believe there to be spillover effects). Second, they are not mutually exclusive – a search-oriented piece that is well-written and promoted can drive both kinds of traffic.
Finally, and most importantly, you need to do both because they do different things – the timing, type and overall volume of traffic will vary widely between the two. While creating such a dual-purpose piece takes deliberate effort, it can be done.
However, while both matter, in many cases (unless you get lucky with a viral social hit), search-oriented content is more likely to have a greater impact on driving traffic to your website overall over time. The idea of developing content to be “evergreen” means that, once published, it will grow on its own whereas content that is promoted via social channels often requires incremental efforts.
Forbes.com is a great example of these dynamics. According to a recent case study, Forbes.com revealed that more than half of its daily articles, read by millions of visitors, were more than a month old. Forbes.com deliberately invests in the longevity of the site’s content in order to reap the rewards of maintaining readership from millions of daily visitors even after any short-term spike when the article debuts or is promoted via social media. The Forbes.com model is to understand and create evergreen content with an emphasis on utilizing long-tail keywords.
So, what factors should be prioritized in developing search-oriented “evergreen” content?
1. SEO housekeeping — Keep your domain as strong as possible. The Web is a very competitive place, and competitors are publishing on topics the same as yours. One way to maintain strong performance is to make sure you ‘outgun’ competing content producers with an authoritative domain. This includes maintaining and improving the ‘technical’ aspects of SEO – URL structure, tags, links, etc. This forms a solid base to build upon.
2. Make it timeless — It all starts with the idea or topic on which you are writing. Choose a topic that is likely to continue to be popular. Think “how-to” guides and industry definitions instead of articles on the latest pop culture event or news. Use caution with hashtags, as those often are only relevant in the short-term. It is also important to consider not dating content with seasonal references. For example if you are writing an article on wine and food pairings in time for the holidays, refrain from giving it a title that focuses on the time of year and instead would be appropriate for any menu planning purpose regardless of the season. Essentially, approach your topic with the mindset of keeping the content relevant no matter the time when it is read. There are some useful tools out there to help you select the right topics for your site and support your content ideation so that you can create a timeless and competitive piece of quality content.
3. Compete — Driving website traffic is a zero-sum game, and you need to outsmart, outgun and execute better than your competition to excel. Use tools to help you research other content out there on the subject matter so you can outperform the competition. Know who your competitors are (it is not always obvious), research them, and determine how to outflank them.
4. Keep it relevant and pick your battles — Creating content that is relevant to your business or expertise will ensure credibility and promote the long-term relationship you are building with your readers. Ask yourself: is this in keeping with our website and brand positioning? Is this written by someone with authority in the space? Also, outline topics you want to ‘own’ and make sure you publish regularly and authoritatively in those areas. This is where a long-tail strategy can help. These are important factors, not only to readers but also search engines because they will associate your site with certain subject matter.
5. Write it well — Remember you are writing for two audiences, both search engines and more importantly, your audience. This involves maintaining standards such that your content quality content is strong and consistent. Make sure your content is following general best practices in writing for the Web (hint: a strong post or article title with relevant keywords). Perform research using available tools and resources to make sure you create content with legs to go the distance. Look at the title and keyword popularity as you do your topic research and be sure to incorporate those words in the title and content, with a particular focus on long tail keywords. And while it might seem difficult to get past Google’s “not provided” keywords in Google Analytics, but there are content marketing tools out there to help assess popular topics and keywords.
6. Remind and revisit — Don’t abandon content once you publish your work. Even the most seemingly timeless topics might need refreshing or updated information in the future. And if you are creating evergreen content, don’t bury it on your site. Insert continued references and links to previously published content in new posts or articles. Or perhaps list popular or useful posts or articles in menus or sidebars.
While publishing content with time-sensitive or short-term focus that may prompt a social traffic spike can absolutely have a role in a content marketing program, it’s critical to place a significant emphasis on generating quality, evergreen content that performs competitively online. The former is what is most likely to drive traffic over time, if done according to best practices. There are only so many people searching online and with the continually multiplying amount of competitive content out there, it’s important to identify and implement the strategies that matter in driving traffic to your content long-term. Once you do, you give your readers a reason to stay no matter when they choose to visit and keep them there with quality content that they won’t find anywhere else.