The definitive guide to evergreen content
Articles for all seasons
Every fall on the East coast the trees catch fire. They light up with brilliant hues of orange, red, and violet in a stunning display that will soon fade into barren branches.
These are deciduous trees and much like your of-the-moment blogposts and news updates, they’re gone in a flash.
Evergreen trees, on the other hand, are robust and retain their green all year-round. Like the trees, evergreen content is named thus because it too never fades in value.
In this guide, we’ll explain what it is (and isn’t), the lead-generation benefits, ways to use it, and how you can get started.
1. Let's take a core-sample
What makes a blogpost, article, or guide evergreen? Here’s our definition:
Any long-form content (1,000 - 2,500 words) on a topic of enduring usefulness.
This includes articles like "how write great blogposts" or "questions to ask yourself before starting a startup." They would have been useful ten years ago and they'll still be useful in a decade’s time.
In fact, if you've done a Google search recently and wondered why you were seeing top results from 2012 or 2013 (practically decades ago in internet years), that's exactly what you've stumbled upon.
The benefits, as you can imagine, are enormous. If you can achieve a top-10 Google search ranked article like Buffer did (pictured above) and have it circulate for four years, you're getting an unbelievable return on your writing investment. Fortune 500 companies frequently spend millions of dollars to achieve the same result through paid advertising.
2. Let's talk about what evergreen isn't.
Evergreen content is not:
- News events
- Press releases
- Trending hot topics
- Date-specific items - as in, “best computer to buy in 2014”
- Company updates - as in, “we moved to a new office!”
- Short form posts - under 1000 words
News stories, press releases, and trendy topics perform very differently than evergreen content. They’re written while events are unfolding and before anyone has taken the time to reflect on the broader implications. When a hurricane hits, a topical news story about the storm focuses on the devastation being wreaked. It consists of soundbites, anecdotes, updates, and a lot of data that hasn’t yet been sorted.
Like colorful autumn plumage however, these sputter out of fashion quickly.
An article about the same storm that comes after the fact may be evergreen, however, if it includes analysis. If it talks about the government's response compared to that during other storms and speculates about what this means for society, then it may have enduring usefulness.
Let's look at some examples of this.
This article by CNBC about Snap Inc's rebranding and new line of glasses is a great example of a trending hot topic as it focuses mostly on the hype, but will we be referencing it one year from now? Probably not. We’ll know how the glasses performed and we’ll have a much more informed take on them.
This article on INC.com on the other hand about starting a company in only one hour talks about the timeless hesitation that entrepreneurs feel. Though written in 2012, it’s still the 5th search result on Google at the time of writing for the query “how to start a company.” It was relevant then, and it will be relevant tomorrow.
Over time, things that are Evergreen grow, while things that aren’t wither away.
3. Benefits to investing in evergreen content:
1. You’ll earn a reputation for credible content
Longer form evergreen content gives you the chance to really showcase what you know. Rather than limiting yourself to a few bullet points and a hasty conclusion, you can dive deep and include multiple sections, call-out boxes, quotes, and even feature expert contributors. And, because you can cover more ground, you can speak to wider audiences and engage both expert and non-expert readers, making it required reading for your industry.
2. It’s better for SEO
Evergreen articles boost your SEO because again, length is a benefit. Google’s search crawler is constantly scanning each of your articles and analyzing them on over 200 factors - far too many to hit all in one short post. But evergreen content can do it.
According to research by SerpIQ, all their highest performing articles reviewed had over 2,000 words.
No matter how often Google changes it’s algorithm, prioritizing this and banning that, longer content will, by its very nature, stand a greater chance of being found. Evidence also seems to show that longer format content is also shared more often, with 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes, according to Quick Sprout. Back-links from shares like these are key to your SEO and per Google’s most recent update, may be more important than ever. (Until the next update, of course.)
When you’re thinking about SEO, you should be thinking evergreen.
3. YOU HAVE MORE OPPORTUNITY TO INCLUDE SEMANTIC KEYWORDS
Semantic keywords are the keywords that are written as they’re spoken. As in, “how should I pack for Fiji,” or, “where do I find a good freelance writer?” They’re the key to capturing low-volume but high relevance searches where people are asking precisely the kinds of questions that indicate an interest in your products. They occur because people (this author included) ask Google things in plain-speak as if it’s their personal assistant and the longer your article is, the more room you’ll have to sprinkle in both these questions and their answers.
Here are a few examples:
- How do I grow my following?
- How many times should I email a lead?
- What’s a good conversion ratio?
Despite the common belief that people only scan the internet for titles, endless research points to the fact that there’s no negative impact to writing more. If it’s relevant, those who care will read it.
4. Ways to use your new evergreen content
Most evergreen content will unerringly find its way onto your company blog. That’s a great home for it: it helps SEO and it’s useful to readers. But, once you accumulate more than four or five pieces, gather it all in one place where visitors can more easily find the good stuff.
HERE ARE A FEW IDEAS:
[Let’s do 2 tips per page, and a big icon for each]
1. CREATE A RESOURCE PAGE
A resource page gathers all your longer form content together and it’s a destination for leads that are in the evaluation phase of your funnel. You can design your evergreen content with this in mind from the very get-go: simply ask yourself what types of questions your customers seem to ask over and over and design a series of guides to answer them.
This turns the resource page into a huge time saver for you and your sales team, and it works just as well for existing customers as it does for potential ones. Salespeople can cite it for added credibility, and it’s a library where leads can study up and ascend the maturity curve towards full proficiency.
2. CREATE RESOURCES TO REFERENCE LATER
Good content follows the mathematical rule of compounding interest, where each new piece adds exponentially more future value. If you have a raft of long-form how-to articles, you can link back to them in your shorter format stuff to both burnish your credentials as a true expert on your topic and to draw the greatest number of interested people through an educational buyer’s journey. The more you have, the more you can link to, and this forms a web that becomes an SEO engine of growth.
3. BUILD AN ULTIMATE GUIDE, OR FAQ
Once you've covered enough angles on your topic and you've reached a critical mass of content you can repackage much of it as a definitive guide. This is should be of high enough value that you feel comfortable gating it with a form to collect people’s information. To do this, come up with an index of what chapters your guide should cover and then draw from your existing content to populate it. Edit the entire thing for flow, and publish it in PDF format.
Companies like Marketo are notorious for their successful repurposing of content into 100+ page guides that drive tens of thousands of leads.
4. REMEMBER TO RETURN TO UPDATE OLD ARTICLES [Janitor icon]
This is good for you and good for Google. Google counts freshness as a factor when ranking content and so it behooves you to dig up old stuff, refine it, and add more links to your other evergreen articles and guides. It’s a constant process of refinement not unlike gardening and it provides all the benefits of having new content without having to develop it from scratch.
Some topics require more updating than others - things like “best drone camera 2015,” “Super Bowl 2016,” or “Earthquake in Chile" become irrelevant more quickly and thus need more attention.
When updating, make changes to the body of the content. Google’s crawler checks for recency as well as degree of change, and it’ll pick up on how much (or how little) work you’ve put into it.
5. RE-RUN OLD CONTENT [Slideshow projector icon]
If you’ve updated something significantly and it’s still a worthwhile topic, re-run the old post. Only a small percentage of your readers completely read any given article and you’ll find that they’re more appreciative of re-runs than you might think. You can always launch it as a new-and-improved version of its former self with all the same fanfare that would accompany an entirely new piece.
Or, if you're looking to expand your reach, repurpose old content on self-service publisher sites.
5. How do I get started?
Okay then, convinced that evergreen articles are for you? The next step is to get started. Here’s the process you should follow:
1. DRAFT TOPICS
When you engage in content marketing, there are three phases to your growth.
In phase one, you typically write whatever you think is valuable for your customers. Basically, it's educated guesswork.
In phase two, you begin answering questions that your customers are directly asking, and using data on which topics performed best to adjust your writing.
In phase three, you’re no longer following customer sentiment but rather leading it. (Think celebrity marketer Seth Godin.) Here, you come up with cutting edge topics that people hadn’t yet thought to address.
The second and third phases lend themselves best to evergreen content. If you’re going to invest time into creating long guides and in-depth articles, you should know that they stand a good chance of performing well and that people will want to read them when you’re done.
If you need help coming up with topics, read 3 places to fill up on fresh content ideas.
2. WRITE THE POSTS
With your topics in hand, blend them each into their own interesting analogies that break complex ideas down into simple ones. Do plenty of research ahead of time rather than diving straight in, and read up on what other people are writing so that you can build upon the body of knowledge that is out there and add something that’s truly useful. Setting Google news alerts can be a great way to scour the internet for similar articles.
It’s time to get it out there! You already have your own blog, so you know what channels perform best for you, but here’s a quick refresher:
- Social media - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest
- Publishing platforms - LinkedIn Pulse, Medium
- Free syndication - Business.com, Business2Community - see our guide to syndicating content
- Paid syndication – Outbrain, Taboola
- Guest post on partner blogs
- Answer relevant questions on Quora and link back to your article
- Paid ads - Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook Ads
4. ANALYZE THE DATA
To know what topics to focus on, you need to know what’s hitting and what isn’t. Track your articles’ performance and use the data to inform those that follow. Specifically, look at:
- Content length
- Link clicks
To really get a grip on what you should be looking for, read up on how to become more data-driven about your blog.
6. What’s the best advice for using evergreen content?
Don’t give up! Content marketing and SEO are journeys, not destinations, and you won’t achieve success with evergreen content immediately. This is a long-term strategy that requires diligent application of the principles mentioned above and a commitment to constantly generating new and interesting articles.
The benefits awaiting you at the end of this process however will continue to pay for themselves, over and over.
There’s a time and a place
Evergreen content is of course not a panacea for all your content needs. It’s part of a broader content marketing strategy, and should be balanced with short format updates and news soundbites. Those have their place.
But when you’re thinking about how you’re going to build a long term business, you should rest that foundation securely on content that is evergreen and destined to grow with you.
Now that you know this, there’s nothing left to do but go out there and get to writing!