Let’s think about the typical journey of a story posted on your website.
A writer is made aware of a topic they believe will intrigue their readership. They devote time to research, accruing quotes and assets, and clarify their findings. They write the story. It’s subbed, added to their publications’ CMS and published. For a brief period, the story occupies a precious few pixels on a homepage. It’s aggregated to platforms such as Apple News and Flipboard, and surfaced through social media. Readers may share the story across their timelines. There’s a chance it’ll feature in the publication’s weekly newsletter. A strong story might have a shelf life of a week, but some stories will survive for a few short hours.
For many of these stories, short shelf life isn’t just, and requiring this much resource for one short influx of traffic makes for an inefficient and ineffective business model. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Evergreen content – stories that remain relevant regardless of the passing of time – can yield noticeable returns for publishers. In this post we’ll explain why evergreen content is so valuable, how to create it, how to repurpose existing content, how to drive traffic to evergreen content and how to measure its success.
How do you define evergreen content?
Evergreen stories are those that visitors continue to derive value from over a long period. Traffic may arrive to them through backlinks, social posts, through search or through your own website architecture, continually notching up article views over a longer than normal lifespan.
Why is evergreen content so valuable?
Different publications have different measures of success. At Mathematics we focus on lifetime value; working to turn casual visitors into return readers, using loyalty to maximise the lifetime value of a reader. You may measure success through unique users, read times, watch times or ad impressions, but whatever the metric, one thing remains true: the harder your content works, the higher the potential revenue. It’s possible to measure the success of your stories through lifetime value too – put simply, requiring three hours of resource to drive 100,000 pageviews over the course of two hours just doesn’t compare to allotting five hours to drive 1,000,000 pageviews over the course of two years. An evergreen content strategy focuses on the creation of articles, videos or audio that continually drive views and maximise the lifetime value of that content.
How do we create evergreen content?
A good evergreen content strategy starts by reframing the way we produce content. As a first step, journalists can ask a question – will this story still be relevant in a month, six months or a year? If not, is it possible to approach the piece in a way that offers that longevity? Instead of creating multiple short pieces on a developing story, look at creating a well-structured, in-depth piece that offers the reader a complete overview. Instead of covering a story by referring only to the press release, approach it from an evergreen angle and accrue original quotes, background, data and bring together other coverage, including other sources.
Certain formats will make for better evergreen candidates, so a strategy that balances news pieces with the following types of format can work well:
‘History of’ roundups
Updating these pieces in due course will extend shelf life. This could mark a big shift from how your publication creates content, but this shift can have a big effect on the value your readers derive from your content.
How do we identify which of our stories could be evergreen?
We can identify candidates for this type of content by looking at ‘lifetime value’. You may calculate this value in a number of ways but we would suggest looking at read time, scroll depth and overall views since the story was published. There’s no designated tool for this in Google Analytics but these metrics can be found using Google Tag Manager – speak with your development team about setting this up.
A simple way to find stories with evergreen potential is to access Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages in Google Analytics and download a list of the most popular articles in the last full month, then do the same for each preceding month, looking for stories that show up across multiple months. Then dig into the data for that story to get a feel for its performance.
Parse.ly have some useful tools for calculating which pieces of content you should optimise to turn evergreen including the ‘Evergreen Overview’ report. Here’s a sample report:
As you can see, Parse.ly conglomerates data from all posts it deems to be evergreen within a timeframe of your choosing. It selects these posts according to whether or not they continue to drive significant traffic to your site three days after publishing.
Once you’ve recorded these evergreen stories, it’s time to go one further to aid a truly thorough evergreen content strategy.
At WIRED – whose evergreen strategy is excellent – the team sometimes select “Average Engaged Time” to find evergreen articles that may not be getting traffic. The most important metric in this process is the lifecycle filter: ‘Evergreen’ or ‘Evergreen Candidate’. ‘Evergreen’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts more than 20 days old. ‘Evergreen Candidate’ filters for steadily-trafficked posts between 8-20 days old. For a thorough explanation, click here.
Now that you know which pieces of content are providing the evergreen effect, it’s time to ensure that they continue to do so.
How do we keep our content evergreen?
Your older articles may predate the latest updates to your site, so ensure that these pieces match the current look and feel of your site, with correct headings, no broken or low res images, or missing, outdated embeds.
Once this is covered it’s just a case of removing the timeliness of a post. Amend wording tied to a specific time period, add further context, update the story and if using data, look into updating this data or making this data ‘live’ by using a tool like Data Studio.
Be sure to maintain and update a list of your evergreen URLs so that you’re able to periodically check them and update them. Don’t hesitate to make these updates; they resurface stories in the eyes of Google which lends itself to a great SEO strategy, as do additional links to internal and external sources that may not have been available when the piece was initially published. Be sure to carefully monitor your metadata when updating articles in this way to avoid discrepancies between its headline and URL. For more advice on SEO best practice, click here.
How do we drive traffic back to evergreen content?
Now, you can have fun with the distribution and re-promotion of your evergreen content. The WIRED team take the best stories to social in a number of ways. Here’s what Indu Chandrasekhar, Director of Audience Development, told Parse.ly: “We’ve played around with language. We’ve pulled quotes from the story. We’ve made special art and created special assets. We’ve done Twitter threads. We’ve done interviews, we’ve done excerpts. There’s no end to things you can do. It’s one of the places you can play around the most. Are there holidays or special events you can peg these stories to?”
Why not start adding one or two evergreen stories to your mailer? You could add them in their own dedicated section, incorporate them into the bulk of the copy, or even start a brand new ‘archive’ newsletter. It could be worth trying all of these approaches to see which works best for you – your most loyal readers are likely to receive your mailer they may well be the audience most enthusiastic to revisit your best content.
It may be worth creating a document which lists all your evergreen stories and sharing it amongst your team, encouraging them to link to these stories when appropriate. You could also create a variation of a ‘Start Here’ page to list evergreen posts and signpost them to new readers, or create a ‘Top Posts’ section in a sidebar visible on every page of your site.
Can my tech team help with an evergreen strategy?
They certainly can. As well as helping to configure Google Tag Manager or Analytics your website architecture can be reworked to surface your strongest evergreen content and increase pageviews from visitors. At Mathematics we’ve built “evergreen” functionality for some publishers. To use this editorial click a simple button in their CMS to define an article as evergreen. We give this type of story more weight in ‘related’ areas, deliver these stories into specific ‘evergreen’ areas on the site and send notifications to editors to include them in newsletters. By separating these stories out in the CMS the team have easy access to them too, making updates and reshares easy for the team.
What else should we think about?
Publications should strive to make content evergreen as part of a wider aim to increase traffic whilst reducing volatility – raising the depths of traffic troughs (or ‘valleys’), rather than heightening its peaks. You want your readers to arrive, stick around, consume more content and return to your site periodically, not spend seconds with one viral story, only to never return. At Mathematics we call this kind of growth ‘valley elevation’.
With an effective evergreen strategy in place you can monitor valley elevation by paying attention to the variants on your weekly and monthly traffic. Naturally, you should aim for a general upward trend over a long period of time. Essentially, to elevate valleys is to increase the ‘half-life’ of your content; that is, the time required for your content’s value to reduce. Working to elevate valleys whilst ensuring peaks remain tall steadily increases the value of a publisher’s entire site.
In summary, evergreen content can create strong, predictable long-term success. Master evergreen content whilst reporting regularly like you do best, and you should yield some serious returns.