You publish your blog post, share it around, and it gets lots of good traffic.
In many cases that’s the end of the story as your blog post’s traffic then continues to drop in a negative parabolic curve approaching zero. Perhaps from time to time you re-share it, giving it small bounces in traffic, but the end is always inevitable. And in a few days (or weeks) you publish another new post, repeating the process. You forget about your old posts.
Your content has a life the moment you publish it, how long will it live?
All content has a life span, but when you publish content, how often do you think about its longevity? Some content might have a “hit” value of an hour or a day (such as a photo you shared), some content might be popular for a few weeks or months (a review on a popular new cell phone), and some content might live on and for months or even years. With each type of content you’d see different traffic patterns: the jolt/drop, the downward slope, and the piddling along.
Along the way there might be spikes or movement based on external factors (such as shares/links or search engines), but thinking about the type of content that you’re publishing and your target audience will often give you a good idea about how the content’s traffic/interest will progress.
The Lifetime Value of a blog post
Most blog posts tend to look like the picture here: they get published to acclaim and promotion, then slowly taper off in a gradual slide.
A study by IZEA and the Halverson Group undertook a look at the question of how much value there was in a [conventional] blog post. While most marketers and marketing conventional wisdom had assumed the value of a blog post to be approximately 30 days, their study concluded that only after 24 months has 99% of a blog post’s impressions been obtained.
They also identified three distinct phases in the life cycle of a blog post: “Shout”, “Echo”, and “Reverberate”.
Shout: The “Shout” phase yields an initial steep spike in impressions that occurs within the first week to ten days, when 50 percent of a blog post impressions are generated.
Echo: The “Echo” phase begins shortly thereafter and lasts until day 30, when 72 percent of blog post impressions are realized.
Reverberate: The third, and likely least studied, phase in a blog post’s life cycle is the “Reverberate” phase. This phase makes up the 28 percent of remaining impressions and lasts from day 30-700. The Reverberate Phase is important for both content creators and marketers, as that is where the long tail value occurs. It is also the phase that most blog post impression metrics fail to take into account and quantify.
You might have noticed that I used the word conventional earlier to describe the patterns this study looked at. The reason is that I do not believe that this is what all blog posts look like, but instead how they look in aggregate when lumped in with the majority of content which is written for short-term impact.
In many cases you could then say there are two additional phases, either of which can occur: “Growth” or “Spark”.
Growth: the content would begin gaining traffic due to inbound links and search traffic, moving up in the SERP and becoming an authority for the subject. This traffic would continue to gain as it both moves upwards in rankings, but also outward into more general queries. As it gains in rankings, it also gains from additional shares and inbound links.
Spark: similar to Growth, the traffic comes mainly from search, but the sudden spark occurs due to an algorithm or display change. Many sites saw changes to their content as a result of Penguin and Panda, and others still from the addition of Answer Boxes and Rich Snippets. Those changes to the display of types of content could result in old content sparking again.
Building value through short-term and long-term content
We often talk about short-form and long-form content; what you’re reading right now is long-form content, and content found on Google+, Twitter and Facebook is most likely short-form content.
Short-form content often lives in the moment and is generally more transient: it live in a stream, is quickly and easily consumed, and generally has a high rate of minor actions (likes, +1s, shares, etc.). It also almost always lives under the brand umbrella of someone else’s brand other than your own, living on the platform of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.
Long-form content is content that often delves deeper into a subject, requiring more than 10-15 seconds to read, and involves a larger commitment from the consumer. It often resides under your own branding, or on a brand umbrella that is not a social media hub.
The reason why we recommend mixing your media creation with both short-term/long-term, short-form and long-form, is that you’re able to appeal to people and keep people engaged at different levels at different times. If you were known for always putting out long-term, long-form content people would forever be bookmarking your content, but perhaps putting off reading it until they could sit down for 15 minutes uninterrupted with a cup of coffee. That type of commitment doesn’t always happen, and is hard to achieve, so keeping users interested in you and consuming your content through a mixture of quick bites and long meals keeps them engaging at different levels.
As mentioned, Google+ is a good example of short-term, short-form content. Users view the content in a stream, and generally the longevity of your content is based mostly around your audience and how often they check their streams for updates. If you post multiple times a day and a large percentage of your audience only visits Google+ a few times a week, chances are your audience will be missing most of your content.
Your content archives and evergreen content traffic patterns
Earlier we talked about the common traffic patterns of content: the jolt/drop, the downward slope, and the piddling along.
While the most common, those are not the only traffic patterns that your content can take during its life cycle. Some examples from our own blog include:
The Resurgence (Retro-Cool)
A once-busy post that slowly trailed off… then through some changes within Google’s search algorithm, evinced a huge resurgence.
A post that continues to yield steady traffic years later through referrals and search, but without much fanfare or social sharing to give it larger bumps in traffic.
A post that never caught on after initial popular and promotion, but because of search traffic and renewed interest in the subject is now yielding significant traffic.
Coasting towards Irrelevancy
A timely post, capitalizing on in-the-moment buzz, hits great heights in traffic, but then slowly fades towards irrelevancy as the subject itself fades.
Published without any fanfare, this post continues to gain in the search engine results page (SERP) with a steady increase in traffic.
A post that just won’t die. It keeps finding ways to get shared through social media, each time re-animating it for a period of time before it fades away, only to get shared again.
The Trend Leader
This one was spotted as a fairly common occurence in a popular news blog that specialized in “sneak peaks”; the content was enjoyed by the subscribers, but it was only a few weeks later that the masses caught on via search and discovery.
Immediate returns vs. Increasing dividends
While some media people write content seeking “the big score” in the form of content going viral, going viral isn’t the only way to have your content reach that same huge number of eyeballs as we’ve demonstrated in the charts above (taken from actual content traffic patterns from our site). While hitting that huge initial traffic can be seen as a sign of success, having content that continues to bring in steady, or steadily growing traffic often makes for a better long-term strategy as you’re not continually trying to “hit it big” and hope your content gets that viral return. At the same time, relying on a very large audience that gives you a large immediate return through a social media channel puts you in the situation of having to continually put out content that will garner responses from that one social media channel, and your traffic will likely dry up if you go on a posting hiatus.
Combining quality long-form, long-term content with immediate, short-form content creates a comprehensive strategy balancing lots of continued interest with long-term investment interest.
When you’re planning out your editorial calendar, or trying to garner the most traffic to your site, consider long-term objectives as well as short-term objectives. Spend time creating the long-form content, as well as sharing short-form content and engaging your audience. Consider your audience and give them a well-rounded diet.
Revisiting and revising your old content
It may sound odd, but we spend a lot of time in our company’s blog archives. We’re firm believers in writing quality content that has the potential to become evergreen, but also in the act of cultivating that behavior. While many are looking for a Big Splash when they write new content, then forget about those posts and leave them to languish, we’re periodically going back and rooting around.
Each Monday we go back into those posts and add links to new posts that we’ve written, extending the visit to newer, deeper discussions in various subjects. We freshen them up with links to new research and reports from external sources, or make them relevant again with more modern examples. Occasionally we’ll rephrase content based on our own greater understanding now of various topics.
And it works.
These old, established articles were always getting traffic, but as we refresh them, their search engine traffic steadily increases. Visitor sessions grow as they come into those articles, then follow the links into the newer posts. New posts seem to be getting ranked higher, faster, for queries we want, most likely due to the extension of semantic relevancy.
Don’t give up on old content – embrace it. Cultivate it as a growing source of inbound traffic, relevancy, and timelessness. Or, in the words of Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting, “wake up your sleeping beauty content!“
Google’s Freshness-Based Ranking Patent
As if you needed yet another reason, Google is giving you one in the form of a recent patent describing how rankings for pages in search might receive a boost or demotion depending on Google’ interpretation of a query. This patent is called “freshness based ranking“.
Google tries hard to divine “intent” behind a query, and part of that calculation needs to be in the form of “is the searcher looking for more recent content on a subject, or perhaps older and more established/definitive information on a subject?” Some queries might be looking for newer, newsier type posts, while others are looking for more bibliographic content.
What if you can supply both?
The benefit to your content strategy, in keeping that original publish date, but also proudly display that “last updated” date to your user and to the search engine (via schema), enables your content to fulfill both aspects of the ranking calculations, being both deep and authoritative, but also fresh.