Today’s post is a collaboration between one of our favorite customers, Bill Sebald, and BuzzStream’s Matt Gratt. Bill owns Greenlane SEO in Philadelphia, serving small and medium-sized businesses. Previously, he was the SEO director at GSI commerce (an eBay company.) You can follow Bill on Twitter or circle him on Google Plus.
If you keep a McDonald’s cheeseburger out for a year, even without refrigeration, it will not expire. The bread and cheese will get hard, but there will be no mold, no smell, and though it might taste funky, you can safely eat the thing.
Is creating the indestructible hamburger a smart move by McDonald’s? It’s certainly not organic. I believe many times when writer’s are creating “evergreen content,” they’re creating this cheeseburger.
Much of the evergreen copy I read on websites looks like it was written to be boilerplate copy. Rarely does it connect with me, or is it conducive to driving me deeper into the product or page. I see it there – it doesn’t necessarily offend me, but I sense it’s kind of stale – and perception is reality.
Really? Nothing has happened in the last year that could drive some updates into this copy? Couldn’t I, as a reader or customer benefit from some updates to this copy? Google wants your copy to be current. So do your visitors. They deserve to see how you’ve grown since originating the text. They want to see what you learned, and how you now feel about a certain concept, product, or market.
To some extent, you should always have something you need to water. Something you need to nurture. Something that needs to grow with you.
Even if it’s content on the homepage of a B2B copy machine service, or the product copy of an ecommerce toy store, as you get savvier in your industry, and get more clarity into your industry and customers, you become more of an authority in your space. Everything on your website should reflect that. If you’ve sealed the door on your evergreen content, one could consider that a little lazy, despite whether or not you created it to scale your time in the first place.
As a writer, your tone always changes. Your craft evolves. Your perspectives change. The way people speak about your product or topic evolves. If all of this should enrich future content, shouldn’t it enrich legacy content as well? We’re past the idea that users don’t read online. They do. They’re just pickier.
If your content is stiff, you have wasted valuable real estate on your website. It’s a usability/design function that can be managed better. If your evergreen copy isn’t ever going to be shared, and you think it’s purely because you’re in a boring vertical, you’re not writing well enough. Everything can be interesting to someone. Besides, what fun is having a social media widget on it that shows zero likes, shares, or tweets? Today we truly need our stuff passed around.
Evergreen Content in Practice
Recently I worked with a company who was hired to create evergreen copy. They were our “scalable content marketing” vendor, in place of our absent in-house content department. They are a larger company, with a decent reputation.
We settled on them because they were very successful getting their own pieces shared socially and promoted on Google News. What better a sign of a good company than one that can knock it out of the park for themselves?
Unfortunately it didn’t pan out.
The content company was tasked with writing half evergreen copy and half promotional copy. We’d receive it through an RSS feed, which would auto-publish. Sure, we’d be able to go back and make changes later, but this system was difficult. To make changes, we had to coordinate with the editorial team so the official database would record our content edits.
In the end, being critical and attentive to warming up evergreen copy was far from scalable, so we let it ride. Over 100 articles later, with about 50% evergreen, our total natural traffic gain was 2% of our site (about 500 natural search visits in a year span). This content earned us no backlinks, no social shares. It was indeed evergreen content by design and definition, but it was much more like astroturf than Kentucky bluegrass.
Adding Fertilizer: Making Your Content Greener
Lesson learned. We decided to jump back into these evergreen pieces and give it a rewash. We erased the definition of “evergreen” that we were going with, and replaced it with “Evergreen-Organic.” Our criterion for this content was as follows:
Is there some proof that people are interested in this? From keyword research or feedback from customers?
You can address this concern through data-driven means (like keyword research), or by asking your customers.
To address this with internal resources, start by asking the people in your company who talk to customers every day – like your support, sales, and pre-sales teams. Questions like, “Do customers ever ask you about this? What are the top five questions you hear the most?” Can help you decide if customers are actually interested in your content.
The other approach involves using SEO tools to programmatically evaluate different topics.
The best tools for this purpose are:
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Almost every SEO professional is familiar with the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, so I won’t belabor the description. You can check keyword volumes for specific phrases. As has been noted before, the GAKWT only provides volumes for top commercial queries, so take any numbers from the tool with a grain of salt.
UberSuggest scrapes Google Suggest to find queries that Google autopopulates. If a query appears in Google Suggest, it gets some volume (even thought it might be small). UberSuggest is great for finding long-tail queries that are highly relevant to your offering, which make great topics for content.
In the above example, you might want to create content around “CRM best practices”, “A Basic Course in CRM Implementation”, or a list of books relevant to customer relationship management.
BottleNose is a new social search company– it allows you to find trending topics and content. If you have the ability to create and publish content rapidly, it’s a great resource to find new topics to write about.
In this example, you can see that “the difference between CRM and Marketing Automation” is a trending topic – it might be well suited for a blog post.
Is there proof that similar topics get links or shares?
If you know similar topics get links and shares, you know there’s some interest (and ‘heat’) around those topics.
For example, you could use Open Site Explorer to find that one of the most linked-to articles on the BuzzStream blog is Kevin Gibbons’ post on how his team turned Quaturo (now BlueGlass UK) into a content marketing agency. If you had an SEO blog, you could write on a similar topic.
You can also analyze similar content for social shares. My favorite tool to do this is Social Crawlytics. SC crawls a site, and returns a report of shares by URL:
For example, in this report analyzing the KISSMetrics blog, I see that list posts are very popular, and posts about Google tools do very well. Maybe I can combine both of these topics in my next post. (Social Crawlytics data is particularly valuable if you use it across a number of competitor sites and scale it.)
Does the content have some kind of flavor and character, and the company’s voice if necessary?
This is hard to evaluate analytically, so you need to ask yourself some questions:
- If I removed the branding from this piece of content, would I know it’s from the company?
- Could this content be published by any company in the space? Or is it specific to your company?
- Does the content have a ‘point of view’? Or does it seem like another piece of hastily rewritten content for SEO purposes?
- What sort of words would you use to describe it? Are they the same words you want attached to your brand?
Create an internal survey and ask your co-workers (or trusted prospects and customers) to read it and answer a few comprehension questions. Do they answer in the way you expected? Don’t let surveying be a lost art.
Is there plenty of information in this content (that isn’t time sensitive)? Could there be more?
This is another great opportunity to ask your customers if your content can be better. My favorite tool to accomplish this is Qualaroo, a microsurvey tool:
With Qualaroo, you can create a survey that asks one question to visitors. Some of my favorites questions are:
“What other information would you like to see on this page?”
“What is your biggest question about [Product or Topic]?”
“How can we make this page better?”
“What’s the hardest part about [Topic of Page]?”
Was it long enough to provide all the information it could, but short enough to be interesting[O3] ?
Content can’t be too long, but it can be too boring. People will happily read long content if they’re interested, but often tune out far before the end.
- Does your content communicate succinctly?
- Could you keep the same great information and make it shorter?
- Can complicated concepts be better explained with images, videos, or links?
Turning Brown Content Evergreen
Returning to our story, 79% of our articles were reworked. 9% were thrown out. 12% were left as is.
And, as hoped (and somewhat expected), improvements were up. This is a case where it’s actually fun to watch the grass grow. Since starting and completing this in November 2012, we’ve already seen a 48.3% increase in natural search traffic in 2 months. We have 5 backlinks from DA 35 (and above) blogs, and 32 social shares with absolutely no outreach on our part. A small victory, but big considering we’re also a pretty non-sexy B2B brand.
This has shaped our 2013 content marketing calendar pretty substantially. Not only do we expect this “Evergreen-Organic” content to keep growing, but we have great faith in the new stuff we’re developing now. More work goes into it, but so does more enjoyment. We have sessions to build out our agile content marketing calendar. We have fun doing this, with goals and rewards. Is it scalable? Yes. Not as much as with a vendor through an RSS feed, but this is certainly a viable operation at an incredibly low cost.