Lately, every time I hear business people discussing content marketing the buzzword is “evergreen.” Personally, I hate the idea of posting anything that doesn’t have a date on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. So I took a closer look at the merits of evergreen content versus current, dated material to see what the pros and cons are of each. Here’s what I found:
Types of Content
First off, it’s necessary to understand that content isn’t limited to business blogging but covers a range of information types, including:
- white papers
- surveys and reports
- press releases
- education materials
- video and audio clips
Some of these content types lend themselves better to evergreen format, while others just can’t work without a timeline. Blogging by its nature needs to be current, for example, much like news reports, press releases and social media. Informative articles, however, can be considered evergreen if they are written correctly.
Evaluating the Evergreen Advantage
To determine whether there are benefits to posting evergreen content, it’s necessary to identify clearly what it is. And no, it has nothing to do with gardening!
In principle, it’s content that has no expiration date, that is intended to stay fresh and relevant for years, and to retain its value over time.
To achieve these things, the common thinking is that it shouldn’t include any time-specific information.
To maintain the evergreen status of content it’s necessary to not only exclude the publishing date, but to specify the time frame that applies to any facts in the information.
For example, if you refer to product pricing, you have to either leave out the relevant values or you have to say “as of June 2014” the prices were X. Information containing numbers is particularly risky, because statistical reports also change over time and the first thing a reader will ask when he sees “25 eye-popping internet marketing statistics” is “when was this applicable.”
So how exactly does evergreen content benefit you? According to a HubSpot post from February 2012 (more about that later), there are 4 main advantages:
- Higher ranking in search: The whole point of evergreen content is that it stays around for a long time, so as long as your SEO practices are solid it should continue to be indexed. This makes it vital not to overdo your keyword usage and to update it regularly to keep pace with the search algorithm changes.
- More website traffic: This goes with the higher search ranking, because the better your content ranks the more it will get found. That leads to more visitors to the site, which results in the search engines viewing your site as relevant and presenting you in search results even more. Nice synergy there.
- Ongoing lead generation: Because evergreen content continues to generate traffic it also continues to generate leads, without requiring any work from you besides the occasional update. This gives it lasting residual value and impacts your bottom line both from an economy of scale viewpoint as well as a sales results viewpoint.
- ROI: This one is particularly relevant if you pay an external contractor or a staff member to create the content in the first place. The longer it delivers results the better your return on the initial investment, especially when compared with current web writing. The latter often produces copy that’s read a fraction of the number of times and costs 200% more to create.
Sounds too good to be true? Ok, let’s examine the disadvantages:
- Credibility. Or rather, the lack of. For me this is paramount, because I know I won’t use as a source any content that isn’t dated. The internet has been around for 20-odd years now, and some of the information online is almost as old. Unless you can tell when it has been published, you have no idea how accurate it is. So when I find an article extolling the virtues of Jakob Nielsen’s internet eye-tracking study, I want to know that it was published in 1997 because that means a lot might have changed.
- I mentioned this earlier, but it’s important to note that the content doesn’t take care of itself. You need to check it periodically for outdated references, broken hyperlinks and erroneous information. Consider, for example, the poor taste that will result for users stumbling across any pre-2001 articles that make reference to the World Trade Center in NYC! Audit your evergreen content regularly and update your calls to action. Look for opportunities to hyperlink internally to more recent pages than before and fact-check any issues that might have been subject to change in the interim.
- The crux of content marketing is that it hinges on shareability, and if someone doesn’t want to use your evergreen content themselves then they are less likely to share it. Besides, sharing depends on relevance and few pieces manage to achieve being both relevant and evergreen at the same time.
Calculating Current Content Value
Let’s compare the options offered by evergreen content with those of “current” content, which is content that refers specifically to time-related issues and usually displays the publishing date.
Current material enjoys the unique benefits of:
- being up-to-the-minute
- generating more interest than information with greater longevity
- is more likely to be shared and to have a chance of going viral
- enables you to “newsjack” current issues as hooks to hang your content on
- gets quoted and referenced more often—at least in the beginning
- creates a rapid turnover of fresh information to boost your search engine optimization
- it’s perfect for breaking news, as in “Facebook announces a new photo upload option”
The main disadvantage of timely or current content is that it typically has a short lifespan. The young royals are an exception to this rule, given their propensity for being featured on every single cover of Hello Canada (well, it seems like it’s every cover, anyway.) See, that’s an example of timely content!
Another disadvantage is that readers can tire easily of the topic, because it tends to get more than its fair share of attention while it’s hot news. It can also be replaced with new information quickly, rendering it irrelevant.
Remember the 2012-13 NHL lockout? It dragged on for more than three months, but once it was over it was done and any content “hung” on its hook was also.
The Bottom Line
As much as I hate to admit it, there is a case to be made for using evergreen content sometimes. There’s still a place for timely content that makes good use of newsworthy issues to draw attention, however. So before you decide to hate one and love the other, evaluate each piece you publish in terms of its purpose, its projected lifetime value and whether or not you have a hook to hang it on.
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