Many websites exist solely to tell other people how to make money writing blogs.
(Most are not entirely candid about the realities of trying to get rich quick from blog writing.)
But credit where credit’s due. The best of these sites are excellent examples of evergreen content.
Evergreen content is the stuff that is written once, yet will keep attracting visitors to your site for years to come.
- 1 What is evergreen content?
- 2 How to plan a piece of evergreen content
- 3 Choosing a topic
- 4 Mix up content types
- 5 Final tip: aim higher, research further
- 6 Takeaways
What is evergreen content?
People who successfully sell ebooks, how-to guides, and online courses understand a fundamental principle of treating digital content like a commodity. If you have a product with a short shelf life – something that dates quickly, that will only attract interest within a narrow timeframe. You will have to keep producing a lot of it over and over again if you want to keep making sales.
In terms of attracting an audience, news is like running on a treadmill. Because visitor or readership figures for each piece will plateau and then tail off, you are always having to work hard just to maintain a certain level.
On the other hand, if you can produce content that is timeless, which people will be just as interested in after 12 months as after 12 days, you are onto a winner.
The timelessness of evergreen content makes it the diametric opposite of news content. With news, timing is everything. The aim is always to break the story first, get the exclusive, and then move on. Even with the biggest stories which take on lives of their own with follow up after follow up, there is an acceptance that they have a certain shelf life and that is it.
That’s why news content is sometimes problematic for businesses. If you throw something up that people stop reading after two weeks because it is dated, you get little benefit in terms of traffic to your website, and if you have dated content on your website, your SEO is probably going to be negatively affected.
Timeless, evergreen content, on the other hand, just keeps giving. The potential audience of each piece will grow and grow over time. And while you will want to continue the drip-drip of new content for SEO purposes, this just means you can benefit from the cumulative effects as multiple pieces keep attracting visitors to your sites over time.
3 benefits of evergreen content
To sum up these benefits, we can see that evergreen content:
- Attracts more visitors to your site over time;
- Saves resources required to continually update time-sensitive content;
- Has a cumulative effect in growing your audience, along with other pieces of content.
How to plan a piece of evergreen content
So: what exactly does evergreen content look like?
What works and does not work? How easy is it to achieve success with it?
The truth is, as with most things in life, you don’t create good evergreen content without a certain amount of knowledge, skill, and effort. Evergreen content demands strategy and planning if you want to reap the best results.
Here is our professional writer’s insider guide to the key steps you need to take in designing evergreen content.
Think through what you want to achieve before you start creating any kind of content. Hubspot poses a question which makes a great starting point for creating evergreen content: “Will people still find this useful a year from now?”.
Ideally, you would want to extend that timeframe, if you can. But that’s the essence of it.
Creating content that is useful is different to posting something that is interesting, entertaining or informative.
Evergreen content should:
- Address a real problem that your target audience may face
- Provide a definitive solution.
Helping people out of a hole is a much more powerful draw than simply being interesting or informative. Some people call this actionable content. New audiences can use it time and time again because it delivers a tangible benefit.
In addition to being useful, evergreen content works best if it sets out to be authoritative.
Not only do you want you content to provide a solution, you want it to be the best solution available.
Yout content should be the go-to answer that people re-post and recommend to their friends. If you manage to achieve this, you have a good chance of achieving good search rankings for that topic.
You can achieve this using good-quality research, which we discuss later in this post.
Keep it simple
Aiming for genuinely useful, authoritative content will influence the topics you choose, the content type, the presentation and the depth of your research. It should also make you think about things like word length and style.
Being the authoritative source on a topic requires depth, but sometimes you can go overboard and create something that is inaccessible, long-winded and dense.
Aim for simplicity in all cases. The more straightforward you can make your topic, the more useful it will be to a broader range of people.
Define your objectives
The purpose of evergreen content is to keep people coming back to your blogs and websites over an extended period of time. But it also matters who those people are, and what they do when they get there.
As with any marketing activity, you should be matching the objectives for your evergreen content to the audiences you are targeting. So:
- If your aim is to drive retail sales, you should be focusing on how your products and services meet a need for your customers, offering guides and how-to articles that explain the benefits
- If you are looking to raise your profile with key stakeholders and influencers in your sector, and so establish the authority of your brand, you should be thinking more about thought leadership, market analysis, something that creates a talking point or adds valuable insight to a debate.
Write for non-experts
Whatever it is you want to achieve with your audience, avoid writing for experts.
This might seem counter-intuitive if you are aiming for thought leadership-type articles, but writing for experts is unhelpful because:
- It narrows your potential audience down
- You run the risk of writing for yourself, or your peers, and not your customers
- Experts are unlikely to need help — and if they do need help, they probably won’t get it from a blog post.
Creating content that solves problems for people should be aimed at people who have less understanding than you do. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to pitch content at the wrong level.
Choosing a topic
Topic choice goes right to the heart of what it means for content to be evergreen. Some topics simply cannot be timeless – any kind of announcement, or response to current news, or discussion of forthcoming events, will date quickly and should be set aside.
If you are primarily concerned with generating interest in your products, there is little point writing an in-depth analysis of the logistical challenges in your sector and how they can be resolved.
Think about it strategically. Here’s a blog post that will help you to build a quick and easy strategy.
Aim to narrow down your topic to something specific. If you take on too broad a topic, you will end up competing with dozens of articles that already exist and risk offering nothing original.
Remember: to be useful, you need to give your audience something they cannot find elsewhere.
There is also an argument that people prefer specific topics because they find them easier to digest. This may be because the central purpose is more obvious, so readers find them more useful.
Ask yourself how sustainable your topic is as an evergreen subject.
Something that seems timeless now may have dated in a year’s time. Technology is a particularly tricky area in this regard. You can write an authoritative piece explaining how Google’s location services work, or create a user guide for using Instagram and Snapchat stories for product marketing. But when new versions or updates are released, your content will need updating to reflect the changes.
There is nothing wrong with going back to a topic to update it. In fact, doing that should be standard practice. But you should judge how often changes are likely to happen. If you have to update a blog every two weeks, it isn’t really an evergreen topic.
Mix up content types
Different types of content work in different ways. There are different choices depending on whether you are looking to create short-form content for a blog, or more in-depth content such as an ebook to use as a product.
Depending on where you intend to publish them, and how you intend to reach your audience, you might need to mix it up.
Here is a good resource from Copy Blogger which offers an in-depth analysis of 20 types of content and why they make good choices for evergreen resources.
Short-form content types
The Red Robot Media team had a chat about our experience writing evergreen content with a relatively short word count.
We settled on these examples:
- How-to guides: These are an evergreen staple that can be used for almost any subject area, for almost any purpose. How-to guides are more flexible than formal instructions – they can be used to offer advice, and can vary in tone from the playful to the serious. We could write ‘How not to fall flat on your face on your first day in a new job’, or: ‘How to remain compliant with employment law’. Both are valid, depending on who you’re trying to reach.
- Explanatory articles: How, why or what articles. A reader seeing a title like ‘What is SEO?’ or ‘Why should I worry about evergreen content?’ will read on expecting to learn something they did not know before. Beware: explanatory articles can be time sensitive. For example, all the articles flooding the internet trying to explain what is going on with Brexit will look dated in a year. So your choice of topic and an evaluation of sustainability is particularly important.
- FAQs: Great to use on static web pages where you can include them on product and services pages to break up descriptions and make the content more interactive. FAQs can also be used in blogs to provide helpful advice on a wider range of topics, helping to establish trust in a brand as an authority in its field. We use FAQs a lot on our website to add lots of additional information for new customers.
- Lists: Lists, or listicles, are the Marmite of the content writing world. Some people love them; some hate them. But readers like them because they are scannable. You can write list-based articles on pretty much any topic, and they often bridge a gap between how-to explanation-based content and providing information. For example, you will see a lot of examples in the format of “10 ways to do X”, which package a how-to article into a reader-friendly list format. On the other hand, lists can be more straightforward information resources, such as “The Top 10 Blogs on Content Marketing”, or “The Ultimate List of SEO Tools.” As with any information resource, care has to be taken to keep lists like these up to date.
- Case studies: Case studies play a very handy trick. They take a time-sensitive, news-like topic, such as the fact that ‘company A won a contract with company B’, and make it timeless. It’s all about knowing the purpose of the content. Rather than announcing an event, case studies act as a summary or historical record of what happened. Mainly used in B2B content marketing, case studies are an ideal way to highlight success stories and demonstrate the strengths of a brand through real-life examples. Most case studies do have a shelf life, but as you can expect it to be a couple of years at least before a case study starts to look a bit dated, they can still be considered very useful for evergreen content.
Long-form content types
Here’s another brainstorm from the Red Robot Media team. These are our usual suspects for long-form evergreen content:
- Market reports: Long-form content carries added value with it in the form of more in-depth data and analysis. Market reports can take the form of broad review current literature and resources available on a current topic, perhaps with evaluation and opinion. They can also be based on original research, whether in the form of a large-scale study or more qualitative information taken from interviews with key industry figures. The use of statistics and other research data does to a certain extent date content, but with good enough research, a report will usually enjoy an extended period of relevance; at least a year and often much longer. Reports tend to be used most commonly in B2B content marketing, but also have uses in consumer marketing – for example, many reports are prepared as PR materials with the intention of gaining media coverage to reach their target audience.
- White papers: Like market reports, the focus of a white paper is to be in-depth and authoritative. But rather than just focusing on a review or analysis of a particular topic, white papers are very much about thought leadership and presenting actionable solutions to problems. White papers therefore often resemble extended how-to articles.
- User guides: Long-form guides can mimic, or replace, printed user guides. You might, for example, think of an energy company producing consumer guides to smart meters and smart appliances, answering what they are and how they work. And you can publish user guides on the web; we’ve done so many times. This kind of technique is common in software and technology – think along the lines of the Microsoft Office 365 support pages. They usually do well in search results because they are niche and specific.
- Tutorials: The classic example of the evergreen tutorial is the ‘How to get rich quick by blogging’ content that sits behind a paywall. In effect, the content of a tutorial might not be too dissimilar from a series of how-to blogs, but with everything packaged and structured logically so it can be followed as like an e-learning resource. T
Final tip: aim higher, research further
If you remember one thing from this article, remember this:
Research is what separates the wheat from the chaff in content marketing.
The internet is an astronomically huge pool of resources, so if you want your content to become the definitive source on your chosen topic, you are going to work harder than everyone else.
The quality of your final piece will correlate directly with the quality of your research. This article from Forbes sets out these three useful criteria for quality research:
- Carry out original research: Going back to the core aims of evergreen content, if you want to be useful, it helps to offer something unique that can’t be found elsewhere. Even if it involves a quick straw poll on social media or firing a couple of questions to in-the-know contacts, it helps if you can include some element of original content you have sourced yourself.
- Dig deep: Even if you can’t get any original content, you can still be original in what you produce by being thorough in your research and looking for new angles on what you find. Don’t be afraid to question the conclusions others draw or look for inconsistencies. That way, you can come up with original answers that will improve what was previously available. Also, we know evergreen content works best if it is authoritative, and you can’t claim to be the authority on a topic if you don’t do the research.
- Be citable: This relates to advice Copy Blogger gives about focusing your research on data. There is nothing wrong with researching opinions and insights from existing authorities on a topic, and then comparing and contrasting these to build your own contribution. However, people like facts and figures. And they add an authoritative quality of their own. If you pack your content with properly referenced statistics, you immediately become a useful resource. Stats make your work more citable, and the more cited you are, the more backlinks you get to your content. (Neil Patel is a big fan of data-driven content, which could partly explain why his blog is so successful.)
Evergreen content is a big topic, but content marketing insiders make a big deal about it because it works.
Some businesses have reported seeing close to 300 per cent increases in traffic when they replace underperforming, time-sensitive articles with high-quality evergreen content.
Designing content which can achieve this takes knowledge, understanding, hard work and skill. You need to understand what your audiences want from content, and then deliver solutions that are accessible yet authoritative, useful and unique. The aim of creating content which becomes the definitive, canonical source for your topic is a lofty one, given the competition. There are certain types of content which will help you, depending on your purposes. But ultimately there is no substitute for the hard work that has to go into researching your topic.
After many years in which online content was seen as disposable, mere click bait for attracting traffic and playing the SEO game, evergreen content has taken us in the opposite direction entirely. The aim now is to be anything but throwaway, to shape digital content itself as an enduring solution that compliments the products and services you offer.