Written in 1983, Sting’s classic “Every Breath You Take” has earned over $20 million in estimated profits, accounting for up to one-third of all of the Police’s royalty income.
If you’ve sung “Happy Birthday to You” in a restaurant, at a concert or public place previous to February of 2016, you may owe some money. Warner Music contentiously owns the copyright to the song in its entirety. First composed in 1893, the song has been accruing royalties for over a century, earning an estimated $50 million in cumulative value.
Content strategists can learn much from these examples. “Every Breath You Take” and “Happy Birth to You” are quintessentially evergreen—inbound marketing jargon for content that earns compounding returns by maintaining meaning and relevance over long periods of time. There's good content, and there's really good content. Then there's the great stuff. I'm talking about the outlier content--those golden posts that, like fine wine, getter better with age--the ones that seem to lead to eternal returns via the eternal return of leads.
The question, of course, is “Why?” What magical mix makes certain pieces of content more successful than others?
You've followed all the rules--crossed your T's and dotted your I's. You've read all the "how to's" and stuck to the listicles. You've mobilized the of full wealth of inbound wisdom. Your content creation strategy is on-point. You’re churning out posts like a fine-oiled machine and ideas for new content are coming out of your ears. Yet you're still sitting at your computer waiting for the traffic to spike on your beautifully crafted blog post, or, in fact, for it to get any sort of traction at all.
If your content is hitting your persona profile right between the eyes as well as being shared in all of the right places, then you will rightly be scratching your head in confusion. "Why aren’t a frustrated mob of customers baying for more of my content and, more importantly, my products?"
The Content Audit
Getting consistent traction across content has been a problem even for the best in the business. At one point, HubSpot was producing over 200 posts every month, yet they still weren’t hitting their marketing goals.
Their solution lay in a content audit.
6,000 posts were trawled through and what they found was astounding, 46% of their monthly blog leads came from just 30 posts.
Despite being out of date or rarely shared, these posts were at the heart of Hubspot’s conversion rate. Pulling in leads over a long-term basis, rather than attracting a short-lived spike.
Your first step should be to rifle through your existing content and find the posts which are still generating a steady stream of traffic and conversions, despite having been forgotten by your blogging team.
Moz also realized that posts which compound over time are a lot more effective short-term hits. They found that by producing ‘evergreen’ content they were able to give customers what they wanted but, by refreshing and updating blogs on a regular basis they also kept their engagement levels high.
Hubspot had a different strategy. Rather than creating new content that was focused on producing long term conversion, they decided to optimize their 30 successful posts and re-share them. They saw their monthly leads double.
Nobody can miss out on that kind of conversion, so how did they do it?
First, they separated posts into those that were attracting traffic and those that were converting leads.
If a post was already converting, the blog team focused on SEO optimization to ensure that it would get found. They refreshed the content, updated keywords and refreshed on-page links to encourage Google to push it up the rankings.
If a post was attracting high traffic, the focus was on getting visitors to convert. This meant updating CTAs and using keywords in the content that were used by customers who were searching for it. They then encouraged people to sign up for the blog or head to a landing page.
For both sets of posts, they used the optimization and conversion methods that they knew had worked to attract customers in the past. Hubspot found that updating CTAs was key to converting on all of their posts. However, you might find that something different works better for your customers.
When you're doing a content audit don't just focus on the numbers. Analyze your blogs structurally and stylistically to figure out what has worked well in the past and use it to update your successful historical posts.
Answer commonly asked questions.
It only makes sense that if you're hearing a question all the time, that people are probably searching for the answer in Google. You should also consider asking your sales team about the questions they get from prospects. Make a list of the top concerns. Write thorough posts that address these problems and provide viable solutions. There's a good chance that these posts will produce traffic over time if you write and promote it well.
Compounding posts cover broad topics and are tactical. Rather than being targeted to a narrow segment, compounding posts typically appeal to a broad range of readers. They offer tactical advice on how to do something or on why something is important.
However you update your posts, make sure that you share them when you're finished. Share them in the right places and in a relevant context. Explain why it was initially written or feature it in a ‘roundup’ of old posts. Make sure that the content isn’t just floating, but has a relevant context.
These techniques should be applied to regularly refresh posts that are converting well or attracting high traffic. Don’t just make this a one-time thing. Go back to posts that are doing well and give them a polish.
Structure the post so that it can be easily scanned.
Use bulleted lists, headers, images, graphs and links to more information. Structuring a post with these elements reflects the way people consume content on the internet. They scan it, looking for bite-sized chunks of information that give them what they're looking for. If they see enough of those bite-sized chunks, they will go back and read the whole post.
Offer a step-by-step approach in your blog post.
A good compounding blog post is like an owner's manual - people can go back and refer to it as they attempt to work through a problem or answer a question that they have.
Remember, guidelines are not guarantees:
There’s no formula for developing success on the scale of “Happy Birthday to You.” While you can’t reduce everything to chance, chance touches everything. Best practices are crucial. For my part, however, content creation would be completely uninteresting and no fun if you could completely reduce the greatest hits to pure method.
"Every single day; every word you say": Enduring iteration
In my experience, the best answer to the hazards of chance is enduring iteration: Keep creating. Follow those best practices. You'll develop those magical pieces of compounding content. Sure: Not every piece will be a classic. But that's what makes them, well, classic.