Should publishers be taking better advantage of evergreen content in their archives?
For most publishers, less than 10 percent of June page views came from traffic to evergreen articles — stories that were more than three days old by Parse.ly's definition.
Among the publishers included in the analytics company's data: Upworthy, Conde Nast properties, The Atlantic properties, Fox News, The New York Post, Mashable, Slate, Business Insider, The Daily Beast, The Next Web and The New Republic.
Nearly half of the publishers see less than 5 percent of their web traffic attributed to content that is more than three days old, according to Parse.ly:
Unsurprisingly, Parse.ly found that topic-specific sites generally received a higher percentage of traffic from evergreen stories than breaking-news sites did. Upworthy doesn't include timestamps in its stories, and many of Slate's pieces are less time-sensitive than stories from The New York Post or Fox News and thus more likely to have a long shelf life of shareability. The mileage you get out of people coming across old stories varies a lot depending on what kind of content you have.
Parse.ly uses the data to suggest that publishers should actively take advantage of archive material, not just passively observe readers coming across it via search: "Integrating evergreen posts into your distribution strategies can attract and grow readership without having to increase editorial costs."
New York Magazine and Business Insider
At Nieman Lab, Joshua Benton recently highlighted a 10-month-old New York Magazine piece that became the second-most popular story on the site thanks to the magazine posting it on Facebook "as if it were a new story."
The story, "Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at Age 24," naturally received lots of complaints on Facebook, but only one commenter, Julian Garcia, mentioned the fact that it wasn't new: "You constantly post this article."
Readers might not care so much about newness if a timeless feature or essay is good, but there's certainly an expectation that most of what you see on Facebook is new news. It's called the News Feed, after all, so transparency when it comes to old stories seems important. Then again, I wonder if the Facebook post would have taken off like it did and reached so many interested readers if it had come with a "from the archives" disclaimer. Would it have biased readers against reading a story they'd otherwise be interested in?
Here's a good example from Deadspin, which identified a news hook for sharing an old story on Friday. The tweet is transparent about when the story was originally published, but the note about when it was published isn't so prominent that it was likely to be a turn-off:
How "First Take" poisoned ESPN: http://t.co/MTaxsoxPR8 (from 2012)
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) July 25, 2014
Digiday's Ricardo Bilton also recently reported on how some media organizations are strategically resurrecting old content. He notes that Business Insider resurfaced a four-month-old story, "7 Reasons You Should Teach Your Children To Speak French," for Bastille Day. That satisfies our journalistic urge to justify resurfacing old content with a current news hook. But Business Insider's rationale for putting an October 2013 article about "How Sugar Is Destroying The World" back on the site's homepage this month is less clear.
Bilton goes on to note:
The trouble comes when publishers confuse readers. Just look at the Business Insider story: Not only was it given a new timestamp on the homepage, but it was also placed among all of Business Insider’s legitimately new content without any special labeling. Someone visiting the homepage, unless they were surprised to see Perlberg’s name again on a new story, would not have any idea the piece was old.
Does resurfacing old content require a news hook?
In February, I noticed a 2013 Poynter post about the first season of "House of Cards" was performing well on Chartbeat thanks to search referrals. Because season two had just been released on Netflix, I felt comfortable sharing it again on Twitter.
But what about Roy Peter Clark's defense of the Oxford comma, which was a big hit this year and certainly addressed a timeless topic? Would our readers feel deceived or cheated in some way if we pushed it out again in January without any specific news hook? Or would it be serving our readers well to strategically extend the life of this evergreen content and distribute it to those who may have missed it the first time around?
That's how New York Magazine's Stefan Becket justified reposting Friedman's piece on Facebook:
@jessmisener ~75% of our Facebook followers didn't see it the first time.
— Stefan Becket (@stefanjbecket) July 14, 2014
On Twitter, journalists frequently preface links they share with a "late to this" disclaimer — even if the content is only a day or two old. My instincts say it's weird to dig up old content without a specific reason, but it's worth asking if our hyper-sensitivity to timeliness can get in the way of serving readers who might not care as much about news hooks or newness as we do.
So on a slow day, why not try sharing something evergreen from the archives like New York Magazine did — but with a Deadspin-style note indicating when it was published — and see how readers respond? As Parse.ly says, it doesn't cost a thing.