Earlier this week, a new post from 37Signals went hot on Hacker News’ homepage. The post is short, succinct and written with clear language and punch. But what makes it worth remarking on is the fact that the content was originally in a blog post in 2005, which was then piece of a book they made a few years later, and despite that, its new format, copy and pasted on a new entry, still managed to see strong spread online, as proven by its position and number of upvotes on the Hacker News homepage.
Although it got a line or two of negative feedback for its repurposing, the fact that a blog post saw strong value to the company in the three contexts over eight years is worth addressing. The short life span of blog posts is a real problem, and is worth talking about, because some of the best content online often falls into nothingness without the deserved number of eyeballs ever viewing them, even if the text is evergreen – all because of a date on the page.
I am guilty of this crime as much as the next person, and if I see the old timestamp, it is much less likely to be read. But when it comes back to the top with a new timestamp, it is given new purpose, and suddenly is worthy of significance, even if an old post.
But the line is subtle – when a blog uses this frequently or tweets out “archived posts” from their Twitter account, they risk the potential sacrifice of credibility. However, if the post is worthwhile and still carries the same powerful lessons it did in 2005, such as with 37Signals, it will likely experience a similar line of success without the potential risk.
Bringing Blog Posts Back to Life
37Signals effective example is not the only one we can point to. I personally saw some nice success bringing my “Why Google Needs the Manipulative Web” post on my personal blog back to life in April of 2012, two years after it originally appeared on Search Engine Land.
I felt reason to because it was relevant after Google’s Penguin Update, which decimated many search results and arguably made them worse. My post had new life, and new reason to be exposed. I posted it again, and it saw good spread, and more exposure for my site and my services. The effort was minimal for something that created a great return.
However, how can we know? When should we repost old content? When shouldn’t we? The line between powerful repurposing and annoying self-promotion is a thin one, and one that should be respected. Our deliberate conscientiousness separates us from the 180k social media gurus and the thousands of bloggers about blogging, and makes us worth listening to rather than unfollowing.
Considerations for Content Rebirth
There are several considerations to make when deciding whether or not to republish a post on your blog. Some of the things to ask yourself as a piece of a larger “yes or no” ideal:
1. How much content have I put out since this post?
If you post 10 times a year, and you repost something that was your 11th most recent post, you shouldn’t repost it. You want the reader to always believe you are putting out a huge volume of original content, and not identify your site as something that reuses old stuff constantly. This will get your RSS feed deleted. The more someone is likely to “remember” that old post, the more likely it is they will look down on you for reusing it.
2. Does this old post add value to a newly relevant topic?
In the example of my Google Needs the Manipulative Web post, I found it worth surfacing because it brought additional detail to a current event (the Penguin Update). For this kind of situation, old content, even if read by my current readership, can be seen as relevant and interesting, because it is used by the mind in different ways, in conjunction with the recent occurrences in your industry.
3. What is the likelihood that my post has been seen by a big portion of my readership?
You want to aim for the lower portion of that scale. In 37Signals example, years (an eternity in web time), had passed since it was originally posted on the site, so it was a near certainty that a significant portion of the readership either did not read the post, and/or remember the post, from when it was originally published.
Again referencing my Google example, I had originally published on Search Engine Land when I was a columnist there, and at the beginning of my blogging career, so it was a very strong likelihood that a good portion of my readership had simply never seen the post.
For these reasons, guest posts and columns that have appeared elsewhere are sometimes the best possible content to utilize for this kind of endeavor, because they are the best places to hit two readerships that are for the most part, largely unique.
4. Is my post evergreen?
People will especially hate you if your post drifts into being outdated or contains inaccurate information. I recently considered reposting an old one on how Google might devalue Exact Match Domains that I wrote before the big EMD update, but decided against it because piece of my opinions I no longer agreed with. The overall voice was also set in a “past tense” frame, because of the algorithm change which would have rendered the overall purpose of the post (educating people on how to avoid getting hit by a future devaluing of EMDs) rather moot.
However, it is worth considering updating a piece of an old post that is now no longer useful. But if you plan on bringing a post back to the top, it is strongly suggested that the content therein not be outdated.
5. Was my previous post successful?
Many of these things can and will be forgiven if you resurface a post people deem extremely valuable. And in general, you should only resurface posts that were extremely successful in the past, because they have the highest potential to repeat that success, if the above conditions still apply – and people are more likely to forgive posts that were extremely valuable historically, and serve as a reminder of the former lessons they received.
In a similar sense, there is a percentage of folks out there, that despite the quality of your post and the fact that they have never seen it, will still devalue it because of the original date you include somewhere on the post. If the post isn’t great, the higher the likelihood is that they will actually devalue their perception of you for resurfacing it – so it is necessary that you make sure that the post carries the boom when you republish.
6. Can I add additional value to an old post?
Many posts can be revisited to great benefit. Whether it’s updating the non-evergreen part, adding new pieces relevant today, or correcting inaccuracies that weren’t apparent until now, any way you can add value to an old post is a solid way to show that the entry you spent most of your time on years ago is worth showing to your audience again today.
7. Have I republished content recently?
Readers will generally be totally fine with a republishing from time to time, but if you abuse your privilege, you will lose respect as a publisher, and your content is less likely to be read consistently. Sprinkle these posts in once or twice a year, and you can see some great returns from your effort.
For example, note how many sites go with a “top posts of 2012″ summary – this is a decent way of bringing life to old posts without directly bringing them back, and it’s deemed OK because it adds value to a newly relevant topic (the end of the year). Also, it adds value by doing a curation job for the reader.
Rules for Republishing
Past the somewhat optional considerations, there are definitely two rules that should be followed to maximize effectiveness of your post and also lower the risk profile of republishing an entry to your audience.
- Use rel=canonical back to the original post. It’s duplicate content, so make sure you give proper attribution back to the original post as to not confuse the Google gods. While the potential SEO value is nice, your main benefits from republishing are to get additional mindshare, social spread and long-term followers from re-releasing the post.
- Include a disclaimer w/ original post date and link back to your old post. Users will feel cheated if you do not include this somewhere on your post – and if word gets out, it will definitely diminish your credibility. Whether to put it at the top or the bottom is up to you – I generally would recommend the top if any historical context is needed, and bottom if not – lest those evil post-date-haters devalue your post because of age from the get-go.
Besides that, it is worth stating that the subtle art of blog post repurposing is simply another quiver that should be a piece of every content marketer’s arsenal of traffic generators. It won’t define your marketing efforts, but it will enhance it, with very little effort put in.
It doesn’t make sense for every blog, but it should always be something in the back of your mind that can potentially be used to deliver good, relevant traffic back to your business. There are several additional tactics just like it, and put together, they make for one effective online marketer.