How to Use Your Old Blog Posts to Gain New Readers
One of the great things about blogging is its immediacy: the fact that you can come up with an idea, write a post, and publish it right away.
One of the worst things about blogging, however, is… well, its immediacy: the fact that a few days after publishing that post you worked so hard on, it’ll drop off the front page of your blog, and be all but forgotten. Cue tiny violins…
It doesn’t actually have to be like that, though. While it’s true that some of the blog posts you write will be useful for your site (in terms of gaining traffic and revenue) only in the few days or weeks surrounding their publication, other posts will keep on attracting visitors for weeks, months, or even years after you write them. These posts are your “evergreen” or “cornerstone” content: they’re the posts that just keep on giving, even when you yourself have long since forgotten about them.
It’s important not to forget about these posts entirely, though. Although many bloggers focus all of their efforts on the constant production of fresh content, there’s much to be said for going back into your archive and making your old posts work harder. Here are some ways to do it:
First things first: delve into your analytics package (I use Google Analytics), and find out which of your older posts are most popular, and why. You’ll often be able to spot some kind of trend, which will give you a heads-up to what kind of content works best for your site. The type of posts that tend to become “evergreen” are the ones that don’t date. A post about New York Fashion week, or this year’s Academy Awards, for instance, might get you a traffic boost in the few weeks surrounding the event, but people probably won’t still be reading those posts and linking to them three years from now. A tutorial, however, or other similarly helpful post, will still be relevant in a few years’ time, so is more likely to continue to attract visitors. Once you know which types of posts remain evergreen on your blog, you’ll know to try to include more of those posts in your content schedule.
Your evergreen content might still be popular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s up to date. Once you’ve identified which posts are continuing to attract visitors, take a long, hard look at them, and try to work out how you could make them better. In my case, some of my old posts were written in the days before Pinterest became a “thing” – some of them have bad, blurry, photos, while others don’t contain any images at all. If I notice that one of those older posts is getting traffic, I’ll go in and add or update the images if necessary, and also cast an eye over the text to make sure it’s still relevant. I’ll make sure the links still work, that the information is up-to-date, and that there aren’t any glaring errors I managed to miss the first time.
There’s no law which says you can only promote new posts. If an older post is doing well for your site, there’s no harm in tweeting the link, pinning an image from it, or otherwise attracting your followers’ attention to it. If you use WordPress, there are plenty of plugins which will automatically tweet links to older content, or flag up popular posts in the sidebar of your site. These can be a good way to make sure those posts you worked so hard on don’t get forgotten, and continue to benefit your site. Remember, new readers probably won’t know about that amazing post you wrote last year – unless, of course, you tell them about it!
Link to it
It’s a good idea to make a habit of linking back to old content when you write new posts. This is often something that happens quite naturally: for instance, if I’m writing a post, and I mention that I’ve been working on my book, I’ll normally link back to the post in which I first mentioned that I was writing a book, so that new readers know what I’m talking about. Other ways to do this could be in outfit posts, where you link back to other posts featuring whatever item you’re wearing, or dedicated “best of” style posts, where you recap your year, your month, or whatever. You might think these posts are just filler: that they don’t have any value, and will annoy your regular readers. I guess the last one could be true if you’re doing it constantly, but remember that not everyone who stumbles upon your blog is a longtime reader: some will be visiting for the very first time, so don’t just assume they’ll know who/what you’re talking about, or will have seen any of the posts in your archive.
If there’s a post you’re particularly proud of, it doesn’t make sense to just let it drop off the front page and die a slow, lonely death. (Get out those tiny violins again, people!) I recently set up a Popular/Favourite Posts page, where I showcase both the “evergreen” content on my site and some of my own personal favourites. Some of the posts on the page are there because they were popular with readers, or continue to get a lot of traffic, while others are just ones which I feel are representative of my site/myself – they help provide context for the rest of the posts, or give background information that new visitors might not know. Again, you can also choose to use a “popular posts” widget in the sidebar of your blog, which will automatically showcase your best/most popular content.
Some of you may have seen my post on working from home earlier this week, but what you might not know is that I originally published a version of that post way back in 2007 – so long ago that I’d forgotten about it myself. It was only AFTER I’d written the post and taken the photos that I suddenly started to get a feeling of deja vu, so I checked the archive, and sure enough, there was the original post, on the exact same subject I’d just written about! My initial response was to heave an exasperated sigh, and send the new post straight to the trash folder: instead, I opened up Google Anlaytics, took a look, and realised that although I had, indeed, published a post on that topic before, very few of my readers would know about it.
The original post got zero comments (ouch) when it was published, and it certainly wasn’t attracting visitors now, 8 years later. (Quick pause while I reflect on the fact that 2007 was EIGHT YEARS AGO: WOW.) I do sometimes get readers who go back through the archive and read older posts, and I’m always very grateful to the dedicated souls who do that. In this case, however, the post had basically sunk without a trace. It was, however, still relevant to my blog and life (perhaps more so now that I’ve been working from home for much longer than when I first wrote about it), so rather than beating myself up for writing the same thing (more or less) twice, I ditched the old post and published the new one – which DID get comments, traffic, and some people linking to/pinning it. It’s too early to say if it’ll ever become an “evergreen” post, but it’s already done far better than the older version, so at least that’s something!
You, of course, don’t have to totally re-write or re-publish your posts (And I’d only recommend re-publishing if, as in this case, the original post doesn’t have any backlinks pointing to it, and isn’t getting a traffic: if it is, it might be a better idea to edit the existing post, rather than deleting it, which will result in broken links and loss of traffic, unless you use a redirect), but if there’s a topic which didn’t do well in the past, but which you think might do better now, you have nothing to lose by having another go at it.
Going back and re-working old content may not be the most exciting task on the To Do list for your blog, but it’s one of those “behind the scenes” things that professional bloggers spend their time on, when everyone assumes we’re just taking photos of cupcakes* and then heading back to bed. It’s also something that can really help boost your traffic, so next time you find yourself stuck for something new to post about, try going back and seeing how you can maximise the potential of one of your old posts instead: it could turn out to be time well spent!
(*We also take photos of cupcakes…)