When you start to think about it, the idea of writing a blog (or any content for that matter) is daunting. To stay top of mind, you need to create new content on a regular basis. And to create new content, you have to either come up with a new idea, spin an old one, or latch on to a topic that someone else is aggressively pushing forward. As you browse the Google machine for ideas while scratching your head, a familiar thought pops up.
“What should I write about today?”
I’m going to attempt to help you answer that question. But not with one of your typical buzzfeed-breed “555 blogs you should be writing” type of posts. Instead, I’ll break the art of content development down into three distinct categories, each with its own unique benefits and challenges.
Like the wooded trees it shares a name with, evergreen content lasts through the seasons. Content is considered “evergreen” when its subject-matter is relevant for a significant amount of time. What was relevant a year ago will still be relevant today, and may last for years to come.
Evergreen content often explains a fundamental truth or a widely accepted point of view. Because of this, there will always be a built-in audience. For example, you may write a blog post that explains the difference between white gold and platinum. These two metals have distinctly different physical properties, and barring a seismic shift in the way we view chemistry, the content will be useful and accurate for years to come.
Because of its “stickiness”, evergreen content is a safe bet when your goal is to collect traffic over the long run. An evergreen blog post you write today may still get you website traffic in 2019. But before you stop reading and start planning your entire content strategy around this first type of content, you have to realize there’s a catch: There is a LOT of evergreen content already out there. And that means your content is likely not going to give you strong short-term gains.
- Long life span
- Generally accepted ideas, making it easier to research
- Wide audience appeal
- Can be highly competitive
- Lacks urgency
- Need a lot of posts to see big returns
When writing evergreen content, swing for the fences. Try to create something so valuable and unique that it becomes a de facto resource for interested readers. One of my favorite examples is Avinash Kaushik’s blog post explaining the basics of web analytics. He hit a grand slam with this post, and it has consistently ranked on the top of hundreds of related Google searches since 2011.
Topical content focuses on weaving a timely story into your content to capitalize on public interest. This type of content is fleeting in nature, attempting to cash in on a popular topic to get big traffic returns in a short amount of time. For example, a blog post highlighting the 2015 Academy Awards runway fashion may spike in the days following the event, but will likely find itself six feet under soon after.
While not the only approach, Newsjacking may be the most well-known variant of topical content. According to Hubspot, newsjacking is defined as the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing success.
Newsjacking can be wildly successful (just look at Buzzfeed) when done right, driving incredible amounts of traffic to your website in a short time span. But aside from its short shelf life and ultra-specific topics, there’s a big issue with newsjacking: It’s really hard. For your post to go viral, it must present a good spin on a current story and do it quickly to boot. This kind of fast turnaround can leave room for big mistakes. And even worse, you may put in a lot of effort but still miss the boat completely.
- Ability to go viral
- Posts can be short and sweet
- Less competition when well-timed
- Speaking of timing…it’s critical (and difficult) to get right
- Often has less sources available to cite
- Extremely short shelf life
Don’t lose your soul. One of the biggest pitfalls of newsjacking (and timely content in general) is that you can often cross into a moral “gray area” in an effort to ride the wave of the story. Like when Kenneth Cole tweeted this during Egyptian protests in 2011:
Yeah. Don’t do that.
This last content category is a little less well-defined, because technically it can fit into either category above. However, I see enough differentiation to let it exist on its own.
Thought leadership content is a high-risk, high-reward style that is arguably the most difficult to write. When writing thought leadership content, you must forge new ground, establishing yourself as an industry expert through the use of insight, forecasting and trend analysis.
First, let me tackle the flaws. Writing thought leadership content requires an intimate understanding of your subject matter, as well as incorporating original ideas that belong to you. This makes it extremely difficult to create thought leadership pieces. And repeatedly doing so? That’s reserved for the elite pioneers of industry.
But let’s say you do create mind-melting, jaw-dropping, damn-good content. There’s still a good chance that NOBODY WILL READ IT. Because you’re pushing an original thought, there likely isn’t a large audience searching for your content. Which really sucks.
So why would anyone risk their time writing content that is difficult to create and likely to never be seen? Because the rewards of becoming a thought leader are tremendous. Thought leaders grab our attention. They cut through the clutter like thunder through the silence. They move markets and define popular opinion. To cut my rhetoric short, it’s damn nice to be recognized as a thought leader.
For example, take a look at HubSpot, one of my favorite companies over the last 5 years. They pioneered the term “inbound marketing” and built an entire methodology around it when everyone else was focusing on fragmented tactics like SEO and social media. By doing this, they were able to differentiate from the masses and become the gold standard for inbound marketing – a term now synonymous with digital and content marketing.
- Catapults you to the forefront of your industry
- Builds a loyal following
- Makes you a baller
- Extremely difficult to research – it’s up to you!
- You can easily look like a hack instead of a hero
- No guarantees that it will drive traffic
Don’t be afraid to take risks. The hardest part about writing thought leadership pieces is having the confidence to show vulnerability and share your thoughts with the world. Should all your content be thought leadership pieces? No – that would be too risky for 99% of businesses. But strive to work an original piece in every once in a while, and don’t quit if success doesn’t show her face immediately.
So there you go. I went into this post with a sliver of an idea, and it quickly turned into a 1000+ word essay. I hope it gives you a different frame of mind when planning your next blog posts. And who knows – maybe this will be one of my evergreen posts!
What do you think? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts in the comments below.