Content refreshes, density over length, and the limits of skyscraper content
The weekly newsletter for content marketers seeking exponential growth in their work and personal lives.
All content decays over time. Traffic, links, even conversions - left untended, your best-performing articles will eventually trend towards obsolescence. In this article, Jimmy Daly walks us through the science and strategy of content decay, and shares several strategies for giving ailing content a new lease of life.
"Decay occurs slowly enough that no alarms go off. The steady flow of new content usually makes up for the loss, making decay hard to detect without some investigation. Such is content marketing: two steps forward, one step back."
🔥 Why You Should Think Content Density, Not Content Length [Siege Media]
I've often succumbed to the "length is strength" heuristic: assuming that longer content is better content. And while certain topics genuinely benefit from towering, skyscraper-esque articles, many don't. Instead of obsessing over length, we should think of density - optimizing our content for the quality and depth of information it contains.
"Not every article warrants 4,000 words of copy, and you can generally notice when a post has been written for SEO rather than users. Great writing is dense, not long."
🔥 A better approach to keyword research for content marketing [Kevin Indig]
As search engines get better at understanding the nuanced and varied intent behind each search, traditional "siloed" keyword research methods become less effective. Instead, Kevin suggests a process of problem-driven research: deriving keywords from the real-life, context-rich problems of actual people, instead of operating the other way around.
"SEO and Content Marketing are getting more competitive by the day. More content is created, more companies do it really well and Google gives less real estate to organic results. So why does everybody still follow the same process to create content?"
🔥 Running A Software Business On 5 Hours A Week [Patrick McKenzie]
Stripe's Patrick McKenzie offers a masterclass on the art and science of personal productivity, drawing on his own experience juggling entrepreneurship with a ludicrous work schedule as a Japanese salaryman. Whether you're trying to up your daily output or launch a fully-fledged side-hustle, this essay is a bona fide must-read.
"...I snort in the general direction of anyone saying a nine-to-five job is impossible to juggle with a business because 'businesses require 100% concentration'."
🔥 Episode 11: Content Marketing Reporting [Animalz]
Reporting is one of the highest-leverage skills a content marketer can develop. In this podcast episode, our Director of Marketing Devin Bramhall shares her hard-won advice for getting more recognition for your work, better communicating value to customers and company execs, and navigating the complex world of content performance.
"...you have to find ways in your reporting to tell stories... that connect all of those seemingly disconnected dots together."
Google's CSE tool lets you create your own searchable database of content. Use it to create an archive of everything your competitors have ever posted, or aggregate your favourite blogs into a single personal development hub.
Reaching the limits of skyscraper content
Most marketers know of Brian Dean's "skyscraper technique:" find great content, make something even better.
The approach works for two reasons:
It's a safe-bet. We're basing our content on a proven formula, taking inspiration from an article that already dominates our target search result. We know it matches the intent of the search; we know it engages those searchers. If it didn't, it wouldn't rank.
It's easy to out-do existing content. Any article can be "out-done" by adding more information to it - by making it more detailed, more comprehensive, longer than anything that's come before. More words should mean more opportunities to solve a reader's problem - give them a choice between a 500-word article and its 2,000-word counterpart, and most of the time, they'll choose the latter.
Most of the time. And therein lies the problem.
Because this interpretation of the skyscraper technique - the length is strengthheuristic I mentioned earlier - is so popular, the internet is packed-full of skyscrapers.
The more 10,000-word mega-guides in existence, the less effective those guides become. Build a skyscraper in a small town, and it'll draw the eye for miles around. Build that same skyscraper in a city already crowded by towering behemoths, and few people will notice it.
This is compounded by the fact that few people actually read skyscraper articles. One of my old Medium posts, part of a huge series on startup funding, has 60,000 views - and a read ratio of 16%. More people share long content than read it - great for social proof and backlinks, but limiting for any other goal.
If we look at the proliferation of search features - featured snippets, interactive maps, image packs - it becomes apparent that many queries are better served by shorter content. Content can be extremely valuable in the merest handful of words.
The skyscraper approach is a great tactic, but only if we realise that length isn't the sole differentiating factor at our disposal.
To use Ross Hudgens' terminology, we need think in terms of information density, not sheer length. Take that approach to content creation, and all-manner of differentiating strategies appear. We can "out-do" existing content on any (and all) of these dimensions:
Data quality: original research, meta-analysis of existing data
First-hand experience: case studies, expert interviews
Topical relevance: regularly-updated content
Comprehensiveness: length, detail, accuracy
Novelty: contrarian stances, new concepts
In an internet packed full of 10,000-word guides, creating shorter, more easily-digested content is itself becoming a differentiating factor - like building a quaint little cottage in the middle of a built-up city.