Evergreen Content

A guide and tips on writing Evergreen Content to have SEO staying power for your blog posts and content that lasts for years

Evergreen Content
Photo by Michael Benz / Unsplash

Bless me Father for I have sinned. Please forgive me for my evergreen content creation and management sins. Yes, I admit I have mismanaged good content for the sake of expediency.

The takeaway from this long post is this, always think about your reader first.

Often I have ignored how my readers consume my evergreen content. For that, I beg for your absolution. I promise, on my CMS's grave, not to stray from the path of good content creation and management again. Amen!

What is Evergreen Content?

Evergreen content is the content your write that’s timeless. There’s no expiration date, it’s as valuable today as when it was written 1 week, 1 year, or 1 decade ago! It’s the content that brings all the Googlers to the yard, the one that readers link to and share with their friends.

My life changed when I started writing and posting RapidMiner Tutorials…

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change or be updated, it should get updates if needed but the main gist of the content should be timeless.

My Evergreen Content Today

When I first started this blog I used it as Twitter-like frantic blog where I would post small stream of consciousness posts that didn’t amount to any SEO value.

My life changed when I started writing and posting RapidMiner Tutorials. They became my evergreen content for over 10 years. Today my evergreen content remains anything tutorial related whether it’s my Python Forex Trading Bot tutorial or other technical related tutorials.

My Evergreen Content Journey

My evergreen content journey begins with the tools that let you publish to the Internet. One can argue that the tool doesn’t matter (i.e. the camera doesn’t matter, it’s the image that does) and those people are partially true.

I was always looking for something better and newer but I ended up chasing fads…

Writing evergreen content, in my opinion, is just 1/2 of the equation. The proper generating of it (i.e. tweaked for SEO) and being able to cross-reference it, is part of a larger strategy that you have to use to make your evergreen content STAY evergreen.

Just think of this as forest. If it doesn’t rain the forest will die. The rain is CMS and content strategy you use.

Tip - Stick with one CMS

It’s been 14 years since I started this blog and it's gone through many evolutions. I switched CMS like lemming jumping off ever possible cliff.

I was always looking for something better and newer but I ended up chasing fads, looking for SEO shortcuts, and working to streamline CMS bloat. I paid the price in the end by having messed up post structures and falling SERPs.

In the end, I've come back to two CMS's that I thought were terrible and ended up ditching them both for a third one! I first went back to  WordPress and Expression Engine. I tried them out again and still loathed them. Years later I found Hugo, more on that later.

It's no secret that I started blogging with WordPress. I tried out Expression Engine, Jekyll, Blot, and even TextPattern. Code injections and the plugin bloat of WordPress just turned me off. I completely misunderstood how to use Expression Engine and Jekyll wasn't ready for primetime.

For me, TextPattern was like waking up next to a stranger after a night of drinking. Blot has an interesting proposition and it holds a dear place in my heart.

I know there are a few more big ones out there, like Drupal and Blogger, but I have little to no experience with them, so I won't comment on them. Regardless, it feels like all these CMS's or Blogging platforms are like various religions. Each one claims they're the best and the only way to success!

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly CMSs

All Blogging platforms are easy to use. You can post and share photos, tweets, and content as fast as you can write and hit post. Usually you sign up for an account and create your subdomain like greatblog.blogger.com. The top 5 off my head are:

  1. Tumblr
  2. Blogger
  3. Medium
  4. WordPress.com
  5. Blot

Some of them masquerade as a Content Management System (CMS) but in the end, they try to keep things simple for you. You don't need to think about template structures, permalinks, caching, updates, etc. There is no software to maintain and no databases to backup. All you need to do is log in, write, and post.

The differences between a Blogging Platform and a CMS is like night and day. One is simple with some flexibility, while the other is complex and very powerful if you know how to unleash it.

My take on WordPress

WordPress masquerades as a full CMS if you install it on your domain and server. It's a quite capable CMS and it's the most popular one out there. It has a nice user interface and making site-wide changes is a breeze. I can install themes (aka templates) with one click and extend it with 1,000's of plugins.

When I switched back to WordPress, I saw an increase in Adsense revenue and a bump in traffic. While these are all good qualities, I still feel it was cobbled together. WordPress feels like it started as a blogging platform that evolved into a CMS over time.

WordPress has worked hard to make its CMS fast and powerful but the plugins make it feel bloated. Especially if you need to install 10 to 20 of them to get it to do what you want it to do! WordPress feels like it was never built from the ground up as a CMS.

I still don't get why you need 10 plugins just to bring WordPress into an optimized state. Shouldn't that be the default?

My take on Expression Engine

Expression Engine isn't as popular as WordPress. It occupies a small niche area for designers, developers, and content creators. It's comprehensive and flexible. You can create many content containers and spend your time building the UX for your site.

It comes with many add-ons right out of the box where WordPress would need you to install plugins. There is a plugin marketplace for Expression Engine but it's just not as large as WordPress. Expression Engine's biggest strength is also its weakness, it's too damn flexible. There are 99 ways to do something and 99 ways to mess things up.

This is where I failed with Expression Engine, I was like a deer caught in the content headlights. I had all these options to do things and I just couldn't decide. It's hard to choose when you have so many choices.

Still, both CMS's are capable of managing your content. They're both capable of helping your readers consume your content. The ugly choice is which one makes the most sense to grow your site and keep your content viable for your readers?

If I ever had to migrate away from Hugo and back to a dynamic CMS, I'd probably go back to Expression Engine because I now know how to leverage it.

What I'm using today

After all this back and forth and trying different blogging and CMS tools I've finally settled on Hugo. Hugo takes away the distraction of managing a CMS and lets me focus on my content, where the real value of any web property is.

There is some 'hacking' on my side to tweak and optimize it but you can get a pretty good SEO primed website up and running in minutes. Deploying Hugo is not as easy as WordPress but if you use AWS Amplify, it takes minutes as well.

1/2 of this success is because of my content but the other 1/2 is due to my content strategy.

Writing content in Hugo uses MarkDown and it's been a dream. I  just fire up a simple text editor, add my YAML front end, and then write to my heart's content. I don't have to worry about CSS, Javascript, and all the rest. I can focus on what's important to my blog (content) and save my markdown files to a folder.

How easy is that? It is.

Tip - Tie Evergreen Content to Content Strategy

Hugo has let me optimize my content for maximum SEO and Keywords without thinking about it. I just write and share. In fact, I had a 25 fold increase in Organic Search visits through some simple tweaks I made while using Hugo in just one year!

1/2 of this success is because of my content but the other 1/2 is due to my content strategy.

While the evergreen content is the focus here, there's a lot that goes into keeping the content fresh and valuable, some of it not as apparent right off the bat.  User Experience and finding content is just as important. If your Evergreen Content looks like crap and no one can navigate through it, it will drop in SERP ranking.

So you need to think deeply about Content and User Experience.

Content and User Experience

When I switched from one CMS to another like a hamster on meth, I began to learn a thing or two. I learned about SEO, permalinks, and page speed. I read up on tweaking backend performance and the pros and cons of working with a database.

I've come to prefer writing in markdown and love static HTML posts. I loathe regenerating those static posts every damn time. Simplicity is my ultimate goal but I covet complex well thought out websites.

Above all, I've come to appreciate the reader of my content. After all, it's all about them. You might have the best content in the world but no one will ever read it and get value from it if your UI and UX sucks.

I had this epiphany earlier this week when I came across a retweet on Twitter. It was a blog post titled a Guide to Useful Content (Part 1).

The article talks about building content containers. Content containers are well thought out building blocks of content. They're built with flexibility and usability in mind. They look toward making the content reusable in many different ways, even if the UI changes. The idea is to be dynamic.

In essence, content types are the building blocks of dynamic, future-friendly content across systems. They provide the structure used by people and computers to explicitly express meaning.

My Application User Experience and Evergreen Content

I have a Tutorial page where I share my different applications of RapidMiner or Python. That tutorial page is simple, it just links back to a single blog post that I wrote weeks, months, or years ago.

There's the body of the post, maybe a code block or video, and sometimes a zip file download. It's a simple way of helping my readers find my tutorial content. They just visit the page, find what they need, and click on the link.

In hindsight, I should've been thinking about how to build my content from the ground up.

In hindsight, this simplicity is lacking in robustness. I can't summarize a list of all available downloads, or code blocks, or videos. Cross-referencing that summary by a particular category, like Python or D3js, is impossible.

There's no way to extract all that information into a newsletter and email it to readers. The site isn't dynamic enough to handle this!

In hindsight, I should've been thinking about how to build my content from the ground up. It never occurred to me to think about the reader what he/she experiences when they visit my site. Hell, I never thought my little blog would get so popular!

The reality is that my readers come from all over the world. Some of them look for book references, some of them want videos, and others want XML code. My readers make heavy use of my search function. I love reading what they type in to find what they need.

The Way Forward

I'll continue to use Hugo and I plan on learning all available features it has to fill my content management gaps. I read that they created custom fields recently. While this is a good thing, custom fields were something that Expression Engine had from day one.

I also plan on building a test site from the ground up using Expression Engine. I plan on spending the time thinking about what Carrie shared with us in her post.

If it means weeks or months, then so be it. I'm going to spend a lot of time thinking about how my readers consume my content. How they extract value from it and how to continue to build Evergreen Content.

Lessons Learned to Share

The takeaway from this long post is this, always think about your reader first. Think about how they will consume your content, and then write Evergreen Content.  If you're going to write something to make an impact you must write awesome content. Period.

Work your tail off at writing something of value. Many long hours and late nights were poured into my blog content and my reward was steady organic growth and a dream job. Do the same and your readers will thank you for it in ways you haven't imagined.

Ask how your readers will get the most value from your content. Can they find it easily? Can they find what they want and in the format they need? Is your website inviting or clunky? What are the channels for consumption?

Are you using only RSS? What about newsletters or login protected content? What about e-books? Think about all the ways your reader will want to consume your content and format it accordingly.

It's only after thinking about evergreen content AND content strategy, that you should you hit the publish button.