Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
8 mins read

“Higher engagement rates than any other type”: The power of long-tail articles

The current landscape for publishers is a deafening one. With everyone churning out content, readers – and publishers – are having a hard time breaking through the noise. More than 4.4 million blog posts go live every day. And that’s just blog posts. 

A lot of media organisations have also increased their output, but their overall engagement rates continue to plummet. Many publishers don’t understand that trying to cut through the noise with quantity isn’t a great strategy. Media organisations that survive and thrive in this climate are the ones who’ve taken the time to consider reader behaviour, demands, and engagement and approach content production with those facts in mind. 

They are focusing on content that’s in line with their reader interests and thus less likely to become immediately dated. They produce articles with stamina that work well. Even in the long run.

Hello, long-tail content.

Long-tail encompasses all content that generates traffic more than three days after publishing. We make a further distinction and also define Everlasting content. Down in the depths of our labs, our data scientists have come up with a great way to highlight exceptional content. High-performing articles are compared with articles published in the past 30 days. If they rank higher than these recent offerings, they’re deemed Everlasting. This is repeated month after month until that piece of content stops performing quite so well. Without even looking at the types of subject matter covered in such articles, you’ve probably already surmised that Everlasting content aren’t time-sensitive and don’t date – and you’d be right.

There are numerous benefits to producing these types of articles

Everlasting content increases brand authority, continually drives relevant traffic to your domain and holds a valuable position in search engine rankings for months – or even years – from when it was first published. It’s the most efficient instrument for capitalising on valuable search traffic and positioning your brand as the go-to resource for a particular theme or topic.

Apart from transforming publishers into authority figures in search, Everlasting content has the power to improve social media visibility as well. This type of content gets constantly rediscovered and reshared online, bringing steady streams of value to its publisher on a continual basis.

According to our findings, Everlasting content generates higher engagement rates than any other type of content. It encourages audiences to connect (and reconnect) with brands, browse through more pages, read more articles, and spend additional time on the publisher’s site.

Which content has everlasting power?

To fully grasp how to produce perpetually relevant content, we have selected articles from 20 different media organisations, and compared them one by one. We then handpicked articles that generated particularly high engagement rates for our study.

The majority of articles that meet our requirements came from the Economics sections of news websites. The Society contributed the second biggest sample of articles, while the rest came from the digital world, crime, and female-targeted sections of news websites.

Upon reading the articles we’ve noticed that most of them fall in the same category. In fact, one third of the analysed content can be described as ‘detailed explainers of some occurrence, or how-to guides’. The second biggest group of articles were ‘big stories’ that discussed important issues like vaccines against cancer. Other successful everlasting articles were about great human deeds which impressed or inspired, such as extraordinary acts of bravery.

Graph: percentage of Everlasting articles sorted by Sections

Two great examples

Articles that engage readers for longer than a day can be true game changers for newsrooms, especially in the context of building loyal and engaged audiences. Sure, some Everlasting stories require more effort in the reporting process, more innovation in the way they’re presented, but the question is: are these stories more beneficial to the newsroom?

Let’s start with Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German daily. They published this article which aims to keep track of a deal that the Big Coalition agreed upon before they formed a government in Germany. The subject matter is interesting enough: the coalition was formed by Conservatives and Social Democrats and they took 171 days to form a government after the election.

There’s a lot of potential, but how to keep it interesting?

Süddeutsche Zeitung’s journalists analysed the 174-page deal and found 136 tasks the coalition pledged to solve. In the article they highlighted these pledges and updated their status continuously. Accountability at its most diligent. Five reporters worked on the article, with even more contributing and it continues to be a live, working document. No wonder we classify this as an Everlasting piece.

Politics can be a boring topic for many readers. But with an innovative approach you can turn it into a game changer and generate traffic for weeks and weeks. AD.nl (a news portal part of De Persgroep) created a survey or quiz for the local elections in the Netherlands to help voters find their best-fitted candidates. 

They included 220 municipalities in the survey, and the system asked users questions about things that the various political parties proposed. Users answered the questions, while at the same time they were able to see who proposed a certain solution. In the end, based on their answers, readers were presented with the candidates or parties they were in most agreement with. This proved to be a useful and engaging way to report on the election campaign and created Everlasting content.

Topics for successful long-tail content

We also looked at ‘simple long-tail’ content and identified what type of articles were in readers’ scopes for at least three days. As many as 21.6% come from the Society sections. Ranked second are those in the Showbiz section with 14.8%, while the third place goes to the Sports section whose articles represent 13.6%.

Graph: percentage of articles in Long-tail analysis sorted by Section

The articles we’ve analysed come from three different continents and were reported in seven different languages. We looked at the articles that had at least 70,000 reads over the first three days after publication (in fact, half of those articles had over 150,000 article reads, while some scored as high as one million reads).

Society

Among those articles which fell into the Society section, stories about travel or health represented nearly 40 percent of long-tail content. Human rights, careers, work ethics were the next biggest subject areas. 30% of stories here were ones you would class as human interest stories: about people, their problems, achievements, and their faiths.

Graph: Society section Long-tail sorted by topics

Sports

The Sports section is among the most represented in our long-tail content analysis. Content about the Winter Olympics in South Korea and the World Cup in Russia accounted for just over half of all content from this section. That’s not to say that it’s only these prestige events which have the ability to work in the world of long-tail – regular events, League [football] matches and annual events like the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia do too.

What’s fascinating about the Sports section is that it shakes up the conventional understanding of what form a long-tail article should take. The greatest chunk is made up of live blogs covering transfer periods and major sports competitions – edited and expanded upon day by day – and content focused around schedules and TV programs has proven to have a long shelf life too.

Sorted by sports, it’s clear that football is what drives most readers to seek out information. Even if we exclude World Cup coverage from our calculations, football still accounts for 42 percent of long-tail sports content.

Graph: Sports section sorted by events

Showbiz and Entertainment

15% of long-tail content can be categorised as Showbiz and Entertainment and we’ve learned that most of this Section revolves around celebrities and their professional and private lives, since half of the articles (a nice, even 50%) were about them. Content about movies and TV shows accounted for 38.5% of Long-tail content.

Graph: Entertainment and Showbiz section sorted by actors

Lifestyle

Lifestyle stories made up more than 11% of Long-tail content we studied. Most of these stories (over a third) were about diet and food. A significant number – as many as 19% – were related to sex, while more than 14% were about astrology.

Graph: Lifestyle section sorted by topics

Technology and Digital

Articles which fell in the Technology and Digital section had the same share of long-tail content as those from the Entertainment sections. Well over half of them tackled issues to do with the car and bicycle industries, and also the [computer] gaming industry. Stories about computer science, social networks, cryptocurrencies, digital content and the like made up the rest.

One of the most reported Topics in this section was Fortnite. Interestingly, the articles about this cultural phenomenon weren’t about the development of the game, but more on the user-experience: how-tos, shortcuts, cheats and other practical stuff.

Graph: Technology and Digital section sorted by topics

3 rules to go by

In the era of content shock, the value of long-tail is significant. With the right analytics system, it’s becoming easier and easier to see which content is being read and – more importantly – how and why. Understanding your audience’s needs and tendencies before the content production process starts is vital. So too is monitoring how that article is being received and consumed. Here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Go for behavioral metrics

Measuring audience behavior – and looking beyond basic metrics – has become vital to get a true and accurate assessment of content performance. No single metric is going to give you the insight that will help you identify in detail why a piece of content generates long-term reader attention. With behavioral metrics, the emphasis moves from browser to user, which is exactly what you need your data to reveal: human reaction to content.

2. Desirable innovations attract readers

Special reporting projects and experimental ways of working not only attract readers, but retain them. As Seth Godin points out, people immediately notice something new or different: the novelty is attractive. And when you combine that with careful scrutiny and audience analysis, you create a real hook. The De Persgroep case wasn’t successful just because the format was novel, but because they also understood that people consume content when it’s presented to them in a way that’s relevant to their own lives? If the innovation is in line with your audience’s desires and fits with their needs, you’re onto a winner. 

3. Long-tail creates loyalty

Is investing all that additional time into content worth the extra effort? Absolutely. Long-tail content often goes hand in hand with loyalty-creating behavior. At a time when so many newsrooms switch to a reader-revenue funding model, identifying what triggers loyal behavior is the holy grail. 

The effort isn’t necessarily in the writing and production (although long-tail and long-form do often go hand in hand), but rather in the understanding of the readership. Get that right and you’re getting much closer to striking gold.

Milos Stanic

Republished with kind permission of smartocto, the world’s most actionable editorial analytics system offering a bird’s-eye view on The Story Life Cycle©. 

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