Understanding Long-Tail: Creating Articles that Continue to Generate Traffic in the Content Overkill Era

We live in an age of content saturation. The current landscape for publishers on the web is a very deafening one. With everyone churning out content, readers – and publishers – are having a hard time breaking through the noise. According to MarketingProofs, more than two million new articles go live every day on the web and even though a lot of media organizations have increased their output, their overall engagement rates continue to plummet.

The problem is that publishers don’t always understand that trying to cut through the noise with quantity isn’t a great strategy. Cutting through with higher value, long-lasting content, though? Well, that’s a different matter entirely.

The media organizations which are surviving and thriving in this climate are the ones who’ve taken the time to consider reader behavior, demands, and engagement and are approaching content production with those facts in mind. They are focusing on the production of content that’s always in line with their reader interests and which is – as a result –  less likely to become immediately dated.

Hello, Long-tail content.

Long-tail encompasses all content that generates traffic more than three days after publishing – so if your article is getting regular reads a year after publication, it would sit firmly in this camp (and kudos, to you, by the way).

At Content Insights, we make a further distinction and also look at Everlasting content too.

Down in the depths of the Content Insights Labs, our data scientists have come up with a great way to highlight particularly exceptional content. High-performing articles are compared against 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 capitalizing 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.

But what kind of content has the potential to become everlasting?

To fully grasp how to produce perpetually relevant content, we have selected articles from 20 different media organizations, all published within the first couple of months of 2018, and compared them one to one another. We then handpicked articles that generated particularly high engagement rates during the last 6 months 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 under the same category. In fact, one third of the analyzed content can be described as ‘detailed explainers of some occurrence, or how-to guides’. The second biggest group of articles came in form of ‘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 examples of great everlasting content

Articles that can engage readers for longer than a day or so 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 German daily, Süddeutsche Zeitung. They published this article which aims to keep track of a deal that the Big Coalition agreed upon before they formed this current government in Germany in March this year. 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 whole of potential column inches right there – but how to keep it interesting?

Süddeutsche Zeitung’s journalists analyzed the 174-page deal and found 136 tasks the coalition pledged to solve. The article which resulted highlights these pledges and updates the status of each. It’s an example of accountability at its most diligent. Five reporters worked on the article, with even more contributing and it continues to be a live, working document. Content Insights classes it as an Everlasting piece.

Topics regarding politics can sometimes be boring for readers, but an innovative approach can be a game changer and result in a piece that people will be focused on for weeks and weeks. AD.nl (a news portal part of De Persgroep) made a quiz before the local elections in the Netherlands this year to help match voters with their best-fit 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 the most agreement with. This proved to be a useful and engaging way to report on the election campaign and was another example of Everlasting content by the Content Insights tool.

What kind of topics make 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.  Our research shows that half of these articles come from the Society, Sports and Showbiz sections of the news portals.

Of all the Long-tail articles we’ve analyzed as many as 21.6 percent come from the Society sections. Ranked in second are those in the Showbiz section with 14.8 percent, while the third place goes to the Sports section whose articles represent 13.6 percent.


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


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



Among those articles which fell into the Society section, stories about travel or health represented nearly 40 percent of Longtail content. Human rights, careers, work ethics were the next biggest subject areas. 30 percent 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


Content falling into the Sports section is among the most represented in our Long-tail content analysis.

Content about the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea and the 2018 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 (and those latter two’s live blogs were particularly successful in this regard).

What’s fascinating about the Sports section is that it shakes up the conventional understanding of what form a Long-tail article should take. Here the greatest chunk of sports content that qualifies as Long-tail 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 percent of Long-tail content can be categorized 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 percent) were about them. Content about movies and TV shows accounted for 38.5 percent of Long-tail content.

Most of the celebrities that media reported on were actors, models and the members of the British royal family, and another royal wedding, held this year, was a focal point for many in the media.


Graph: Entertainment and Showbiz section sorted by actors   


Lifestyle stories made up more than 11 percent 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 percent – were related to sex, while more than 14 percent 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. Most of these Long-form pieces – well over half in fact- 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: ‘the’ video game of 2018, apparently. 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

So, what’s the takeaway?

In the era of content shock, the value of Long-tail is significant. As newsrooms start to embrace more nuanced and informative analytics systems, it’s becoming easier and easier to see which content is being read and – more importantly – how and why.

There are two facets to understand these hows and whys. Understanding your audience’s needs and tendencies before the content production process starts is vital, but so too is monitoring how that article is being received.

Here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Looking beyond basic metrics system is crucial. 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 kind of insights which will allow you to identify in detail why a piece of content has enjoyed 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. Special reporting projects and experimental ways of working not only attract readers, but retain them. This is no gimmick, though. As Seth Godin points out, people immediately notice when something or some form is new or different: the novelty is attractive. It goes far beyond this, though. Highlighted examples proved to be a real hook for readers. Not only because they’re ‘remarkable’ but also because they were results of careful scrutiny and audience analysis. Think about it: was the De Persgroep case successful because the format was novel, or because they understood that people consume content when it’s presented to them in a way that’s relevant to their own lives? If the innovation in question is in line with your audience’s desires and fits with their needs, you’re onto a winner.

3. 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 reader revenue funding model, identifying what triggers loyal behavior is the holy grail. Roy Wassink from De Persgroep recently explained to us how this works in practice: the Content Insights software has enabled them to identify loyalty-driving behavior to such an extent that they were able to rethink their strategy on reporting premium content for their subscribers and assess whether it would be possible to retask some journalists to work on the kind of content their analysis showed actually supported their subscription goals. It was, and they did. Now, with a better understanding of how their content contributes to subscriptions, they understand how to better allocate their resources to maximize their reader revenue streams and deliver great content to their loyal readers.

The effort isn’t necessarily in the writing and production (although longtail 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.

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