Writing

How To Make Your Previously Written Content Valuable Once Again

Do you have hundreds or even thousands of articles hiding behind those “previous” buttons on the bottom of your page? I bet that many of you do. They, unfortunately, offer little or no value to your readers. Valuable page views are being lost if you fail to make an honest attempt to promote past content.

Your living in la-la land if you believe that the typical reader is going to take the time to click the previous button on your blog over two or three times. I was once shocked to notice someone go back four pages on my technology blog, but even then I think it was one of my friends. It just doesn’t seem right. I mean, after all, you invested so much time into those articles, and while your blog may be prospering with new readers that are reading what you write today, they are missing out on all your previous hard work. Something must be done about this!

Alright, So How Do We Fix It?

Understandably, if you are running a site that consists of time sensitive issues like current events, news, or even technology, it is not as important to highlight that five paragraph article on why the iPhone will rule the world. On the other hand, if you do have any content that you have written in the past that could be of value to your readers, then you should do your best to make it easy for them to find it. Perhaps, at the very least, your hard work from the past will generate more back links with your newer readers.

There was a good reason you assigned tags and categories to your content (hopefully), and now is the time to explain why. Whether you prefer using tags or categories, these two methods are the primary link to organizing your previous content. They also give you great ways to pull out content as well. Good categorization of your content is crucial. Even if it doesn’t appear that way now, it might come back to haunt you later.

Pages

Using multiple pages that focus on a single or multiple related categories is a relatively easy way to spread your content out. Instead of limiting your readers to the last 10 or so recent blog entries, you could have your site also display the last 10 or so items from a broad set of various categories. News, previews, and reviews pages could be a relatively simple start for adding more value to previous articles. Already your user has access to more content than they did before.

Accomplishing this in WordPress can be somewhat tricky. Maria’s Guides has a great tutorial on how to create category specific archive pages. This is probably the best option if you do not want to bother with the other methods available. Once this is set up, everything will be automated as long as you manage your categories correctly.

Lists

If you check out a site like ProBlogger, you will notice that, even on the very front page, the site manages to promote content from years ago with the “Best of Problogger” section. You might not need to be so fancy with how it is done, but if you do, try checking out jQuery if your looking to do something similar to the tabbed interface. It does have the advantage of making great use of little space.

It doesn’t have to be that complicated though. Something simple like listing 10 to 20 of your past favorite articles from a few categories would be better than nothing at all. It is a great way to give your readers something to do other than reading your most recent entries.

Plugins

Alex King has a great plugin called Popularity Contest. It will allow you to keep track of all the views on your content, and with a little bit of code, you can extract information about the most popular posts. This will allow you to generate lists that display your most popular content. Many sites tend to do this, and maybe you should too.

If you want to make displaying lists of previous content easier, you could also check out Alex King’s Articles plugin. Most of the functionality can be done without a plugin, but this could make the task much easier.

Examples

The best way to learn is by example, so here are a few blogs to take notes from:

  • ProBlogger – the homepage and archives page are excellent for showing off the site’s previous content. The ajax tabbed interface also allows much more content to be displayed in the same amount of space.
  • ArsTechnica – separates past content with tabs on top; the “Ars Journals” section on the right also helps to show off additional content.
  • Smashing Magazine – exactly what I was talking about before — the site properly highlights its best content from the past, even if in a simplistic manner.
  • TreeHugger – in addition to featuring an amazingly unique design, the sidebars of the site are full of quality content from the past.
  • A List Apart – while putting together an archive like this might be significantly more effort, it would unquestionably be worth it if you have that much valuable content.
  • Zen Habits – features excellent use of previously popular content on the bottom of the page.

If you can be consistent with featuring your previous content, it really adds value to site. Readers might be, for example, more inclined to visit the site instead of only reading via content feeds.

Hopefully some of those sites will inspire you to spend some time and feature your hard work. If you have an article that you spent hours on that maybe didn’t get enough appreciation, it should be on the front page. Most of us don’t do this, and I will raise my hand and admit that I am one of those people. Fortunately, after joining Performancing, I have been thinking of new ways to improve my blogs.

This is a step in the right direction.

If you have a unique way of displaying your previous content, please let us know in the comments section. I would also be glad to help anyone that needs an opinion on how to make their previous content useful; just fire me a private message.

Author: jamesm

21 thoughts on “How To Make Your Previously Written Content Valuable Once Again

  1. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. Plugins are a great way to accomplish most of this stuff with WordPress. However, I didn’t intend this article to focus in too heavily on WordPress, but on any site in current existance. Perhaps I will revisit this topic with WordPress as the main focus. Thanks for the information.

  2. Just realized that I already posted a thank you comment. I hope the additional info I provided with this new comment sheds some light on this topic.

  3. Thanks for the link.

    The article in question doesn’t purport to show off WordPress as a CMS. It just explains how to create a custom archive page for each category. So if you have a category called “Fiction,” the page that lists posts in that category might start off with an introductory paragraph that explains what the category is all about. That introductory paragraph would be different for the one that appears for the “Travels” category or the “Blogging” category.

    The article goes “under the hood” in WordPress by providing PHP and XHTML code that’ll accomplish this. It only works with WordPress server installs — I don’t think it’ll work on a WordPress.com hosted blog.

    Also, while I appreciate the link and hope some folks have learned a few tricks from the article, there are better ways to make old content more accessible than the techniques the article covers. Plugins, for example, can be very valuable. On This Day brings old posts to a sidebar list based on the date — for example, all posts on April 15 for every year will be displayed. Readers Post has a recently read feature that brings up a list of the last bunch of posts visitors have read — this can go way back, considering 60% of my site’s hits come from Google search results. Other plugins can also bring old content to the surface where it can be seen and read.

    Again, thanks for the link!

  4. I haven’t read Maria’s article, but whatever she wrote doesn’t influence whatever WP actually is.

  5. For sure WP is a CMS by definition. But I use/prefer the term ‘blog system’ because a pure blog system is a stripped down CMS which you can see immediately if you have to edit or add core files to get a certain feature.

    The more granulated content can be handled by a CMS the easier it is to develop complex websites with abstract core faetures. The abstraction layer of i.e. template tags is what counts.

    Fitting article: Boring Article About Excerpts (Blog Design Basics)

    Speaking of blog design excerpts are all ways to generate controllable granulated content snippets from one article. Automatically! This way a search parameter, a list of article keywords, the article title, custom fields, etc. are little bricks (read: modules) to control my blog design.

    My definition for ‘excerpt’ is more technical: Granulated content

    Reading the mentioned tutorial from Maria doesn’t give me a feeling of trust in WP as a CMS.

  6. Markus: CMS = Content Management System. Hence, WordPress IS a CMS. As I wrote in my 48 Unique Ways to Use WordPress article, it doesn’t necessarily compare to a high-end, expensive CMS, but it IS a CMS nonetheless. (As a former evaluator of high-end CMSes, I can say this with confidence.)

  7. “Accomplishing this in WordPress can be somewhat tricky. Maria’s Guides has a great tutorial on how to create category specific archive pages.”

    Nothing personal, BUT that tutorial shows clearly that WordPress is NOT A CMS. Reading that (for sure helpful and well written) tutorial gives me headaches when I think of website projects.

    In Textpattern i.e. category pages are immediately active if you use categories. Even if no links show up you can reach category pages as a TXP core feature from the browser by typing the messy URL as simple as /index.php?c=sample-category.

    The if/else example in the tutorial is another Textpattern if/else core feature:

    • Long: Show thisShow that
    • Short: Show this
  8. Thanks for linking to my WordPress how-to about Creating Category-specific archive pages. It may be a bit out of date these days, but I hope to update and possibly simplify it soon.

    Maria

  9. @James: Thanks for the compliment.

    The great thing about a generic ‘out of WP’ solution is that you can use it for as many scenarios and publishing platforms as your imagination can dream of. And embedding the power of RSS is a really powerful solution because you can use every RSS generator for any content you like as long as it spits out some RSS feed.

    The border is only the length of the RSS feed but I don’t think that too many people will show more than i.e 10 ‘best of’ articles.

  10. Just did an extensive look at how to achieve the ‘best pages’ scenario without using the WP plug-ins. Esp. useful if you are not using WP or you want to avoid WP performance issues:

    Follow-Up: Blog archive: The publishing power of bookmarks

    As the new performancing.com staff writer James Mowery pointed out in How To Make Your Previously Written Content Valuable Once Again there are good reasons to give your readers a lightning fast way to previously published great articles (Read: buried stone dead in the archives). Let’s use a more generic and less performance consuming approach…

    Social bookmarks are perfect for publishing (More…)

  11. IdeaCoach, some of the most popular posts I’ve seen on some blogs are exactly that.

    More often though, people take a bunch of their old content and create a MEGA POST (as I like to call it) for all that content. It simply recycles old content, but presents it in a new and refreshing way with other content.

    I would say go for it, without question.

  12. So what do you think about creating e-books and special reports from old content?
    Thanks for the great post

  13. Reading the comments of that old article I stumble across an interesting subject related gem:

    del.icio.us is your friend …

    This del.icio.us way I am also solving some archive presentation pages issues. For every month I ‘develop’ a certain del.icio.us linkroll … with or without excerpts and put them onto a page or into my sideboard

    If I had the time this comment would immediately become a new article. But here are the steps in short:

    1. Use a d.i.u tag for your best articles
    2. Publish the RSS feed for that tag as an aside
    3. Your finest content will show up automatically

    Related: Publish mini blogs as asides

    I am already doing this on some sites which I don’t have to maintain directly any more because of this. That’s why I forgot to mention it.

    It’s already all here on performancing.com. Ready made for the interested ones 😉

  14. It’s just a question of how to define ‘topic’ 🙂

    There is an old text desert article about reusing content: Productivity: Content Recycling (February 24, 2006) But be warned before clicking the link:

    Reading this article I must admit that it is a pretty rough ride ‘concept wise’ … not as clear and straight forward as I would like it to be. But I just wanted to paint a rough picture … pretty ‘bloggish’ isn’t it 🙂

    Well, if you do click you will find one or two sentences about the productivity advantages of content refinement.

  15. Yes, you should definitely consider making good use of them

    I also can’t do the one article per topic deal. I don’t know if I ever will be. I envy those that can.

  16. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been thinking of doing something about my past entries, lately. It seems a shame to see them buried underneath piles of new entries.

    (Unfortunately, I can’t use the one article per topic approach since my niche is quite redundant in nature.)

    Mariella Moon
    I Twit
    I Stumble

  17. One article is all you need for one topic. Interesting line that is. Sounds impossible! However, I am used to writing about technology and web 2.0. I can only talk about Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and Apple so much. Good times.

    A category listing is alright, but it doesn’t highlight particular posts (unless you create categories specifically for that purpose). This article was aimed to promote the best

    Oh, and for everyone else, about the 103bees, Markus is talking about this site here.

  18. > Something simple like listing 10 to 20 of your past favorite articles from a few categories would be better than nothing at all.

    103bees gives me an exportable ‘top landing pages’ list for seven or 30 days. That data is a good start for creating a list of previously prominent SE traffic pages.

    But I don’t do it. I trust my related articles lists and my tag and categories links. And I follow the ‘one article is all you need for one topic’ philosophy 🙂

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