What is longtail content?

In a former blogpost and in a Journalift webinar, our colleague Miloš discussed all the ins and outs of longtail content, so if you’re a bit woolly about what it is, we thoroughly recommend grabbing a coffee and having a read or watch. But, for those of you who like a quick summary, here you are: longtail content is content that continues to generate traffic more than three days after publishing. These articles mostly feature topics that aren’t particularly time-sensitive.

But there are exceptions. Aren’t there always? Seasonal topics make great longtail articles too. These are topics that become relevant during a specific part of every year. Yes, we’re talking Christmas recipes, summer hot spots, sports competitions, that kind of thing.

Why you should spend time on creating longtail content

To be able to really get to work with longtail content, it is crucial to know exactly why longtail content is so important. For starters, longtail content is great for your engagement - and this has everything to do with reading time. Point of fact, the average read time of a longtail article is longer than the read time of a normal article.

Longtail also creates loyalty. And here’s why that matters: loyal readers consume up to 5 times the amount of news compared to average readers. So, spending time creating longtail content is time well spent, and a worthy investment.

1. Use seasonal content effectively

When an old seasonal article, about, let’s say, Fruit Flies (you might have to translate this one) or Christmas Markets pops up again, your historical analytics will be able to tell you if and how people will be interested in the topic. So, it’s always a good idea to update those articles to keep them current or to replicate successful formats (a listicle is often a good format when it comes to longtail content) and include a note at the bottom of the article saying that articles are updated or changed to win a journalistic gold star - you deserve it.

When you’ve done all that, it’s a good idea to give your article a prominent place on your homepage, as you already know your readers will be keen to read about the topic.

So, the value of your seasonal content might be cyclical, but if you recognise the cycles it runs through, you’re onto a winner. And republishing your old seasonal content, or at least drawing inspiration from it, is surely worth your while.

2. Explore what does and doesn’t work based on previous content

Take a look at your top 100 articles that were published three days ago or longer. Now select the best performing content (for example, by looking at engagement, or any other success metric that matches your business strategy) and see what the common traits are. Do they have the same kind of headline structure or are they all about the same or similar topics? Now, this is trial and error. But when you find out what the common denominator is, you can start to apply those in practice.

This obviously also works the other way around. Take a look at your worst performing articles that were published 3 days ago or longer and see what these ‘bad’ (or less attractive) articles have in common. By doing this, you will let the data tell from which mistakes you should learn. Sounds easy right?

Remember the ‘smartocto rule’: whatever the success metric is that you define, there’s always 30% of your content not performing according to this metric. Check our latest webinar in which we discussed resistance to using data in the newsroom and the blogpost we wrote about it.

If you recognise the cycles a story runs through, you’re onto a winner

3. Think about distribution

When creating longtail content, think about where, how and when you are going to distribute the content. Include your longtail articles in your social media content planning. You could also recirculate older longtail content in your newsletter by checking which everlasting articles perform well on a monthly basis. When you put these articles in a separate section in your newsletter you are creating an opportunity to make non-urgent stories relevant again. Besides, your most loyal readers will be opening your newsletter and surely be interested in your longtail articles. Who knows, they might even share them, which helps you grow your potential readership.

Another vital part of distribution is SEO. Make sure you always optimise your longtail content for SEO, since your traffic will mostly come from organic search. So, investigate what your audience is looking for and really focus on the answer to the questions they might have about a topic. Make sure your headline fits perfectly with what you think your readers will look for online. If you are lost as to what your headline should be, remember this mnemonic: don't focus on what the news is but focus on what it can do for your audience and use the keywords they mostly search for in your headlines. Keep it short, actionable and attractive.

One other interesting thought: do you put your longtail content behind a paywall? If you write a lot of exclusive content that your audience is actively looking for, then putting it behind a paywall can increase your paywall subscribers. Of course, this can also work the other way around, which would mean the interest of your audience may drop as a result of the paywall. Experiment with this!

4. Focus on your reader’s user needs

To successfully create longtail articles it is definitely helpful to write about something that your readers are interested in. So, return to behavioural metrics and define how your readers are consuming your content.

Really try to take different metrics in account here, like page depth, loyalty, engagement and read depth, because they will teach you a lot about your readers wishes and interests. This is super important, because loyal readers consume 5 times the amount of news opposed to normal readers.

People don’t search for news but they will consult the big G in relation when they want to know how the news will have an effect on their lives. So, ‘increasing house prices’ isn’t something many people will search for, but ‘the best tips on how to buy a house in times when prices are continuously going up’ will correspond a lot more with what readers actually want to know and therefore lead to more traffic (even if the search terms are likely more succinct!). So, understanding your audience’s needs is important to understand what articles to write.

If you want to dive deeper in how user needs can be beneficial for you check this out.

Don't focus on what the news is, focus on what it can do for your audience

5. Investigative journalism could be beneficial

If you’re a news organisation or into online journalism, instead of the more common content marketing, it might be wise to understand the benefits of investigative journalism. Investigative journalism means more effort and will definitely cost you some extra time, but it will pay off in the long run for sure, because these articles attract a broad audience and can easily be linked to future publication.

So, if there are topics other newsrooms neglect, we advise you to walk that extra mile, because it will contribute to your topic monopoly. Then, later on, when the topic evolves, make sure you stay up-to-date and keep informing your readers on a regular basis. This way you will keep them hooked. And it will give you authority on the topic and as a (journalistic) brand as a whole.

Check out the webinar: The power of longtail content by Journalift

Bonus tip

We know we said five, but we just can’t help ourselves. So, our last bonus tip: join forces with an actionable data tool (like smartocto) to help you get in-depth insights about how your longtail content is performing.

With our smart data tool we can also detect which content is ‘reborn’ after a while and which content has everlasting potential. And we’ll even be able to hand that information to you on a silver platter, in the form of a notification. This is what your next actionable notification could look like:

An example of a longtail potential notification