in Tech

Timely Content Is Useless

from Jesus Gomez on flickr

Content Marketing is a business phrase that means ‘art produced in order to promote a product’. It’s often distinct from advertisements because the content in question has value of its own. Whether its a helpful infographic, insightful blog post, or professional video, its something you might peruse and enjoy without actually buying the product. Within content marketing, there’s considered to be two distinct categories: timely and evergreen.

Timely content is relevant to current events, which is in high demand immediately during or after the situations it covers. Evergreen content deals with things that aren’t tied to a particular event, which means it is just as relevant today as a few years ago. You usually find timely content in newspapers and magazines, while evergreen content is usually found in books. Blog posts can be either – ‘How to Find a Winning Football Team’ might be evergreen, while ‘Predictions for the 2014 SuperBowl’ is obviously timely.

Marketers face a conundrum when creating such content, because each has its merits. It’s easy to default to timely content, since tying in keywords to some trending search term will pull in lots of views at first, while people are hungry for the subject. Most company blogs exclusively feature news pieces like this, extolling new features or how their product affects a current event. I’m sure the editors are happy with the consistently high viewerships such articles post, but meanwhile evergreen content can be even more powerful. It has a longer shelf life, and when done well, will become a reference point on the subject, thus pulling in readers consistently. And we all know the long tail has higher numbers than the fat head.

Outside the world of marketing, everything you’ve ever consumed still qualifies as ‘content’. Every book you’ve ever read, every magazine article, every website browsed – it’s all content, crafted by someone to entertain, coerce, or maybe express themselves. Nowadays it’s almost all digital, delivered to us on computer screens or devices that auto -update and boast new content every few minutes. Couple that capacity with the editors desire to hold on to your attention, and you’ll find that the vast majority of what we consume regularly is timely updates, not evergreen content.

And timely content is useless!

Any content that comes with an expiration date will become obsolete, by definition. So there’s no reason to stay updated on it unless that information is going to influence the very next thing you do today, before it becomes obsolete. That’s the trick with time-relevant material; it’s not relevant to anything other than the time its published. 

The opposite of timely is timeless, and its no coincidence that’s what we call great art. Timeless art transcends the time in which it is made. The Mona Lisa is just as inspiring today as it was the day it was painted – if it wasn’t, then it would necessarily be considered timely, and likewise as inferior. Sometimes art is so ‘ahead of its time’ that the artist languishes in obscurity during their lifetime, but eventually the value comes out. But it’s never treated as timely.

 

Since art and content are two side of the same coin, why are we holding them to different standards? A blog post or status update is content just like that found in a museum – but you won’t find tweets in the Louvre anytime soon. The best tweets, posts, and longform web articles can evoke the same awe, laughter, or thought than any modern art piece can – so why don’t we see them in museums? One answer is due to traditionalist conceptions of art, but another is the internet’s penchant for timely content.

 No true artist ever set out to make something that would only be exciting for as long as it was new. They want it to be timeless. Why  treat the internet any differently?

You may argue that much of the web content out there is made solely to bring out the audience’s credit cards. But even that action depends on the content being convincing no matter when the buyer is reading it. Look at old advertisements like Apple’s famous 1984 adit’s still compelling, even as the fashions displayed become dated. Similarly, even timely content can become evergreen, when structured such that it fits into a broader agenda. For example, content covering the Ferguson riots can fit into an evergreen piece about racial tension. How Obama dealt with one presidential crisis is news, but the framework with which he approaches a new one is strategy. One is something you can use in your life, and the other trivia.

Musings about human nature, the best way to accomplish something, or what’s truly important don’t change. They may evolve over time, but only on the foundation of the older beliefs, which instead of becoming obsolete become part of a story. In a similar vein, scientific news doesn’t talk about who did what – instead it’s about who discovered what, and whose work they used to get there. Hence ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’

That’s part of why I do Weekly Reviews. Tweeting out content doesn’t make it easily accessible when I face a relevant challenge down the line. But when structured within a blog post, fraught with keywords that will help me find it later, it becomes an evergreen resource for referral. How someone did something will be relevant to me trying to do that same thing no matter when I try to do it.

I’m certainly not the first person to lament the instant gratification of the internet. But I’m not just talking about the context of the content, I’m talking about the actual content. If something is helpful, it’ll be helpful whenever. And an article that’s only helpful when it’s new will always be replaced by a newer version, rendering the old version defunct.

Therefore timely content can never truly matter beyond the transitory pageviews it generates. Only evergreen content is worth the space in your brain it takes up, as it builds upon itself and others to help you reach greater heights of understanding. Evergreen content stacks, while timely content replaces.