Are you looking for a way to grow your blog’s readership and reputation? The best tool for the job may be sitting right there in your site’s archives.
It’s easy for bloggers to get caught up in the day-to-day developments within their chosen niche (in my case, coverage of the NHL’s Nashville Predators), but occasionally you’ll find that dipping into the past can not only jazz up today’s content, but with a little work your archive of old posts can serve as a gateway through which new readers discover and become engaged with your work.
The Power of the Past
The simplest and most powerful way to leverage your archives is to draw upon that material in the service of present-day writing to add a bit of historical perspective to the subject currently at hand. Did a star player on your team get traded, for example? Make sure to summon up older articles of yours that celebrate his greatest achievements, or capture the meaning of that player to the team.
Rather than simply say “he joined Team X in 2005, led the league in Y so many times, and now is being traded”, you can use a few quoted sentences or even a series of links to take your reader along a journey, walking them through a story which leads up to the latest development which you’re writing about today. Direct quotes from coverage of events in the past tends to be much more evocative of the feelings from that time than a simple rehashing of those events is likely to be.
The amazing thing about unearthing your archives to bolster your current material is that for you bloggers who compete for eyeballs with mainstream media outlets like newspapers or magazines, this is a tool that your professional competitors usually leave there to rot. Newspapers often hide content older than a week or two behind a paywall, rendering it inaccessible to both readers and search engines.
For you, however, it can greatly add to the quality of your articles, and it boosts your status as an authority in the eyes of readers both new and old. Longtime visitors will be reminded of their ongoing relationship with your site, while newbies will be shown that yes, you’ve been around the block a time or two and you have a solid background with your chosen subject.
Put Old, Popular Posts to Work
One of the best ways to take advantage of your archive is to make sure that readers entering your site through older posts are given the red-carpet treatment. After all, they are likely to be first-time visitors, who happened upon your site through a Google search or link on another blog (recall that I’ve written about the importance of keeping first-time visitors in mind before).
For example, I recently looked at my Google Analytics data from the first half of 2013, and found that some articles from previous years were still bringing in new visitors, such as this one from 2011 breaking down a trade between Nashville & Toronto. As a basic step to make those posts more useful as entry points, I went ahead and edited them to add my Twitter follow button & Facebook “Like” widget (something I wasn’t doing regularly back then), and ensured that they have a nice, relevant photo at the top to match the current formatting of my site.
That right there is enough to squeeze more value out of those older pages, but another possibility is to insert a reference to a more recent article on your site which carries the story in that old post forward, leading the reader along to more relevant content, and perhaps converting them into a regular visitor.
For example, in January I posted something I call the NHL Super Schedule, which take the NHL’s regular season schedule and calculates how many miles each team travels. It’s a nice bit of unique content that I look forward to doing every year, but a few weeks ago, I decided to put a new spin on the idea by calculating a KHL Super Schedule, doing the same thing for Russia’s top hockey league. You might think that flying from Vancouver to Miami is rough for NHL players, at 2,700 miles, but some KHL teams are almost twice as far apart!
My NHL Super Schedule post from January still draws in a decent amount of readers, so I went into that article and added a short blurb pointing people to the KHL post which ran five months later (you can check it out here). It neatly ties in with what they’re already reading, and starts them interacting with the site. Getting a visitor in the front door is nice, but if you can get them walking around checking things out, you have a much better chance of bringing them back on a regular basis.
You can approach this idea from two different angles. First, like I did, you can periodically review your analytics to see which old posts are drawing traffic and are thus worth the effort, or secondly, keep this tactic in mind while creating new material, and actively look for opportunities to create pointers from old content to the new. This can create benefits not only in terms of directing readers, but also some significant SEO (search engine optimization) juice by establishing links from high-value archival material to your more recent work.
A Word of Warning
There is another situation in which your archives require a bit of maintenance, and that’s when you’ve made some form of error that requires a clarification or an apology. Unlike most outlets which might issue a small standalone note, as an online publisher your apology should go right alongside that original content so the damage doesn’t continue to spread as new visitors stumble upon that article and get a poor impression of you.
Let me use one of my own missteps as an example. Years ago I found an article which (I thought) quoted a local TV sports director talking about his continued ignorance of hockey, despite having the Nashville Predators in town for about a decade. I posted a screed ripping him for his attitude, but then it was pointed out to me that I had misread the original article and the quote wasn’t even his. I edited the post to put an apology right up at the top, to prevent any misunderstanding by readers who might see that article in the future.
That’s an important point to remember – if you have something to apologize for or correct, make sure the erroneous article gets updated with an explanatory note up front. Unless there is an especially strong reason to delete the post altogether, you’re much better off leaving the article up along with your clarification. Readers will generally appreciate the fact that you own up to your mistakes.
Whatever you do, don’t just delete posts which might make you look bad and pretend nothing happened – people will catch onto this and call you out for sweeping things under the rug, which can be far worse for your reputation than whatever mistake you’re trying to cover up.
Don’t Leave Your Greatest Weapon Lying There!
Whether you mine your archives for context that lends greater depth to your current writing, or utilize them as a series of welcome mats which can lure in new readers, don’t let those old posts just sit there turning stale. They say “what happens on the internet stays on the internet”, so why not take full advantage of that?