The forgotten value of archival content

Doing things like deleting Tweets torches your ambient findability and hinders your ability to compound attention

“Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses."

-Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power

The web (and tech early adopters in particular) continue to obsess over real-time. It is put on a pedestal by many who fall victim to the trap that they have to see everything new, now or that is only way web communities work.

Of course, this isn’t accurate. Smart professionals across industries I speak with frequently timeshift the real-time web, as they understand the high cost of now.

Typically around 50-100K watched the Joe Rogan stream as it happened live on YouTube, millions later on-demand, at their leisure. Timeshifting and archival access is orders of magnitude larger than our perceived, precious “now.” It’s been this way since the early days of the web and everyone having a pocket computer still doesn’t really change things. Ask Netflix, they understood this before an entire industry woke from their slumber (and won, bigly).

In many cases real-time is important. Conversations, breaking news and information which provides a significant enough advantage to get sooner is worth playing at the edge to get. It’s even fun.

But in just focusing on what’s new, now, doing things like deleting old (and useful!) updates or spending too much time in ephemeral platforms, many have forgotten (or in some cases never understood at all) the value of archival, authoritative, and useful content.

With that said, today I was thinking how some may need a few reminders about the importance of high value archival content:

Some of the most popular sites on the web thrive on archives

Sites like Wikipedia, eHow, Quroa, even YouTube thrive on their archives. It’s not just that this content is found via users seeking something specific in a search engine. That’s extremely important on its own. But beyond that, when discovered, this content is frequently re-shared back into user’s streams as if it’s new, or to provide context into a conversation happening now. The point is this content has a lot of value. But if you’re not vesting the effort to publish and optimize, you can’t tap into it.

High trafficked pages = organic community funnels … growth while you sleep

If you have high trafficked, archived pages which receive 5,000, 10,000 or even 50,000 organic visitors per month (all possible) a certain percentage will opt in to receive your next updates if (the pages are) optimized for that outcome. Due to the nature of this type of content, it will naturally grow an opt-in community. Now the next time you have something new to share you have expectations will replicate in the petri dish of real-time, you’ll have more activated, interested users taking action. Developing high trafficked pages on your own site is one of the smartest yet ignored tactics on the web today. More social platforms only amplify what should already be a bread and butter tactic in the toolbox of every marketer.

Modern media companies build on their narratives through archives

An extremely frustrating thing for me as a user (and blogger) is when a media company removes a page I’ve linked to without any explanation. It happens again and again, but it’s almost always done by traditional media companies such as newspapers or magazines. They’re not digital first. It makes no sense as these brands are losing link equity and also frustrating me as a user. I have a hard time justifying linking to them again as I think they may take it down. Modern media companies don’t do this, they see their archives as high value from an inbound traffic standpoint. They also understand the opportunity to build on those narratives by updating the page with links to new stories on the subject, highlighting them in future round-ups or otherwise re-imagining that content.

Archival content might not be “sexy” to some, but generates incremental results

Many marketing and PR people like “sexy” ideas. I use the term in quotes as at one point many thought websites with long flash intros were cool (no one else actually thought this except the person creating them). Building up a useful and threaded archives helps your brand build incremental results across search and social (if executed properly). It allows you to bridge the past with the future and provide context for real-time, helping establish trust and leadership. Of course, this is hard work which is why many don’t see this type of content as “sexy.” Maybe it’s not. But it creates a platform where you can generate buzz for creative ideas while also owning your category bit by bit.

Search findability = some of the highest quality traffic & attention you can get

There’s a reason marketers spend more on search ads via Google and Bing than social (a lot more - orders of magnitude more!). Intent. Search traffic expresses some of the highest intent possible. Those who are found, win. What is unseen counts for nothing in these cases, if we don’t find you you simply do not exist.

Again, I am not denigrating the advantage of being first with information or attempting to win the day’s attention by living at the edge of the stream. There is a ton of opportunity there as smart communications pros like David Meerman Scott point out. But in tandem, work to build assets which have archival value and are a reference point for the rest of the web long term. The ephemeral is forgotten as soon as it vanishes. Compounding attention deeply requires permanence.

image credit: Shutterstock