How publishers wring new value from old content

Creating original editorial content is expensive. That’s why modern publishing is as much an exercise in dusting off and repurposing old content as it is creating fresh posts.

There are a few ways publishers squeeze more out of their content. One is the approach BuzzFeed has honed, to keep iterating. One way it does this is with what it calls “hot frames.” It may write up a post with a certain frame, and if does well, try it again across different platforms and geographies. So a 2013 post that publisher Dao Nguyen once wrote, 27 Signs You Were Raised By Asian Immigrant Parents (2.3 million views) was based on similar ones and could be adapted to other immigrant communities. The idea also could be adapted into a video or illustration and translated into other languages.

BuzzFeed also spins existing content into new forms. It has posts that are turned into videos and the other way around; posts that have quizzes along with them. Its Facebook pages, Tasty and Nifty, grew out of an adaptation strategy where it applies learnings from editorial to videos and franchises out of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures.

Having well-tended evergreen content — timeless fare like how-tos and recipes — also helps publishers in search. At, which gets some two-thirds of its traffic from people Googling topics like health, finance, evergreen content is so much its essence that its writers spend as much if not more time updating articles as they do producing new ones, CEO Neil Vogel said. Its health vertical, VeryWell, has about 50,000 pieces of content, with an average age of 285 days, the most popular of which get the most updating.

“When we write something, it has to be good for probably six months to three years,” he said. “We’re not a breaking news site; we are content that helps you solve problems. So we’ve always had an eye towards making evergreen content.”

Part of the increased interest in evergreen content is the rise of Facebook. The average lifespan of a post (when an article reached 90 percent of its pageviews) is about 2.6 days, according to Parsely, a publishing analytics firm. That’s not a ton of time, and it means that publishers have to create a lot of content to sustain their traffic, and evergreen content can do that, said Sachin Kamdar, Parsely’s CEO.

News publishers may have a bias in favor of the new, but they’re also learning evergreen tricks. The New York Times has been experimenting with ways to repurpose archived content for the past couple of years, since its 2014 Innovation Report pointed to the need for it. Recently, it introduced a new section on the home page and apps, Smarter Living: Tips for Daily Life, highlights service journalism pieces in areas like health, food and tech.

Screenshot 2016-07-13 at 7.27.47 AM
The Times’ new Smarter Living section pulls in current and past articles.

“Many of these stories offer advice that holds up over time — months or even years after they are published,” said Clifford Levy, assistant masthead editor at the Times. built a site around explainers that have a long shelf life, like this article, “10 simple tips for making your home wifi network faster.” Originally was published in December 2014, it was then updated and reposted in July 2015.

“The main thing is that if we have good stories that become relevant again, we should use them again,” Matthew Yglesias,’s executive editor. Yglesias cited a story he wrote about HUD Secretary Julian Castro being on Hillary Clinton’s shortlist for vice president. Most of the story is biographical information about Castro and the strategic choice Clinton is facing. If there are new Castro developments, Yglesias said, he can repost the story with a new lead but basically keep all the background information.

Publishers tread into questionable ethical territory when they try to pass off older articles as new, though. Business Insider has been known to dust off stories and repost them with a new headline, barely changing the copy. is known to have reposted articles long after their original publication date, and giving them a new date even if there’s no indication they were updated. Asked about the practice, Yglesias said that’s a function of’s feature story template and that because the practice applied to stories that aren’t newsy or time-bound, he didn’t think it was confusing anyone.

Image courtesy of Fotolia.

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