Give stories new life: How to optimize content when ‘zombies’ emerge

It’s common for our global content creators to see an article that was published months (or even years!) ago suddenly see a spike in traffic. We call these “zombie” articles, but what they really signal is an opportunity to attract new readers and keep loyal ones engaged using the great content you’ve already produced. 

So what can you do when a zombie article comes back from the dead? We take you through the optimizations that give your content new life.

Determine whether you truly have a zombie on your hands

Check the article’s top referrers. There’s a possibility that this story’s popularity is a product of good SEO practices (i.e., linked to one of your recent pieces) or a posting by a social media influencer with lots of followers. We have social media tools to quickly identify the source, but non-Chartbeat users can also do some digging of their own.

Once identified, you’ll have a short window of opportunity to get in front of new audiences — here’s how to take advantage.

(For more on this topic, see: With Zombie, Le Temps wants to give a second life to its evergreen stories)

A social media-driven zombie article

Is your article being shared within a public Facebook Group or trending on Twitter? Get involved in the conversation and repost across your other social channels. 

For instance, we think a well-read post on optimizing zombie articles with updated insights (and fewer puns) is valuable to our social audience, so we’ve promoted it across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn like so:

(Related: When is the best time to post on social media? It’s later than you think)

Optimize your zombie articles

All of your story’s newfound attention could also be due to its ability to answer a timely question via Google search. There’s ways to optimize for this significant source of referral traffic as well. Here are a few ways:

  • Ensure that your headlines, images, links, and subheadings are up-to-date. It won’t only make the story more engaging for your readers, but will improve SEO. 
  • Can you go deeper into the topic addressed in the article? Consider writing a follow-up piece.
  • On the linking front, make sure you’re redirecting to fresh and relevant content for your readers. This way, you can increase Recirculation and allow these new audiences to discover even more of your content.

(For further reading, see: Real-time data, long-term reader engagement: Why publishers need more actionable insights)

Why should zombie articles matter?

Zombie articles present a chance to engage new readers and still keep your loyal ones top of mind. There’s a few other reasons you shouldn’t leave these stories for dead.

Higher engagement lifts reader loyalty

Thoughtful linking helps keep readers engaged. Recirculation to more of your content is a key factor in building audience loyalty. 

You’re the experts — keep it that way 

There’s a chance you may have extra content in your archives or that didn’t make the final edits. Use that in-house knowledge to continue solidifying your role as a topic or industry thought leader.

They leverage your channel presence

Maybe you’ve rebranded or added new channels (e.g., video) to your brand arsenal since the now-zombie article was published. Make sure the article’s design reflects your branding guide and incorporates your improved multi-channel muscle.

The next step is to keep an eye out for the signs that a zombie article is rising once again. Now that you’re armed with the tools to get the most out of this phenomenon, improving reader engagement should be no-brainer.

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