It is entirely possible to speed up the evolution for your content, your marketing, your business, by shortening the life cycle. Researchers like to use goldfish and fruit flies for experiments focused on evolution for this reason. Put some goldfish in a tank with no light, and in a few months the color of their scales will have changed to adjust to the dark. Put a tortoise in a dark room for a month and nothing’s going to happen. With shorter life cycles you’ll see your project hitting evolutionary milestones at a rapid pace.
The problem with shorter life cycles is, of course, shorter life cycles. And shorter life cycles can limit your impact in a long-tail marketplace.
All of this is to say: Easy come easy go. Audience attention can be fickle, so while it may feel good to have a blog post blow up and reach a hundred thousand people in a night, you have to wonder how many of those readers actually understand what you’re about, and how many are going to become subscribers. It won’t do you much good to go viral, to have a smash hit on your hands one day, if nobody’ talking about it tomorrow.
The other extreme doesn’t do us many favors, either. No reasonable entrepreneur wants to quit their job for a business idea that will take twenty years to start turning a profit.
So there’s a happy, reasonable medium in the middle there, and it’s gonna be somewhere or other depending on what kind of content we want to create.
We’re not going to trash click-driven content too much here. It’s internet junk food, and just like potato chips and soda, even though you don’t want to eat it for every meal, it does have its place. But if you’re just looking to hit massive, fast reach to collect some ad revenue, you’re always going to be working overtime. “5 rappers YOU didn’t know were in horror movies!” is fun content to produce and fun content to read, but is anyone still talking about it a week after it’s published? Is it establishing you as a reliable source of information?
Gaming the algorithm for ad revenue will win you attention, and that’s great, but you’re not turning readers into subscribers or subscribers into customers, and you’re going to be stuck in a cycle of counting your AdSense pennies and producing as much content as possible in a day. It can keep you busy, it can keep the lights on, but in such a competitive, constantly changing and low-stakes marketplace, it’s going to be very hard to build a lasting brand on your content, and you may find that all it takes for people to forget about you is for you to take one weekend off.
The challenge is that anyone can grab attention and anyone can keep attention, but it’s hard to do both. Start a blog, show it to a few friends, and you’re almost guaranteed to wind up with a dozen loyal followers who read everything you produce. Tweet twenty jokes a day and sooner or later one of them is going to get retweeted thousands of times… by people who don’t click follow and never read another tweet from you again.
It’s easy to produce content that people will look at, it’s easy to produce content that will keep people coming back for more. It’s very hard to produce content that does both at the same time.
Bringing Them Together
Let’s clarify something: There’s no guaranteed system for success. If there was, we’d all be millionaires. But the content that hits that sweet spot in the middle will tend to have a few things in common:
1. It’s useful and relevant to the reader’s life. Produce a really good how-to article on building a gaming PC on a budget, and it’s almost certain to become a staple of the PC gaming scene, something that readers are happy to recommend to one another, and something that countless cost-conscious gamers are going to link to in order to win arguments on the internet when someone tells them that you can’t build a good setup for under a thousand bucks!
2. It’s easy to read. This is a lesson that some of us could stand to learn from listicles and social media content. It doesn’t matter how useful your content is if it’s poorly written with run-on sentences and no paragraph breaks. Shorter videos, more sub-headers, bullet-pointed lists, you want to pack useful content into a digestible package.
3. It’s not a one-off. We’re willing to bet that nobody ever retired on the income from a single Youtube video that went viral. The people who make a living at it or who have found success in using Youtube as a marketing tool for their brand will tend to produce content regularly, building a library of useful information for their followers to dig into.
In short: Yes, try to grab people’s attention, but be patient with the evolution of your brand. Small numbers don’t do us much good, but fast numbers are hard to trust. If you want to build something that lasts, if you want to establish a strong voice within your niche, it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take the best talent you can hire.
Gilbert S is a professional writer with over a decade of experience writing everything from research papers and catalog descriptions to tech magazine articles and music reviews.