Evergreen content strategy underpins 31% rise in organic traffic for Chatham House
Chatham House is a leading independent global policy institute, providing expert-led content, commentary and research on international affairs all over the world. Over the last 12 months, we’ve overseen a programme of SEO work that has resulted in a 31% year-on-year rise in sessions from organic searches. Our work has been underpinned by a transformative approach to how Chatham House creates content. Here’s how we did it.
Chatham House’s content is created to reach four distinct audiences:
- Decision-makers (heads of government and state, senior business leaders)
- Influencers (journalists, senior government advisors, policy wonks)
- The informed public
- Younger audiences
These audiences were outlined in Chatham House’s Vision, Mission, and Strategic Plan 2018-21; the last audience, in particular, is flagged as critical to the success and sustainability of Chatham House in the future. If the organisation isn’t talking to young people today, the likelihood of this audience supporting the organisation tomorrow becomes more difficult.
Over the last 12 months, we've worked with Chatham House to develop a content strategy that ensured each of these audiences were being engaged effectively and holistically.
Expert comment produced by Chatham House is typically niche in its subject matter because it is designed to be read primarily by the first two audiences outlined above. These audiences inherently understand the wider context that underpins the “issues of the day”—if an expert comment is published detailing the ramifications of, say, the outcome of a country’s election, these audiences do not need a primer on what the wider background to this election is, or indeed why elections even take place. However, the flip side of this is that there is a gulf between those last two audiences (the informed public and younger people), and the content that is produced. This is reflected, crudely, in metrics around organic search volume; Heads of Government are far less likely than the informed public to be searching on Google for terms related to Chatham House’s content. As a result, content produced by Chatham House often struggles to rank for search terms with significant volume, meaning it’s not reaching the informed public and younger people.
A second issue exists. After content is published, Chatham House uses channels including organic and paid social, email marketing, and PPC ads to promote articles once they go live. However many of the articles have a finite window for driving traffic and have no longer-term search volume beyond the immediate aftermath of promotion. The need to give this content higher levels of visibility outside that window of activity was necessary.
In response to these issues, Torchbox devised and implemented a content-led SEO strategy that revolved around creating search-led “evergreen” articles. In SEO, “evergreen” refers to content that is continually relevant and stays “fresh” for readers. Unlike a lot of the time-sensitive content that Chatham House produces, it continues to be relevant long past its publication date; search volumes remain broadly consistent as time goes on.
The value of evergreen content, beyond merely reaching more of those audience groups outlined above, is also reflected in the ability to drive traffic to the more detailed expert comment the organisation produces. A higher search volume piece of content with a much wider reach is able to capture a larger number of users. After arriving on the site via an evergreen article, the aim is to keep them engaged and clicking through to the more detailed, smaller volume content. The overall impact is that this niche content has an increased likely readership as higher volumes of traffic arrive from organic search and are signposted to the more detailed, lower search volume content.
The success of our proposed approach hinged on two things:
- Being able to identify opportunities with low competition and high search volume. No mean feat in an over optimised world where search niches are few and far between. Simply trying to rank Chatham House for very high volume, very competitive search queries (eg “history of the middle east”) would have been the wrong approach.
- Ensuring this evergreen content contributed to the brand strength Chatham House holds as the leading policy and research organisation in the world.
We began by researching 10 data-led evergreen opportunities. Once we’d established these, we agreed to produce content that served the needs of the user searching for them. We narrowed this list down to 5 opportunities.
To find our evergreen opportunities, we started with keyword research. Finding new organic niches is tough, but we set ourselves the following criteria to help:
- Keyword has a search volume of at least 300 for the main keyword.
- Top ranking sites had a Domain Authority (DA) of less than 75 (i.e. lower than Chatham House’s).
- The search engine results page (SERP) had zero competition from paid ads (to reduce the chance of clicks being diverted to paid ads).
- Chatham House was happy that the content contributed to the overall brand strength of the organisation as a world leader in expert research and comment.
The first three could be applicable to any organisation, but the fourth was crucial for both Chatham House and Torchbox.
The first article we pushed live on the Importance of Democracy shot to Google’s number one spot overnight for the term ‘the importance of democracy’. We’d identified this term as a high priority target for Chatham House to rank for, not least because it has a global search volume of 6,600. It’s also easy to understand who searches for this term: in particular, young people were our desired audience for this term.
In its first month, the term brought 3,400 organic clicks to the site and became the third-highest organic traffic-driving page to the whole site.
(Google Search Console click data for the first three months post-launch of the ‘Importance of Democracy’ article)
Since publication, the content has continuously brought traffic to the site since its publication date and continues to be the third biggest traffic driving page on the website.
Since April 2021, we’ve overseen the creation and publication of 10 new evergreen articles, all of which have delivered similar results; shooting straight to the top of the SERP for their main “head” keyword and driving organic traffic right off the bat. Other examples of keywords targeted include:
- ‘What is the circular economy’ (global search volume: 2,500)
- ‘Deglobalisation’ (global search volume: 1,300)
- ‘What is belt and road initiative’ (global search volume: 1,000)
Our strategy has delivered the following results:
- In the first year since publication, our evergreen articles have driven over 202,000 clicks. This traffic simply didn’t exist before our SEO research detailed why it should and could exist.
(Google Search Console click data for the past 12 months for all 10 evergreen articles)
- 5 of the 10 articles we created rank in position 1 for their main term, with almost all of the other pieces ranking in the top 3.
- The 10 evergreen articles we positioned drove 14% of the site’s organic traffic between April 2021 and February 2022
- Total year-on-year organic traffic to the site rose by a massive 31% comparing May 2021 - Jan 2022.
Two of our evergreen articles went on to have some unexpected, prestigious, results for Chatham House too:
- Staff from Chatham House were invited to speak on the mainstream German news channel DW News on the subject of migration in Latin America after they saw our evergreen article published.
- The Aspen Institute in Washington DC requested the use of the Importance of Democracy article in one of their seminar packs for a series of talks they were running on the topic of Democracy.
A final, less tangible success related to the overall methodology that surrounded the content production process.
One suggested approach at the start of this project was to work with external copywriters to produce new content, to mitigate additional burden on Chatham House’s already busy team of expert writers. However, given how central content is to the organisation’s mission and brand strength, this wasn’t an option.
Instead, we worked on a methodology whereby draft content could be produced by internal staff that was then sent to specific researchers for their input and approval, removing the burden on those staff to fully own the end-to-end content process.
This was a true collaboration between Torchbox and multiple parties across the organisation to challenge the status quo and successfully trial a new content format at an organisation with a well-established content process.
What’s next for Chatham House?
Thanks to Chatham House’s digital marketing team diligently shouting about the evergreen project’s successes in their weekly all-hands meetings, people across the organisation have been hearing about how successful the trail phase has been.
From programme leads, to writers, to senior management, people across the organisation are now starting to see the benefits of evergreen content as part of the organisation’s digital content strategy.
For us the next step is to capitalise on this buzz and continue to work with teams and programmes to find other areas that could benefit from this evergreen format. Ultimately, this approach has delivered not just by driving more organic traffic, but opening Chatham House up to two audience groups who perhaps wouldn’t have been exposed to Chatham House so directly and in such numbers. Our focus over the coming months and years is in continuing to deliver new, highly qualified users to the Chatham House website through this content-first SEO work.