“I don’t understand,” the client said. “All the articles have already been written, approved, and published. All you have to do is send them to a graphic designer, right?” The client was referring to an eBook we were creating which comprised of existing blog posts, all covering different aspects of a single, big theme. This method of re-purposing existing content for new audiences and contexts can be a great way to gain added value for the content you have, without spending undue effort or money.
But the client was annoyed by the length of time we told him it would take to create the eBook - that is, until we explained that, no, it's definitely not correct that you can simply pluck a bunch of blog posts and drop them into an eBook, without freshly reviewing each and making relevant changes.
But… let’s back up and start with the basics. What do we mean by “re-purposed” content, exactly?
As the name implies, we’re talking about content that’s been taken out of its original context and placed into a different one, in order to create something that is truly new, or to introduce the content in a new way or to a different audience.
- If you’ve written dozens of posts about pastry for your cooking blog, you could bundle them together into a comprehensive digest of pastry-making tips and recipes
- If you hosted a stellar webinar last year on data security, and since then your web traffic and email list have grown significantly, it might be worth re-marketing the archived version of the webinar, or even redoing it live with the original slides.
- If you created an epic article or white paper on rebuilding boat engines, maybe you could divide it up into a series of blog posts.
You can also re-purpose original images or other artwork that you own. That photo shoot you paid for when you were re-designing your website should have produced dozens or even hundreds of photos that you’ve never before used.
The advantages of this approach are fairly obvious: You already have the content, so it isn’t necessary to spend more time and/or money re-creating it from scratch. You can reach new audiences while demonstrating your expertise in deep and novel ways.
But there are a few do’s and don’ts to consider when it comes to re-purposed content:
- Do wait until you have enough content to re-purpose
In the client’s case referred to earlier, we’ve been helping them generate blog posts and other content since 2013, and have built up enough for several eBooks. You don’t need to wait three years to start re-purposing, but if you only have one blog post, don’t spin it off into something using that same subject until you’ve created a bit of variety for yourself.
- Don’t forget the “purpose” in re-purpose
Every piece of content you publish needs to serve at least one identifiable audience need. The same goes for content you re-purpose: that new eBook on pastry-making needs a title, introductory copy, a table of contents, and more. It’s not just a bunch of blog posts. It’s a book. So treat it like one.
- Do re-edit every re-purposed article for continued accuracy and relevance
That article you wrote two years ago on foiling hackers surely needs updating, given new technologies and tactics. Are you sure that piece you did on rebuilding a carburetor doesn’t reference parts that are no longer sold? Or news events may have overtaken certain blog posts you wrote on real estate investing.
Things change - don’t assume that an article written months or years ago is still accurate and relevant.
- Do consider each article’s new context, and potential changes to perspective and “voice”
Different content types call for different tones of voice and perspective. It’s possible to compile a white paper from old blog posts, sure, but white papers are generally written in a far more formal tone than a blog post - you can’t just lift section 4 of your eBook and paste it into a blog post format and think you’re finished.
You may have to do some re-writing to get each article in shape for its new context. And when you’re re-purposing more than one article in the same new piece, you’ll want your new piece to be internally consistent. That means being careful about having some articles written in third person and others in first person, for example. Nor should any two articles advise contradictory courses of action or make assertions that are mutually exclusive. Investing in annuities is either a good idea or a bad idea; it can’t be a good idea on page 7 and a terrible idea on page 19.
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll need to get it done
Just because you already have the content doesn’t mean you’re done before you start.
In addition to the re-editing work you’ll do, you might also need to make time for a design process and to develop accompanying promotional emails and other material.
Done well, re-purposing content is a terrific, low-cost way of generating new eyeballs, extending the value of your prior efforts, and reinforcing your thought leadership. But done poorly, or prematurely, that re-purposed piece can make you look careless, oblivious to new information, or desperate to spread too little content around too thinly.