The Trees in the Forest of Your Website

This article is part two of a two-part series on evergreen content. This article is about trees and forests. See also part one, about boats and rocks.

Trees! (featuring: a cat)

Trees! (featuring: a cat)

In my last article, I decisively explained why the terms “flagship content” and “cornerstone content” were bad at describing what we want them to describe. I changed the definition of “flagship content”, and washed my hands of “cornerstone content” entirely.

But I only hinted at what makes “evergreen content” so great of a term, what else the metaphor can tell us, and why comparing posts to trees works so well.

So now, I’m going to do all that.

Let’s Get Dendrological

Dendrology is the study of trees. But, of course, you already knew that.

When you think of an evergreen tree, you think of a pine tree – like, a Christmas tree. You’re not wrong. That is a good example of evergreen forest content. It’s also a coniferous tree.



Conifers are a scientific grouping (actually named pinophyta) within the Kingdom Plantae (i.e. all plants). This division is basically all trees, and basically all of those trees have needles. For context, there are twelve divisions of plants:

  1. Chlorophyta (green algae – with clorophyl)
  2. Charophyta (green algae – like stoneworts)
  3. Marchantiophyta (liverworts)
  4. Anthocerotophyta (hornworts)
  5. Bryophyta (moss)
  6. Lycopodiophyta (club moss)
  7. Pteridophyta (ferns & horsetails)
  8. Cycadophyta (cycads)
  9. Ginkgophyta (ginkgo – literally just this one plant)
  10. Pinophyta (conifers)
  11. Gnetophyta (gnetophytes)
  12. Magnoliophyta (flowers)

Don’t worry, there’s no quiz on this. I’m only giving you this so you know the context behind the term “conifer”, which I will now contrast with the context of “evergreen”.

Not all conifers are evergreen. For example, take this tree known as the larch, found in Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. It’s a conifer, but it’s deciduous, not evergreen – it sheds in the winter.

The larch tree (Wikipedia)

The larch tree (Wikipedia↝)

Not all evergreen trees are conifers, either. For example, take the holly tree. Or consider trees in the rainforest, where there is no winter and thus no reason to shed your leaves. Even most palm trees are evergreen.

Evergreen content.

Evergreen content.

Evergreen vs Deciduous

So there are twelve types of plants, as established above. Moving on, there are three types of trees. You’ve got your evergreen trees, your deciduous trees, and your in-the-middle semi-deciduous trees. This actually applies to all plants, but we’re sticking with trees for simplicity.

A deciduous tree is seasonal. It grows leaves in the spring, soaks up the summer sun, sheds the leaves in the fall, and stays pretty dormant all winter.

A deciduous tree in the winter.

Deciduous trees in the winter.

Meanwhile, evergreen trees don’t just grow their needles once and then call it done. No, they’re actually in a constant cycle of shedding and growing. If you look at an evergreen tree, and then look at it ten years later, all those needles are brand new to you.

Evergreen trees support more evergreen trees. They need soil that’s rich in nitrogen to survive. Their needles are packed full of nitrogen. When the needles fall, that nitrogen gets absorbed into the soil in a wider area around the tree, which makes that wider area ripe for more evergreen trees.

Semi-deciduous trees aren’t super common; they’re just the cases where a plant sheds foliage for only a little while as new foliage is growing. We won’t really talk about them again, but I don’t want to short-change you on education here.

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms

“What is this, tenth grade biology?” Bear with me here. You’re using the term evergreen, so you should know about trees. If nothing else, file all this away for that one moment in front of a client where you can bring some of this up and look like an absolute genius.

Angiosperms are plants that produce seeds with flowers and fruit. If you’re looking at a plant, and it has a flower, or it’s growing a fruit, it’s an angiosperm.

Gymnosperms are plants that produce seeds without any of that fluff. “Gymnos” is Greek for naked, so it literally means “naked seed”. A pinecone is a naked seed.

X-rated pinecones here. Put some clothes on!

X-rated pinecones here. Put some clothes on!

One good way to remember this is by thinking about a married couple, Angie and Jim. Angie’s a lovely young woman covered in roses, holding up some delicious fresh fruit. Jim is a naked guy holding a pinecone.

OK, Can We Get Back To Content Now?

We sure can!

Evergreen Content, Deciduous Content, & Pine Needle Posts

Currently, the “evergreen content” metaphor just applies to the benefits of creating timeless relevant content. Let’s expand that.

If there’s evergreen content, there must also be deciduous content.

Deciduous trees are dormant for a while, but have value for a while too – every season.

While some examples of evergreen content, which has continual value all year round, may be posts like…

  • How To Start A Blog!
  • Why You Should Adopt A Disabled Cat!
  • Which Wines Pair With Which Foods!

…some examples of deciduous content may be posts like…

  • Beach Summer Fashion!
  • Annual Christmas Deal Guide!
  • New College Graduate Life Checklist!

These posts do have continual value, but they’re obviously seasonal. No one’s searching for Christmas in July, but try suggesting to an ecommerce site that its Christmas shopping page is worthless!

Pictured: your Christmas shopping page.

Pictured: your Christmas shopping page (not worthless).

These sorts of posts and pages are very interesting to think about, and not a lot has been written on them – something I’ll have to rectify in a different post.

(Semi-deciduous trees aren’t really that common or important, so we can leave them out of this metaphor.)

Finally, there are pine needle posts. These are posts that have a little value for a short time, but then fall off and die, and never really have value again on their own. Some examples of pine needle posts are…

  • Where To Find Me At Kitten-Con 2015!
  • Last Night’s Presidential Debates Were Wild!
  • Free Facebook Coupons – Limited Quantity!

I think you can see the difference. These posts are still important, and do provide important benefits for both the user and for SEO. But they’re clearly not the sort of thing you want a website to depend upon. Instead, they just help feed your evergreen content with much-needed nitrogen.

There’s another good metaphor in there too. One evergreen tree lays down a foundation that does a little good on its own, but ends up supporting more evergreen trees. Eventually, there’s a huge amount of evergreen trees, all made even stronger by their synergistic relationships with each other. In a similar way, one evergreen post will be good for your site, but not that amazing on its own. But one lays down the expectation for more. As you create more evergreen content, your website is no longer just based on one or two posts. Instead, it becomes an informational resource in its entirety, and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. That intangible interrelationship between trees is what you want to emulate with the entity behind your website.

Oh, and do you want yet another good metaphor from this? You’ve now learned that evergreen trees don’t just exist without changing – they continually recycle their needles. In the same fashion, you need to be continually updating your evergreen content. Don’t just post it once and then think, “well, that’s all done, forever!” Make a point to look back at your top evergreen content every now and then and see what you can do to make it even better.

Angiosperm Content & Gymnosperm Content

Remember: gymnosperms = naked seeds, angiosperms = flowers and fruit.

Gymnosperm trees present their seeds plain as day, nothing especially colorful or juicy. Gymnosperm content is content that’s based around text. If you’re reading a post that’s driven by data or stories and it’s presented all in text, it’s a gymnosperm post. A pinecone post.

There are two types of angiosperm content – flowers and fruit.

Flowering angiosperm content is content that’s based around a piece (or pieces) of media. If your post is about a video, or focuses around an infographic, or is a podcast, etc. then it’s a flowering angiosperm post. A flowering post.

Your post should look like this.

Your post should look like this.

Some types of websites may not have much of these. Informational sites like mine are usually based on text content, with only the occasional infographic or other media thrown in. Other sites may be mostly comprised of these. Podcast sites are all flowers. Art websites and video portfolios are flowery as well.

Fruit-bearing angiosperm content is product pages. Product category pages also focus around the products, so they’re fruit-bearing as well. Fruit posts. You’re working to get that fruit picked!

Obviously, a site like mine will not have many, or any, product pages at all, so there’s no fruit here. At best there may be an affiliate link or a single offer page. But ecommerce sites are just about entirely fruit-bearing.

Google works best with pinecones, but it’s a big fruit-lover too, and it’s been continually learning how to appreciate and recognize flowers more and more. How sweet!

Conclusion: Your Website Is A Forest

An interesting and healthy forest will often have a large variety of trees and plants inside, making up a complex ecosystem and living in environmental cooperation with each other. Your website should be the same.

To recap:

  • Evergreen Content: posts that are useful year-round.
  • Deciduous Content: posts that are useful seasonally or annually.
  • Pine Needle Posts: posts that are useful for a short time, then never again.
  • Gymnosperm Content: posts where the main value-add is text-based. (aka Pinecone Posts)
  • Flowering Angiosperm Content: posts where the main value-add is media-based. (aka Flowering Posts)
  • Fruit-Bearing Angiosperm Content: posts where the main value-add is product-based. (aka Fruit Posts)

You should have evergreen content, of course. But how much deciduous content do you have? Are you supporting it correctly? Deciduous posts have different needs than those that are evergreen. And are you laying down the occasional bed of pine needle posts too?

Do you have enough gymnosperm content? Are those big, long, thorough pinecone posts capturing a lot of traffic? Don’t forget to make sure you have enough flowering angiosperm content too, because let’s face it, too much text gets boring and monotonous for any site. If you’re an ecommerce site, you better make sure your fruit-bearing angiosperm content is pulling its weight too!

In these ways, we can see that using the term “evergreen content” as a metaphor has paid off beyond the original abstraction. Not only has the metaphor made it easy understand, but it’s also provided further value in helping us abstract more. This absolutely demonstrates why evergreen content is the phrase to use.

View your website as a lush forest. Is it beautiful? Is it colorful? Is it bland and dead, or is it healthy and growing? Well, grab a shovel and plant a tree.

Make your website at least this appealing, or else people will leave, and walk into the forest.

Make your website at least this appealing, or else people will leave, and walk into the forest.

Try planting trees in real life, too. It’s good for everyone.

Comment below with your favorite tree or favorite tree fact!

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