The Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2021


Last year we published the first Animalz benchmark report. That data painted 2019/2020 as a year of success in the face of adversity. Despite tighter budgets and greater uncertainty, most companies rode a wave of growth—propelled by content marketing—as people moved their lives and businesses online.

This year’s data suggests that although the adrenaline has faded, the lingering effects of COVID-19 haven’t. We’re experiencing the second-order effects of the pandemic and feeling the consequences of longer-term shifts in behavior. The world has changed, and content marketing has changed too. Growth is, it seems, a little harder to come by.

But with challenge comes opportunity. In this report, you’ll find realistic benchmarks to gauge your performance and pragmatic ideas for outperforming your competitors in 2022. Every recommendation is built on 150,000,000 pageviews of real-world performance data from companies a lot like yours.

Here’s our CEO, Devin Bramhall, to introduce it:



Navigation

✍️ What the Data Suggests

📊 Where We Got Our Data

🚦 Traffic Benchmarks

📈 Industry Growth Rates

🌱 Growth Channels

📖 Engagement

🧵 Content Length

🔗 Linking

☑️ Productivity

🧐 What's Next?


What the Data Suggests

Data for data’s sake isn't helpful, so here are our practical takeaways from this year's research:

  • Be realistic with your growth goals in 2022 1
  • Invest in Organic Search for the surest chance of growing your traffic 2
  • Organic search has a halo effect that correlates with even more traffic 3
  • FinTech and EdTech companies should ramp up content production to ride the wave of growth 4
  • Ecommerce and Productivity companies should prepare for slower growth 5
  • Sales companies need to get (even more) creative with their content 6
  • Grow a new blog by focusing on linkable content paired with newsletter and social distribution 7
  • Shift more of your energy into SEO as you grow 8
  • Embrace skimmable content and deliver all your value up-front 9
  • Check your Google Analytics install for errors 10
  • Push readers to related content, not just CTAs 11
  • Protect your time from the growth of meetings and remote 1:1s 12

Where We Got Our Data

This research is based on 155,748,541 pageviews of data from over 60,000 pieces of content on almost 100 different blogs. We’ve collected data from September 2020 through August 2021, inclusive. In places, we’ve drawn comparison to last year’s data to understand how performance has changed over time.

(You can see last year’s research here: The Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2020.)

Like last year, we’ve grouped blogs into five cohorts based on the traffic they generated at the start of our analysis in September 2020:

  • Extra small (<10,000 pageviews)
  • Small (10,000—50,000 pageviews)
  • Medium (50,000—100,000 pageviews)
  • Large (100,000—1M pageviews)
  • Extra large (>1M pageviews)

We’ve chosen to remove a handful of data points from this year’s analysis—those that proved least useful to our team and customers over the past year. In their place, we’ve included a few new analyses, including a much-requested exploration of the relationship between content length and traffic and a look at productivity data from our friends at Reclaim.


🚦 Traffic Benchmarks

Key Statistics


The median SaaS blog grew by -1.64% in 20/21


The median monthly growth rate was -0.15%


Extra small blogs (<10k) saw monthly growth of 8.1%


Small blogs (10k-50k) saw monthly growth of 0.04%


Medium blogs (50k-100k ) saw monthly growth of -1.76%


Large blogs (100k-1M ) saw monthly growth of -8.75%


Extra large blogs(1M+ ) saw monthly growth of -2.68%

The Median SaaS Blog Shrunk by 1.64%

1 Most content marketers care about traffic growth, but how much growth is good? The answer, according to our data: any growth at all. The median traffic growth across our dataset was -1.64%, equivalent to a loss of 182 pageviews from the start of the year to the end.

Blog Size (Monthly Pageviews, September 2019)Median Yearly GrowthMedian Yearly Growth (Pageviews)
All data-1.64%-182
<10k128.73%2,502
10k-50k-10.25%-2,520.5
50k-100k-19.97%-11,014
100k-1M-52.31%-85,371
1M+-24.94%-675,147.5

This negative trend was relatively universal, with one exception: the smallest blogs in our dataset saw strong growth through the year, increasing their traffic by 129%, equivalent to an additional 2,502 pageviews. All other sizes of blogs finished the year, on average, slightly worse off than they started it, with the Large blogs seeing a huge 52% loss of traffic from the start of the year.

The Median Monthly Growth Rate Was -0.15%

To explore this in more familiar terms, we can analyze the Compound Monthly Growth Rate (CMGR) for each segment. The result is a stark change: despite last year’s data containing the Black Swan of COVID-19, most companies grew month-on-month and ended the year with more traffic than they started with; but in 20/21, these gains disappeared.

CMGR 2020CMGR 2021
<10k5.92%8.10%
10k-50k0.42%0.04%
50k-100k1.16%-1.76%
100k-1M0.35%-8.75%
1M+3.89%-2.68%

The smallest blogs grew by an extremely healthy 8.1%, but large growth rates are easier to achieve when starting from small absolute numbers. Across the entire dataset, the median monthly growth rate was negative, with traffic shrinking by 0.15% each month. Large blogs with between 100k and 1M monthly pageviews were hardest hit, losing almost 9% of their traffic each and every month.

“The median monthly growth rate was negative, with traffic shrinking by 0.15% each month.”

We were surprised by these findings. Our assumption was that 20/21 might represent a period of relative stability and optimism when compared to the chaos and uncertainty of 19/20. But as we dig into the growth rates for industry verticals in the next section, we begin to see a different story.


📈 Industry Growth Rates

Key Statistics


Fintech saw average traffic growth of 236%, up 554% from last year


Dev/Analytics saw average traffic growth of 116%, up 272% from last year


Edtech saw average traffic growth of 162%, up 127% from last year


Business saw average traffic growth of 103%, up 86% from last year


Marketing saw average traffic growth of 38%, up 37% from last year


Productivity/Project Management saw average traffic growth of 98%, down 57% from last year


Customer Success/Support saw average traffic growth of 39%, down 90% from last year


Ecommerce saw average traffic growth of 14%, down 93% from last year


Sales saw average traffic growth of -8%, down 182% from last year

Last Year’s Winners Are This Year’s Losers

To explore this downward traffic trend in more detail, we segmented our data to see if particular industries were hit harder than others. Here are the mean growth rates for the industries in our dataset:

IndustryMean Traffic Growth 2021
Fintech236.14%
Dev/Analytics115.75%
EdTech161.75%
Business103.28%
Marketing37.62%
Productivity/Project Management97.53%
Customer Success/Support38.62%
Ecommerce14.11%
Sales-8.10%

5 When we ran this exercise last year, there was a clear “winner.” In 2020, Ecommerce SaaS content took off as the physical world shut down (more on that here). As more retailers shifted online, the businesses that underpin the ecommerce ecosystem saw a huge increase in the popularity of their content as everyone worked out how to set up digital storefronts and purchase workflows. As a result, mean growth for content in the Ecommerce sector was a staggering 189.95% from 2019 to 2020.

Mean Growth 2020Mean Growth 2021
Ecommerce189.95%14.11%

In 2021, this growth has plateaued. The year-on-year mean growth for content in this sector of the past year was just 14.11%. When we compare the data to last year, we see a seeming reversal of fortune for almost all of last year’s winners: e-commerce, customer success/support, and productivity/project management.

Mean Growth 2020Mean Growth 2021Change in Growth
Fintech36.12%236.14%553.77%
Dev/Analytics31.12%115.75%271.95%
EdTech71.30%161.75%126.86%
Business55.38%103.28%86.49%
Marketing27.40%37.62%37.30%
Productivity/Project Management226.13%97.53%-56.87%
Customer Success/Support383.29%38.62%-89.92%
Ecommerce189.95%14.11%-92.57%
Sales9.89%-8.10%-181.90%

This doesn’t mean that ecommerce had a bad year. We continue to buy online, even as we enjoy brick-and-mortar again. Instead, there are probably two analytical reasons for this decrease:

  1. There is a natural reversion to the mean. Simply put, if you experience huge growth one year, it’s more likely you’ll see growth returning closer to the average the next year.
  2. After such stellar gains, growth becomes more difficult. Adding 1,000 pageviews to a 10,000 pageview base is 10% growth. Adding the same number of pageviews to 100,000 is just 1%.

The greater the growth experienced in 19/20, the greater the likelihood of experiencing a relative slowdown of growth in 20/21. As we’re about to see, the inverse is also true: bad performance last year means relatively good performance was more likely in 20/21.

EdTech and FinTech Are Booming

4 If Ecommerce was the largest beneficiary of COVID in 2020, EdTech and FinTech are 2021’s darlings. These two sectors have mean growth rates of 161.75% and 236.14%, respectively.

Mean Growth 2020Mean Growth 2021
Fintech36.12%236.14%
EdTech71.30%161.75%

Our 19/20 data shows the first-order impact of COVID, with an immediate decline in interest in areas like Sales and Marketing and quick shifts of interest toward online shopping (Ecommerce) and work-from-home (Productivity/Project Management). Our 20/21 data seems to reflect more of the second-order impacts of COVID, slower societal shifts which have taken more time to make their impact felt: the ongoing reinvention of online education and financial transactions.

Both of these trends can be seen as an aftermath of the pandemic. Education, like Ecommerce, is a sector that is continuing to shift online, triggering a lagging wave of innovation, investment, search interest, and growth, even in the months and year after the first surge of COVID. In the same vein, the shifting of the world’s economy further toward online transactions has triggered a lagging boom in financial innovation and tools. Investment and interest in content have, it seems, risen alongside.

Sales is Shriveling

6 If there’s one point of certainty in this data, it’s this: Sales had a rough year. It’s the only sector with negative year-on-year growth in 2021. However, it was also bottom of the pack in 2020, suggesting that there just isn’t a lot of growth in sales content.

Mean Growth 2020Mean Growth 2021
Sales9.89%-8.10%

It’s possible that COVID has created a headwind for the sales industry as a whole, triggering a shift of focus (and spend) away from sales and new customer acquisition and toward customer success and retention. But drawing on our own experience, this poor performance is likely compounded by the advanced maturity of content marketing in the sales industry as a whole.

“There just isn’t a lot of growth in sales content.”

Sales industry stalwarts like Close and Gong were some of the earliest adopters of content marketing. Today, most sales-related SERPs are contested by dozens of established players. There is little low-hanging fruit left: it’s hard for a new company to generate significant growth on the back of “sales”-related keywords alone.


🌱 Growth Channels

Key Statistics


85.19% of all blog traffic came from organic search. Organic search traffic grew by 3.19% per month.


2.48% came from referral. Referral traffic declined by 1.56% per month.


0.27% came from social. Social traffic declined by 5.51% per month.


1.13% came from email. Email traffic declined by 2.14% per month.


Small blogs get 44% of their traffic from organic search; Huge blogs get 89% of their traffic from search.

Organic Search Growth Slowed in 2021, but It Was Still the Strongest Channel

To dig into these trends a little further, we analyzed individual growth channels to understand where traffic was (or wasn't) coming from in 20/21. As it turns out, organic search was the main driver of positive growth in 2021.

2 Organic search traffic increased by an average of 3.19% across every month we analyzed. While that growth rate is almost three times lower than last year (9.01%), it’s still enough to increase total traffic by 41% during the course of the year.

SourceMean CMGR (19/20)Mean CMGR (20/21)
Organic9.01%3.19%
Referral4.64%-1.56%
Social-17.12%-5.51%
Email0.36%-2.14%
Other7.29%1.14%

All other main traffic sources—referral, social, and email—shrunk over the course of the year. This is in stark contrast to 2020, when only social traffic declined:

  • Referral traffic shrank by -1.56%, down from a positive contribution of 4.64% the previous year.
  • Email’s contribution was also down. In our 2020 report, the mean growth rate for email was 0.36%, whereas this year, traffic from email shrank to -2.14%.
  • Social traffic declined in both years, but the decline was less this year than in 2020 (-17.12% in 2020 compared to -5.51% in 2021).
  • ‘Other’ traffic saw growth of 1.14% in 2021, though this was again down from the 7.29% growth in 2020 (we have recategorized ‘Direct’ to ‘Other’ in this benchmark report to take into account all other possible channels, so the comparison is not, ahem, direct).

Though this sounds disastrous, for most blogs, the decline across referral, social, and email is relatively easy to overlook, for the simple reason that organic search traffic so vastly outweighs all other traffic sources.

85.19% Of All Blog Traffic Came From Organic Search

Over the past year, 82.9% of all the blog traffic we analyzed came from organic search. This is even higher than in our 2020 benchmark report (59.2%). Organic search really is the engine of content growth, now more than ever.

SourceTraffic Share (19/20)Traffic Share (20/21)Change
Organic59.22%82.90%23.68%
Other18.51%13.22%-5.29%
Referral12.71%2.48%-10.23%
Email3.48%1.13%-2.35%
Social1.96%0.27%-1.69%

So what gives? Why did organic search become even more important in 2021? There are two ways to interpret this data:

  • It could be that organic search grew in relative popularity over the past year; that more people turned toward search for their advice and answers and away from channels like email or social.
  • More likely is that companies shifted their resource allocation toward the safest, most predictable traffic channel at their disposal and away from channels prone to more volatility.

Organic search provides that predictability. Like the growth of index funds and the economy as a whole, organic search traffic generally increases over time. Better still, the marginal cost of organic search traffic trends toward zero: a single blog post will generate more and more traffic with each passing month, without any additional cost beyond that first investment.

The Largest Blogs Get Double the Share of Organic Search Compared to the Smallest

But this isn’t consistent across blogs of all sizes. We see the same pattern as we saw last year—the larger a given blog, the more likely they are to have a high share of organic traffic.

The largest blogs are underpinned by a huge share of organic traffic: almost 89% of all traffic from the 1M+ blogs came from organic search. Going by our data, you aren’t going to grow to hundreds of thousands of pages each month on the strength of your email list alone.

Here’s this year’s data:

SourceXSmallSmallMediumLargeXLarge
Organic44.34%64.21%74.66%83.54%88.88%
Referral11.56%7.37%4.07%2.43%1.99%
Social1.05%0.30%0.51%0.24%0.03%
Email3.83%1.43%3.43%0.54%0.43%
Other39.22%26.69%17.33%13.25%8.67%

And here’s last year’s:

SourceXSmallSmallMediumLargeXLarge
Organic48.03%60.68%72.11%74.98%64.51%
Referral15.67%13.95%7.32%8.16%4.83%
Social2.31%2.23%0.99%1.49%0.83%
Email3.19%2.44%6.06%1.73%17.82%
Other23.42%17.03%12.11%14.78%9.37%

8 At the lower end of the scale, extra-small blogs (those with fewer than 10,000 pageviews in September 2020) had a median organic share of just 44.3%, half that of the largest blogs. This is a little lower than last year (48%), but close. For small blogs (those with between 10,000 and 50,000 pageviews in September 2020), the median was 64.2%, up from last year’s 60.7%, but again in the same ballpark.

This is worth reiterating: in terms of total traffic make-up, organic search is twice as important to big blogs as it is to small ones.

“Organic search is twice as important to big blogs as it is to small ones.”

How to read a boxplot: Boxplots allow us to see the entire range of the data as well as the central statistics. Each box consists of: the minimum value in the segmented dataset (the bottom ‘whisker’); the first quartile value (the value that appears 25% of the way through the dataset, the bottom of the box); the median value (the middle line); the third quartile value (the value that appears 75% of the way through the dataset, the top of the box); the maximum value in the dataset (the top ‘whisker’).

This shows that while organic is absolutely critical if you want to get to 1 million pageviews/month, it isn’t where you have to start. As we’ll see when we look at email and social traffic, other distribution channels can be highly effective at seeding the initial traffic of a small blog while you let your search-friendly content build traffic for the long term.

Referral Traffic Gets Less Important Over Time

If you want a lot of traffic, you have to focus on organic search. But organic traffic takes time. When you’re small and no one is finding your content on search engines, you have to turn to different channels.

7 Our data shows that Referral is one such channel. We all know the benefits of backlinks: they help strengthen the domain authority of a new blog, making it easier to rank for keywords and drive more organic traffic. But this data suggest a secondary benefit: backlinks to content actually make up a significant proportion of total traffic to small blogs.

The smallest blogs in our dataset saw almost 12% of their total blog traffic come from Referral traffic—that is, visitors clicking-through backlinks to their content.

SourceXSmallSmallMediumLargeXLarge
Referral11.56%7.37%4.07%2.43%1.99%

But our data also shows that the impact of this channel wanes over time. The bigger the blog, the smaller the role played by referral traffic, eventually making up just 1.99% of total traffic to the biggest blogs in our dataset. This backs up common wisdom: the smaller your blog, the greater your need to prioritize link-building and link-friendly content.

For blogs looking for more backlinks, we often recommend the same few proven content types. The Animalz blog is a good example of this approach in action. Look at our most linked-to articles, and a few popular formats crop up:

  • Research reports: Last year’s benchmark report has 83 backlinks from 50 referring domains, as other writers and bloggers link out to our data and use it to back up their writing.
  • Canonical guides: Our definitive guide to content strategy is regularly linked to as a kind of useful shorthand: “I don’t want to cover this topic in-depth, but Animalz has, so you should read this article.” The end result: 107 backlinks from 73 referring domains.
  • Contrarian opinions: Polarizing ideas often rack up backlinks as they’re dissected and debated, like this classic example, You’re Blog is a Library, Not a Publication, with 170 backlinks from 84 referring domains.

These links are helpful for an established blog like Animalz, but for a new blog looking to build traction, any one of these blog posts could be transformative.

Only 1.1% Of Traffic Came From Email, but That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Important

Over the past year, only 1.1% of all traffic was from an email source. But when we break down email traffic share by size of blog again, we see that it’s disproportionately important in smaller blogs.

SourceXSmallSmallMediumLargeXLarge
Email3.83%1.43%3.43%0.54%0.43%

The median email share for Extra-small blogs is 3.8%, but as this boxplot shows, this can be as high as 22.2% at this size of blog. Over time, you would expect this share to decline as these blogs grow, but the Large group shows this doesn’t always have to be the case. Though the median share is much lower (0.5%), there are outliers, with almost 8% of traffic coming through email. This means at least 8,000 pageviews per month just from email, but likely even more.

Though it accounts for a relatively small percentage of overall traffic, the impact of email should not be understated:

  • While organic search, social media, and referral traffic all depend on third-party platforms (like Google Search, LinkedIn, or third-party blogs), email provides an opportunity for owned traffic: you can build your own email list, free from the influence of other companies.
  • Email provides the opportunity for 1:1 interaction with your reader, free from the noise of newsfeeds and crowded SERPs. Though small in terms of traffic, our experience suggests that the revenue impact of that traffic is disproportionately large.

Animalz is a prime example of the power of email. We are part of the ‘small’ category in this dataset but generate 12.69% of our traffic from email (the very top-end of the box plot). Our newsletter helps us talk directly to our target audience and direct them to the best content on our site. More often than not, a newsletter is the impetus for a new lead reaching out.

Email builds the foundation for a brand’s core audience, but despite this, when we perform content audits and ask our customers ‘Do you send your content out to an email list?,’ the answer is often ‘no.’ Our data (and experience) says this is a mistake at all sizes, but particularly for the smallest blogs.

Just 0.3% Of All Traffic Comes From Social, so You Should Choose This for Specific Types of Content

Everyone wants to go viral on Twitter, but just 0.27% of all the pageviews in this dataset come from a social source, and that included paid social traffic (down from 1.96% in 19/20). However, like email, this doesn’t mean this is a dead distribution channel: it’s a potent source of traffic for small blogs, particularly when paired with the right type of content (more on this below).

SourceXSmallSmallMediumLargeXLarge
Social1.05%0.30%0.51%0.24%0.03%

Across the board, the median share of social traffic is low, going from 1.05% for Extra-small blogs to just 0.03% for Extra-large blogs. Again though, the interest is in the outlier. For some Extra-small blogs, over a quarter of all traffic comes through a social channel. At the Small and Medium levels, the outliers are less extreme but still there, with a maximum of 10.78% and 9.98%, respectively, coming from social channels.

“For some Extra-small blogs, over a quarter of all traffic comes through a social channel.”

There’s a crucial caveat here: great performance on social media is not always correlated with increased traffic from social sources, for two reasons:

  • Personal brands often have more clout than company brands. The trajectory of marketing is one of growing skepticism: consumers are savvy, reluctant to be sold to, and prioritize authentic connections with real people. That's shifted the locus of attention away from branded social accounts and promoted blog posts and toward authentic connections with the people working within these companies.
  • Great social content delivers value within the platform. Thanks to jaded readers and sensitive newsfeed algorithms, it’s harder than ever to drive significant traffic to a blog by promoting a URL in a Tweet or LinkedIn post. Instead of teasing readers with watered-down versions of blog posts, the best-performing brands deliver value within the platform—and that doesn’t always generate much website traffic.

“Great performance on social media is not always correlated with increased traffic from social sources.”

But even if website traffic isn’t on the up, social media can still help where it really matters: brand awareness, engagement, and trust-building. Take Heyday by example. They’ve hit on a successful format for Twitter, sharing teardowns of successful entrepreneur journeys. These smash-hit tweets deliver little immediate website traffic but introduce the company and its ethos to huge audiences of potential future customers:

Focus on Organic to Grow Your Whole Blog

3 We have long believed that organic traffic carries with it a host of indirect benefits. Our research seems to back this up, showing that blogs with a high percentage of traffic from organic sources are more likely to have more traffic overall.

This trend of more organic = more pageviews can be seen if we plot the log of the overall pageviews for each blog in our dataset against the organic share (we use the log of the pageviews because the range is so big—some blogs had fewer than 10 thousand pageviews in total, some more than 10 million):

How to read a log chart: When you have data that covers a huge range of values, it can't easily be plotted on one graph (like plotting a value of 5 and 5 million on the same graph). Instead, you can use a log scale to "condense" the graph down to something readable, increasing in increments of 5, 50, 500, 5,000, 50,000, etc. You might have become familiar with log plots over the past 18 months, as they are common in COVID-19 graphs.

The graph shows s a weak positive correlation (R2 = 0.355, where 0 would be absolutely no correlation, and 1 would be a perfect correlation). Not all the data points fit snugly on the line of best fit, but the trend is generally up and to the right: put more emphasis on generating organic traffic, and you’ll get more pageviews overall.

We can’t categorically define causation from this, but our hunch is that it is causative, for two reasons:

  • The “flywheel” of SEO. Good performance in search generally leads to better future performance in search, as high-ranking articles generate more clicks, reads and backlinks, rank even higher, and begin the process anew (this is the defensible moat of backlinks we often talk about).
  • The halo effect of organic search. Every ranking keyword functions like an extra doorway to your brand, your other content, your products, your social media accounts, and your newsletters. Publishing search-optimized blog posts has a direct positive impact on organic search traffic, and it can also generate future traffic from other sources, creating non-organic traffic from a single first organic impression.

📖 Engagement

Key Statistics


The median bounce rate for a blog is 74.8%


The median bounce rate improved by 5.53%


The median time on page was 3 minutes and 19 seconds

Median Time on Page Was 3 Minutes and 19 Seconds

9So far, we’ve focused on getting readers to our website—but what happens when they arrive? Across our dataset, the median time on page was 3 minutes and 19 seconds, or about as long as it takes an average reader to read 400 words.

Compared to last year’s data, readers spend a whopping 4 additional seconds reading blog posts—enough time to skim a few extra headers or read a very, very short paragraph.

If you’re anything like me, you shuddered at that statistic. If your article is 1,200-words long (you’ll see why I chose that figure in the next section), there’s a good chance that your average reader gets no further than a third of the way through reading before bouncing.

(┛ಠ_ಠ)┛彡┻━┻

But if it’s any consolation, this statistic holds true for the majority of companies in our data set. And instead of fighting against the nature of online content consumption, there are opportunities to improve performance by wholeheartedly embracing the skim:

  • Deliver as much value as you can up-front. Invert the problem and view this as an opportunity to deliver the majority of the value of your article in the first 400-words.
  • Tell a story using just your headers. Most article headers are opaque and derive their meaning from the paragraphs that follow, but there’s no reason they need to: instead, use your headers as plain-language summaries of your article’s main argument.
  • Use a fractal article structure. A fractal is a pattern that looks the same, regardless of how zoomed in or far away you are. In the same vein, great content often contains the same structure throughout, from the article level down to individual paragraphs, with a clear thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you start reading: it will still make sense.

75% of Readers Left After One Article

Once we’ve done the hard work of attracting a website visitor, how many stick around? Across our dataset, the median bounce rate was 74.8%, slightly down from last year (80.33%). Instead of four out of five people bouncing, it’s now just three out of four.

From our experience talking to hundreds of customers, this is still higher than most people anticipate. A good bounce rate for some readers’ intuitions might be something like 10%, but according to our data, this simply doesn’t happen*.

10 High organic traffic might mean high bounce rates as readers find what they want (or not) and leave immediately. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If readers find your content answered their question, they’re more likely to come directly back to you next time, sign up for your newsletter to get the correct information in their inbox, or click on your blue link if you show up in future organic searches.

* Except when it does. Some sites on our analysis have extremely low bounce rates—almost zero—and extremely high times on-page. We believe these might be due to incorrect Google Analytics setups because, well, we had the same problem. Earlier this year, a helpful stranger pointed out that our GA tracking code was appearing twice on each page. It was, and when we remedied the mistake, our pageviews dropped by half. But there was a silver lining: our conversion rates doubled overnight 😎


🧵 Content Length

Key Statistics


Median article length is 1,200 words


Content length has a weak positive correlation with traffic (R2 0.205)

Word Count Correlates (Loosely) With Increased Traffic

At Animalz, we tend toward longer articles. It isn’t that we think short content doesn’t have a place, but that most people are looking for in-depth answers to their questions, and to provide that requires words. From our experience, longer content really does perform better than shorter.

Our data suggest that this observation is right. We took a subset of our dataset—15,000 articles—and looked at how they performed. Within this dataset, the median article length was 1,200 words, though there was a massive long tail:

When we correlate each of these article word counts with their traffic over the past year, we can see a positive trend between word count and traffic:

This is a log-log plot of traffic and word count (we use the logarithms of the word counts/pageviews as there are extreme outliers in both datasets). The fit here isn’t huge (0.205), but it is clear there’s a trend of more words = more traffic.

This could be that longer articles tend to be SEO-optimized articles, and as we’ve shown above, articles that do well in search get more traffic. It could also be because of:

  • Greater “surface area:” the more words on a page, the greater the opportunity for keyword rankings.
  • The “length is strength” heuristic: Longer content is often perceived to be more valuable, and that often leads to social sharing and backlinking, creating the possibility for more traffic.
  • Better promotion efforts: If you’re anything like me, the more time I spend writing an article, the more time I spend promoting it.

There are many issues with “skyscrapering” every article in your content calendar—but this does help validate the idea that extra effort usually yields better performance. All else being equal, longer articles will probably generate more traffic.


🔗 Linking

Key Statistics


The median number of links per article is still 0

The Median Number of Internal Links Is Still 0

11 Like last year, the median number of internal links per SaaS article is 0. Once again, most articles in the dataset are not linking to another article within the same blog. This is unsurprising. Over the past year, we ran linking analysis on dozens of sites as part of our content audits, and a lack of internal linking is a common problem we find.

Instead, we often see companies using links within their content to push people immediately down the funnel to product pages. It’s great to get people to the conversion opportunity, but internal linking between blog posts can help in three key ways:

  1. Better internal linking is a low-lift way to increase SEO. The anchor text acts as a signal for search engines on what each page is about.
  2. It gives readers more avenues to roam. Linking between articles gives readers “wiki” holes to follow. A wiki hole is when a reader lands on a page through a search or an external link, reads it, finds it interesting, and then clicks on an internal link to learn more about a specific topic you mentioned. They keep clicking internal links to learn more and more about your area of expertise as they go. This strategy not only teaches your readers but also makes them more “qualified” when they do finally click the link to sign up.
  3. It also helps you think about the relationships between individual pieces of content on your site and how they represent your chosen topics. This will be especially important as you build out more expert-level content for different teams, and you want that to become the main focus of the content.

A great example of doing both comes from data platform Clearbit:

How to read a network graph: Each circle (node) on this graph represents a page on the site. The size and color correspond to how many links that page gets. Each line (edge) is a link between two pages. We only analyze links that are within the body of the text of a blog post (so no footers or headers or category pages, and we only analyze links from blog posts)

The largest circles here are product pages, from their Reveal (dark gray circle) or Enrichment (light pink circle) APIs, for instance. They’re linking to these pages the most. But you can also see the lines crisscross between blog posts a lot, meaning that though not one individual post gets a lot of internal links (like the mobile analytics page on the Amplitude site from last year’s Benchmark Report), there is a lot of ‘cross-pollination’ between content, giving readers (and search engines) those avenues to roam.

You shouldn’t always see content as an opportunity to push people toward product value. Value can also come from readers learning more within your content. That is why you write it.


☑️ Productivity

Key Statistics


Meetings have increased 69.7%


People spend an extra 7.3 hours in meetings per week


Professionals spend over half their week (21.5 hours) in meetings

Meetings Have Increased by 69.7%

We’ve focused this report on the output of our work, the articles, and pageviews...but what about the input? We’ve teamed up with Reclaim to understand how the workplace has changed because of COVID-19.

12 The headline: meetings have increased 69.7% since February 2020, increasing from an average of 15.1 meetings per week to 25.6.

One-on-ones account for the majority of these new meetings (79.6%). This is another second-order effect of COVID-19. More companies than ever are embracing a remote or hybrid remote approach to work, with 85.2% of one-on-one meetings happening remotely as a result. The disruption of these meetings is compounded by regular rescheduling (42.4% rescheduled weekly) and cancellations (29.6% canceled weekly).

The end result is staggering: Professionals average 21.5 hours in meetings a week, over half of the “standard 40-hour workweek”. In the past year, we spent 7.3 hours more in meetings per week than 2020...without adjustments elsewhere to compensate.

“Professionals average 21.5 hours in meetings a week, over half of the ‘standard 40-hour workweek’.”

This data is aggregated across all professions, but it’s hard to ignore the consequences for content marketers.

Content marketing has always required a balancing act between creative collaboration and heads-down focus. With so much time spent in meetings, how can we find the balance needed to do our best work? To find out, we asked Henry Shapiro, co-founder of Reclaim, how content marketers can find better balance in their lives.

Reclaim’s Henry Shapiro on Finding Balance

It’s tempting to think of productivity as binary: you’re either heads-down focused on your own work, or you’re wasting time in meetings. But I don’t think it’s helpful to think of meetings as purely unproductive—and, conversely, to think of solo work as inherently productive just because it’s not a meeting.

We need to consider productivity as having a balance of activities that support our objectives, both personally and professionally, and strive to hit that balance as often as possible. This means having a blend of collaborative time (high-quality meetings), personal time (tending to our lives), “deep work” (strategic work that requires more than a couple of hours at a time), and “shallow work” (the stuff that doesn’t take long, isn’t strategic, but matters in keeping our heads above water).

Productivity is an ever-shifting target that requires a variety of activities and styles of work to keep us engaged. To that end, here are four things that you can do (and that I do myself) to achieve balance:

  1. Audit your calendar. Recurring meetings are “built-in debt”: a chunk of time that is guaranteed to be unavailable for other kinds of work. Try to literally map those recurring meetings to your goals and see what fits and what doesn’t. If you have too many meetings that don’t align with your objectives, ask the owner of that meeting one simple question: “What would happen if I didn’t attend?”
  2. Set “golden hours” for different types of work. We shouldn’t just think about “deep work” hours, but instead find the best times to do all kinds of work. Knowing when you’re best suited to have collaborative time allows you to make those sessions as high-quality as possible. Knowing when your best “shallow work” hours are lets you use the portions of your day when you might be a bit exhausted or flummoxed to do mundane-but-important tasks. Knowing the personal routines that you need for a baseline level of productivity is essential to create balance and energy—if you know that morning exercising makes you feel better all day, protect that time on your calendar.
  3. Be proactive, but leave flexibility. If yourcalendar gets booked up weeks in advance, it’s helpful to get ahead of your schedule by blocking out flexible, adaptive time. But schedules and priorities aren’t static: having a system where you can adjust the proportions of time for different categories of work is essential if you don’t want to fall to pieces when things change. This also applies to your energy levels: if your mornings are ear-marked for deep work, but you slept terribly the night before, you might want to switch to lower-cognition tasks to refocus your brain and conserve energy.
  4. Regularly rebalance your routine. Think of your schedule as an investment portfolio: you have target allocations for where your time should be spent based on priorities and classes of work, but it’s only through historical data that you can rebalance those things and try to understand what’s being underserved or overserved. And, like an investment portfolio, there isn’t one class that is inherently “better” or “worse—but you can be over or under concentrated in one category or another, which can create negative results.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you have lots of free time or focused time blocks on your calendar, you’re being “productive”. Humans require diversity in how they spend their time in order to be happy, balanced, and effective, and understanding your own inventory of those categories is key to giving yourself productive workweeks.

Start by grounding yourself in your priorities, map those priorities to different kinds of work, know yourself enough to know when you’re most effective doing certain things, and stay flexible but proactive. Do these things, and you’ll find a more balanced you start to emerge.


🧐 What’s Next?

Last year we published our benchmark report just as the peak of the pandemic ebbed. Our data started in the old world and ended in the new. This year, our benchmark report is trying to understand a period of constant readjustment.

Content marketing has not been insulated from the impact. In the past year, most companies have struggled to grow their blogs. Last year’s winners have seen their traffic plateau while new darlings experience their own boom cycle. Companies looked for certainty and predictability in their content marketing, putting more energy than ever into SEO. Oh—and we still suck at internal linking.

If you’d like to be the first to receive each new research report as it’s released—or you have questions you’d like us to answer—sign up for our newsletter and let us know. And thanks for reading!

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