Deep Cuts and Smash Hits: The Best of Animalz in 2020


There’s a lot to be learned from a year of content marketing. High traffic articles provide a blueprint for future content. Real-world feedback from readers shines a light on the articles that actually mattered.

So, as our sights shift towards 2021, we’ve decided to share an end-of-year highlight reel from the Animalz blog. Think of it as a playlist of deep cuts and smash hits—a collection of our most popular articles, accompanied by some personal favorites that slipped under the radar.

Smash Hits...

The following five articles received the most pageviews in 2020. While some of these posts took a ton of time, effort, and planning (I’m looking at you, Content Marketing Benchmark Report), others were simple, easy-to-write pieces that shared the right idea at the right time.

In true Animalz form, we also wanted to share our takeaways from these posts, ranging from the power of proprietary data to the marriage of SEO and thought leadership.

1) The Animalz Content Marketing Benchmark Report 2020 🔗

What it's about:
We distilled 150 million pageviews into a dozen strategic takeaways for B2B content marketers.

Why it worked:

  • It shares proprietary data. Proprietary data is a potent marketing tool. Many of the web’s articles are rehashed variations of existing blog posts, but data content is an opportunity to create something truly original, and acquire shares and links in the process. After all, there’s nowhere else in the world you can get this information.
  • It goes beyond the numbers. One of our pet peeves is content that’s just a data dump of context-less numbers and statistics, so we spent a huge amount of energy trying to reconcile our research with the reality of content marketing. We share data, sure—but we also share practical recommendations for learning from and applying the insights it offers.

2) Everybody Wants Thought Leadership Content. But How Do You Do It, Exactly? 🔗

What it’s about: Thought leadership is powerful, persuasive, and totally misunderstood. Here's our process for getting started.

Why it worked:

  • We were uniquely qualified to tackle this topic. We had a hunch with this article: everybody talks about thought leadership, but nobody really knows what it means. At Animalz, we’re in the unique situation of creating thought leadership content for dozens of brands. We have concrete processes and strong opinions on what good thought leadership content looks like, and Katie poured every ounce of her passion and experience into this piece.
  • It marries thought leadership and SEO. It’s tempting to think of thought leadership content—opinion pieces, data studies, and the like—as totally separate and unrelated to keyword-targeted SEO content. But injecting strong opinions and firsthand experiences into search content is often exactly what’s required to rank. Case in point: this article ranks #1 for “thought leadership content,” and the bulk of this article’s traffic came from organic search in the weeks and months after publication.

3) MECE: How to Think, Write & Persuade Like a McKinsey Consultant 🔗

What it’s about: Mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive (MECE) is a core problem-solving framework in management consulting. It's also a powerful method for writing better content.

Why it worked:

  • We built on a proven format. Our most read blog post is BLUF: The Military Standard That Can Make Your Writing More Powerful, a piece about one of Animalz’s core writing frameworks that blew up on Hacker News. In the same way that BLUF is used by our writers every day, so too is the MECE writing principle. Based on the success of BLUF, we had a hunch that MECE would prove popular, too.
  • It communicates visually. Some ideas are easier to communicate visually, and MECE is a perfect example. We spent extra time brainstorming and refining graphics to accompany this post, and the end result is more intuitive than any of the competing articles. At the time of writing, the post sits at #6 (and climbing) for the 5,100MSV keyword “mece.”

4) This Is What Content Marketing Looks Like in a Crisis 🔗

What it’s about: Marketing is hard in times of crisis. Use these real-life content examples to see how other companies balance business growth with customer needs.

Why it worked:

  • It was extremely topical. When COVID-19 hit, every customer we worked with asked the same question: how should we handle marketing right now? We set out to answer that question with real, practical examples from other companies living through the same reality. Despite being relatively simple to write, this source of guidance and inspiration generated a huge spike in traffic.
  • It has a distribution loop baked in. This article includes an Airtable base full of real-world examples of COVID-19 marketing content, and crucially, it’s open to submissions from readers. It encourages people to add their own content to the database, and in return, incentivizes those readers to share the article and shine a spotlight on their own content.

5) Why Wirecutter Wins: Opinionated Content 🔗

What it’s about: Wirecutter carved out a $150 million niche by understanding one core tenet of content marketing: opinions are not optional.

Why it worked:

  • It describes something familiar-but-undefined. Good thought leadership creates an “aha!” moment when it’s read, putting concrete words to something that you’ve experienced. According to the feedback we received, this post did a great job of describing the obvious-but-previously-undefined problem with listicle content: it’s not as helpful as sharing a strong opinion.
  • It piggybacks a well-known brand. The difference between “good” and “great” content is usually the angle it takes. It’s hard to share a truly original, mind-blowing idea, and adding an interesting hook—in this case, piggybacking a growing fascination with the NYT’s Wirecutter—can be enough to differentiate your piece from everything else.

...And Deep Cuts

“Traffic” is just one way to gauge the success of content. Not every article will bring a ton of pageviews to the party, and that’s OK. Content can build links, communicate a core message, help expedite the sales process, and achieve a whole bunch of other worthwhile objectives—without traffic factoring into the equation.

And true to form, our list of “smash hits” excludes many of our favorite articles from 2020. Here are five personal favorites, articles that were particularly helpful, inspiring, or counter-intuitive, as chosen by readers of the Animalz blog.

1) The Second Mover Advantage in Content Marketing 🔗

What it’s about: Take inspiration from the HubSpots of the world, and you're basing your content strategy on the tactics that worked five years ago.

“I cannot count how many times Hubspot is referenced as the gold standard in content marketing—and they’re wonderful, but we need to have more heroes that look like newer orgs.”

Alicia Johnston, SproutSocial

2) How to Climb the Mountain of Data-Driven Content 🔗

What it’s about: Give your readers something they can’t get anywhere else, and traffic, links, and press coverage will follow. Here's how to approach data-driven content.

I love the idea that the data drives the content. You can't come up with a conclusion that you want and then make the data support that conclusion — you're constrained (in a good way) to what the data can adequately and compellingly support."

— Katie Parrott, Animalz

3) The Auteur Theory of Content Marketing: Why It Pays to Repeat Yourself 🔗

What it’s about: Wes Anderson. Hitchcock. Scorsese. The unique styles of "auteur" filmmakers have a powerful marketing lesson to share: it pays to repeat yourself.

“It was an a-ha moment for me for sure, especially since I'm trying to figure out new ways of talking about a popular topic."

Alice Teodorescu, SEOmonitor

4) You Need a Nemesis 🔗

What it’s about: It isn’t always enough to cast your company as the hero—sometimes, you also need a villain.

“This was such a timely piece for me personally. We've been talking about having a nemesis and what that would look like for a while. This finally helped me understand how to approach this for Soapbox. Plus the 🌶 levels were hilarious and easy to follow!”

Hiba Amin, Soapbox

5) Risk vs. Reward: How to Build a Diversified Content Portfolio 🔗

What it’s about: Great content marketing looks a lot like a diversified investment portfolio: content lanes are paired with specific business objectives, and there’s no over-reliance on any single content type.

“The article framed the concept of content mix so simply that it pulled me out of the weeds and gave me an ‘ah ha’ moment. . .I’ve recently leveraged that post to help frame my plans to build/rebuild Udemy’s content engine.”

Ronnie Higgins, Udemy

Learning from a Year of Content

2020 was a wild year for everyone. Like every other company, we threw out our original marketing plan and spent much of the year experimenting, testing, and learning.

Here's our biggest takeaway from our traffic data and reader feedback: we have the means, motive, and opportunity to answer some of the hardest questions in content marketing.

Next year, we’ll be doubling down on research reports and data content. If you want to be the first to receive updates as they launch, make sure you’re subscribed to our weekly newsletter.

Thanks for reading the blog this year!

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