Your Blog Is Not a Publication (But It’s Not Just a Library Either)

A few years back, I mentioned to John Collins, then content director at Intercom, how much Animalz customers admired their blog. "We'd love to help our clients create something similar," I told him.

John's response? "They may feel differently if they saw the costs."

Editor's note: This post was updated in 2024 by the Animalz team, based on a recent Q&A with Jimmy Daly to reflect the evolution in his thinking about the Library vs. Publication Framework. All brilliance is his, any errors and oversights our own. (You can still read the original 2018 version here.)

John's quip summed up what so few seem to understand about content strategy: You must be able to afford your own approach. At the time I chatted with John, Intercom had already raised $240 million, employed nine people on their content team, and enjoyed deep executive buy-in for their program.

Replicating their publication-style blog is not the right approach for most companies because it’s too costly, doesn’t bring the right outcomes, or both.

So, what's the alternative? For a long time, we've recommended a library approach instead. But a lot has changed in the content world since then. In this updated post, I'll explain why the library model is still powerful — and why it's often no longer enough on its own.

Publication vs. Library, Explained

The best content strategy for most teams is one that prioritizes quality and depth rather than volume and breadth. You may think you're already doing this — but I encourage you to take a closer look.

When most content marketers think of a blog, they imagine a reverse chronological feed of posts. This is how Wikipedia defines the word blog and how popular content management systems like WordPress organize content. As a result, the default behavior of many content marketers is inefficient at best and wasteful at worst.

The reverse chronological blog feed

It's hard to overstate just how problematic this practice is in content marketing. The publication mindset leads to a host of issues:

  • Topics are horizontally integrated, meaning content creators cover a range of topics broadly rather than deeply.
  • Posts are published on a strict schedule, making it hard to allocate time for more in-depth, high-value content.
  • Content is created to serve an audience, prioritizing timeliness over evergreen utility.

The Library Model

The library model treats your blog as an evergreen resource organized by topic rather than a chronological feed. The key characteristics are:

  • Comprehensive coverage of a defined topic space
  • Evergreen, SEO-optimized content that ranks for relevant keywords
  • A clear, intuitive site structure that makes navigation easy
  • Prioritization of depth and quality over publishing frequency
The Library model diagram

When executed well, a library approach is incredibly effective. By going deep on the topics you want to be known for, you build topical authority and rank for the search terms that matter most to your business.

Lattice, an employee engagement platform, is a great example. Their Resources section is a true library, with comprehensive guides on everything from performance reviews to career growth. This approach has helped them rank for incredibly competitive keywords and establish themselves as a go-to resource in the HR space.

The ROI of this approach has only increased as the content landscape gets noisier. When everyone is churning out surface-level posts, the blogs that provide depth and utility stand out. A well-built library becomes an enduring asset that compounds in value over time.

The Publication Approach

Besides a reverse chronological feed, a publication-style blog usually has these characteristics:

  • Thought leadership content that showcases unique insights
  • A focus on timeliness and trendy topics over evergreen utility
  • A consistent publishing cadence to keep readers coming back
  • An emphasis on brand voice and perspective over SEO

For a long time, I was skeptical that this approach would work for anyone but the most well-resourced teams. And it's still true that replicating the Intercoms of the world is out of reach for most.

But I've come to appreciate that a publication model can be powerful when done right. The Animalz blog is a good example. We’ve never overly focused on SEO, but our thought leadership helps us stand out and build real affinity with our audience. Same with the Superpath blog.

The trick is that you need both standout content and reliable distribution for a publication play to work. It doesn't matter how brilliant your insights are if you don't have the brand pull or promotional engine to get eyes on your content.

The Audience Building Imperative

This brings me to the biggest shift in my thinking since 2018: Building an audience of followers and subscribers is no longer optional. In 2024, it's table stakes for any successful content program, regardless of whether you follow the library or publication model.

In the old days, you could get away with focusing solely on visitors coming from search and ignoring direct audience relationships. But as algorithms have gotten more fickle and competition has increased, that's become a risky bet.

The content teams that will win going forward are the ones that use SEO as a starting point. They layer on newsletter, social, and community tactics to build lasting connections with their readers. So when the ranking winds inevitably shift, they still have a direct line to their audience.

There are a few key ways to do this:

  • Contextual email signup prompts and content upgrades to turn visitors into subscribers
  • Social promotion and interaction to build buzz and two-way dialogue
  • Distribution-first thinking to find the channels that best match your audience’s preferences and double down on those
  • In-person and virtual events to build and expand your community

Drift's newsletter is a great example of a brand investing in direct audience relationships. Their content is a must-read for anyone in the conversational marketing space, regardless of whether they use Drift's product.

SparkToro's Audience Research Newsletter is a great example of audience building. By curating valuable insights on audience research and delivering them to over 40,000 subscribers twice a month, they’ve built a loyal following that looks to them for advice and expertise.

Their newsletter's success demonstrates how consistently providing value to your audience can forge strong connections, regardless of whether they use your product.

Choosing Your Path

So, where does this leave us? Is the library model still king, or is a publication approach now the way to go?

As with most things in content, the answer is: “It depends.” The right mix of library and publication tactics will vary based on your business model, audience, and goals. A product-led company with a freemium model may lean more heavily on search, while a services business may prioritize thought leadership.

For most teams, I believe the winning formula looks something like this:

  1. Build a rock-solid library foundation of evergreen, search-optimized content that covers your key topics comprehensively. This is your bedrock for organic acquisition and establishing authority.
  2. Distribute and promote the hell out of everything you create, with a focus on building direct audience relationships at every turn. This is your amplification engine.
  3. Layer on a consistent drumbeat of thought leadership to keep your audience engaged. This doesn't have to mean churning out lengthy blog posts — it could be as simple as the founder sharing quick insights on LinkedIn, posting short videos on industry trends, or sending out a monthly email with lessons learned. The key is providing value and connecting with your audience beyond your evergreen content.

It's no longer always a binary choice between library or publication, but rather finding the right mix so the two work together to build your audience.

When In Doubt, Start With 80% Library and 20% Publication

The 80/20 rule is a good starting point if you’re unsure about the ideal mix for your business.

Aim for 80% of your content to be evergreen, library-style pieces that comprehensively cover your core topics. The other 20% can be more timely, opinionated, and experimental. This mix allows you to build a strong foundation of always-relevant content while leaving room to jump on trends and share your unique perspective.

Of course, this ratio may shift depending on your specific niche and audience. A fast-moving industry like crypto or marketing may demand a higher share of topical content. A more stable space like engineering or finance may skew more toward evergreen resources. The key is to continually assess what's resonating with your audience and adjust accordingly.

Strategy First, Then Structure

Getting this balance right is hard work. It requires a clear strategy and consistent investment. But the payoff — a loyal audience that looks to you for insights and inspiration — is more than worth it.

So, is your blog a library? A publication? Neither? Both? Going forward, the most successful content programs let strategy determine their structure while keeping audience building at the center of everything they do.

Editor's note: This post was updated in 2024 by the Animalz team, based on a recent Q&A with Jimmy Daly and his LinkedIn post re-examining the Library vs. Publication concept. All brilliance is his, any errors and oversights our own. (You can read the original 2018 version here.)