We Turned an Idea Into a SaaS Product for Content Marketers—Here’s the Whole Story

Three weeks ago we launched our first software product, Revive. For the uninitiated, this is a free tool that finds content decay on your site and recommends articles to refresh. You can try it out here.

This is a significant shift for Animalz. We’ve been laser-focused on becoming the high-quality content marketing agency for SaaS. But as we’ve grown, we’ve learned a lot about content from working with the best SaaS businesses—everything from workflow challenges to writing prompts to a litany of data hurdles. We want to share what we’ve learned so that anyone working in content marketing can benefit, not just the customers we work with directly. Software is the most scalable way to do this, hence our recent evolution from ‘services’ to ‘software + services.’

One Content Marketer’s Journey from Neuroscience to Writing to Software

For me personally, this is a shift back towards my roots. I’ve worked as a content marketing writer for over five years. Before that, I was a neuroscientist for fifteen years. How does one go from neuroscientist → content marketer → software developer/product manager?

I went to university to study neuroscience, I went to grad school to study neuroscience, and I went to Switzerland and then came to the US to practice neuroscience. Along the way, I worked on such eclectic subjects as how sheep recognize other sheep and Elon Musk’s new favorite subject, brain-machine interfaces.

I was okay at scientific research, but never excelled. What I did do well was write: grant applications, manuscript editing, proposals, press releases, presentations. If something needed writing in the lab, it landed on my desk.

Along the way, I also met my wife. When my research visa was up, we decided to stay in the US. Making a living through writing seemed an ideal option, but like most nascent writing careers, mine didn’t start ideally. I did some straight-down-the-line, terribly-paid freelancing on Upwork and the like. I wrote SEO-fodder for a pittance and got ghosted and ripped off.

But Upwork led to writing for Pocketbook (an Aussie version of Mint), and the first time I got to combine the analytical skills I built up as a scientist with content marketing. Later, the Head of Growth at Pocketbook left to join Canva and took me along as a freelancer. I wrote one of Canva’s first big hits. This article was part of the resume I sent to a sketchy Craigslist ad for writers in New York. That ad turned out to be from our founder Walter Chen, who was starting a new content agency. I started at Animalz, alongside Walter and Paige Picard, on Day One.

I’ve written hundreds of articles for dozens of customers in these four years. I still enjoy writing, but as I’ve gotten to understand content better, I’ve also wanted to bring a more analytical perspective to a field that badly needs it. Can we scale what we’ve learned working with customers and reuse my scientific skills to dive deeper into how and why content works? We want to try, and our first step in that direction is Revive.

What We’ve Learned Launching a Product for Content Marketers

It is still very early in the product life of Revive. We want to continue to make it more and more useful for content marketers. But even in these first few weeks, we’ve started learning more about the very specific challenges content marketers face in their day-to-day work.

1. Traffic Decay Is a Problem

Traffic decay happens to all our customers, even the ones with millions of views on their blogs. It happened to most of the people who signed up with Revive.

So far, we’ve found 40,514 potential refreshes from 923 sites. That averages 43-ish refreshes per site. Of course, this is skewed towards the bigger sites that signed up. A few sites had tens of thousands of articles on their sites with thousands of refreshes found. But the tail is long. Hundreds of sites had between 1 and 10 refreshes needed.

The scale of the problem is shown if we look at the total number of pageviews lost to decay: 52,689,428. That is a lot of views, ~1,300 per article that people aren’t getting. For media companies, that represents a lot of missed ad revenue. For B2B companies, it represents a lot of lost conversions. For other businesses, it is lost sales. For all, it is lost revenue.

It is wrong to say this is an epidemic—it is a natural part of investing in content for organic search. The dynamic nature of content ensures that your articles will lose traffic over time if the world moves on but they stay static. But this is why we chose to start with a refresh tool—we know from our customers that refreshing these articles is a low-lift way to capture those views back. Those 52 million views are much easier to get back through refreshing than through completely new content.

Traffic Decay Isn’t Just a B2B Problem

We built Revive for the kind of companies we work with—B2B SaaS. Though they make up the largest individual cohort of signups, they didn’t even make up a quarter of total signups:

Who were the other users and how could traffic decay impact them?:

  1. Other businesses. Mostly e-commerce, these are people who wanted to look at the traffic to product pages instead of content the way we think about it. If organic traffic to a product is dropping, that product isn’t going to sell as much.
  2. Other agencies and content writers. Good to know, this is useful! A number of other content agencies signed up to run their customers’ analytics through Revive. Like us, they want to make sure their customers are growing traffic and see refreshing existing content as an excellent option for doing so.
  3. Travel sites. A lot of travel sites used Revive. There were always refreshes to find but, these sites, run by individuals, had consistently good traffic. Likely supported by advertising or sponsorship, they want to know which articles need more attention to increase revenue.
  4. Media companies. With ad revenue and sponsored posts being vital to success, knowing which articles and topics are performing well—and which aren’t and could be updated to do better—is critical.
  5. Individuals. If you have a site to build your personal brand, knowing which content isn’t performing is as helpful as knowing which is, in terms of understanding your audience and what they want to know about.

We built Revive around B2B SaaS, but the concept is far-reaching. Like any product, it can’t be all things to all people, but seeing different use-cases is helping us further understand the how and why of content.

Highlighting Traffic Decay Is Good, Knowing Why It Happens Is Better

If there is one feature requested by users of Revive so far, it is this: why is this happening? Here are two examples of feedback we received:

“Would be useful to have additional information like how the article dropped in rankings for a particular keyword or whether search traffic was down for that related keywords. Data to help make sense of the drop in rankings/traffic.”

and,

“The results should show whether the traffic increase is due to a loss in rankings or due to overall search volume decrease. The next steps for optimization are very different, depending on which of these is the main cause.”

Is it because the article is too old? Is it because something better has been published? Is it a seasonal aberration? Is it because the search volume for the keyword has declined? Revive doesn’t answer these questions, but it is the natural question to ask when you see an article is declining in views: why?

And, just as importantly, what do I do next?

Future Analytics Need to Be Opinionated

Google Analytics is an amazing tool. It gives you an incredible amount of detailed information about what is going on with your site, for free (or for $150,000, if you don’t want sampled data).

But it lacks a crucial concept—an opinion. It gives you the data and allows you to slice and dice as you want, but once you get even a modicum of traffic, knowing how to look at your data or what to look at to understand your content becomes unclear. With a surfeit of data available to content marketers, just presenting that data is no longer really good enough; they need to know what that data means.

Revive is a step in this direction. We want to highlight critical parts of your data easily, instead of having you trawl through thousands of URLs in Google Analytics. It has an opinion: “Refreshing content is important. It is an easy way to win. These are the articles that need it. This is how you do it.”

This opinion comes from the lessons we’ve learned in our agency. As we know, and some of our feedback has stated, the next step is to go further. We need to tell you why it’s happening and exactly what you should do on an article-by-article basis.

This is the cycle we want to continue at Animalz. Learn something interesting from working closely with our customers. Help them on an individual level. Scale the idea (using software or content) to benefit others. Learn more.

Product Management Is a Lot Like Content—Here Are a Few Takeaways

I’ve learned a ton about product while building Revive, but also learned lessons that will help me write better content as well. Here are a few I’d like to share:

  • Good products are only built with feedback. The same is true of content. You might only want eyes on your article once it is polished, but good editing is crucial to a good article. The same goes for product. Only through feedback from the team here at Animalz, and then our customers, did we start to understand what worked and what didn’t about the product. The two examples above are testament to this. Putting something out there in the world gives people the chance to respond. You can then iterate with your audience/users/customers to build something better and never thought of in the beginning.
  • In both cases, you have to think audience-first. When you are coding an entire product, it is very easy to get caught up line by line. Should this be a separate function? Will this function execute faster if I remove this line? Getting lost in the minutiae is kinda fun, but you have to remember that you are building this for you; you are building this for others. Users of Revive don’t care about Google Analytics API calls; they care about the results, how easy they are to understand, and whether they know what they are going to do next. The readers of your content don’t care about your clever sentence structure. They care about the results of what you are telling them, how easy your idea is to understand, and what they are going to do next.
  • There is more to product than code; there is more to content than writing. Building Revive required not just learning how to develop a product from a software point of view, but also learning product management, product marketing, UX design, customer success, and customer support — all the things I’ve spent four years writing about! Going over the content of our customers was vital to developing the product and getting it to launch. The same is true of content. In 2019, it isn’t just writing. It is understanding customers, managing internal expectations, knowing the right channels for promotion, and being able to see the big picture of why you are writing.
  • Don’t only concentrate on the happy path. In product, the happy path is the way you think a user will interact with your product. They will click here and then there and then on that, and, voilà, a great experience. You know the path as you designed it, so this is obvious. Not so to your users. They will click that, then there, then here, and, voilà, a 404 page. The sad path. The Animalz team were experts at finding the sad path through Revive before we launched. But you need to think about the sad path through your content as well. It might be clear to you what you mean, but you already understand your argument. Are you directing the reader down the happy path properly, or leaving them to find the sad path themselves?

How do you go from being a neuroscientist to being a content marketer to being a software developer/product manager? By being eager to learn new things. They can be about brains or about businesses or about bits. One of the reasons I am proud of working at Animalz is that we’re always open to learning. And when we learn new things, we want to share them, whether that is through writing content or through writing code.