Most search results today are dominated by a single type of content marketing: big, sprawling “ultimate guides.” These behemoth posts often contain thousands of words, with dozens of keywords crammed into titles, headers, paragraphs, and metadata.
As a younger content marketer, I churned out these ultimate guides on a weekly basis, creating dozens of articles just like this one: The Ultimate Guide to SaaS Pricing Models, Strategies & Psychological Hacks.
On the surface, it seems like a winning article. Even today, it ranks for over 1,100 keywords. It drives tens of thousands of visits. But there’s a crucial data point missing: For a full year after publication, this article—and others like it—generated exactly $0 in new revenue for our agency.
So-So SEO Content Sucks at Building Trust
With hindsight, I recognized the problem. It’s not enough to attract people to your company. It’s not even enough to attract the right people at the right time.
There’s a missing element: trust.
To generate revenue, to turn anonymous visitors into happy customers, you need to demonstrate expertise. You need to build your credibility and your authority in the subject matter.
Most SEO content—like my ultimate guides— sucks at building trust:
- It’s utilitarian. My ultimate guide looks and feels like a Wikipedia page. If the reader ever reached the end of the 6,000 words, they would have no lasting impression of the brand or the personality behind that content.
- It’s non-expert. This apparently “definitive” guide to SaaS pricing was written by someone with zero SaaS pricing experience (me), without so much as a single interview conducted for research.
- There’s no value add. My article (and most ultimate guides) take the classic skyscraper approach of consolidating what everyone else has already written. It adds nothing new to the conversation.
- It’s boring as hell. The end result is just another forgettable SEO article, great at generating traffic and terrible at generating revenue.
As a younger content marketer, I assumed that content marketing and SEO were one and the same—that every article needed to look like this ultimate guide.
But I was wrong. There’s another, better way.
Opinion Is Your Best Differentiator
By way of contrast, here’s an article from Hiten Shah: Why Trello Failed to Build a $1 Billion+ Business. Within a handful of days after publication, Hiten’s article racked up over 150,000 views. It generated over 100 backlinks. It even went viral on Hacker News.
While most visitors to my ultimate guide hit the “back” button and forgot about the article almost immediately, Hiten’s article has been discussed, analyzed, and shared for years after initial publication. Dollars to doughnuts, it’s had a much greater business impact.
It did this by doing the exact opposite to my tired “ultimate guide”:
- It’s contrarian. Instead of listing rote facts and figures, Hiten shares an opinion—and strong opinions encourage discussion, social sharing, and backlinks.
- It’s expert. His article demonstrates deep industry knowledge and experience, proving beyond question that Hiten knows the startup world better than virtually anyone.
- It adds value. It adds new data, a surprising opinion, and original analysis to the conversation, and readers are richer for having read it.
- It’s differentiated. In a sea of generic SEO content, Hiten’s article stands out.
These traits mean that opinionated content, like Hiten’s article, is strong where SEO content is weak.
While most SEO content is great for generating compounding traffic, it struggles with a host of other goals.
It’s situationally useful, designed to help a particular person at a particular moment in time, and there’s no incentive for the reader to share it with anyone else.
It struggles to generate leads because it doesn’t demonstrate expertise. It’s not interesting enough to grow an audience, and it makes it hard to share your brand messaging because you’re constrained by the information the keyword needs you to cover.
Opinionated content doesn’t have these limitations. Though it doesn’t benefit from steady search traffic, strong opinions encourage sharing and generate backlinks.
It generates leads by demonstrating real expertise. It’s interesting enough to keep readers reading, and it’s great for sharing company messaging.
How to Harness Counter-Narrative Opinions
Experimenting with opinionated content doesn’t need to be complicated. You can start with one article, and four simple steps.
1. Identify industry truisms
Start by listing 20+ “truisms” from your industry: the common ideas that most people take for granted and assume to be true.
You can find these truisms in the “best practices” touted by your peers, in your own common assumptions, in competitor marketing material, in your sales conversations—you name it.
In my industry, content marketing, some truisms include:
- “SEO tools are essential for creating high-performing content.”
- “SEO and content marketing are the same thing.”
- “Blogs should be treated like media publications.”
- “You should always focus on bottom-of-funnel content.”
- “HubSpot is the best example of content marketing.”
Brainstorm as many truisms as possible, then prioritize ideas that:
- Reflect your sincerely held beliefs: Don’t create controversy for controversy’s sake.
- Align with your business goals: Choose opinions that help promote and sell your product.
- Can be backed up with evidence: Good data is necessary to effectively challenge convention—otherwise, it’s just opinion versus opinion.
2. Construct your counter-narrative with Hegelian Dialectic
The next step is to construct your counter-narrative. Look for edge cases where your truism doesn’t hold up, challenge faulty logic, and use real-world examples to argue against them.
Using our content marketing truisms from before, we might formulate three counter-narratives as follows:
Armed with your counter-narrative, you then have the task of persuading readers that your new, contrarian opinion is true.
At Animalz, we use a centuries-old philosophical framework called Hegelian Dialectic, creating a persuasive argument using the thesis-antithesis-synthesis article structure:
- Thesis: Present the status quo—the viewpoint that is currently accepted and widely held.
- Antithesis: Articulate the problems with the thesis. (Hegel also called this phase “the negative.”)
- Synthesis: Share a new viewpoint (a modified thesis) that resolves the problems.
3. Wrap your opinion in a “coined” concept
To help your article to take off and your opinion to take hold, you can use a coined concept: “A memorable catchphrase that encapsulates your ideas and arguments.” Three useful sources of coined concepts are:
- Borrowing from other fields. “The strategy HubSpot used a decade ago doesn’t work today” borrows the concept of second movers from the field of business strategy to become The Second Mover Advantage in Content Marketing.
- Popularizing existing concepts. “SEO tools encourage homogeneity and can actually worsen performance” gave new life to an old term, copycat content, to become Copycat Content: SEO Tools Got Us Here, Humans Will Get Us Out.
- Creating from scratch. “Most blogs should be treated like libraries of information” coined an original concept, that of “libraries versus publications”, in the article Your Blog Is Not a Publication.
4. Distribute Through Newsletters, Social Media, and Communities
Without SEO to fall back on, it’s important to be deliberate with your distribution channels. We’ve found that opinionated content performs well through three primary channels:
- Earned newsletter mentions. Spend time identifying the biggest industry roundups, curators, or Substack commentators within your industry. Often, sending them an email, following them, or DMing them on a social media platform is enough to earn your content a featured spot in their newsletters each week.
- Debate-focused social media. Social media platforms are designed to facilitate discussion and debate, making them perfect for sharing and amplifying opinionated content.
Our most popular articles, in terms of sheer traffic numbers, are usually those that have gone viral on Hacker News, on Twitter, or on LinkedIn (like the example in the screenshot below).
- Professional communities. Slack, Discord, Telegram, and other communities of engaged professionals can also have a big impact. Sharing your idea, making it a discussion, and encouraging people to comment and debate on your opinion is a great way of “seeding” your initial distribution.
Signs That Your Opinions Are Taking Root
With SEO content, it’s easy to rely on compounding traffic and keyword rankings as measures of success—but these metrics rarely tell the whole story and even distract from the fact that few of those visitors ever actually become customers.
Opinionated content relies on qualitative measures of success, but these measures are often more concrete than traffic figures.
You’ll know when opinionated content is working because you’ll feel its impact. Sales prospects will reference your content, repeating back your ideas and opinions.
The industry at large (and even your competitors) will start to echo your coined concepts and debate your opinions. You’ll experience what we refer to as a “natural upswelling” of brand awareness: Your opinions begin to permeate your entire industry and shape it in your favor.