In 2012, I did a presentation on how you can imitate your competitors as a method of building links. I talked about how you can learn from businesses in different markets to inspire your own methods, and use their success to build your own. While a lot has changed since 2012, the main concepts have not.

We can still learn a ton from the success of people in other markets, and while many of us may have moved on from link building in isolation, the same philosophies can still be used to learn from those who have frequent success with content.

As a content marketing agency that’s constantly looking for client ideas, we frequently refer to companies who are leading the pack as it comes to content – but not just content, a specific type of content. For example, there are several examples of sites that do incredibly well with their content development, but from whom little can be gleamed. These are companies like Uncrate, Simply Recipes, or ESPN.

From them, we can only really say “build great content“. And while that’s true, it’s rarely useful for building a strategy that scales, or can be replicated for many different industries, which is necessary in an agency environment.

Instead, the kind of companies we look to for inspiration generally have a few of the following four attributes:

  • They have multi-author blogs, meaning that they generally have techniques that can be replicated in order for multiple people to create content with various expertise levels
  • Their content is targeted at a diversity of markets, meaning that it sometimes appeals to a wide variety of interest groups
  • They are industry leaders when it comes to content creation and marketing, and generally are first-movers when testing and implementing new strategies
  • They are perceived by readers as a commercial entity, meaning that they aren’t generating content for enjoyment or for side income, but as a primary method of paying the bills

These four attributes allow us to keep an eye on new tactics that are working for businesses that could be implemented across various industries. The “industry leaders” are the companies that consistently show they’re on the cutting edge as it comes to marketing techniques, and because of that, are good resources to monitor for what’s breaking tactically in the world of content marketing.

So, without further delay, here are the ten companies we watch most often for content creation inspiration:

1. Greatist

 Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 11.17.39 AM is a health website that focuses on fitness, food and happiness. Their content stands out because they do a ton of it, and they use smart techniques in order to allow it to take off on every social network the content pertains to. In the above image, they’ve created a Pinterest header that fits the standards of the network perfectly: it’s tall, clear, and implores the user to go to the landing page.

Also, the text part of the image is crisp and easily resuable – it appears frequently throughout all of their content. These tall photos also work really well on Facebook, allowing them to reuse content that feels native on each network without having to start from scratch.

Content to Inspire You:

2. HubSpot

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There’s no doubt HubSpot is a content machine. Their techniques for building followers, driving email signups, and growing brand recognition are seemingly second to none, and because of that, they are a business I frequently refer to for inspiration for our marketing.

Some examples of their expertise: 1) they have custom e-book CTAs for each category, 2) they use their blog to “push” SlideShare content, which improves the chances it appears on the SlideShare homepage, and 3) their recent 30-Day Blog Challenge content campaign, which ported asynchronously between Twitter, Facebook, and their blog while seeming relatively easy to build.

Content to Inspire You:

3. Real Simple


Print magazines are the originators of the action-inducing headline. Real Simple, originally a print magazine, shows their experience when porting over to online content, with effective but not overbearing headlines like 10 Things You Should Not Refrigerate, What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?, and 9 Things You Can Do to Be Happy in the Next 30 Minutes.

And it’s clear they get search, too, with a multitude of resources that say “SEO”, but not to the extent that you feel like you’re on eHow. They get their female demographic and use a diversity of content types in creative ways to amplify their visibility online.

Content to Inspire You:

4. UpCity

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UpCity is a SEO software company for small businesses, and in many ways, they’re under the radar in the internet marketing community. They don’t have a big personal brand pushing their business, but they’ve managed to see huge organic growth this year based on their big investment in content marketing.


UpCity inspires me because they get it done without the bells and whistles – their content sticks to the fundamentals of successful marketing, and they do it well. Through classic but not overbearing techniques like egobait, content roundups and list posts, they manage to get a good number of shares and links on their work.

When we’re looking for a unique angle on which to apply a classic tactic, we look to UpCity. They consistently find creative topic ideas on which to apply some fundamental but effective marketing strategies.

For those wondering, the above image was supplied at my request, and I have no affiliation with the company.

Content to Inspire You:

5. Movoto

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I’m bit of a Movoto fanboy. I mentioned them a few times in our recent post on content templates, and for good reason: they kill it with content marketing. It’s obvious the Movoto team is constantly iterating on new strategies, making them a great source for inspiration.

It also helps that their posts cover the gamut of potential topics, as long as they relate to real estate – you’ll find ideas for gamers, hipsters, foodies, and more – all on a real estate blog, and in a way that makes sense because all types of people need a place to rest their heads at the end of the day.

Content to Inspire You:



There are a lot of bad infographics. You’ve heard that. On Reddit’s /r/infographics/, the community makes sure that the bad infographics don’t surface – and definitely not on the /r/infographics/top/ section, which is what I suggest you bookmark.

Although not a traditional “content creator”, plenty of good content flows into this section that you can learn from and potentially cross-reference into your business. Because it’s a general subreddit about visualizations, the infographics cover a variety of industries, so there’s a lot to pull from.

Content to Inspire You:

7. BuzzFeed


I didn’t want to include BuzzFeed because, well, they’re BuzzFeed. You know they’re dominating the web with content already, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t include them on the list of places we most often look for inspiration.

BuzzFeed does content incredibly well, so to be a content creator and not stay attune to their recent strategies means you’re probably a few steps behind what’s working today.

In the past few months in particular, BuzzFeed’s quizzes have emerged as a new content type worth thinking about, merging basic design, research and code to create some extremely viral content. Secondarily, they’ve also debuted the browser-width blog post, taking their image posts to a whole new level of visual impressiveness. Both of these content types have a potential for rather easy use anywhere.

Content to Inspire You:

8. Buffer

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Buffer, the social sharing app, has one of the most popular blogs in marketing. They are constantly putting out content that you’ll probably see all over your feed – and for that reason, they’re well worth paying attention to. They were one of the first blogs to move on the image in the timeline trend, and their content hits on all cylinders.

A quick look at their most popular posts makes it obvious how much time and attention they put towards great headlines. And unlike UpWorthy, they aren’t annoying – they’re just good.  When building content, take a minute to look at Buffer headlines versus your own: would they get past their editorial team? If not, maybe you should try a little harder.

Their content also appeals to an extremely large market, so some of the concepts can be re-applied to your industry of choice. For example, they’ve somewhat quietly done a “The Science of” post series that has been extremely successful for them that might work for you, too.

Content to Inspire You:

9. Wine Folly


It’s hard to express how impressed I am with Wine Folly. Their content is really really really good. Their infographics are gorgeous, their site is gorgeous, and their content consistently delivers.

It’s so good that I’m actually kinda shocked at the quality level they manage to maintain with what seems like a not-too-aggressive monetization engine that features posters and wine accessories, for the most part.

Either way, we’re lucky to have Wine Folly as both a wine resource and a place to go to for content inspiration. Their diversity of wine visualizations supply unique ideas for usage in other industries, and even when they’re not doing visualizations, they’re still building beautiful content that we might be able to pull concepts from.

Content to Inspire You:

10. Apartment Therapy


As impressions on Facebook wanes for many sites, publishers have gotten more creative in finding ways to keep up the engagement on their pages as a method of driving traffic. Apartment Therapy is one site doing it well, using understated but effective “you should probably click this” calls to action in their “Before and After” features that sync brilliantly between Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The subtle but powerful marketing undertones on Apartment Therapy’s content swirls all around their blog. They are currently running an awards poll called “The Homies“, a series dedicated to recognizing the best blogs in the home projects and DIY space. Because it uses a poll format, the blog writers have incentive to push a ton of traffic — and links — towards the post as a method of helping them win the award.

We look to Apartment Therapy for content ideas that might work well on Pinterest, as most of their content caters to that audience. Apartment Therapy has a staggering two million plus pages of content indexed in Google, which means they have a long history of putting out great content that makes them a leading voice to follow.

Content to Inspire You:

Inspiration Must be Pursued

These are the ten sources we look to most often, but by no means are they the only ones. We are constantly looking for new sources. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and in my opinion, it must be actively pursued in order to keep the effort gears oiled – and your content great.

Header Image Credit: Atomic Ballroom

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