Applying the 80 / 20 Rule to Content Marketing

7 min readAug 30, 2016
The Great 80 / 20 Debate

It’s Monday and we’re all psyched for another week of productivity. Since many of us are running online businesses, you’re likely already familiar with Pareto’s Principle — or the80 / 20 Rule — which is defined as the following:

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Conceptually, this seems logical and obvious. However, we rarely apply this principle to our daily grind.

  • How many hours or days have you spent on quality blog posts that never make it the most popular list on your site?
  • How many times have you spent hours aimlessly surfing for a photo, or scanning other people’s blog posts for inspiration?
  • How many days have you spent making small changes to your blog design that had zero impact?
  • Or preparing presentations and speaking at conferences that generate only a blip in your Google analytics?

Should bloggers apply the 80/20 rule to content?

There are strong opinions from both sides of the table on this. The topic has been explored by folks such as Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, Sujan Patel, Mark Schaefer ofBusinessGrow, and many other marketers. While there are valid arguments for and against the application of the 80/20 rule to content marketing, we can all agree everything boils down to results.

Applying the 80/20 Rule to Content

While you might get the impression that the 80/20 rule is just some random ratio repurposed by clever marketers, it’s absolutely not. Since 1906, the principle has evolved from economic theory, to business theory, and eventually to many aspects of our daily life (think time!). Pareto’s principle observes the unequal distribution of things measured. Whether it’s applied to wealth, revenue, production, time, or content is inconsequential. The ratio stands on the fact that most things measured are distributed unequally.

In short, the principle is a solid guideline but not meant to be applied literally. It forces us to evaluate the outcome or results from our collective actions. Where appropriate, it’s up to us to identify which actions generate the biggest impact.

Why the 80/20 Rule Matters to Content Marketers

Being a writer / content creator / marketer is a time-consuming and large commitment. Pat Flynn is routinely quoted saying that aspiring podcasters should not start podcasting unless they’ve decided to take on such a big commitment (paraphrasing a bit). If you’re reading this article, then you’ve likely struggled — and continue to do so — with content creation and promotion. There’s a lot that goes into producing high quality content that gets noticed:

  • Brainstorming & Research
  • Writing and/or Creating
  • Editing
  • Automating
  • Promoting

A great deal of effort is spent on generating one worthwhile piece of content. For example, a post we created a recently — The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Media Kit — was a rather time-consuming task. It included going from idea to outline, spending days reviewing more than 50 already published media kits, publishing a draft, creating graphics and supporting pieces of visual media, iterating through multiple versions of each asset, and completing a checklist of content creation steps that we’ll share with you in an upcoming post

Overall, this seems like too much work! However, that’s the effort required to produce high quality content that attracts eyeballs especially given how much already exists on the web. Counting all those hours and effort, how can we recoup the value?

Apply the 80 / 20 Rule?

The Literal Application: If the 80/20 rule is applied literally, then we should spend 80% of our time promoting content. In my example above, if creating the post took a total of 10hours, then it would imply we should spend 40 hours promoting it. This is neither ideal nor efficient, and likely won’t move the needle beyond a certain point.

The Realistic Application: The principle implies that 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of our activities (unequal distribution). Therefore, by focusing on the 20% that consistently drives traffic, engagements, traffic, and subscribers, we can identify the most optimal activities. We’ll focus on that 20% to generate 80% of the buzz.

It’s impractical to say that every content marketer should follow the “create less, promote more” concept when the inverse can be just as effective. Some folks may need to promote more than others if they’re just starting out with no established audience. The point here is that the 80/20 rule of content marketing is not about promoting more or creating less, it’s about finding the 20% in your content marketing stack that gets you 80% of the results. Then, you can perform additional activities that amplify your results further.

How to Use the 80 /20 Rule in Content Marketing

Let’s start with the assumption that your content is fantastic (of course, it is). Here’s a high-level walkthrough of how you can apply the 80 / 20 rule to content marketing:

1) Track Data — If you’re creating content for website / blog content be sure to use some form of analytics (Google Analytics or whatever stats are provided by a third party platform). Data!

  • Google Analytics is fantastic, use it:Create UTM or trackable links leading back to your content
  • Track your traffic sources to determine where visitors are coming from

2) Identify the 20%

  • Don’t be literal; what you are looking for are the few activities that get you the most results, it does not have to equal exactly 20%.
  • For example, Google Analytics data might show you that Twitter is the leading source of traffic. Now that you know Twitter traffic is driving our figurative 80% of results, analyze what you are doing on Twitter to get that type of traffic. Suppose that observe that sharing content via Twitter using relevant hashtags is the biggest trigger. You also notice that the type content people gravitate towards are tweets between 9am — 11am. Therefore, simple logic suggests that 20% of your activities getting 80% results is tweeting with hashtags at a certain time on Twitter.

3) Amplify the 20%

  • Now that you know what 20% is working for you it’s time to amplify those activities further. What’s the next step?
  • Brainstorm on how to make Twitter work better for you.
  • Grow your Twitter account by investing more time engaging with others and building your followers
  • Tweet more often during peak engagement hours
  • Create list building offers based on your most popular Tweets
  • Enhance the quality of your Tweets to ensure that those sent between 9am — 11am are engaging
  • Schedule a dozen unique (and trackable) tweets linking to your article (measure which work the best over a month or two!) — see: Repurposing Content
  • Invest a small amount of advertising dollars on Twitter (i.e., $5 per weekday)
  • Set an overall goal and timeframe to track and modify its effectiveness

4) Evaluate, Improve, Repeat

  • Evaluate the outcome
  • Use data to improve the process
  • Repeat for other content

This is an oversimplified example. However, the process is sound and can be applied to various marketing goals such as email subscribers, e-commerce sales, etc. The most important thing is to do it, use data, measure your activities in an effort to narrow your focus to those that have the highest impact to your intended result.

Coincidentally, Gary Vee just posted a video on the concept of doing and testing. Grateful for the serendipitous alignment, here it is:

Gary Vee A 5 Minute Plea To Do

Final Take Aways

Here’s the deal. Content marketing goals are different for every company or creator. There’s a finite amount of time to achieve results. My winning 20% may not be the same as your 20%. There’s no one size fits all. However, it’s hard to argue with the the concept that 80% of your results are generated by 20% of your marketing activities. Usually, true! Do something about it.

No more reading. GO DO. Though, first let us know what’s working for you, and what isn’t down below in the comments. This post was originally published on Triberr we hope you enjoy seeing it on Medium as well…

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