The 80/20 Rule in Content Marketing

November 10, 2015 Content Marketing 6 comments

Courtesy of evolving SEO

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule?

Known as the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is also known as the law of the vital few. First conceived by management consultant Joseph M Juran, it is attributed to 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. The 80/20 rule essentially states that “80% of the effects came from 20% of the causes”.

In management and finance, the Pareto principle can be applied in many different scenarios.

Pareto’s own research showed that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth in Italy (see this article on wealth distribution). Quality guru Juran further identified that 20% of defects caused 80% of problems in factories. Project managers have also demonstrated that 20% of the work (the first 10% and last 10%) consume 80% of time and resources.

80/20 Rule in Digital Marketing

What about the world of digital marketing?

According to Smart Insights, the 80/20 rule is highly evident online. Some of these observations include the following:

  • 80% of online sales comes from 20% of products
  • 80% of leads in content marketing from 20% of content assets
  • 80% of user tasks performed on 20% of links offered
  • 80% of social shares from 20% of the social updates

Also known as the long tail distribution, the idea here is that you should focus your time, energy and money on the 20% (or less) of your content and products which yields the bulk of your online leads, sales or engagement.

In other words, rather than give equal weightage to everything you do, focus your resources on that which generates maximal outcome.

Content Creation versus Promotion

When it comes to content on social media, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers suggests that you should only create content 20% of the time. You should spend the remaining 80% of the time promoting what you have created.

Quoting from his blog:

“You can no longer pump out half-assed content and win. Now you’ve got to research GREAT content, and publish only the best. 

Yes, this is harder, and it’s more time consuming, but the good news is this: You don’t need to create that much content.

I look at Social Triggers, and from March 2011 to April 2012, I averaged 2.54 blog posts per month… and I got almost 27,000 subscribers. All because I focused on creating great content… and then focused on getting that content into the hands of more people.”

What would constitute content promotion?

Well, activities like sharing one’s blog post on social media channels, advertising it (via Google Adwords, Facebook or Twitter), or working with affiliates and partners to share it on their websites or blogs.

80/20 Rule in Search Engine Optimization

What about Search Engine Optimization or SEO? Apparently, the 80/20 rule also applies here.

According to Evolving SEO, the 80/20 rule is observed when one screens through the various strategies and tactics used to improve one’s ranking on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This may cover the following:

  • 20% Keywords -> 80% of Search Visits
  • 20% Content -> 80% Organic Search Traffic
  • 20% Backlinks -> 80% Referral Traffic
  • 20% Twitter Followers -> 80% Retweets
  • 20% Unique Visitors -> 80% Conversions

In a similar manner, you should focus on the “vital few” which matter and concentrate 80% of your efforts in optimizing those areas which yield the greatest return. For example, if a certain type of blog post appears to draw a much higher percentage of backlinks and organic search, you may want to produce more of those and less of others.

80/20 Content Rule: Helping vs Selling

OK, now we know that we should prioritize our efforts on the 20% of content which matters to our targeted customers. What kind of content should this be?

Social Media Today offers some interesting advice on the balance of helpful versus sales-oriented content. According to them, the breakdown would be as follows:

  • 20% “Brand” Content: This covers original created content which benefits your audience. Include persuasive call-to-actions, discounts, special offers and other promotional mechanisms to inspire your audience to learn about your company. This would hopefully lead to customer conversion.
  • 80% “Interesting” Content: Dedicate 80% to interesting content that caters to your audience. This could include curated content from other influencers whose ideas and insights are in sync with you. They could be reshares, links to news, inspirational quotes, retweets, questions, or others.

Critics of the 80/20 Rule

As Steve Jobs would famously say, “Wait, there’s more.”

While there are strong supporters of the 80/20 Rule, the Pareto principle also has its detractors.

According to Open Topic, it is far more important to put the right message in front of the right audience – traditional, digital, or otherwise. Trying to get as many eyes on your content as possible is no more effective than having a random billboard on a freeway.

Quoting Heidi Cohen, “the information must be adopted and modified to meet the needs of each media entity.”

Because of the extra time and effort needed to create content which hits the spot, the content creation-distribution ratio is probably closer to 50/50 as opposed to 20/80 (ala Derek Halpern above).

Peering at it from a different lens, HR Marketer suggests that “dividing content that is pushed out by your brand into promotional and non-promotional is nonsense; just a semantic shell game. It’s all promotional.”

The author suggests instead that one should consider the 4 Ms of content balance: Mission, Message, Medium, and Market.

Finally, content marketing guru Mark Schaefer proposes that “spending 24 hours a week promoting my content is ludicrous.” While he agrees that a certain element of promotion is necessary, spending four times as much time in self-promotion versus value-creation may create spikes in visitor traffic but generate little reader loyalty.

Applying the 80/20 Rule

Having heard all 50 shades of the Pareto principle (sorry I can’t help it!), what should you do?

I believe that the 80/20 rule is meant more as a guide rather than a rule. Honestly, there is no quick and dirty way to achieve success in content marketing, and it is fiendishly difficult to predict what may “go viral” or hit the social jackpot.

What’s important as a takeaway though is for us to focus on the vital few, ie:

  1. What are the content topics that are most interesting and relevant to your customers?
  2. Which content formats (text, video, photo, infographics) are more likely to resonate with your audiences?
  3. Who are the most important fans whom you want to cultivate and show more love to?
  4. Which online platform yields the best outcome?
  5. Where should you spend your time, energy, money and resources on?

Have you applied the 80/20 rule in your marketing efforts? What insights can you share from your experience? I’d love to hear your views.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Hi Walter,

    I would tend to agree with Mark Schaefer in that the weighting is not sensible. There is the notion that everything you put out has a shelf life and there is a point where you have to move on. However, there is nothing against milking something you’ve worked hard on and I feel that it is important to mix up and experiment with marketing to keep things fresh. The issue that many marketers face nowadays is a rise in attention deficit. Audiences become worn down on cliches and become less interested in being marched to the shopping basket which requires being inventive. There is also an OCD like trend for marketers to over analyse success and failure rather than moving on to the next task, a lot of time can be wasted in data dissemination.

    Vilfredo’s ideas were simple but powerful and provide a great staple for Business degree students. There is opposition to this theory but it does provide a good place to start if you need a steer into where to place your efforts. As an example, I have been able to generate more traffic this year with a tenth of the posts I produced last year but at the sacrifice of comments to some extent. Quality always wins out.

    A great article, cheers!

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