The Real Truth Behind The 80-20 Rule of Content Marketing

The Content Marketing Creation – Distribution Continuum

Thumb right There’s a high profile debate brewing over the 80-20 Rule of Content Marketing.

To frame this debate, understand that content marketing starts with the creation of amazing content that educates and entertains your target audience. Without this, there’s no need to invest in further effort. BUT without supporting content distribution, most of your content won’t be seen

Originally posited by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, Content Marketing’s 80-20 Rule states: Spend 20% of your time creating great content and 80% of your time distributing that content to reach as broad an audience as possible.

The 80-20 Rule of Content Marketing debate in a nutshell

Content marketing’s creation-distribution challenge is:  How do you allocate your scarce resources between these two crucial activities?

Halpern’s logic is based on the fact that many bloggers and businesses, particularly newbies, are challenged to reach beyond their initial small readership without actively getting their content to more people who are interested in it. As a result, they must work harder for their content to gain traction with its target market. Otherwise, their content creation effort is limited in its effectiveness. (Note: I echoed this point in my presentation at Content Marketing World and on Schaefer’s blog.)

When Halpern uses the word “promote”, he’s not talking about marketing push or hype but rather distributing it freely.

Supporting Halperin’s perspective, Jay Baer of the Convince and Convert blog and author of Youtility chimed into the conversation, stating that every member of your “core audience” was a first time visitor at some point. The reality is that everyone starts with no readers and must build their base.

Further, Sander Biehn of ATT, upon whose {Grow} guest post I commented, weighed in on the topic stating that he spends about 12 hours per week promoting ALL of his content including older posts and about 3 hours per week writing new blog content.

Mark Schaefer of the {Grow} blog believes you should spend 100% of your time writing the most amazing content you can to appeal to the greatest possible readership. This is easy for Schaefer since he has a highly rated, long running blog and he’s authored 3 traditional print books including The Tao of Twitter and Born to Blog. Additionally, he presents and keynotes conferences and events regularly. As a result, Schaefer has a well established following and doesn’t need to actively promote his content because his core readers do it for him.

The Real Truth Behind The 80-20 Content Marketing Rule

The truth is that there’s more to the 80-20 Content Marketing Rule debate than content creation versus content distribution. The reality is that marketers can no longer place the same piece of content across multiple media entities the way the Mad Men did with traditional advertising.

To this end, content must be contextually relevant to the platform and device upon which it appears to break through today’s content explosion when prospective readers choose to consume it to ensure it attracts attention. This requires more than just promotion! The information must be adopted and modified to meet the needs of each media entity.

As a result, each piece of content needs additional creation to adapt it to its specific medium and device to maximize readership and consumption when, where and how people seek your content. This means that the 80-20 Content Marketing Rule is closer to a 50-50 Content Marketing Rule.

Biehn’s guest blog post on the {Grow} blog is a prime example of this. Schaefer tweaked the post’s title to garner more attention and broader reach. Whether you consider this content creation or content distribution, optimizing content to maximize reach is critical.

7 Ways to recreate your content marketing

Here are 7 ways to recreate your content marketing to improve distribution.

  1. Tailor your content for each platform. Remember one size content format doesn’t fit all any more! Re-image your information based on where it’s going to appear both in terms of platform and device.
  2. Improve content consumability. Avoid THDR (aka: Too Hard Didn’t Read). Make your content easy-to-digest so that potential readers don’t skip it. Think content snacks and outlining. Here’s how to dress your content for success.
  3. Modify content headlines to pull more readers in. Only one out of five readers will get beyond your title so take the time to improve your headline’s ability to lure readers in. Here are suggestions to improve your headlines and  a list of 125 potential free titles you can use.
  4. Use images as people magnets. People are attracted to visuals. It’s how we’re programmed. Therefore include at least 1 photograph or image to attract more attention and viewership.
  5. Optimize your content for search. Focus each piece on one key search term. I love the Yoast WordPress plug-in. Here are 15  tips for search optimization.
  6. Include social sharing icons. Don’t expect readers to work to share your content. Make it easy for visitors to share your content, the way they want to with their family, friends and contacts.
  7. Tap into influencers. While this can be difficult for newbies to accomplish, develop a plan to influence the influencers in your niche to help attract broader visibility.

Regardless of where you stand on the Content Creation – Distribution Continuum (aka the 80-20 Rule of Content Marketing), the bottom line is that you must optimize your content to reach the maximum audience interested in your information.

What’s your perspective on the 80-20 Rule of Content Marketing? How do you spend your content marketing development-distribution time?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Big tip of my hat to Derek Halperin, Mark Schafer, Jay Baer and Sander Biehn for contributing to an important content marketing debate.


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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  • http://www.hullfinancialplanning.com/ Jason Hull

    I’m sure Derek is flattered, but it’s Halpern, not Halperin.

    • heidicohen

      Jason–Thanks for the catch. It’s changed. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • http://themes.cc/ CC

    Good stuff Heidi

  • http://davidboozer.com/ David Boozer

    Hey Heiidi, I bought the books Youtility by Jon and 80/20, both were great….=)

  • Liam Moore

    Great article. I wasn’t aware of this rule. I agree that content would need to be adapted for each distribution channel, infographic for Pinterest,etc. I would also suggest that as time goes on and your site/blog gets a more loyal readership then you could adapt this, so that you spend less time distributing your content and more time to create it, like Mark Schafer. Also as you learn the best ways to distribute your content this would bring down the time spent on it. I know when I started, I didn’t have a clue and invested time in channels that bore no success.

  • http://www.businessesgrow.com Mark W. Schaefer

    Thanks for the shout-out Heidi but to be clear, I never said you should spend 100 percent of your tie creating content. It is important to market your content and to make it discoverable. The content doesn’t work for you unless it ignites. My point is that most businesses probably don’t have the resources to spend 4 X the amount of time promoting content versus creating. If you don’t create content that makes people come back, your initiative will not be sustainable.

  • http://fryinginvein.com/ Hubert Sawyers III

    Derek is a wise dude, but I tend to gravitate more towards the way Perry Marshall applies 80/20 principle to content. Instead of spending 20% of time on content, I would pay attention the 20% of my content which drives 80% of my traffic or leads. Then I would apply 80% of my time and energy to optimizing that content.

    Heidi, I would apply more of a 50/50 to creating and promoting once I knew what my top 20% sweet spot was.