Why the winner takes all in Content Marketing

March 26, 2022
Michael Taylor
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This post is one of a series on my content production system, developed over 10 years and designed to scale content end-to-end in 6 months as an acquisition channel.

Here are the other posts in the series:

  1. Why the winner takes all in Content Marketing (this post)
  2. What everyone gets wrong about Content Strategy
  3. Building Your Keyword Universe
  4. Minimum Viable Technical SEO Audit
  5. Recruiting good Freelance Writers
  6. How to write blog content at scale
  7. Growth engineering for SEO
  8. Link building for authority

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If you’re writing for fun, my advice is to follow your passion. But if you’re blogging for business, you need a system that can drive results at scale. 

I developed my system while building Ladder into a 50 person growth marketing agency. As well as growing the agency via content marketing (90% of new leads mentioned the blog) we also built and managed blogs for clients like Booking.com, Money Dashboard and Criteo, amongst others. After leaving I also got a chance to test it client-side in the 3 months I was VP Growth for a startup before COVID hit. 

As well as my own experiences I’ve learned a lot by working with some of the best content marketing agencies in the world, like Animalz, Influence&Co, Codeless, The Martec and Growth Machine. As I build my new business, Vexpower, I’m thinking again about content marketing, and wanted to get my thinking down on paper as to why I'm betting solely on this channel.

You have multiple channels to choose from as a startup, and many make the mistake of spreading themselves thin across multiple. However if you look at the top startups that succeeded in every industry, they usually saw the majority of their growth from one channel only. For example in travel, Booking.com dominated PPC, Expedia scaled through SEO and AirBnB grew via virality.

If you want to win, you have to focus: because there are exponential returns from mastering one of these channels. There are several structural aspects of content marketing that give it increasing returns to scale. 

The top results are ads

The first cause is that SEO has to compete with PPC for attention: 5% to 30% of clicks are siphoned off before you get to the organic listings. So only the top listings are visible above the fold.

Most clicks are above the fold

The second is related: because most users click the first listings they see above the fold without scrolling down or going to the second page of results, the vast majority of clicks go to position 1, which gets a 30%+ click through rate, more than double the 2nd place listing, and it drops off further from there. Less than 5% of clicks even make it past the first page.


Most keywords are long tail

The next phenomenon is at the keyword level, where the ‘long tail’ of keywords adds another layer of winner-take-all dynamics. The top keywords have the highest competition, but they generate the vast majority of traffic. Below the top 20% of keywords, most keywords get less than a handful of clicks a month each. Add all these long tail keywords up and they can be worth a lot in aggregate, but individually they’re not economical to write content for.

Page rank is a popularity contest

The other major bias in SEO towards the big players, comes from the way Google’s search engine is designed: the Page Rank algorithm. It ranks content based on how many links there are to that web page (and domain), as well as the profile of the sites linking to them. So the websites that have the most high quality links, that are the most established, are most likely to rank higher.

With all of these natural in-built advantages to whoever is in the number 1 position, SEO demands your full attention. If instead of writing an article you’re optimizing your Facebook ad campaigns, you’re decreasing your chances of ranking on a new keyword. If you’re serious about growth through content, every dollar and your full attention should be on it.