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80/20 Rule of Creating Great Content: Part One

The Pareto principle, commonly known as the ‘80/20 rule,’ is one of the most profound ideas I’ve ever encountered. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, it is most commonly described as this:

20% of work gets 80% of results.

Originally the idea came from an Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who noticed that ~80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. On a less macroscopic scale, he also noticed that in his own garden, about 20% of his pea pods were producing 80% of his peas.

Strangely enough, this principle carries over into many other areas as well—from healthcare (~20% of the patients in the US use 80% of the healthcare resources), to computing (~80% of the errors and crashes in Microsoft Windows and Office are caused by 20% of the bugs involved), to global distribution of wealth (~80% of all wealth in the world lies with only 20% of the population). And while the ratio involved may not always be exactly 80/20, the idea that an overwhelming majority of outcomes come from a relatively small percentage of inputs is easily observed all around us, if we know to look for it.

So, when it comes to inbound marketing, content marketing, SEO, and marketing in general, it’s naive to think this same ratio is not playing out. The 2007 NY times bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris, is built upon the notion of identifying and capitalizing on the 20% that will net you the 80% of results, via internet marketing. And while some of the specific tactics identified in the book may not be as effective now as they were when it was published, the core idea is still very valid.

For example, let’s consider marketing content. It would be a fair bet to say that if you were to analyze your own content, you would find that a small amount of your pages or posts are bringing in almost all of your traffic. There’s nothing fun about this prospect; one of the worst feelings is pouring your heart and soul into a piece of content, only to have it perform very poorly. However, the reality is that—except in rare cases—most of the content that gets posted isn’t exactly gold. In fact, only about 20% of it is.

In this on-going series of posts I am going to focus on how to find out what 20% of content in any given niche or industry is getting your competition 80% of their results. Furthermore, we’ll discuss how to dissect that slice of 20% and find the lowest hanging fruit that brings in the most traffic with the least amount of organic SEO competition. The end result is that you’ll be able to free up bandwidth and time to focus on improving and remixing your content to a razor edge, maximizing your results in the process.

But before we proceed, keep in mind that your competition has already done the hard work—the experimentation, research, and development, so there’s no reason for you to reinvent the wheel. Use the data your competition provides, and you’ll be able to achieve success, without exhausting your resources on content that doesn’t have the best odds of paying off. Also, keep in mind this is all based on how I prefer to work, but there are many different ways to skin a cat, and I realize that this process can probably be improved upon. Still, it’s worked well for me, and I believe it could work for you, too.

Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty:

Step 1. Create a list of your best competitors

You probably already have a handful of competitors that come to mind. Obviously, add them to the list, but spend most of your time digging for competitors and blogs in your niche. The more sites you identify, the more accurate your data is going to be as a representation of the whole, and as such, will be more likely to lead to better content ideas.

As a rule of thumb, shoot for at least 20 sites/blogs, and record the information into a document file or spreadsheet for later reference. While you are doing so, create a Google sheet/Excel sheet titled “Master Breakdown.” This will come in handy later.

Step 2. Export each sites KW rankings in positions 1–20

The only tool I know that can do this is Ahrefs Position Explorer, but there may be other options. For the sake of this post I will explain the process in detail as if you are using Position Explorer as well.

This is pretty straightforward in concept; crawl each competitor's site rankings, and paste that information into a separate sheet for each competitor. I usually create a Google Drive folder, then a sub-folder for each competitor to keep things organized. Is this totally necessary? Absolutely, because this is going to get messy.

You see, the standard Ahrefs plan only allows to export a maximum of 30k rows. Depending on your niche, chances are good that most of your competition is ranking for more than 30k KWs. This is why I chose to only export KWs in position 1–20; it reduces the number of rows needed, and allows me to ignore those KWs past position 20. If you are finding that even with restricting the data to positions 1–20 you are still exceeding your row limit, then the solution is simply to batch export in smaller position ranges. It may be tedious, but it will be worth it.

For example I crawled Kissmetrics blog, and there were ~75k keywords in positions 1–20. So, I did an export from positions 1–10, and then 11–20. For some sites I have had to break exports into two-position increments (1–2,3–4,4–5, and so on). This is why it’s important to have each competitor separated into its own Google Drive folder.

Once that’s done, you’ll want to combine the data for each competitor into one tab, and name that tab “Positions.” You can, of course, name this tab something else, but all the formulas used here were written assuming that tab is named “Positions,” so you can change it only as long as you also change the formulas to reflect this. Also, you may need to rearrange a few columns to make the formulas work. You will need to move the URL column to column A, followed by the Position column to column B, and lastly the KW column to column C. Everything else should automatically be in the right place (assuming you're using Ahrefs).

For reference it should look like this:


Next we have to clean up the data and get rid of some zeros so that down the line our formulas will not have errors. Trust me, this will save you lots of time—something that I’ve had to learn the hard way.

First, on the “Difficulty” column (should be column G), you will notice some KWs will be “0” and some will be “-”. To get rid of the 0s, I sort the column by A–Z, change the 1st 0 to 5, and select the rest of the 0s and hit ctrl+enter. Ultimately, a 5 difficulty is basically a 0 difficulty.

To fix the “-” bars in the column I use the “find and replace all” option (ctrl + f) to automatically change all of them to “10.” This is because if I am going to estimate the difficulty, I’d rather estimate on the high end.

Next you will want to copy all the URLs in column A, create a new tab, name it “Content KOB,” and paste the URLs into the new sheet’s column A.

Click “add-ons,” and choose “remove duplicates” (if you don’t have the add-on yet, it will automatically download it) so you are only left with unique URLs.

Repeat this process for each competitor.

This is part one of a four-part series on creating quality content. In part two, you’ll learn how to crawl each competitors’ URLs, and gather data to later analyze and garner insights.

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