If you double the side of a square, you increase the area by a factor of four. If you double the side of a cube, you increase the volume by a factor of eight. Small change, big impact. That’s a power law and it’s the kind of guiding principle we rely on to help us prioritize the time we spend working on content.
There are plenty of ways to make incremental progress, but that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for small changes and big impact. Here are the five content marketing power laws we live by and recommend to all of our customers.
1. Content that lives alone, dies alone.
Your blog is not a publication, it’s a growing library of information. Here’s the difference.
A publication relies on getting views from the articles published that week. They end up publishing way too much content in an attempt to maintain traffic. It’s like shoveling coal into a furnace—if you stop shoveling, the engine stops running.
A library is an evergreen source of information that can earn traffic for months or years. Readers discover content via search engines when they need it. Content is more detailed and less frequent, but produces outsized returns. This is where the leverage exists and why it’s an essential power law.
Perhaps most important is that publications tend to be a collection of individual articles as opposed to a cohesive library of information. The articles live alone, outside of a cohesive growth strategy. Many are not strong enough to earn traffic on their own.
The library approach is more strategic. Content creators can write about the same core topics over and over again from different angles. Writers build knowledge as they go, meaning each piece is more useful than the last. The goal is to build a vast library, categorize and tag it, and make it as accessible as possible.
The content is cohesive and collectively, it thrives.
2. Compounding growth is the only growth.
One of the fascinating parts of running a content agency is access to Google Analytics. We've had the opportunity to study dozens of sites' analytics and there are a few things we find over and over again in B2B SaaS:
A handful of posts and pages account for the vast majority of traffic.
Boosts from platforms like Facebook and Twitter are fickle and temporary.
The sites with healthy traffic—AdEspresso, Wistia and Appcues are good examples—rely almost entirely on organic search.
We've never seen a SaaS site grow beyond a few hundred unpredictable visitors without a significant investment in search. Investor Tomasz Tunguz quantified the impact of a blog that focuses on evergreen content:
Each post generates about 150 views on day one, and about 20 each subsequent day. Posts views decay according to a modest decay function, but still generate about 18 views per day a year later (this decay constant is based on this blog, but the figures are different.)
You can see the compounding effect clearly. In a year, the blog is generating more than 250k visitors per month. Remember, this is a hypothetical example, with perfect execution. But the idea still holds. Content marketing value compounds.
Even a handful of evergreen posts can deliver consistent traffic for several years. A site with 20, 30 or 50 evergreen resources will outpace a site with thousands of non-evergreen articles. Since each can earn views on its own, the growth is compounds and traffic can grow quickly and sustainably.
SEO is your unfair advantage. Invest in evergreen content and plan to stick with it long enough to see the returns.
3. Write to pay the bills.
Writing is an art, but content is an acquisition channel. Be careful never to confuse the two.
There's a common, vexing scenario where great writing doesn't translate into business objectives. It seems logical that if traffic grows 10%, signups will also increase 10%. The truth is that the growth of traffic and signups is almost never parallel.
If your model is ad revenue, you can rely on pageviews to pay the bills. But since SaaS blogs rely on signups, you have to treat the medium differently. Writing to pay the bills means creating content that generates leads.
Traffic usually outpaces signups. Make sure your content pays the bills by focusing on the middle and bottom of the funnel.
There are a number of reasons this happens, but typically it represents a gap between the topics covered and the use-cases for the product. When there isn't a natural segue from information to action, traffic grows and signups don't. We see this most often when sites rank for short-tail, top-of-funnel keywords. If we wrote a post called “What Is Content Marketing?” and earned a top ranking, we'd get a lot of traffic and no leads. That's not to say there isn't value in the traffic and links, but it will skew the visitors-to-lead ratio. This isn't the worst problem to have, but it can be frustrating to spend money on content without seeing a boost in revenue. Here are a few suggestions for solving it.
Write about your product. Create middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel posts that tie education directly to your product. You can present a problem and show how it's solved with your own tool. Also consider that some blogs—Evernote, Trello and IFTTT to name a few—write almost exclusively about their own product. Don't be shy.
Capture email addresses. It's likely that users aren't ready to buy now. Provide ample opportunities for them to get more information in the form of newsletters, courses, ebooks and whitepapers.
Refine your keyword research. Ranking for short-tail, top-of-funnel keywords feels great, but this type of traffic rarely generates a steady stream of good customers. (This is true in the B2B space, but not necessarily for consumer products.) When you research keywords, look for logical jumps from searcher intent to software solution. For example, there aren't a ton of people searching for “user retention best practices” but you can bet the ones that are would be open to a solution.
Traffic is a means to an end. Never lose sight of your business objective.
4. Nail the writing/promotion ratio.
As a general rule, spend at least as much time promoting as you do writing. If nothing else, a 1:1 ratio ensures that you write content with promotion in mind. This simple mindset shift means you'll stop creating content that doesn't have the potential to bring in visitors.
Lymari Morales, the editorial director for Atlantic Media Strategies, employs growth editors to make sure that more time is spent distributing and resurfacing content. More than 50% of The Atlantic's monthly traffic comes from content not produced that month—that's more than 15 million visitors each month.
Here's how their content workflow worked before bringing on growth editors and after:
Plan to spend more time promoting in the early days. Without traction in search, it's time-consuming to get traffic on your first few articles. As you gain traction, it's easier to get articles ranked and you won't need to spend as much time shopping around each and every article.
5. Goodwill goes a long way.
Speaking of promoting content, how should you go about it?
Make lots of new friends.
When it comes down to it, content promotion is mostly asking favors. In order to ask favors, you need to build up goodwill. Whenever you can, help other people out. Here are a few ways to do it:
Share other people's articles before they ask
Offer helpful feedback about their writing, SEO, design, etc.
Ask people for quotes and link back to their sites
Refer customers their way
Sing their praises on social media (without pandering)
This, along with a steady habit of publishing, is the best way to build a strong network.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
It's hard and very time-consuming to build a blog that drives business growth. Before you create a lot of content, consider your goals and how content can help you get there.