How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to SEO

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your outcomes will come from 20% of your efforts. It’s a ratio that crops up in a wide range of industries; including economics, computing, sports performance, and health and safety.

In digital marketing the principle is applied as: Spend only 20% of your time on creating content and the remaining 80% promoting it.

The logic behind this is simple:

  1. You are unlikely to get any significant traffic to a website until you have built up a link profile, but link building is slow and resource-intensive.
  2. According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of your traffic will come from 20% of your content – so figure out what 20% that is and only produce that.
  3. Redirect the time you saved in #2 into bolstering your efforts in #1

Wait, what’s a Link Profile?

Practically all SEO experts agree that search engines, in particular Google, use links between sites as some part of their metric for measuring the quality of a site. That’s why there’s a whole section in The Truth About SEO dedicated to talking about backlinks.

The “going rate” seems to be around 30-40 backlinks will give you a website with sufficient “juice” to rank well for any content that you add.

Google like to occasionally deny, or least downplay, the importance of links in their algorithm, but also go to quite some lengths to document all the ways that you shouldn’t get backlinks.

Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behaviour that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.

https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/link-schemes?hl=en&visit_id=637417690987437311-2184189494&rd=1

Me thinks the lady doth protest to much?

Yes, Google list a huge number of “don’ts” for link builders and that leaves very little scope for automation or efficiency in the process. No, if you want links you really do have to do a lot of old fashioned networking, connecting, and sometimes out-right begging to get people to link to your content. One of the big problems is that a lot of people today know the value of linking. They know that by linking from their site to yours they are giving you something valuable and so, like any valuable commodity, links are something it is hard to get people to part with.

This, for me, is the essence of link building in 2020: It’s really hard.

And this is why applying the 80/20 principle makes sense. Or does it?

Caveat: Don’t forget your ABCs (or ACBs)

My three stage plan for improving the SEO of any website is this:

  1. Fix Architecture: Make sure the thing is built right.
  2. Create or Fix Content: Make sure the content is good and optimised (never just optimised!)
  3. Build Backlinks: Promote the content and build the link profile online

Why is Architecture first?

Fixing website architecture comes first because this is an area where 80% of your problems could come from 20% of your mistakes. A tiny error can lead to your whole site being invisible to search engines or, worse, ripping you out of the search index entirely.

100% of your effort should be on fixing architecture before anything else with your website.

Then, an only then, do you create your killer content and start promoting it.

How to make your life easier – with content.

I have a special “spin” on the 80/20 rule when it comes to content. That 20% of my time that I spend creating I spend doing only that – that means I’m writing for one of blogs, or recording a video, or recording a podcast. Crucially, I’m creating long-form content – long articles, long videos, long podcasts.

This stuff is my raw material when I start link building because the long-form content can then be cut down, re-packaged, re-worked, and turned into content for my various networks; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Anchor, Medium…

All of that, including the editing, comes out of my promotional time budget (the other 80%) and that means my one hour video (or example) should generate a whole range of five-minute clips, sixty-second clips, thirty seconds clips, quote graphics, tweets, and social media posts. A transcript gives me another blog post for my blog and stripping the audio out gives me an instant podcast. It’s the Write Once, Publish Many system, and its the key to make the 80/20 principle work for you in your content marketing.

As you build up a library of content, you will also find opportunities to re-post old content again either because it becomes relevant to a current event or simply because its still “good” (or maybe even evergreen) as you’ve expanded your audience there are people who are yet to see it.

(And, as one last example – the graphics on this post were made months ago as promotional material and now I’m recycling them here!)


What if all you ever did was create content?

Google’s dream is of a web where all links are organic and spontaneous; kind of how the web used to be before people figured out that getting backlinks was a really good way to accelerate your Google ranking.

If you want to join the ranks of the moon children, you’re welcome to do no backlinking at all. Your site will (or should) still rank, but it won’t be able to compete against other sites in your niche unless your content really is utterly unique and truly fantastic. Of course, if you have such content (like me 😉 ) then you’ll find people link to it anyway… eventually. (Maybe)

The problem is with this approach is that it is slow and ultimately unreliable. You might be lucky but while you’re marching to the beat of your own drum and waiting for someone to sprinkle link-building fairy dust on your website, your competitors are hard at work grinding our their links.

Don’t miss the obvious opportunity – backlinking is essential.

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