Quality vs quantity: What’s important in content marketing (and 5 steps to get the balance Right)

Smart startups mean well.

They yearn for perfection. They strive to mask imperfection.

Except, there’s a problem.

Actually, lots of them:

Startups have 99 problems, but perfection ain’t one.

Perfection requires too much time. Perfection requires too many resources. Perfection requires too much that should be freed up for other areas.

The same is true for any small-ish, fast-ish growing organization. What’s stopping you from topping $100K MRR in any business isn’t perfectionism, but inertia.  

So you simply don’t have the time for a 99/100 when a 90/100 will suffice. The ROI on the effort required to eke out that extra 9% isn’t worth it in the end, requiring you to sacrifice other, more important projects or campaigns or features on your roadmap.

The only way to survive long-term is to get big, fast – otherwise the marketing flywheel never has a chance to kick in.

Here’s why startups need both quality AND quantity (and how to make sure they don’t sacrifice one for the other).

Is quality or quantity better for your marketing strategy (Here’s the short answer…)

Quality vs. quantity. The neverending strategy question.

Of course, the pie-in-the-sky easy answer is: “both.”

Ideal world, you want and need both over the long haul.

The reality, unfortunately, is that everyone’s short on time and resources and money. Most of us don’t live in ideal worlds, but the cold light of day. An all-too-familiar reality where we simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get to all the things on our plate.

So you have to choose. Whether you like it or not.

The good news is that there is a simple rule of thumb. I’ve experienced marketing life on both ends, getting no-name projects off the ground while also working with multi-billion dollar enterprises.

And you can usually split the quality vs. quantity debate as follows:

  1. If you’re new/small/growing, the answer is quantity (or more accurately, speed & urgency). Because there is no long-term roadmap to obsess over if you can’t fund next quarter.
  2. If you’re already YUGE, the answer is quality. ‘Cause you actually have a reputation and stakeholders and infrastructure to uphold.

That settles it then. Case closed. Once and for all. Feel free to now take the rest of the afternoon off.

But wait, because there’s more.

The silver lining is that if you’re smart and know what you’re doing, you actually don’t have to sacrifice quality in the pursuit of quantity. Or vice versa.

There is a very real way to have your marketing cake and eat it, too.

First, though, it’s critical you understand exactly what you’re up against in today’s marketing environment. So let’s start there with before pushing the pace even further.

Why you need quantity AND quality to survive today

The world doesn’t need more content today.

In fact, it needs less.

It doesn’t need more information. But more insight.

Like the sudden crack of a sonic boom that slices through the deafening hum of activity in our ears, forcing people to stop dead in their tracks.

Most companies are finally “jumping on the content marketing bandwagon,” and yet… we’re already coming up on the better part of a decade when Mark Schaefer predicted in 2014 that Content Shock will effectively neuter quality content as a sustainable strategy.

Here’s why he’s actually not that far off.

The Law of Shitty Clickthroughs illustrates exactly how quickly “breakthrough” tactics can fall off a cliff. It only took 15 years for banner ads to go from transformative click-through rates (78%) to overly expensive nuisance (0.05%).

how quickly “breakthrough” tactics can fall off a cliff

(Image Source)

Then, Moz and Buzzsumo partnered to run a study that found the vast majority of content today — 75% of blog posts to be specific — “receive fewer than 10 shares and zero links.”

Fewer than 10 shares! Zero links!

Read: zero eyeballs. No ROI. YUGE waste of money.

But wait, because it gets better! (Or worse, depending on how you look at it.)

Income inequality in this country is only rivaled by the growing inequality between the Internet’s Top 1% and everyone else.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than on search engines. The number one traffic source for new lead generation for businesses — still! — despite Facebook and Twitter and social media’s emergence. (Remember: followers buy less than searchers.)

You know Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)? Those listings that show up when you search for something?

Peep this graph quick:

SERP graph

(Image Source)

That ain’t no “everyone-in-the-middle” benefits looking thing. Instead, it’s more of a “rich-get-richer” looking one, where the vast majority of clicks (90%+) go to the top five listings.

Can’t crack the top five? Good luck, then.

‘Cause AdWords — which is auction-based, meaning it only gets more expensive every single year for the rest of your life — has also been trending in the wrong direction for years, eating away more clicks from the “free” (ha!) organic listings like a Hungry Hippo at your local Hometown Buffet.

mobile organic vs paid CTR, Google US

(Image Source)

One reason for these trends?

Google’s revenue is still heavily tied to advertising. Those self-flying cars or whatever they’re doing sounds fun. Maybe it’ll pay off in a few decades.

But for now? Big G’ has 123.8 billion reasons to keep your ass clicking on their own little blue links.

The Knowledge Graph & “Instant Answers” (read: scraping publisher’s content and surfacing it for users) is actively cutting into the number of people who even click on your search result.

The Knowledge Graph & “Instant Answers”


~40% of peeps (and growing) can simply sit there and read the answer to their query without needing to click and visit your site. Welcome to an SEO’s Zombie Apocalypse: zero-result SERPs

organic results by count

(Image Source)

All of this, of course, assumes you CAN crack into that vaunted top five position in the first place. At least giving yourself a fighting chance.

Except, in reality, you probably can’t.

Not in competitive spaces at least. Here’s why:

Cash Rules Everything Around Me.

E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. favors early-moving big brands.

Don’t believe me?


Take: “content marketing” as a concept. Didn’t even exist in the popular zeitgeist ~two decades ago. Today? Your odds of owning that little slice of Internet real estate has already passed.

On the left, the meteoric rise from humble beginnings of “content marketing” in Google Trends. And the right, today’s difficulty in actually trying to rank for that same term.

“content marketing” in Google Trends

In other words, you missed your chance! Too late, so sad.

Because if you wanted to rank for that term today, here’s what you’re up against:

ahrefs serp overview for content marketing

No thanks!

Only huge sites ranking. Some of the Internet’s Top 1%, like Forbes and Wikipedia.

So you know the saying:

Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Or a nuclear fight, in a case like this.

Writing about “investing in Bitcoin” a decade ago would have been super easy. Today? Fat chance. You already missed your chance.

Now, you’re left feeding on scraps.

Unless… you take a different tact. Unless you actually do something different.

And unless you blitzkrieg the shit of your competition. Here’s how.

5 simple steps to double quality content without sacrificing quantity or going broke in the process


It should now be obvious.

You don’t have a choice.

You have to work both hard and smart today. You need both quality and quantity to compete.

There’s a trick to doing that, though, even on limited means and short resources.

And it isn’t by being a cheap asshole:

blog/article writing cost

Ha! For those unaware, $0.01/word is like some un-cool retro Nike child labor.

Low quality content? This ain’t even Fing legible content.

If you just read the last section, and you still think $0.01/word is how to compete with the Forbes’ and Wikipedia’s of the world… then I can’t help you.

Your content marketing strategy is bound to fail before it ever begins.

There’s a reason we say proper content optimization should take at least an hour per article. If you’re still looking for shortcuts and skimping on the details, you’ll get your ass handed to you in the long run. Probably by a masochist like me who’s resigned to one day dying at their keyboard.

So if you’re NOT delusional, and are ready to hop over the ropes and into this winner-take-all ring, then let’s ring the bell.

1. Swells: Spot growing areas early and make many Little Bets

Measure twice, cut once.

Before ever worrying about a single sentence or promotional tactic, you should probably double the time you’re spending on the basics of keyword research. Here’s why.

You already saw how difficult impossible it is for most to compete on all the largest, obvious topics in your space.

That means you need to keep looking. Keep digging beneath the surface. Keep scratching at the itch.

Ranking today is as much about timing as anything else.

In English, that means you need to get in early and spot the momentum building before the waves actually break your way, beginning to crest:

  • New growing categories or segments,
  • New products or services,
  • New emerging technology,
  • New trends to piggyback on,
  • And more.

Over time, concepts or ideas that will become more popular (i.e. gain more search volume) will naturally become increasingly more competitive, too.

So your challenge is to spot these fast-growing areas while competition is still low and you can get in while the going’s good.

One way to do that is to look for fragmentation, or where there might be lots of little ways people are searching for something that ultimately can be added up to one major idea:

sample of fragmentation

See? You don’t need to be a savant or math mathematician or psychic. You just play the odds, looking for Little Bets.

This step is actually harder than it seems. It’ll require more effort than you initially think.

But do it right and you’ll be able to save and profit at the same time: getting in early so you actually have a chance to compete.

2. Leverage: Find closely-related keywords that share content rankings on SERPs

Kill two birds with one stone.

Sounds amazing theoretically. Incredibly challenging to actually do it in real life.

Mercifully, digital marketing still excels here.

One billboard has a negligible impact on the result of one radio spot. Online, though, one blog post has a huge affect on rankings or the content repurposed to promote that post on social media.

The same holds true in search. You can still search find opportunities for leverage to produce one effort (one blog post, one campaign, etc.) and rank for multiple ideas at the same time.

If you know what you’re looking for.

The first thing to look for is content that already ranks for multiple keywords because your audience is using different phrasing:

sample top 5 organic keywords (US)

The next step is to actually go review individual SERPs for closely-related topics to see if they share the same content ranking across them.

Example: many of the individual results ranking from “track changes in Google Docs” on the left are also ranking for “how to track changes in Google Docs” on the right:

SERP overview for "track changes in Google Docs"

Add up those closely-related keywords and you’re talking serious volume all of a sudden. And based on this current evidence, you only need one good piece to rank for lots of them.

In dollarz and cents, leverage like this means it’s better to spend:

  1. More per content piece here, let’s say $1,000 on one piece, vs.
  2. Spending less on a bunch of pieces for each term, like $500 on 5 pieces (or $2,500 total)

3. Scope: Figure out where going after easy stuff with cheaper investment is OK relative to the competition

You need to walk before you can crawl.

It’s like the chicken and the egg. You need to get big before you can rank for big terms. But you can’t get big until you rank for something (usually, much smaller terms in the beginning).

Once you start getting big, then you adjust your sights, and stair-step your way up to success.

That’s why everything in marketing and SEO is relative. What’s competitive or “difficult” for a new site is vastly different than an enterprise.

The trick is figuring out where you are on that sliding spectrum, right now, and then coming up with ways to target topics or keywords that you can rank for within six months vs. ones that you can rank for within 12-24.

And then factor all of this into your content planning.

Yes, you still want to do both at some point. Yes, you still want to balance short vs. longer-term moves.

But you also need to be realistic. So spot the easy wins you can execute on ASAP, double or triple your traffic within the next six months, and then go after bigger wins from a better vantage point during the following next six months.

graph tracking traffic

Here’s how you do that.

Look up the competitiveness of any given keyword, including the site strength, the number of referring domains to each page, and how difficult it seems vs. your own starting position or resources.

sample of looking up the competitiveness of any given keyword

This one isn’t terrible. It’s not amazing, but it’s not bad.

Next, look at the actual scope it’s going to take to compete and win here. (Because page two isn’t good enough.)

The most basic way to look at this one might be word count, along with a content score to give you an idea of (1) the minimum level of investment and (2) your competition’s overall savviness.

MarketMuse compete app

4. Sourcing: Determine subject-matter expertise & experience required for quality content

Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.

Content is an investment. It has a payback period. Some might be within 6 months, others might take two years.

Some content then should be really expensive. The writers and content creators and designers and videographers here should be bonafide subject-matter experts.

While other content doesn’t need to be, so content creators can be basic and you can afford to save money here to help put it behind the stuff that does need to be excellent.

Two-second example:

  1. Fact-based content, like “what is…” or “how to…” is often easier to research and execute, while
  2. Opinion-based content, like “why is…” often isn’t, relying instead on experience and expertise.

So number one can often be cheaper. While number two needs to be expensive. (Again: to actually compete and get eyeballs and break through the noise.)

Continuing this research example, here’s what you should expect to find for number one:

sample of fact-based content

No, this piece might not cost you $0.01/word unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean it needs to cost you $1.00/word, either. (Again, unless you’re already big and have a rep’ to solidify.)

If the target audience for this content just wants a simple walkthrough, give ‘em a simple walkthrough and save your talent budget for other content plays like heavy brand or other content marketing efforts.

5. Scale: You’ll only grow as fast as you produce high quality content in the short term

“Content production” is more than meets the eye.

It’s like content creation on steroids, aligning and maximizing your content team’s output to double down on what’s working as quickly as humanly possible.

Long term, you’ll see that compounding traffic flow in as your stuff in position five getting a ~5% CTR moves up into position two that carries a 30% CTR. (Again, this is why valuable content wins long-term over any form of advertising, period, end of story.)

BUT short term, consistently shipping more widgets (read: quantity!) will help kickstart this marketing flywheel faster.

Your Little Bets should be taking shape after a few months. Your winners are already separating from the average pack behind. So shift resources, doubling and tripling down on what’s working to keep fueling the furnace.

Because we ain’t playing for small gains here. Growing your traffic 10% in one year might be impressive if your site’s traffic is already over half a million.

But if not? Then honestly? It’s pathetic.

You need 10x improvements year over year if you’re ever gonna get paid.

So keep looking for the biggest markets you can make the biggest dent in the shortest amount of time with the least resources required.

sample of looking at the market when doing keyword research

Conclusion: You need both quality & quantity. But you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other

Sadly. It’s true.

You DO need quality and quantity.

Yes, it’s damn near impossible to pull them both off at the same time, though.

The good news is that IS possible to maximize quantity without sacrificing quality.

IF you know what you’re getting yourself into.

IF you know what you’re doing.

And IF you work both smart and hard.

No, it’s not easy. But yes, you have a fighting chance.

Which is as good as you’re going to get in today’s hyper competitive landscape.

So it’s time to put up or shut up. Complain less and produce more.