The Barbell Strategy for Risk-Averse Content Marketing

“Marry an accountant, but have occasional flings with rock stars.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The worst thing that can happen to a marketer embarking on setting up a content program is also the most common.

It goes like this:

The Death Spiral of Nearly All Content Programs

You see some success stories, perhaps from competitors driving business with inbound marketing, perhaps from thought leaders at conferences or (fake) case studies.

However you discover content marketing, you decide it’s worth a try. “Publish, publish, publish!” they say, and you’re sure to see results.

So you hire a content marketer, publish something in the range of a few dozen blog posts, and then…nothing. No business trickles in. All efforts appear to be wasted.

Now, not only have you wasted time and money, but you could have been doing something else to attract business.

You’ve sunk a bunch of resources into a hyped up opportunity cost.

The reasons content marketing programs can fail are somewhat limitless, though they tend to have commonalities.

The most common source of failure isn’t writing bad content (many blogs with horrible content are doing well). It’s not a lack of content promotion (despite what thought leaders will tell you, you don’t need to spend 20 hours promoting an article).

It’s a lack of a cogent *strategy*.

You need better strategy

I’ve written a lot about content strategy, but this article will cover a specific framework I use to design content programs. It’s also the approach my content agency uses for the vast majority of our clients.

It’s specifically designed to limit risk, to factor in our own uncertainty about historical data and the probability of a piece of content to succeed, and to open up the potential for un-modeled (unpredictable) upside.

Weight Lifting and Esoteric Finance Strategy: What’s a “Barbell Strategy,” Anyway?

I’ve borrowed the term “Barbell Strategy” from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, one of my favorite thinkers.

Commonly applied to the window of financial investing, the Barbell Strategy seeks to allocate investments into two bins at the extreme ends of a volatility spectrum. Resembling a bimodal distribution, you have one bucket of investments in uber-safe assets (such as cash, gold, or treasury bonds) and another in highly speculative assets (cryptocurrencies, startups, options).

The actual allocation can vary, but typically you’ll have a much heavier weight in low-volatility assets. The typical asset allocation might be round 90% to 10%.

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By balancing your portfolio like this, you cap your risk of financial ruin while still participating in potential positive black swan events and nonlinear upside from the risky side of your portfolio.

The 90% of low-risk investments allows you to survive; the 10% allows you to capture optionality.

This is in contrast to a “bullet strategy,” in which you’re entirely invested in mid-risk investments, which Nassim Taleb argues actually hide much more risk than they appear.

This strategy has been applied in many domains, from high level portfolio theory (which assets you buy) to specific asset classes. For instance, the barbell strategy for equities may have you investing most of your capital in low beta stocks and 10% in high beta stocks or options. In bonds, you’d have most of your portfolio in short term bonds with a small percentage in long term bonds.

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Some barbell strategies also specify some portion of tail-hedging, as well. This bucket helps you not only cover from losses in tail risk scenarios, but gain from them.

The important thing to note is that by taking the middle, or the bullet strategy, you’re missing out on both safety and the potential of massive upside. Notably, this middle-brow strategy is the one that the vast majority of content programs follow. You’re squeezed to the middle of the pack, where competition is thickest, the data you’ve access to hides the most risk, and big wins are unlikely.

We’re going to apply this extremist, bimodal, barbell approach to content strategy, but do note that it can be applied to many areas of life (and life becomes quite artful once you do).

On productivity (or work life balance)…

“Or, if I have to work, I find it preferable (and less painful) to work intensely for very short hours, then do nothing for the rest of the time assuming doing nothing is really doing nothing), until I recover completely and look forward to a repetition, rather than being subjected to the tedium of Japanese style low-intensity interminable office hours with sleep deprivation. Main course and dessert are separate.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

On extremities in general…

“More barbells. Do crazy things (break furniture once in a while), like the Greeks during the later stages of a drinking symposium, and stay ‘rational’ in larger decisions. Trashy gossip magazines and classics or sophisticated works; never middlebrow stuff. Talk to either undergraduate students, cab drivers, and gardeners or the highest caliber scholars; never to middling-but-career-conscious academics. If you dislike someone, leave him alone or eliminate him; don’t attack him verbally.” – N.N. Taleb

This heuristic is why I try to read only technical papers or fiction (no pop psychology or business/management), why I lift very heavy weights infrequently (and go on long walks the rest of the time), and why everything is good in moderation (especially moderation).

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An Interlude: Axioms on the Limitations of Content Marketing

Since we’ve already covered the theoretical groundwork on the barbell approach, let’s put forth some content marketing axioms. These are truths I believe about content marketing as a practice.

  • Content marketing, at least when heavily reliant upon organic search, has a delayed feedback loop, longer than many other channels (where Facebook ads provide almost instant feedback, for example).
  • You must dedicate efforts and resources to content marketing for a significant time period before you can judge the results of your strategy and approach.
  • There are costs to content marketing, both direct (the cost of writing an article) and indirect (the time you spend on content, the opportunity cost)
  • The worst mistake in content marketing is investing a large amount of time and resources with no tangible return on efforts.
  • Content marketing also produces both direct (traffic, conversions, revenue) and indirect (brand awareness, relationships, partnership opportunities, increased domain rating) returns on investment
  • Current measurement protocols and tools bias towards tracking direct costs and direct returns
  • Predicting the intent of a keyword is (directionally) easy, as is predicting a website’s ability to rank for the keyword within a given time period.
  • The confidence interval of the Monthly Search Volume (MSV) estimate in SEO tools is wider than most people think, but still directionally useful and mostly accurate.
  • Despite the relative directional accuracy of intent and MSV predictions, it’s impossible to predict the value of every keyword. Some keywords you thought would bring business value don’t (false positives) and some keywords you’re ignoring could have been revolutionary for your business (false negatives).
  • Keywords with the highest traffic volume typically bury the risk of trying to rank for them. Through an abundance of competition, historical rankings and inscrutable historical ranking factors, and snowball effects, it becomes very difficult to parse out the signal (how to rank for these keywords, the likelihood of ranking, the value of ranking) from the noise.
  • Finally, keywords only represent historical data, which masks everything that hasn’t already been done from being considered. If you only follow a keyword driven content strategy, you’ll constantly be skating to where the puck was, instead of blazing new trails, which, at the margins, is the only real way to build a genuine audience (your highest tier value lever, one most brands never actually succeed in building).

Now Presenting: The Content Marketing Barbell

The content marketing barbell, then, seeks to make do with the predictive value of low-risk, keyword-driven content (biasing heavily towards *high intent* keywords, as they are cash generating assets) while keeping a flexible basket of speculative content to blaze new trails and create “buzzworthy” content.

In essence, if you were a really shitty graphic designer like I am, you’d visualize it like this:

barbell content

So you’re splitting your approach into two buckets:

  • Low beta content
  • High beta content

The actual percentages will vary, but most of your content should be low-risk, predictable content (in the case of our agency, what we call “Product Led Content,” designed with the specific intent of driving product signups or purchases) and some will be in speculative content (what we call “Buzzworthy Content,” because whether it’s links or shares you’re after, what you want is to create buzz).

For simplicity’s sake, let’s walk through these two concepts in depth:

  • Product Led Content (your safe assets)
  • Buzzworthy Content (your speculative assets)

Product Led Content is simply content that is created to acquire customers. Each piece of content you plan and create in the name of this strategy is done so with your actual product in mind. You can ask the question “can we hinge this piece on our product?” and if the answer is “no,” it’s not product led. It’s typically bottom funnel content, but can span all ‘buyer’s journey’ stages:

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In the Product Led Content framework, here’s how I think about the subcategories:

  • Awareness – “What is customer churn” or “kettlebell swing benefits” or “coffee vs tea caffeine”
  • Action – “how to collect customer feedback” or “customer feedback survey template” or “landing page examples”
  • Decision – “best customer feedback tools” or “HubSpot live chat integrations” or “HubSpot vs Marketo” or “buy red wine online”

I could have named this basket something like “keyword-driven content” or even “bottom funnel content,” but I think that masks what we’re actually trying to do with this type of content, which is drive direct and predictable business results. This basket should be eminently trackable.

Buzzworthy Content is content specifically built to attract links, attention, social shares, or indirect goals like partnerships and connections.

More now than ever, link building is a slog, and the only real way to get the job done is what Paddy Moogan calls “content-led link building.” That is, you research what types of content are likely to generate buzz among influential publishers in your sphere and develop a strategic outreach approach to garner links.

Both obviously help the other one out – they’re synergistic – and you can have crossover effects (Buzzworthy Content can drive sign-ups and Product Led Content can go viral or drive links). But it’s helpful to have discrete categories to help think heuristically. The point is that each piece of content you create should be created with a single concrete goal in mind.

For what it’s worth, the barbell approach has been put to use for marketers before.

Andrew Chen, here, talks about the barbell approach to choosing acquisition channels at a broader level (a user friendly warning: Andrew uses a full screen popup that you can’t close out, so click at your own risk, and I highly recommend entering a profanity laced fake email to disincentive dark patterns like that).

The idea is to heavily index on predictable, known channels while keeping an experimental bucket open for unknown channels that represent nonlinear potential.

A Deeper Dive Into The “Plates” on Our Content Barbell

What makes keyword-driven Product Led Content “safer” than speculative Buzzworthy Content?

The probability distribution of outcomes.

In essence, whether a keyword’s estimated MSV or intent (usually measured via cost per click) is truly accurate or not, the outcome of the post will fall on a roughly normal distribution. In other words, if a keyword is estimated at 500 MSV, you can predict that it will probably fall within 300-800, but at least 100-1000.

At a given keyword difficulty, you can also assign a rough estimate as to how likely you are to rank for it.

For instance, given your own domain rating and link building process, a keyword difficulty of 55 should equate to at least a rough estimate of your likelihood of ranking to that keyword. You can build models to predict this stuff and calibrate your prediction accuracy in hindsight. It may be harder or easier than your estimate, but not by orders of magnitude.

Where Product Led Content follows a normal distribution, Buzzworthy Content follows a power law.

Graph shows the shape of a fat tailed power distribution Pareto with the 80 and 20

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This means most posts you produce won’t show large tangible results, but every once in a while, a large success pays for the rest of the failures. It’s the same attitude that governs venture capital portfolio theory. What you’re after isn’t consistency of wins, but rather the effect size of a given win.

You’re trying to capture the upside of serendipity.

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For many years, website traffic distribution has followed a sharp power law, and it seems that articles that garner organic links follow a similar law. Very few articles get lots of links, and the rest of the articles get very few. Just look at the results of any Buzzsumo content search:

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Setting aside the moral issue of whether or not you want to write trash click bait to get results, do you really think you can reverse engineer articles, repeatedly, to achieve 100K+ social shares?

(Side note: your ‘reverse engineering’ is likely missing dozens if not hundreds of contributing variables. Derek Gleason hints at that in the below tweet)

Why not simply produce only SEO-driven, predictable content, then? While it could work for some websites, it’s simply unlikely to work for you. Given the headstart your competitors have had, you’ll need some jumps and spikes of attention caused by Buzzworthy Content.

You need something different enough worth linking to, worth sharing.

So unless you’re already working at a company with a domain rating of 80+, you’re going to have to build some links, build some attention, and get people to read your content in the first place. Once you amass some links and authority, then your Product Led Content basket can consistently do its work.

You’ve gotta build that content flywheel!

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More esoterically, even if you’ve already built up a powerful website with lots of authority, you’re probably capping your upside if you’re only designing content with predictable, product-related keywords.

Think of it like this: Product Led Content is like your day job as a university professor. You’re unlikely to be poor, but you’re equally unlikely to pull in $2 million per year.

Contrast that with the career of a business book author.

Most authors aren’t going to make any money, and instead, they’ll likely have a second job or moonlight to pay the bills. But one out of every 10,000 authors might make $2 million per year.  Musicians (like entrepreneurs, novelists, venture capitalists, and athletes) are scale-able careers that operate on a punishing (to most) power law. They live in what Nassim Taleb calls “Extremistan.”

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The metaphor does start to fall apart here, because while you could feasibly live a great life working as a professor or getting lucky on the NY Times Best Seller list, in content marketing you need both. While there are a few companies who’ve built their businesses on viral spikes (Upworthy and other cancerous click bait farms), most businesses need a combination of both.

To stretch the metaphor beyond its utility, most non-fiction best selling authors do have full time jobs that are synergistic to their book writing business (think Malcolm Gladwell who writes at the New Yorker mostly but also leads entrepreneurial endeavors, or Adam Grant who is a professor/consultant as well as guru/author).

Anyway, the point is you don’t want to get trapped trying to reverse-engineer the successes of outlier viral articles. You want to build a stable base while capturing upside, a la Barbell.

The most important thing is avoiding the bullet strategy, the Death Zone of Mediocrity.

In content marketing, this would be the equivalent of only using keyword-driven content topics, and only surfacing keywords from the highest traffic and highest value of your competitors.

It would be like typing in your top 5 competitors in Ahrefs, looking at their “top organic keywords” reports, and just running down the list in order of top traffic volume.

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This strategy is one of the most common when building out an editorial calendar, and its commonness masks its risk: the competitiveness and noise of these terms reduces the likelihood of any one actually winning, and the flocking to the same set of keywords produces artificially inflated values for each keyword involved. It becomes a bloody red ocean in which very few win.

Your Barbell Portfolio Will Change Over Time

Typically, in content marketing, your portfolio will become more conservative with time.

Because you don’t need the leverage produced by Buzzworthy Content to build up your domain rating, you can begin to up-scale your content production, lower the cost per article, and let the flywheel work to your advantage.

After enough time and effort, you’re able to rank pretty much any piece of content you write, increasing the expected value of each article as the probability of success is increased (and typically, the cost of producing content is decreased).

I’ve covered this extensively in both my article on content economics and my huge guide to content strategy.

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Those who have invested for years in “expensive,” difficult-to-compete-with content later have the privilege of easily ranking cheap, easy, and templated content.

Still, if you’re smart, you end up with a sliver of high volatility left; you still risk others outperforming you and you still want to build an audience that actually comes to your site to read your stuff.

Let’s dive deeply into both sides of the barbell, starting with the tried and true, the workhorse and safety basket…

Never Lose Your Shirt: The Essence of a Low-Risk, ROI Driven Approach

“The first step toward antifragility consists in first decreasing downside, rather than increasing upside; that is, by lowering exposure to negative Black Swans and letting natural antifragility work by itself.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The essence of an ROI producing content strategy is a stable base of predictably high value content topics, produced above the quality threshold required to rank above competitors, and bolstered with an overleveraged amount of content promotion in the earlier stages.

In plain english, that means that at any given stage of content production, but especially in the earlier stage, you need to mostly do these things:

  • Find high business value keywords you can feasibly rank for
  • Create undeniably superior content on those keywords
  • Build links, the more the better, especially in the beginning (but never foregoing link building entirely).

This bucket of content is the treasury bond of our portfolio; we can ride this out for eternity, eeking out stable returns, and never going bust. Since this isn’t a guide on keyword research, I’ll link out to one of my favorite recent guides here, written by Nick Eubanks.

7 Content Templates for Low-Risk, Product Led Content

The big plus-side of Product Led Content is that it’s pretty easy to build a roadmap upon. You can determine a high intent, high value keyword somewhat easily (especially after working with dozens of clients in different industries).

There are the templates we use at Omniscient:

  • “Best” product listicles
  • Product comparisons
  • Instructional content
  • X examples
  • Case studies
  • How to do X with your product
  • “What is X” content
Type Example Purchase Intent Difficulty to Produce
“Best” product listicles “The 12 Best Content Marketing Tools” High Easy
Product comparisons “Marketo vs HubSpot: a Review” High Medium
Instructional content “How to grow your email list” Medium Medium
X examples “12 Shopify Store Design Examples” Low Easy
Case Studies “How Canva Increased Signup Conversions 200% in 6 months” Medium Hard
How to do X with your product “How to do keyword research with SEMRush” High Medium
“What is X” “What is content marketing” Low Easy

I ordered those in descending value, from the most red-hot, high conversion potential, to more top of funnel, but still product led, content.

Here are real life examples of each of them.

1. “Best” product listicles

Paul Graham calls listicles the “cheeseburgers” of essay format, because they’re hard to f*ck up and a beginner chef can make them with a recipe.

Still, I can tell you from dozens of angles and clients that they do convert. And you can build partnerships with other companies on your lists.

Example of the “best green teas” from Pique Tea:

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2. Product comparisons

Any blog post comparing one or more products fits this category. Sometimes it is “[product] alternatives,” like this Canva alternatives post from AppSumo:

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Sometimes it’s “[product] vs [competing product]” like this HubSpot comparison page:

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3. X Examples

This is a form of listicle, but with a “show, don’t tell” approach for us lazy learners.

Endear has a great list of clienteling examples:

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4. Instructional content

These are “how to” posts. They should correspond with your product, but at heart, they’re “problem aware, solution unaware,” or in other words, shouldn’t only show how to do the thing with your specific product.

Ahrefs is the master of ‘how to’ content (that also shows you how to do the thing with their tool)

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5. Case studies

Case studies are how other people have succeeded by using your product or service. They’re the gold standard for nurturing and sales enablement. They may not bring net new organic visitors, but they certainly are an all star when it comes to ‘conversion assists.’

BounceX has a packed library of customer success case studies:

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A good case study is actually quite difficult to write, however, so I’d recommend hiring a good copywriter or a firm like CaseStudyBuddy.

6. How to do X with your product

A mixture of the ‘how to’ and the case study is the explicit, “here’s how to do things with our product” post. Again, Ahrefs is awesome at this:

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7. “What is X” content

“What is” content is very high level, unlikely to convert on the first visit.

However, much higher search volume here, and when you build up enough website authority to compete, these can be a gold rush for consistent and relevant traffic (and links, because every article nowadays defines a topic before jumping in and they need a definition to link to).

If you’re looking at first touch attribution, these types of posts tend to introduce a lot of readers to your content and ultimately your product/service.

For example, the majority of links and traffic on cupofkava.com go to this “what is kava” post:

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As I’ve mentioned, though, you don’t want to solely rely on safe content – though that’s explicitly what many mediocre blogs do.

What happens, inevitably, is these blogs grow quite quickly in the beginning but hit a plateau after a few years, typically somewhere around a domain rating of 50-70.

These companies can attribute some business value to their blogs, but not enough. So they either keep them on autopilot, pumping out 1-2 ‘safe’ keyword-driven posts per week. Or, more commonly, they give up on blogging and continue down the path of paid acquisition to bring the bulk of their customers in, acknowledging content marketing as a channel a failure.

Buzzworthy Content is how you break through that plateau.

What We Don’t Know Could Go Viral (or at least garner backlinks)

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” — DONALD RUMSFELD

You can’t predict what’s going to go viral.

You can’t predict how many organic backlinks a piece of content will garner.

Not only are there untold hidden variables, these things benefit from what is essentially an unknown combination of skill and luck.

Since we have the benefit of hindsight bias (post hoc ergo propter hoc), we have a generation of content marketers trying to reverse engineer the outliers, not realizing they are victims of Nassim Taleb’s “Fooled by Randomness” syndrome.

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How many times have you tried to take apart a winning piece of content strategy and build your own version of it? How many times did it achieve the same results?

Admitting our inability to predict runaway successes opens up the opportunity to *actually* innovate, to blaze trails, to win through trial, error, and optionality.

Taleb’s advice is to “work a secure and boring job, while pursuing highly speculative ventures on the side.”

We can’t necessarily predict *which* highly speculative venture will produce returns, but we know that by exposing ourselves to the opportunity, there is some chance we’ll have a runaway success.

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As my colleague Irina Nica has noted, however, there are some common “templates” that, at the very least, make it easier to build manual links (and likely also attract organic links). The main template is to put out compelling and original new data into the world. There are other frameworks as well.

The 7 Buzzworthy Content Templates (and Other Tips for Squeezing Out Inevitable Value)

The creative landscape for Buzzworthy Content is infinite, but typically the types of content that builds lots of links fall under these buckets:

  • Statistics
  • Interviews & Stories
  • Original Research
  • Thought Leadership and Strong Opinions
  • Visual content & multimedia
  • Ultimate guides
  • Newsjacking
Type Example Link Potential Difficulty to Pull Off
Statistics “54 ABM Statistics in 2020” High Easy
Interviews/Stories “‘It’s Time To Build (Links)”’ – an Interview with Ryan Farley Low Hard
Original Research “What We Learned Analyzing 3 Million Headlines’ Very High Hard
Thought Leadership “IT’S TIME TO BUILD” (by Marc Andreessen) High Very Hard
Visual Content/Multimedia “Visualizing Coronavirus ‘Superspreaders’” High Hard
Ultimate Guides “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Writing Your First Python Script” Low-Medium Hard
Newsjacking “Your Guide to Remote Working During Coronavirus” Low Super Easy

Here are real life examples of each.

1. Statistics

I refer to statistics as those roundups that pull relevant statistics and “quick facts” from multiple sources. The value of these is if you can rank them, you’ll get a snowball effect because lazy content marketers will Google “[keyword] statistics” when doing research and cite stuff from your roundup (and link back).

Awesome example from Siege Media:

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Doesn’t even need to be fancy – this page on Student Loan Statistics is plain but easily readable, and ranks and picks up links just fine:

2. Interviews and Stories

If you can tell a good growth story or conduct a good interview, that’s an incredibly compelling piece of content (and is, in fact, the basis of almost all magazine journalism). Think New Yorker or First Round Review.

These typically pick up social buzz, and not necessarily direct backlinks, though social buzz can have an indirect effect on link acquisition by introducing your content to the ever-illusive ‘linkerati’ who spend inordinate amounts of time on Twitter.

Wordable’s Content Crafter interview series is an example:

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3. Original Research

Original Research is the most expensive and also the highest leverage type of Buzzworthy Content you can produce. Do it right and you can rake in links (and conference citations and social shares) for years.

The reason you know what an “F Pattern” is is because NN Group did a study years ago that was profoundly influential:

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4. Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership is a very diverse bucket, but it’s basically “I have a strong viewpoint, and here it is.”

Most venture capital blogs do this. Early HubSpot blogging was centered on this. Drift’s “forms are dead,” campaign was an example of this. Brian Dean’s Skyscraper technique was also Thought Leadership at the time (it was net new, no search volume before he invented it).

Brian Dean’s Skyscraper technique is a brilliant example of a Thought Leadership piece that is also a link building flywheel. The tactic became popular soon after Brian wrote about and now there is even relevant monthly search volume for the term “skyscraper technique” (300 MSV). Some of these searches are done by bloggers who are researching for their upcoming piece. They find Backlinko’s article about the tactic in the top results and link back to it” — Irina Nica, Senior Marketing Manager, HubSpot

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5. Visual Content & Multimedia

The New York Times has made an incredible pivot in their turn towards data journalism and visual storytelling. FiveThirtyEight has always done this well, too:

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6. Ultimate Guides

A true ultimate guide (not just adding “ultimate guide” to the title) is buzzworthy. Think of WaitButWhy’s guide to artificial intelligence:

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7. Newsjacking

Newsjacking is my least favorite type of Buzzworthy Content because it’s mostly done poorly, and it’s way too common. It’s when you try to hijack a trending topic in the news and siphon off some attention from the broader trend.

For an example, look at literally any day’s HARO requests:

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Pro-tip: Double Dip to Make Sure You’re Not Wasting Your Time and Money

Buzzworthy Content is going to be expensive, at least more expensive than a formulaic 2,000 word article that hits a specific keyword and that you edit using Clearscope.

You typically need to knock it out of the park on both writing quality and design, and frequently you also need to hire analysts or do some sort of research. This isn’t cheap.

That makes the opportunity cost quite high. As Annie Duke wrote in Thinking in Bets, “Every decision commits us to some course of action that, by definition, eliminates acting on other alternatives. Not placing a bet on something is, itself, a bet.”

Therefore, I like to create Buzzworthy Content in a way that, no matter the actual traffic or link results, I still win. How? By making sure it accomplishes other important goals.

You should expect this type of content to achieve nothing, and then find a way to get value out of it nonetheless (and then you’ll get to celebrate if it does achieve profound success).

What value can a piece of content add outside of pure traffic, conversion, and links acquired?

It could provide useful data for running your business

  • You could repurpose the data for a webinar or gated content
  • You could repurpose the article in other formats (videos, courses, conference presentations)
  • You could use the article as an excuse to meet potential partners or influencers).

As an example, we build Wordable’s Content Crafters interview series with two tangential goals in mind:

  • We’d meet influencers
    • These influencers are also our target customers
  • We’d eventually use the interviews to produce a massive ebook for lead generation

For what it’s worth, a large portion of the pieces I write on this site falls under the “Buzzworthy Content” banner, and I repurpose almost all of it in the form of conference presentations and sales enablement for my agency. Even if no one reads this article, it will still be valuable and value producing for me.

Conclusion

The Barbell Content Strategy is an approach that seeks to, in the event of a worst case scenario, return linear and reasonable results, and in a best case scenario, capture surprising and unmodeled upside. In our view, the worst thing that can happen to a content program is you invest time and resources into creating content, but no results come at all. This is not only a direct cost but an opportunity cost.

The Barbell Content Strategy defangs that risk and puts you in a position to both hit grounders and get on base, and also to take the occasionale swing to the fence to a bit of fanfare.

Nassim Taleb’s quote from Antifragile sums it up well:

“I initially used the image of the barbell to describe a dual attitude of playing it safe in some areas (robust to negative Black Swans) and taking a lot of small risks in others (open to positive Black Swans), hence achieving antifragility. That is extreme risk aversion on one side and extreme risk loving on the other, rather than just the ‘medium’ or the beastly ‘moderate’ risk attitude that in fact is a sucker game (because medium risks can be subjected to huge measurement errors). But the barbell also results, because of its construction, in the reduction of downside risk – the elimination of the risk of ruin.”

Alex Birkett
Alex Birkett is a Growth Marketer and Content Strategist based in Austin, Texas. He's a proud UW-Madison graduate and enjoys craft beer, lifting weights, and sailing.

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