In content marketing, should you focus on quality or quantity?
In other words: should you spend a lot of time creating fewer pieces of content, but make each of those pieces as epic as possible? Or is it better to publish a lot and get your message out there as often as possible, in as many places as possible?
The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask. But in today's post, we'll settle the debate, by asking the right question...
Ramit or Gary? Derek or Neil?
The quality vs. quantity debate has some strong proponents on either side. In his post about how to be successful, Ramit Sethi tells the story of how he spent 1.5 hours writing one post, but spent 18 hours researching and writing another. 18 hours is an enormous amount of time to spend for just one piece of content. However, it paid off for Ramit:
In terms of new visitors gained, his 18-hour post was 500x more effective than his lazy post.
On the other hand, Gary Vaynerchuk often talks about his approach of publishing a lot of content, in many different forms, on many different channels. He's also a proponent of getting onto new, emerging channels early and being present almost non-stop. As you can see in this video, he practices what he preaches: often, his content is shot with a smartphone camera, while he's on a plane or in a car. Gary famously took his family's wine business from $3 million/year to $60 million/year, primarily through online marketing and a long-running series of videos, published every single day.
Then again, there's Derek Halpern from SocialTriggers, who is all about the 80/20 when it comes to blog marketing. That is: spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time marketing that content. Needless to say, that means you'll be publishing content less frequently. In an interview Derek did when his blog was still quite new, he revealed his strategy of creating few, but really high quality blog posts and this is what helped him grow from 0 to 17,000 subscribers in less than a year.
But before you get too excited about that, keep in mind that Neil Patel (from QuickSprout, KISSmetrics, CrazyEgg...) found that the more content he publishes on a blog, the more traffic he gets. Even publishing 6 times a week performed better than publishing 5 times a week:
And we could go on, listing pros and cons of these approaches until we're blue in the face. Clearly, both focusing on quality and focusing on quantity can work as a content marketing strategy.
So, is there a right answer, here? Or do you just flip a coin to decide?
Asking the Right Question
The problem is: "which of these approaches is the right one?" is the wrong question.
The right question is: "where should my focus be when I start?"
And the answer is clear: when you start, you need to focus on quantity.
This is true for all kinds of content creation, including:
- Writing blog posts.
- Producing live videos.
- Producing screencast videos and video presentations.
- Creating podcast/audio content.
- Creating course content, lessons, information products.
- Copywriting, ad creatives, design work and more.
In all of these areas, I've seen people fail the same way, over and over again. Here's how it plays out:
The Nightmare Video Recording Session
You decide you want to start making videos, so you set up a camera, think of a topic and start recording. As soon as the camera is running, you're nervous, you get sweaty palms and you can't think straight anymore. 20 minutes into your recording session and you're still working on your introduction. You keep stumbling over your words, or saying something not quite the right way or forgetting what to say next. Every time this happens, you curse under your breath and start again from the beginning.
After an arduous recording session with more re-takes than you can count, you finally get to the end. You spend hours editing the video, trying to snip out the few bits that are acceptable and stitch them together to one coherent video, somehow.
You watch the final cut of your work with bitter disappointment. This is terrible! You look and sound nervous, you don't communicate your message clearly and the video is difficult to watch because there's a jump cut every few seconds.
Needless to say, you can't publish this. You'll have to try again and maybe the next version of the video will be good enough.
Unsurprisingly, after this debacle, your motivation to start a new recording session is at an all time low. You put it off until later. And later never comes.
Net result: you're frustrated and you've produced exactly 0 videos.
Different Story, Same Cause
The exact details of the story will be different if you're trying to produce blog posts or course lessons rather than videos, but the basic problem is always the same: you're unhappy with the quality of your work, so you re-work. You go back to edit, tweak, improve. You maybe scrap it all and start from scratch.
You do all of this, crucially, instead of publishing anything.
Of course you try hard to do good work, but you can't ever shake the feeling that what you're creating just isn't good enough.
If you feel this way, you're in good company.
If you're doing content marketing or any of the types of work I listed above, you're doing creative work. You know what really good content looks like and you can tell that your content isn't it.
This gap cannot be crossed in one single leap. You can't tinker away at one piece of content until you're completely happy with it. At best, doing this means you produce at an excruciatingly slow rate. At worst, it means you never publish anything.
The solution to this problem is to focus on volume first. Create many videos. Publish many blog posts. Write many short stories. Write copy for many (short, at first) landing pages.
Producing at volume is what gives you the experience necessary to get better and close that gap.
To go back to the example of video: the first time you record a video, there's an overwhelming amount of stuff to keep track of. There are technicalities in your video, audio and lighting setup. There's the content you want to present and a million questions about how best to present it. There's anxiety about how you will look and sound on video. There's nervousness and stumbling over your own words.
As you keep making videos, you get comfortable with more and more of those aspects. Once you know you've got your camera and audio settings dialed in, that's a few less things to worry about. And it frees up your brain bandwidth to focus on other aspects of the recording session.
Soon enough, all the basic stuff comes naturally. You feel comfortable in front of the camera, you've got the tech figured out and you have a clear idea of what you want to say. This is when you can start working on those finer details.
Here's a simple analogy for how to create great stuff:
If you want to end up with a beautiful sculpture, you don't walk up to a quarry with nail file in your hand.
The Only Way to Cross the Gap: One Step at a Time
The goal is to get comfortable with the basics and to get better and better at your craft. The term "comfortable" fits the outcome, but not the process.
The only way you can cross the gap and go from producing mediocre stuff to producing excellent stuff is through incremental improvement. And the only way to incrementally improve is to always push up against the current limits of your skill.
That means that, ironically, you're always slightly uncomfortable with the current work you do. Only through this work just outside your comfort zone will you get to the point where you do things that were seemingly impossible, with ease.
The easiest approach you can take is to always work on one thing to improve. No more, no less.
For a video, that could mean: you focus on improving your intonation in the next video. You don't care about improving your story telling, you don't care about improving the lighting or camera setup, you don't care about any of the hundreds of other things you could improve. You make one video in which the only goal is: slightly better use of voice and intonation than in the last video.
This can be difficult to do, because you'll feel the urge to improve all the other things as well. But that's a trap. That kind of thinking leads you into "quality" land again, where you spend forever tinkering away at a single piece of content.
The fastest way to make progress is in small, tightly focused steps of improvement.
Let's Brag About Quantity
Of course, none of this is to say that quality doesn't matter. Or that producing fewer, higher quality pieces is a bad strategy. I'm a big proponent of overdelivering with quality. But the way you get to the point where you can overdeliver with quality is by producing large quantities, first.
So, let's brag about quantity. My question to you is: what's the greatest number of content pieces you've ever created in one week? In one day?
Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Enter your text here...