The 80-20 Rule And How It Applies To Digital Marketing

In the agile project management, there is frequent mention of the 80/20 rule. This is the concept where 20% of the effort produces 80% of the value. This is not new thinking, and whilst I prefer the 80/20 moniker, the rule is also commonly known as the Pareto principle, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity.

Fancy names aside, there is some really obvious common sense here – which is often the hardest to spot when you are right in the eye of the storm. Whether that storm is science, a business, software development, or some other endeavour. It’s also hugely applicable in the world of digital marketing, and in particular, SEO and PPC management.


80% Of Your Time Is Wasted


The reality here is that in many instances, 80% of the time you spend is a wasted effort that generates no results. This is not news, and there is an old adage in marketing that 50% of your marketing is working, but unfortunately you don’t know which 50%. Digital comes along with its big claims of just how measurable everything is, but unfortunately, we also have a hugely splintered environment with opportunities hidden amongst a complex maze of tactical choices.

From what we see on a day-to-day basis, I would estimate that the old 50% of wasted time would be a bonus compared to the paint-by-numbers mess we see today in most digital marketing efforts. Going through the motions, no idea what to measure, how to determine success or what is really working (if anything). It’s not pretty.

Simply trying to manage SEO, PPC, social, content & email marketing provides today’s marketers with a dizzying array of distractions. As we have covered previously – multitasking itself can waste up to 75% of your time, so if 75% of your time is wasted and only 20% of your effort in that 25% is actually spent on anything that actually provides value then… it’s a pretty bleak picture. To put it into numbers that are easier to understand, if you work 160 hours per month, as few as 8 of those hours could actually be achieving something!


Improving Efficiency


I am not going to pretend I have all the answers here. What I do know is that SEO, content marketing, social and digital marketing are inherently leaky activities. What is the value of those 8 hours per week you spend posting on social media? What is the value of that blog post? That link you built? The time spent managing your PPC bids? Where is the 20% that is delivering real value?

The trick here is to look at constant improvement or “kaizen”, which comes from the world of lean manufacturing. Actively look to remove activities or practices (like multitasking) that are causing you to waste time and/or effort, and focus on the 20% that is delivering results.

Project methodologies like Scrum and Kanban break work into short cycles (or sprints) and focus doggedly on constant improvement. This is usually achieved through a retrospective at the end of any work cycle that asks key questions to determine what is working, not working, and what can be improved.

This is not easy, but the success of Scrum, Kanban, and lean manufacturing show us that improvement is possible.

A few key takeaways here:

  • Awareness of the problem is the first step
  • Stop multitasking and focus on individual tasks one at a time
  • Review agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban to find what works for your business
  • Implement retrospective meetings to focus on continuous improvement


At Bowler Hat, we are implementing these lean/agile methodologies in our larger, integrated marketing projects and for website builds – I will continue to detail our findings and results in these daily insights over the coming weeks. Every improvement and iteration equals better results for our clients and that is something we strive for every day: digital marketing – simplified.




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