Big game coming up? Get out a list of 80 names. Send 40 of them a “tip” that the game will go one way; tell the other 40 the opposite. Now it’s just wash, rinse, repeat. Next game, take the last 40 winners, and do it all over again with groups of 20. Eventually, you’ll find yourself with 5 people who think that you can predict any game.
At each stage of this process, you can charge the winners a little bit more, because they trust you more. And the losers? Well, it was just a bad tip. This is known as the “Football Picks Scam,” and the most clever aspect of it is that it requires very little actual effort. All the Football Picks Scam needs to succeed is sheer numbers. And when all a digital marketer has is traffic…
Tim’s a newbie digital marketer. His first client is a pool servicing, maintenance and repairs company. Tim knows that he needs to put out valuable, informative content on a regular basis, or his client’s marketing strategy will fail. Unfortunately, what Tim doesn’t know a lot about is pools. So Tim can create content, but he’s just not very sure about that content. And eventually, he really finds himself struggling to come up with information. In the last week, Tim has posted:
- Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies
- Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens
- 6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable
- The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools
- Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep?
Martha, reading these articles, rapidly loses interest. “Ridding Your Pool of Murky, Dirty Water With Natural Remedies” claims that arsenic is a natural remedy, which she’s pretty sure isn’t right. “6 Eco-Friendly Ways to Keep Your Pool Warm and Comfortable” suggests that you set the pool on fire, which she’s almost positive is neither a good idea nor actually possible. By the time she gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” Martha’s been lost. She has absolutely no faith in the writer.
But Mike, on the other hand, only read “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” — which, he thought, had some great tips — and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” which he thoroughly agreed with, as the owner of a saltwater pool himself. By the time he gets to “Could Your Poorly Maintained Pool Kill Your Child When You’re Asleep,” he’s already primed and ready to go: he trusts Tim.
Though, really, he probably shouldn’t. Tim has managed to build authority by doing something that, let’s face it, most of us do at one time or another: creating articles that are nevertheless based on facts that were never properly researched. He knows that he isn’t going to convince everyone, but he’s going to convince enough people for the strategy to work.
Two major principles drive this type of strategy: the tendency to quietly disregard items that you disagree with and the tendency to focus on and promote the things that you do. In content marketing, we actually have a benefit that “The Football Pick Scam” never did — our “winning guesses” get pushed to the top, and our “losing guesses” can be eradicated entirely. Even the “losers” in our scenario will likely just shrug and move on.
As Tim’s marketing strategy grows, people like Mike will link to and promote “Fun and Safe Pool Games for Children and Teens” and “The Benefits of Saltwater Pools Over Conventional Pools,” while people like Martha will generally just leave. The good articles will show up with higher prominence on Tim’s client’s site, if Tim has properly configured his “popular” and “related” categories. Fewer and fewer people will ever see the articles that are incorrect, as they will be pushed to the bottom. Ultimately, Tim can even cull these articles entirely, as though they never happened at all. No more Marthas.
Tim has managed to build his content authority simply by crowdsourcing his quality control. He had no idea which of his five articles were actually accurate or not: the crowd told him. It’s a principle that almost all of the big entertainment sites today are using: they publish and post anything and let the audience vote on its merit. They end up with a front page that has only the best content, but only because there was a lot of trash to comb through. And even better, they barely had to do anything at all.
It’s undeniably true that you can build content authority and a brand by just throwing everything at a wall and seeing what sticks. But really, this strategy is almost an act of desperation. Tim could have just written five great articles about pools, if he knew anything about pools. And those five great articles would likely have performed better than the two articles that he ended up getting right. Tim also might just want to find clients with services that he actually understands.
Obviously, there are some areas in which this strategy works and some areas in which it doesn’t, mostly down to how educated the consumer is in that particular market. Science popularization sites can get science wrong — peer-reviewed journals largely cannot. A B2B marketing campaign will often employ this strategy much less successfully than a B2C marketing campaign, simply because of familiarity within the industry. And it’s also important to remember that this strategy works based on sheer volume. Smaller sites and niche sites need to make the most out of every visitor, every Mike and every Martha, that they can.
We often use the “throw it at the wall” strategy even without thinking about it. We may have an idea kicking around in our head that we aren’t quite certain is right, and we may simply think — “Well, I’ll float it and see what happens.” But usually we can benefit from a more thoughtful approach. It’s not that the Football Picks Scam doesn’t work — it clearly does — but, at its core, it’s a lazy attempt, and often a waste of time. There are other strategies that can work better if we give ourselves the time to think it through.