Blog Posts As Bets: An Expectancy Analysis of Publishing Content
When I shared a story about getting clients via content, I received some feedback I wanted to address, paraphrased here:
“The example given about the Angular article seems like sheer luck. There are hundreds of similar articles on the web that have no traction. What’s the real difference between an article that leads to an offer and one that doesn’t? Is it reproducible? Can you write another article and expect the same results? There’s a lot more that don’t get this result than those who do. “A Skeptical Reader
Indeed, it isn’t repeatable, but it doesn’t matter, because I believe it is profitable. I don’t have to get the same results every time, as long as I get enough wins to make it a profitable decision.
The expected value of publishing content
When considering potential investments, you should consider the expected value (EV) of those investments. The expected value formula looks like this:
EV = (Probability of Win * Average Win Value) - (Probability of Loss * Average Loss Value)
For example, imagine that you play a game where you flip a fair coin, win $5 on heads and lose $2 on tails.
(0.5 * $5) – (0.5 * $2) = $1.50
On average, you’ll gain $1.50 per flip. This is a profitable game for you. Even if the coin was weighted so that it landed on tails twice as much as heads, you would still make money long-term.
(0.33 * $5) – (0.67 * $2) = $0.31
This version is not as profitable, but it demonstrates a key point: You can lose more often than you win, and still come out ahead in the long run.
A third factor: cost, which differs from loss
Cost is a guaranteed price you have to pay to play a game. There is no probability involved. Factoring in the cost into the EV formula looks like this:
EV = (Probability of Win * Average Win Value) - (Probability of Loss * Average Loss Value) - cost
Unfortunately, most decisions in business aren’t going to be so easy. In real life, you need to make estimates on more abstract values, which can change the equation. Let’s look at roughing out the value, risk, and costs of blog posts.
Average Loss of Writing A Blog Post
The only loss when it comes to writing a blog post is the initial cost. You will have to spend some time writing and editing the post, but that’s it. The only repetitional risk comes when you create content that is actively harmful to your reader. Don’t ruin the trust your readers have for you by being dishonest or plagiarizing. Don’t support systems that are harmful to specific subsets of your readers by publishing sexist or racist material.
“But What If I Write A Post that Isn’t Good?”
I get this a lot. Let’s clarify what “good” content is. Good content is written with empathy and helps people, even if it is a small number of them. Bad content is the harmful type mentioned above, but I will assume you know better. What’s left is creating content that isn’t that useful or interesting. In that case, nothing happens. There is so much content on the internet, people will ignore it and forget it. If you are worried that content may be a liability, you can always delete a post later.
Because of this, I’d model the risk of writing a blog post at $0.
Average Win of Writing A Blog Post
Modeling the value gained from a blog post is more complicated and depends on your personal situation. The more you write, the better you get at communicating. That’s something that helps in all aspects of your career and life. How do you put a number on that? Here are some more real numbers to consider:
- Could the blog post help you get a better job with a higher salary?
- Could a post save you time by answering a common support question?
- Could your post provide information you could share in the sales process, increasing your sales conversion rate?
- Could a post get you in front of potential clients?
- Will the post attract more leads to your mailing list?
- Will the post be useful material that helps you land guest posts, speaking gigs, or podcast guest spots?
We don’t have to be exact. When making decisions about probabilities and uncertainties, all you need to answer is, is it worth the cost? Maybe the benefits of learning that come from writing and publishing make it worth the price alone. In that case, any other value you receive is pure upside.
Assuming a cost of $200, here are some examples that would make writing a blog post an activity that generates a 2x return:
- There is a >4% chance that writing this post will help you land a job worth an additional $10,000 in compensation.
- There is a >2% chance it helps you land a client project worth $20,000.
- If it takes you 10 minutes to answer a support question, you need to expect that question to come up another 25 times, at least.
Moving The Needles
None of the numbers in this equation are fixed. You can make publishing more profitable by either reducing cost, increasing the probability of a win, or increasing the average win value.
You can reduce costs by practicing, publishing more and smaller, and building systems into your process.
You can increase the probability of a win by choosing topics with research and empathy and optimizing the funnels and calls-to-action related to your content.
Increasing the average value of a win will likely come from outside the writing itself. If you are selling a product, you can increase the value by increasing the price of your offerings, for example.
By looking at writing this way, you can optimize how you spend your time, and use it as a guiding light in your personal or business content strategy.