’10x content’ unmasked: the unhelpful humdrum

Tym Yee wishes everyone could just shut up about ’10x content’.

TIMOTHY TYM YEE headshot 180It was just past 9:15am on a Monday morning sometime in the second half of 2015 the first time I ever heard anyone use the phrase ’10x content’. It came off the tongue of an SEO manager at the digital marketing agency I used to work at – a short, hapless British fellow who seemed to talk about content marketing a whole lot for someone who had never conceived or written any in his life – the very idea immediately piqued my interest. ‘Hmmmm, what kind of “breakthrough” content trend are the SEOs on about now?’ I thought, whilst slowly lifting the latch on my inner cynic’s playpen.

10x content, as was relayed to me, is SEO demigod Rand Fishkin’s latest ‘thing’. It’s the idea that every piece of content a company publishes needs to be 10 times better than anything else out there on the web related to the same topic in order for it to gain traction and yield results. It’s the culmination of years’ worth of digital strategy directors saying ‘we need to produce authentic, valuable content that our customers actually want to read!’ Without much workable thought into exactly how.

I let the SEO manager finish his slides, took another sip of my Monday morning coffee and then vomited a little bit in my own mouth. For the previous few months I had endured a ramp‐up in the Search Team’s endless, well-intentioned-but-lazily-sourced content recommendations: do 10x content, use the sky-scraper technique, employ every Google tool under the sun, dedicate hours to worshipping at the shrine of Rand Fishkin and his whiteboard temple. But to me – the guy tasked with actually creating content for our clients once all the hoo‐ha, high‐fives, pats on backs and mutual masturbation had wound down after a content campaign pitch and win – being drip fed a slew of flashy concepts and tips could be summed up in one SEO un-optimised keyword: Useless.

Make that two: Utterly. Useless.

You might think that that’s a particularly cynical position to take on the whole matter, but my biggest gripe with the 10x content framework is that it in itself assumes the most cynical view of content creators that one can: that we choose, revel in and always will produce average content. Telling me and my content team that everything we created for our clients had to be 10 times better than anything else on the web felt like a massive over‐simplification of the content marketing process, from conceptualisation through to reporting. It was like reimagining the phrase that makes all marketers want to kick their clients fairly hard in the shins: ‘make it go viral.’

Then there were all of the other frustrations of 10x content such as resources – because no one ever created a brand newsroom 10 times better than Red Bull’s with 100-times less budget, listening to the sales team tell clients that our content marketing services just got 10 times better overnight, and having to deal with the fear and feelings of inadequacy that came with knowing that very little work I’d ever produced or could produce would be 10x better than anything else, ever (except for those Spotify ads I wrote – they were dope).

So, if not 10x, then what? How do we talk about improving our content marketing if I’ve unmasked 10x to reveal it as the unhelpful humdrum it really is? What would be useful for content writers instead? Two things, I believe.

Firstly, clearly differentiate between creative services and content marketing. ‘What?’ I can hear you say. I haven’t mentioned a thing about creative services and we’ve just hit the 600 word mark! But as we move into a world of post‐contentism we need to acknowledge that content marketing is just marketing. ’10x content’ is the same as ’10x marketing’. So, in its development, strategy and planning, marketers need to employ the services of their other teams (creative services, SEO, SEM, Influencer…) to create a content campaign that will be, not 10 times better than anything on the web, but simply far greater than if the content team had to do everything themselves. Content specialists can focus on bringing all of these elements together in a solid strategy and execution.

Secondly, take serious content marketing efforts in‐house. That’s what I’ve done – jumped ships from a small, boutique digital marketing agency to Optus, Australia’s second largest telco. From within these walls I have a far better understanding of the business needs and challenges when it comes to producing great content. I’m one step less removed in the process, yet am working amongst an entire digital marketing team of ex‐agency bandits. That’s not to say that agencies aren’t needed or valued, they are, but simply that the thought behind your brand’s content marketing, the strategy, the thinking, needs to come from someone who understands the fabric of your business – not some agency pundit saying that they’re going to create something 10 times better than anything else on the web.

Don’t agree? Well I’m not going to listen to your argument unless it’s 10 times better than mine!


Tym Yee is a writer, digital marketer and consumer at Optus.