Plan for a future dominated by the Matthew Effect


At CAKE, we deliver quality marketing work monthly. We are a small agency and yet, as of the date of this post, we publish 400+ original blog posts and nearly 100 press releases per year. We also support our original content with hundreds of outreach attempts, by both phone and email.

We boil it down to this: be proactive and regularly release content that is capable of being noticed online, and then get it in front of the right people.

Think you’ve got it down already? While simple actions, such as posting to Facebook, can help your brand, most businesses should think bigger and create situations where other websites have a reason to talk about you.

It’s more important than ever because of a principle known as “the Matthew Effect.” Keep reading and I’ll list several ways that you can take advantage of the winner-take-all situation that exists in online marketing.

What is the Matthew Effect?

The Matthew Effect is defined as “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” a paraphrase of the Bible verse Matthew 12:29: “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”  (New King James translation).

Here are some examples of the Matthew Effect in action online:

  • Designers keep using the same fonts. Thanks to a positive feedback loop where popular fonts get more use and thus become even more dominant, the same fonts are used by designers year after year—even when they can choose from thousands of fonts.
  • The Brand Anchoring effect is real. When Google was faced with rampant webspam in 2013, it rebuilt the algorithm to favor the websites of big brands as a way to regain credible search results. Google applied cute names to each of these updates, of course, and did not publish any top-level directive stating that big fish will rank better than small fish, but that is what happened. Each of your customers is buying things every day based on deep-seated preferences in the brain—and these preferences have been conditioned by years of advertising by brands. Rather than allow big brands to rank in the search results and sell to your customers, you should deploy some brand anchoring effects of your own.
  • Link ghosts reinforce the Matthew Effect even after a link is removed. Did you know Google counts some value for links to your site that don’t exist anymore? These ghost links mean that a time period where a business is winning, in terms of successful online mentions, can flow benefits for years—even when the links have been removed. This happens because Google tends to trust sites that have looked trustworthy in the past. If you’ve ever competed with a site that outranks you despite little recent marketing work, this may be why.

How to take advantage of Winner-Take-All effects

The Matthew Effect can be intimidating if you aren’t yet recognized online, but you can leverage the effect to your benefit. Taking specific actions online that cause influencers to share your content, or other sites to write about you, is one way to turn the tide in your favor.

Here are some ways we’ve done it:

  1. Run a contest that encourages social sharing and comments as a means of participating. Give away a nice prize.
  2. Win an award. Be the business that motivates customers to vote and win your local paper’s annual “best of” contest next year. Then plaster it at the top of your website to reinforce the “Brand Anchoring effect” in the minds of each visitor.
  3. Create a college scholarship and perform press outreach to promote the winner each year. Email the winner’s hometown paper, and your business will get written about.

In short, use the Matthew Effect to your advantage and you will see your web traffic and conversions prosper.

More posts by Clark Mackey »