What IS Quality Content … Really?
“I know it when I see it.”
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)
When Justice Stewart penned the above words more than 50 years ago, he was talking about content. A very specific type of content: pornography.
Having joined his fellow justices in an agonizing attempt to wrangle the question of just what qualifies as obscene material, Stewart threw up his hands and avowed that he simply knew it when he saw it. (As my constitutional law professor at Loyola University once quipped, ’tis a pity that Justice Stewart could not have arranged to have his eyeballs preserved as a final authority on the question for all time.)
When it comes to quality content, many of us marketers are tempted to reach the same conclusion as did Stewart on porn: we just know quality content when we see it. If only we could stop there.
But we can’t. We must pull back the curtain and discover what it is that makes a piece of quality content. Why? Because our survival depends on our ability to create it.
So let’s roll up our sleeves and take a closer look at the defining elements of quality content — with examples from one of my own role models — and at how we can incorporate these practices into our own strategies.
1. Quality Topics
One of the many things I love about Darren Rowse’s Problogger team is their consistent choice of insightful topics — both on their own blog and in the third-party content they share on social media. You’ll never catch Rowse & Co. posting on one of those seen-it-a-million-times topics like “tips to improve your content marketing” or “why you should be blogging.” They know that they’re talking to sophisticated bloggers who are way past the basics. Their audience craves insights to help them take their blogs to the next level, and Problogger delivers.
Take, for example, Rowse’s post titled “How to Convince Someone to Be Interviewed on Your Blog.” Not only did he create a post in response to a fan question from his Facebook page (smart), but he also answered a pertinent question that many a sophisticated blogger has struggled with (very smart).
And look at the kind of stuff they post on Facebook:
Action Item: For each of the topics on your editorial calendar, ask yourself, “Is there any way we can go deeper on this issue or approach it from a unique angle?”
2. Compelling Headlines
You can’t go wrong by following the two basic rules of headlines:
- Rule #1: Tell readers what they’re going to get.
- Rule #2: Use targeted SEO keywords.
Nothing wrong with creating content titles that follow the rules and leaving it at that. The thing is, most of our competitors are doing the same thing. We can do better. We can create titles that stand out from the crowd in that news feed or SERP list. Titles that pop. Titles that sizzle. Titles that say “Hey, gorgeous, come on over here …”
Once you’ve come up with a title that meets the basic requirements, see if you can dress it up a bit. Get your creative juices flowing and explore ways to add an inspired flair. (I know, I know, you’re tapped out from writing such a brilliant post, but dig deep. Or grab a fellow creative to get a fresh perspective.)
Case in point: Here’s how Problogger titled the roundup of their top podcast episodes of 2015:
Nice. Very nice. Sure, they could have stuck with “Top ProBlogger Podcast Episodes of 2015” and done just fine with that. But they borrowed a trick from the orator’s toolbox — repetition — to create a headline that’s a bit more enticing. And they get bonus points for including some additional keywords while they were at it.
Action Item: When creating a title for your content, play with the words a bit and see if there’s room to add a clever spin. There won’t always be, but it’s worth the extra effort.
3. In-Depth Topic Coverage
It’s a question that has plagued us since the dawn of online content: “How long should it be?”
My usual response is to quote “the miniskirt rule”: It should be long enough to cover the basics, but short enough to be interesting.
That said, apparently Google has decided that it likes big posts (and it can-not lie), and so do audiences looking for good stuff to share. (The good folks at CoSchedule have done some excellent research on this topic; click here and here to learn more.)
It’s not that all long-form content is high quality. But most high-quality blog posts, e-books, and other content assets tend to run a bit longer than average.
So while I don’t advise padding your posts with fluff to boost the word count, it’s worth making an extra pass at each draft to see if you can delve a little deeper.
In his ProBlogger post “7 Effective Tips To Grow Your Social Media Presence The Right Way,” guest blogger Adam Connell could have easily presented his seven tips, scribbled an explanatory sentence or two for each, and called it a day. And it probably would have been a pretty good post.
But what made Connell’s offering one of ProBlogger’s most popular posts on social media for 2015 was his willingness to go deep. For example, under Tip #7, “Monitor your progress with the right tools and find what really works,” he included reviews of four of the most popular monitoring tools, complete with screencaps. That’s going the extra mile for your readers.
Action Item: The next time you crank out one of your standard-length blog posts, give it a second look and find opportunities to dive deeper into your topic. (And please, in the name of all that is holy, don’t add words for words’ sake.)
4. Good Information, Backed by Data
I can already hear your eyeballs rolling when you hear this, but I’m going to say it anyway: To create a quality piece of content, you need to have something to say.
Duh, right? And yet it amazes me how many content marketers get it so wrong, so often.
In other words, your content has to have quality … well, content. To put it another way, the ideas you communicate have to be relevant, compelling, and unique.
In her ProBlogger post “How to Write Brilliant Blog Posts: 5 Tips from Psychology,” Stacey Roberts offers unique, actionable advice to help bloggers “get in the zone” for writing brilliant posts. And her tips, which range from the level of background noise to the time of day, are all backed by solid psychological research.
Remember, when you create a title for your blog post, podcast, or other content asset — the title that will show up in search results and in social news feeds — you are making a promise to your audience. The ideas you share in that content is the fulfillment of that promise, for better or for worse. Let’s make it for better.
Action Item: Make sure the ideas you share in every piece of content are worth every minute it takes to read it. Make sure you’re keeping the promise made in your headline and giving your readers what they need to be able to say to themselves, “You know, I’m glad I read this.”
5. Good Writing
Of course, even the most compelling ideas are useless if they’re stuck behind some crap writing. But is “non-crap” the best we can expect from ourselves when it comes to how we write?
Now, the question of what constitutes good writing is another topic for another blog post. For now I’ll just say that it means more than good grammar and spelling. The writing has to flow. It has to intrigue. It has to cast a spell on the reader to keep him or her entranced from the first word to the last.
Poet Robert Frost once said, “The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.” In every piece of content, your writing has to do more than communicate. It has to sing.
For our final example from ProBlogger, I’ll cite their excellent post “Start The New Year off Right with Jeff Goins’ Three Secrets to Full Time Blogging”:
“I’d like to be a writer,” I told my friend one day when he asked what my dream was. “But that’ll never happen.” And I quickly went back to moping around, waiting for my big break.
At the time, I was working for a nonprofit as a marketing director, secretly wondering what it might be like to write for a living. Little did I know how close I was to my goal.
Do you want to keep reading after that opener? I sure did.
Action Item: Make it your goal to end each day as a better writer than you were when it began. Spend some time each day on pursuits that will ramp up your writing skills, and use what you’ve learned every time you sit down to create content.
Your Turn: How do you define “quality content,” and what action will you take to raise the quality bar for your own content?
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About the Author
A self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please).
As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and a sought-after speaker, having presented to many major business and marketing organizations. To learn more, download our complimentary audio 5 Things You Must Know About Content Marketing.