Defining Quality Content: Do You Know the Answer?

Focus On Quality

Everyone tells you to publish high quality content, but they rarely define what that means. In this post, we look at existing research in the area and hear from four content marketing experts about what they believe quality content is. We’re now asking you and the attendees of CMWorld to chime in and help us propel the understanding of quality content, and how to achieve it, even further.

Skip directly to opinions from Rand Fishkin, Robert Rose, Marcus Sheridan, and Heidi Cohen.

“Just frequently publish high quality content.”

Have you heard that one before? If you work anywhere near digital marketing, I know you have.

It’s hard to find a content marketing presentation or blog post that doesn’t promote the value of high quality content.

And there’s good reason for it. Most professional marketers would agree that frequently publishing high quality content really can improve your brand’s reputation, help you build an engaged audience, and generate revenue for your company.

So, what am I getting at?

Well, the problem isn’t in the advice itself, but in how it’s being communicated. It’s the way such a key term — quality content — is being mentioned as if it’s a given.

noun: given; plural noun: givens
1. a known or established fact or situation.

Let’s be honest. The particular elements that make up quality content are far from obvious or established. If they were, creating awesome content would be easy and more than 42% of marketers would report their content efforts as effective.

What this tells me is that we’re ahead of ourselves. We need to slow down and develop some guidelines around what quality content really is before we keep telling everyone to publish it.

Through this study, I’d like to challenge the content marketing industry to dig deeper and establish some clearly defined, measurable elements of quality content. I want to know if, together, we can develop a scorecard, blueprint, or checklist that helps marketers create better content.

In other words, can we create a repeatable process?

Quality Content Isn’t a Batch of Blueberry Muffins

Look — I know that a formula for creating quality content isn’t going to be straightforward. I know it’s quite subjective, leaving tons of room for opinions, contingencies, and “grey area”.

It’s not like a recipe for baking your favorite muffins. There are no set ingredients or easy to measure quantities.

Therefore, we probably have to accept that crafting a perfect formula for quality content may not be possible.

That’s okay, though, because perfection isn’t really the objective here. Progression, however, is.

Simply going through the exercise of analyzing the key elements of quality content and attempting to define them and measure them should propel our understanding of what quality content actually is and, more importantly, how we can create it on a consistent basis.

Where to Start? Let’s Gather Information

As with any good study, it’s usually a good idea to gather some information and see what’s already out there. What kind of theories already exist? How far has existing research come to answer the questions we’re asking?

Well, I did some Googling for terms like “what is quality content?” and “quality content scorecard”, and I did find a few other people in exploration mode.

Matt Fellows of Geary LSF wrote this article in March of 2014 expressing a similar frustration for the lack of definition around the term quality content and sharing five techniques he believes when used can help create worthwhile, sharable content.

Matt makes a great point saying that “‘quality content’ is usually identified retro-actively” and then asks the real question of “how do you anticipate what content will be effective and what won’t?”

He then goes on to promote valid best practices such as defining your audience, serving a purpose, and “knowing what you’re talking about”. All in all — very solid information, Matt, but I’m still left yearning for a definition that’s more specific.

Kathy Wagner of Content Strategy Inc. posted here about a content scorecard they use to find strengths and weaknesses in their clients’ content. She, as we have above, also recognizes the issue of subjectivity when assessing content quality.

She mentions, “a content scorecard, like all heuristic reviews, is subjective. The quality of the findings is dependent on your expertise as a content reviewer.”

Kathy then at Content Strategy Inc.’s blog that explains their process in more detail and provides an example content scorecard. A few of the “scored” areas are “content is organized logically”, “content is chunked into distinctive content types”, and “content is easy to scan–it does not need to be read in entirety to know what it’s about”. (I couldn’t agree more with that last one).

The criteria do share some really strong insights as to what quality content might be. However, they seem more focused on content strategy and overarching issues as opposed to the content itself. I’m still left wondering what a scorecard dedicated to assessing the quality of an individual content piece would look like.

I did find a handful of other articles discussing, to some degree, what quality content is, but the research is still bare considering the importance of the term, in my opinion. Therefore, we continue forward!

What about the Experts? Can They Help?

My next step on our journey toward defining what quality content is was to ask the experts. I wanted to hear what a few highly followed content marketing thought leaders had to say about it.

But, before I go any further, you may be wondering how I defined “expert” and what makes the individuals below qualified to comment on what quality content really is.

To be honest, I don’t have a very specific answer to that question. I simply contacted four well known content marketing supporters who I felt would have varying opinions on the matter. You can do your own research on each thought leader in order to make your own judgements on how reputable their responses are, but each have given highly respected presentations at high profile content marketing events, like Content Marketing World and MozCon.

I asked each expert the following question:

In one breath, can you tell me what you think the most important component to quality content is?

They answered with:

randfishkinRand Fishkin
Founder – Moz

The most important element of quality content is empathy. Content creators need to put themselves in the shoes of those who will consume their works – feel their pain, experience their problems, ask their questions, live inside their heads, and then build content to help them.

robertroseRobert Rose
Chief Strategist – Content Marketing Institute

The most important element of content quality is to create “meaning” to [your] audience. Marketers have been taught (by practice) to describe the “valuable thing”; and do so in varying clever ways. But Content Marketing now requires marketers to create original content that goes beyond simply describing the valuable thing – and to instead create the value within the content itself.

marcussheridanMarcus Sheridan
President – The Sales Lion

The goal is NOT to “sound smart” when it comes to content marketing. Rather, your obsession is with communion. You get them. They get you. And trust now has a chance to begin.

heidicohenHeidi Cohen
Chief Content Officer – Actionable Marketing Guide

The key to quality content is to provide information that your target audience needs, finds useful, and can consume easily. To this end, create of a set of marketing persona that represents your audience to help craft effective content based on your core market and their influencers, the type and format of information they seek, and the connected device(s) they used to consume the information.

What Do You Think?

After being introduced to some early theories on what quality content really is and hearing what the experts have to say, what’s your reaction? Do you agree with what’s being said or have a different opinion?

I want to hear what you think quality content is.

Give us your two cents by leaving a comment below or, better yet, stop by booth #26 at Content Marketing World next week and tell us in person. We’re giving away designer t-shirts and contest entries to anyone who stops by to tell us what they think quality content is.

Where Do We Go from Here?

I’m still interested in collecting more qualitative research — more answers to the same question I asked our experts. Much of this will be collected at #CMWorld.

The qualitative research interview seeks to describe and understand the meanings of central themes in the life world of the subjects.


After getting more opinions, we’ll look for trends in the results and share them with you in a follow up post. These trends should act as a foundation for further defining what quality content really is and for learning how we can create it on a consistent basis.

The end goal is to publish a thorough guide on creating high quality content — one with clearly defined elements and actionable advice any marketer can follow to improve his or her content marketing efforts.


Article by

Clayton is the Founder and CEO at Crowd Content, a content marketplace for clients and high performance writers. He enjoys writing about marketing ideas and content trends.

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