Defining Quality Content: Do You Know the Answer?

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.

Focus On Quality

“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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0 thoughts on “Defining Quality Content: Do You Know the Answer?”

  • Avatar

    Hey Clayton, I think it’s really as simple as “write something your audience will want to read!”

    Beyond that, if you want to be strategic, make sure it’s on a topic that relates closely to your business, helps establish you as an expert, and uses the language of your audience.

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    Curtis Machek says:

    Quality Content, at a top level for me, is all about being able to create something that the reader can relate to, and sympathize with. Whether that be answering a reader’s question, or telling a fictional story, if the audience can relate, they will be engaged.

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    Heather Ferguson says:

    Good article Clayton! And thanks for asking me to comment – am flattered. I think we need to focus on substance, for sure – but I also think we need to think about the platforms we use, and why. Sometimes a visual – video or picture – will help build the relationship. Sometimes rich audio is an option. I am big on the ideas we communicate but the web only gives us so many channel options and we have to think about how each one can best achieve our content goals.

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    This is a great article Clayton! As a someone who focuses on filling my site with quality content, it would be nice to have a common denominator for what quality content actually is! The experts say it well. I’m no expert, but, in my opinion, Quality Content is a collection of different types of media that come together to provide value to customers, readers, etc. If you can provide value, your content will be shared and thus your content is being marketed for you.

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    I think it depends on two main things: your audience and your goals. Your goals should probably dictate the big picture format. Are you trying to build long term trust, trying to drive huge volumes of traffic/pageviews, trying to spread brand awareness, trying to generate a new lead? And your audience would determine the more micro aspect of the content. Who exactly are the people you want to receive the content, what do they need, and what format tends to engages them? So quality content would then deliver exactly what your target audience needs in the format that engages them.

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    Your experts pretty much got it. Hit your customers where they live. Answer questions they are already asking. Every phone call or email asking for more information is a potential blog post, FAQ, even a video (or a portion of it).

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    One of my biggest pet peeves, and often a deciding factor on whether I take on a client, is the phrase ‘write quality content.’ Quality content vastly changes depending on the type of project one is working on, reading, or trying to learn from. In some cases, quality content consists of fresh and new information, while in other cases, quality content should be based on proven factual evidence. I fully believe that the time for long and boring technical jargon is over and that readers not only need, but want articles that speak to them in a language they can understand. Talk to them in terms they get. Yet at the same time, avoid the used car salesperson lingo. A reader needs to feel that you’ve giving them useful and truthful information, without trying to sell them opinionated ideas.

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      Your frustration is completely understandable. Do you ever ask clients to define what they mean by “write quality content”?

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    Nevin Thompson says:

    In this case “quality” really means content that really speaks to the reader and answers a question, or provokes a thought, and also inspires an action. The “action” can be anything from clicking through to another page on the site, or purchasing a product, or leaving a comment, or sharing online, or even just continuing to return to your web site.

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    Nevin Thompson says:

    In this case “quality” really means content that really speaks to the reader and answers a question, or provokes a thought, and also inspires an action. The “action” can be anything from clicking through to another page on the site, or purchasing a product, or leaving a comment, or sharing online, or even just continuing to return to your web site.

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    It is my belief as stated in your article, that high quality content connects with the intended reader. The reader finishes the article and feels that they gained something significant. The content is easy to read, yet informative. When I finish reading a high quality article, blog, etc;. I feel that the writer gave me a little nugget of knowledge that may be useful in some area of my life.

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    Leslie Malcom says:

    Quality content is well written and accurate. It may be informative or fun, but it must provide the correct information. Quality is not spinning other work, but creating an original piece. The article does not have to be an academic masterpiece, but should be written to a reasonable educational level. Writers are often told to write to a sixth grade level. It would be better if we wrote to bring our reader’s level up.

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    Melanie Kross says:

    Quality content educates others. It builds community and trust and brings people who have common interests together. It’s collaboration. It talks with consumers, not at them. It offers consumers something of value, and is something they look forward to reading and sharing with everyone they know. Content is your opportunity as a business owner to converse with consumers and to show them your expertise in your industry. This builds trust, and a trusting relationship is what converts consumers into loyal customers who then become your biggest advocates. That is how a business grows in 2014.

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    Quality content = whatever my audience needs to see in order to change their behaviour the way I want. Usually that means “buy my stuff,” but it can also mean things like “stop littering” or “think positively/negatively about.” Marketing is all about behaviour change. Content in a blog, on a website, in a COMMENT box, needs to be received by the audience, processed, and then they need to change what they were doing to what you want them to do.

    For example, I kept this short to make you more likely to read it. I rubbed my scent glands on it to make it even more attractive to you. Okay, I don’t have scent glands. But I wrote that I did to really get your attention and hopefully make you think I am smrt. Hugs everybody.

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    Mallory Vincent says:

    There really are such varying opinions on what makes content “high quality”. I don’t think there is one right answer for all situations, but some basic rules can be applied no matter the topic, audience or format. The first is proper grammar and spelling! Nothing blows the cover off like bad grammar or a spelling mistake. The reader who notices, and many will, will internally bring their opinion down a notch. In addition, making all the words count is important. We are past the days of churning out 500 words just to get the keywords in there 10 times. No fluff allowed. Each word, sentence and paragraph should provide value; whatever that is determined to be ahead of time. Think: Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory.

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    Quality Content is whatever you deem it to be. I write stuff on my blog from the third person on subjects some people would never touch. It feels good sometimes to write something that may scare someone else and others may not care for but oh well.

    I also use cartoons including stuff from the old Saturday Morning stuff as well as writing satirical bits on current world events. And as anyone will tell you, embedding or linking to a music video on YouTube may also help you to set a musical score or mood for your piece.

    Commenting on my site is discouraged and yet the user base remains strong. So someone is seeing some value, getting a laugh, or cringing in the corner afraid to come out and play again.

    At least in some way it moved you. Either to love, laughter or outright fear.

    I really like the comment on spelling and grammar. Because in some contexts they simply do not work. If you want to give your character a certain “flair” then sumthing may not look right but carries the conversation then something, sometimes. 🙂

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    In my view, we can take “Quality Content” into two different aspects, lets just be little technical on it. Aspects are – “Quality Content for the Crawlers” or Quality Content for the Readers”.

    Lets discuss on the readers point of view first:- A content is a quality one for the readers, when it gives their reader exactly what they are searching for and take them to the right way as they want, without chirping of here and there. Basically, it should be point to point and does not matter what the length is, it should convene its users only in that way a content can be quality one from the readers point of view.

    Lets get on the “Quality Content for the Crawlers” point of view:- If you need rankings for your content. Then think something like Crawlers, they need keywords in first case. Secondly, how many click you are getting on your page for that content/post and how much sharing you are having for that particular thing, i think this is something what a quality content for the crawlers is.

    But In overall, we can say that. A Quality Content is actually a quality one, if it is able to satisfy their readers in terms of what they want, what the are searching for, and what they are looking for. Because you cannot decide by your own, if your content is a quality one or not only the readers can.

    And that’s what i think on it…!!!

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    Sapphire Byers says:

    I’m no expert, but in my opinion as a content writer and as a web browser myself, there is a lot that goes into great content. It’s everything. It’s the spelling and grammar. It’s the presentation of the content; paragraph size, font and text, pictures, etc. It’s connecting with the audience, and as others have said, it’s providing them with content that they’ll enjoy reading.

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    Content marketing evolved into exponential growth in recent years. To be effective, meaning people read it, website information had to be quality. Value added came to be expected as time went on. Further, a unique perspective, or a distinct persona now draws a reader’s interest because there are so many choices. I began reading whitepapers on eSchool News for an ed tech class I was taking to remain abreast of new educational electronics. I had never heard the term quality content marketing at that point. To me, it was quality information. While, it appealed to others as a fun gadget for school that might even do your work. We seem to collectively struggle to define the words quality and content both individually, and as a phrase in the digital age. This is because the words have changed their connotation and combined to form a digital catch phrase. Quality traditionally described functioning, well built machines. like John Deere tractors, or a Chevy truck. Now it is most commonly seen defining a set of information and its ability to engage the reader. Similarly, the most common usage of content is now in reference to internet based information, as opposed to the contents of a toy chest. Only in school, did we hear the word content as in Table of Contents; or your paper has no content/tangible, relevant information. So to those of us who can remember prior to the unlikely pairing of the two words, we must derive a working definition that is applicable to the digital content in our lives. The term has come to mean a well researched, informative document that is relevant to my lifestyle or present needs. Quality content is furthermore, of interest in my social circles and leads to sharing through social media. Furthermore, content in the context of social media refers to information, albeit personal. Quality content now takes many forms, such as web pages, ebooks, blogs, emails, and other digital print.

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    Great advice and topic many never cover. Like you said, it’s usually “high quality content” with no real details. My main piece of advice is to learn who your reader is. Readers are the ones who define how good content truly is. Once you know who your readers are and what they want, then it becomes easier to create what they’ll consider to be high quality content.

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    I hope content creation (i.e. good writing) never becomes a formula. I think it has to constantly be customized. In essence, each customer gets a tailor-made suit that fits them to a T. You mentioned the term “progress” or “progression.” To me, that signals change–writing is continually changing to provide interest, new ideas, new info, and so forth. Just my two cents! Great post!

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    Prior to the age of content marketing, high quality traditionally typified something well built by hard working Americans, like a John Deere Tractor. Quality was dependable,reliable and lasting. Content, on the other hand, was a vague term for an object contained in something. Or, Teachers could defend a grade vaguely, by saying you didn’t provide content. It was tough to provide an argument to the opposite, given that content basically referred to “stuff”.

    Today, the newly coined phrase, digital content marketing takes meaning in a new direction. Looking at the types of content provided by Crowd to its customers, I realize I have used white papers in recent years from eSchoolNews, and found them to be most informative. The information always proved true and white pages set a more serious tone that implies in-depth research.

    All in all, the types of content provided by Crowd and other digital marketers add value, and therefore quality to customer websites. The content is not filler, but informative and well researched.

    The writer assigned is closely matched to the subject, or someone who can easily develop a persona identifiable to readers. Also, the quality is often referred to as relevant and fresh, meaning that blogs and websites are updated daily and cared for. I can easily say that the majority of competitive websites, seeking viewers, browsers and customers contain quality. Without reading any of the content, the layout is impressive, well designed with coordinated colors that set a given, intentional tone. Once the visuals and infographics have set the tone for quality, it’s interactive and giving away information that I can use. It’s also providing me with a quick education as to what their product and its benefits are.

    White papers set a different tone of a well researched, more in-depth piece of information and the blog provides information while demonstrating personality. The newsletter indicates legitimacy of both the content and the company. So adding to well-researched, quickly produced, formatted for easy scanning, personality via blogs, tone as set by web pages, I would conclude that quality is indicated by the interest it attracts and the frequency that the information is discussed and shared among possible buyers.

    The forms of digital content and the different characteristics of each medium provide the innovation and creativity by working together in a sort of synergy. It depends on how you want to get your information, but it’s there.

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    Great article Clayton! I like the end goal, “clearly defined elements”. This doesn’t mean that the content has to lose your voice, it just has to provide value while providing some groundwork.

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    Ysabel Castillon says:

    Thanks for writing this. This was interesting to consider, as well as all of the great comments below. For me, high quality content is something that is well written and well tailored to the specific audience that the writer is trying to reach out to; if someone is writing a piece to promote a specific product, this may only appeal to a certain audience, and if this is the case, the writer should consider his/her language and style of the piece to appeal most to them. Making it easy to read and relate to is something of great importance to me. I’m currently working on my first novel, and “could readers relate to this” is a constant question in my head! Thanks for the post.

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    Myra Michaels says:

    Clayton, nice to meet you by reading the above article and seeing who you are! Being brand new, I am busy trying to familiarize myself with CC’s specific guidelines and am enjoying reading some of these articles and good tips from other writers as I happily take part in the forum.

    Have you published the proposed “thorough guide on creating high quality content?” Will you do it from the writers’ viewpoint or the clients’? Of course, I’d prefer the former! Best of luck with that and other endeavors to continually increase the quality of our writing.

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    Georgia Potts says:

    Wow, this is an incredibly in-depth guide to quality content creation! I love all of the input from the experts. Thanks!

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