What makes quality content?

There’s an awful lot of business content out there today isn’t there? From blogs to books, ebooks to email, tweets, video, slides, webinars, podcasts and more: we’re a society on information overload. Whatever the medium, if the information you put out is not of high quality – really high – we’ll ignore it, block it, delete it, click away. You’ve got to go a long way for your content to cut through the noise.

But what makes ‘quality content’? How do you create content so valuable it can’t be ignored? I asked some of the thinkers I most respect for their views:

Content that is created with the buyer in mind

– David Meerman Scott

Quality content is to be determined by those who interact with the content. So the best way to create quality is to understand deeply the people who you are trying to reach. You need to create the content especially with your buyers in mind.

David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, keynote speaker and author – www.webinknow.com.

Content that has substance

– Jane Northcote

The content I regard as valuable is useful and functional – gives me answers; beautiful and entertaining – gives me pleasure.

It has to do at least one of those things. If it does both, I consider subscribing. You ask specifically about what I read. In general I am operating on a lap-top or vertical screen, having not yet succumbed to an iPad. So reading is actually quite difficult. I don’t want to read, I want to see.

Blogs that are valuable have substance: numbers, places, people’s names, descriptions of real events, graphs. I distinguish “substance” from “opinion”. Substance is more valuable than opinion. And opinion without substance is not valuable at all.

Jane Northcote is a management consultant, thinker and author of Making Change Happen – www.janenorthcote.com. You can read Jane’s full comment on content here.

Content relevant to each stage of the buying journey

– Bryony Thomas

Quality in terms of content is to a large part dependent on context. Even extremely insightful, well-written, content can be completely useless if presented at the wrong time, to the wrong person and at the wrong stage in the buying decision. I think it’s vital for content marketers to think carefully about the sales journey and to develop powerful content for each step of buying decision.

Bryony Thomas is a marketing speaker, author and consultant www.bryonythomas.com.

Content with a strong point of view, supported by design

– Christopher Butler

At the most basic level, valuable content is content that does its job, whether that be to entertain, to educate, or to sell. But that doesn’t do much to describe how content can meet this criteria.

Ultimately, I think the answer to what makes content valuable is similar (if not the same) to what makes good writing and good thinking. If I had to choose one key ingredient, it would be a writer or speaker’s strong point of view. A compelling point of view comes from a very fine balance of erudition and originality (or in other words, taking liberty with tradition). As Emerson wrote, “He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” That may be a bit grandiose for what we do, but there is a solid point here. Be well read, but not too well read. Be discerning in what you read, and wise about what you repeat.

On the web, there is another issue to consider: how good design supports good content. It’s not enough to simply publish a good article. The page that contains it needs to be designed to focus the attention of time-pressed, distracted readers and do so confidently, keeping its own distractions–advertisements, calls to action, related content widgets, etc.–to a minimum. Thoughtful originality is essential here. What works for big, unfocused audiences will not work for smaller, focused ones. For the rest of us, the better we are at knowing our audience, the better we’ll be at writing content they’re likely to read and respond to.

Christopher Butler is an author and Vice President of Newfangled, a niche US web development company specialising in websites that work for marketing services companies.

Content with meaning

– Charles H. Green

To be valuable content must have uniqueness at the client level, and it must be meaningful. Absent such meaning and “content” is just fodder for robo-marketing, a kissing cousin to spam. My advice:

  • Don’t just produce content—say something.
  • If your content doesn’t have a message, it’s just content.
  • Don’t be content with “just content.”
  • Content is less than the sum of the words; meaning is greater.
  • When you write, speak or sing; do with a particular real person in mind.

Charles H. Green is a consultant, speaker, author of The Trusted Advisor – www.trustedadvisor.com and new book The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. You can find his full comment on content here.

Value can’t be faked

Thank you to all who gave their ideas here. They sum it up for me. Truly valuable, high quality content has all the attributes they describe so well: it’s useful, relevant, informing my world world, created with deep understanding of the reader; it has substance, an opinion – all made visual by strong design.

And just one last comment from me: valuable content is not a ‘technique’ – you’ve got to care, to believe in what you put out there – true value can’t be faked.

What is your view?

How about you? What content do you find valuable and why? I’d love your thoughts.

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  1. Usha Sliva

    Hi, I came across your site while researching some articles I’m writing, and I have to say, love what I see! Your content offers valuable insight into tools and strategies business owners can actually use. Refreshing to say the least. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Rachel Miller

    Great article Sonja.
    William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” At the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, I think this applies to online content. Content should be useful — ie original, thought-provoking, game-changing. But above all, it should be beautiful. In other words, make sure your content is really well-written. If you say it better than anyone else — even if you are stating the obvious — then your content will stand out.
    Rachel Miller, editor, Marketing Donut

  3. Sonja Jefferson

    Thank you very much Usha. Good to see you here.

    Love the quote Rachel! And yes – so right: it has to be really well-written. We didn’t mention that clearly enough. I’m sure Sharon would agree!

  4. Jim O'Connor

    Hmm, lot of good food for thought here – watch out for new and improved content from Jim!

  5. Chris Budd


  6. Joanna Pieters

    What insightful, inspirational comments you’ve gathered here, Sonja.

    I’d add one thought to your question: ‘how do you create it?’. I agree absolutely with David Meerman Scott’s that ‘the best way to create quality is to understand deeply the people who you are trying to reach.’ That’s perfect for an individual content creator: a one-person company, a sole content marketer. But it easily becomes lost in a larger organisations, particularly with a strong hierarchy or a culture of silos, where a briefing document, or short team presentation of ‘this is our customer’ becomes the norm.

    So I would say: Ensure everyone involved with content creation, commissioning and editing, deeply understands their customer. Ensure they’ve been in the workshops, discussions, been to the events, talked through the research results, had the chance to ask questions, consider what it means, play with ideas. Engage them in actively trying to think like their customer. Make it two-way, fun, rewarding. Give them credit for successful, innovative work. Show them the results. Involve them.

  7. Sonja Jefferson

    Chris – ta!

    Joanna – that’s a great point. Creating valuable, high quality content is a big shift for any organisation, large or small. One of the main changes, as you point out is the shift from leaving marketing to the marketing department to involving a much wider group of people throughout the company. The big change is from pushing out self-oriented messages to focusing on a specific group of customers and thinking: “what information will they find helpful, educational, entertaining even?” Getting everyone involved to understand those they are creating content for is a lot of the battle and a lot of the fun! Thanks very much for the comment. Hope your new business is going well.

    That wasn’t so brief was it Chris!


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