Search engines and people define quality the same way.
“Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do.” – Google
Why does Google place so much emphasis on quality? Because people using its search engine want high-quality information, not blather manipulated into top-ranking position by exploiting weaknesses in search algorithms. And, as search engines have become more sophisticated in their ability to qualitatively evaluate content, artificially maneuvering low-quality content higher in the rankings is becoming more difficult. Thus, one of the few remaining tools left in the SEO’s arsenal is creating quality content.
Search engines want quality. People want quality.
What then, is quality?
This question is harder to answer than you might think. It’s like asking, “What is beauty?” or “What is intelligence?” One approach to answering the question is to consider what quality isn’t. Let’s start there. As it applies to business content,
- Quality isn’t originality. Originality can be good, but it can also be bad. People needing to treat an illness aren’t necessarily looking for an original idea; more likely, they’re looking for tried-and-true, scientifically validated recommendations.
- Quality isn’t artistry. Rhetorical flourishes and elegantly composed, complex sentences work well for leisure reading, but business readers need to scan and grasp in a matter of seconds. Compositional flair can be useful when applied selectively, but can also get very much in the way.
- Quality isn’t brilliance. Brilliance is a poor descriptor of quality for two reasons. First, brilliant ideas come along rarely and unexpectedly; therefore, you can’t build an organized content marketing program around them. Second, brilliance is low on the totem pole for many types of business content — people looking for information on how to assemble a bicycle want clarity and accuracy, not brilliance.
These three examples suggest that a universal definition of quality, if it could be crafted at all, would be too broad to be useful. The best we can do, perhaps, is to consider various markers of quality. Many articles have been written about quality indicators such as relevance, authoritativeness and storytelling techniques. This article considers three that people don’t talk about as much as they should.
Whether scanning for high points or doing intense research, business readers want to take the path of least resistance. Clear writing makes the reader’s job faster and easier. Enemies of clarity include:
- Buzzwords that have lost their meaning
- Excessive dryness
- Excessive emotion
- Illogical arguments
- Incomplete arguments
- Industry jargon
- Obscure words and references
- Too much detail
Some of these items are always bad; others are bad by degree. For instance, illogical arguments never serve a business purpose, but a landing page for perfume ought to pack more emotional punch than one for hose clamps. (More detailed article found here.)
Content that sticks in people’s heads is superior to that which doesn’t, all other things being equal. Techniques that make content memorable include:
- Repetition. SEOs look forward to the Moz search engine ranking factors of the year. When readers know something is coming, they give it mindshare. (Incidentally, repetition is an example of why originality is overrated or at least overemphasized.)
- Metaphors. Used selectively, an apt metaphor is a picture worth a 1,000 words. Overused or used clumsily, however, metaphors confuse readers by bringing the fox of obscurity into the henhouse of quality. (Huh?)
- Acronyms. One could write 500 forgettable words about the value of simplicity, or just write “KISS.” Thus we see a lot of “FAQ” posts and “DIY” posts that readers are quick to bookmark. But as with metaphors, overusing acronyms renders content DOA IMHO.
- Actionable advice. The best way to learn something is to do it. Content readers can apply to their business is highly prized and long remembered. Conversely, impractical advice or overly theoretical content is quickly discarded..
- Dazzling titles. There is a fine line between dazzling and dumb, between Why SEO Is Like Chess and Why SEO Is Like Cheese. Then again, there is no accounting for taste, so some people might actually prefer the second title to the first. Bottom line: Know your readers.
3. Style Alignment
This last point brings us to our third quality marker, alignment. Advice such as always write conversationally or never use humor is much too simplistic. For instance, a white paper written for PhDs ought to employ a formal style, whereas a blog post written for tax accounts may benefit from a couple of jokes. To determine the best style, content producers must consider:
- The audience. Personas are quite useful in this regard, as writing for a real, single individual is easier than writing for a vaguely defined mass of humanity.
- The content form. White papers tend to be formal; blog posts tend to be conversational. Landing pages can be “pushy”; social media content gravitates toward the soft sell. Et cetera.
- The subject matter. Factual, “how-to” content and news lend themselves to a straightforward, measured approach. Opinion pieces are naturally more edgy and can even be out and out rants.
Aligning content with audience, form and subject matter takes considerable editorial talent and trench work. However, firms that have the talent and take the time to do so will consistently produce higher quality content than those that cut stylistic corners.
Summing Up and Over to You
Clear, memorable and written for me – three reasons to give content high grades for quality. I’ve already mentioned relevance, authoritativeness and storytelling technique as three other important markers of quality, but what else is there? What separates good business content from content that is truly great?
And finally, is the goal of creating truly great content too lofty? How should a content marketing group define its quality standards?