By Ahava Leibtag published April 5, 2011

Creating Valuable Content: An Essential Checklist

“Every day, there is more and more to manage and get right and learn.”

Who said that?  It’s definitely someone in content marketing, web strategy or digital communications, right? Don’t we all feel that way? Every day our jobs are getting ahead of us, instead of us getting ahead of our jobs.

It may surprise you that the above quote is from Atul Gawande, MD, who wrote a supremely useful and convincing book called The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Gawande is a general surgeon who suggests that applying simple checklists to both complicated and routine medical procedures can affect overall success rates and reduce infection and mortality.

What does this have to do with content marketing? A lot. As I always say, “Great content strategy is about taking the guesswork out of execution, so creativity about content can flourish.” To help get all of the execution details straight, I’ve developed the Creating Valuable Content Checklist.

UPDATE: You can now download the Creating Valuable Content Checklist in German.

An overview of valuable content

The checklist is designed for digital content creators and marketing teams, and it defines valuable content using five benchmarks:

  • Findable
  • Readable
  • Understandable
  • Actionable
  • Shareable

Hat tip to Colleen Jones who inspired some of these benchmarks.

Today I’m going to share some quick tips on how to use the checklist, and then I’ll break down each of the elements tomorrow.

Download the Creating Valuable Content Checklist™  [PDF].

Get the decision makers in the same room

Before you start using this checklist, it’s important to understand how to use it. The first thing is to get the right people involved.

One of the most persuasive stories Gawande tells is about how some of the most run-down hospitals in Detroit instituted a checklist for inserting a central line. Hospitals use central lines, which are injection ports, to minimize the number of needle sticks. However, these lines can often become infected.

To reduce the probability of infection, a doctor named Provonost created a central line checklist and persuaded some hospitals in Detroit to participate in a study to see if the checklist was effective. Each hospital that participated in this project assigned a senior project manager as well as an executive “who would visit at least once a month, hear the staff’s complaints, and help them solve problems.”

Why did the executive need to be involved in something considered tactical? Some of the staff’s issues were things that only the executives could solve, such as supplying the right kind of antiseptic soap and proper size drapes. By capturing the attention and action of the executives, these hospitals in Detroit brought down central line infections by 66%.

In content marketing, your executives may be the people who can effect change in your resources or who can influence your company’s policy towards things like social media or the overall “voice” of your brand. By educating your key executive about the content marketing challenges facing your team and proposing solutions, you have a real opportunity to make a difference. Maybe you can increase traffic to your site by 66%. The point is, that by methodically moving down the basic details you need to attend to with every project with your decision makers, you may be able to solve problems more easily than you realized.

Share the checklist with your team

Over the years I’ve developed my own internal checklist of what needs to happen to keep the user interested in what I was writing. But I’ve also known that I control only part of the process. Visual design, information architecture and usability combine to create user experience and are key in keeping users on pages. To implement the checklist properly, you need to get all the members of the digital strategy team working through the checklist together and make changes as needed. They may even have their own checklists, so combine them for maximized effectiveness.

I hope you will print it out and use it often.

Want to learn more? Check out the next post in which I look at each of these benchmarks in more detail so you understand specifically what each point means and what you can do to make your content more valuable.

Download the Creating Valuable Content Checklist™ [PDF]

Please consider leaving a comment about the checklist—do you think there are things you would add for your organization? Do you use something similar?  If so, does it work as effectively as promised above?

Author: Ahava Leibtag

Based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm, and authors the blog Online it ALL Matters. She thinks 60 words is way too few to communicate why she’s interesting. You can connect with Ahava on Twitter at @ahaval.

Other posts by Ahava Leibtag

  • http://www.seofreakshow.com SEO Freak Show

    Appreciate the checklist. It has been saved and printed.

  • http://twitter.com/Biggestleaf Biggestleaf

    Wow great checklist! Will be printed out now and shared with the team. Thanks Ahava!

  • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

    Great article, Ahava! I love this checklist… simple and effective.

  • http://twitter.com/bakerboy78 chris baker

    Thanks Ahava. Really interesting article & a great, concise checklist. Really good points about engaging with the senior execs when needed.

  • Colleen Jones

    Checklists are always handy. I also suggest looking at these sources:

    Toward Content Quality – my variation on the checklist. This set of heuristics is likely more useful than the podcast mentioned in the article.
    http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2009/04/toward-content-quality.php

    http://www.heardable.com – Heardable scores brands using many of the characteristics discussed in these lists.

  • http://buyresearchpaper.org/ research paper help

    Thanks for interesting post.

  • Ahava

    I’m so glad you’re all finding it useful. It’s been a work in progress for some time, so I hope it will prove really useful.

  • Wesley

    Love this! Couple of things that the Findability section is missing, though…I’d add to it the concerted use of keywords in title tags, headlines, and body text. The use of target keywords should be prioritized as secondary to readability, but the mere presence of h1s and h2s doesn’t contribute to findability. I’d also suggest that linking TO the content FROM other related content promotes findability. Unless it’s hosted/posted on an authoritative domain, I’m unclear on how linking from it contributes.

  • Anonymous

    Love this Ahava. I will use it in presentations… with credit, of course. I think I might have explored adding an ‘original’ layer. Originality, like insight and quality, is in such short supply today that I think it’s worth asking yourself whether your content is a) actually your content (as opposed to something you’ve lifted from somewhere else) and, b) meets an unmet need; c) will surprise and delight, which is often – at least in part – a result of being original. Just a thought.

    • Ahava

      I agree there are a multitude of ways to use this. My only issue with the original aspect is that content doesn’t always have to be original to be valuable.

  • Dr. Patsi Krakoff

    this is a great checklist, thanks for putting your thoughtfulness into such a concise form!

    • Ahava

      So glad!

  • http://www.c-e.com/ chrismoritz

    This is going up on my office wall. Immediately.

    • Ahava

      For more reminders of me? :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.giefer Andy Giefer

    Excellent! Only need to add a checkbox for writing a great healdine, perhaps under the Readable section.

    • Ahava

      That’s a great idea!

  • http://www.upperlinefinancial.com H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP®

    Wow, this is great! Printed out the checklist and have it right over my laptop so I can remember this everytime I sit down to write!

    • Ahava

      That is the best possible compliment!!!

  • http://insightsandingenuity.com heatherrast

    Ahava, I’m so glad I found your post. This, of course, led me to your blog (that I immediately subscribed to). I like the distinct phases, and in some instances the steps within could be scaled/modified based on content project. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ahava

      I’m so glad, Heather. I have not been good about my blog–it needs a content strategy. Know any good content strategists? :-)

  • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

    Hi Ahava, I came back to your checklist as a ready-made tool to help a client understand what goes into valuable content, and I realized it’s missing one thing that is so important: Substance. Unless your content has useful and relevant information, the rest really doesn’t matter. I know, it should be obvious, but… well, it isn’t always.

    • Ahava

      I think that the goal of the checklist is to create valuable content, which you could also say is content that has substance. The checklist isn’t designed to become the content, it’s to ensure that you’ve done everything in your power to create the substance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/57-PixelMedia/126918870667643 Shelly

    Fantastic!!

  • http://twitter.com/olalah Olalah Njenga

    You just so hit it out of the park with this checklist. You rock. Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://www.webmaxformance.com Igor Mateski

    great! I love checklists. This one’s deffinitely a printout. The trick now is to train myself to use it.
    Maybe I’ll create a checklist about using checklists :)
    Jokes aside, using a standardized approach of content creation is very important to any serious marketer. Although some points are debatable from an SEO perspective, the points you list are very useful. I’d throw in a 30-minute keyword research, just to make sure the content covers keywords that are actually useful.
    Again, thanks for the great checklist.

    • Ahava

      Debate away Igor!

      • http://www.webmaxformance.com Igor Mateski

        the “debating” only goes for the Metadata checkbox, esp. the metakeywords one. It’s not in use any more, and as keyword lists are the foundation of SEO, and a product of research (hopefully), it makes no sense to then just make it publically known.  Other than that, I second, everything. :)

        • Ahava

          There’s so much debate about keywords–when Bing launched, everyone said they were using them.  I’m not one for abandoning a tag completely, so I think it makes sense to fill in the field with 3 or 4. It may also help for many internal searches, although I agree that as the BIG search engines phase it out, the newer internal searches will lose it as well. 

  • http://twitter.com/WebBasics4U Virtual Fundamentals

    I am a huge proponent of lists and checklists. Just venturing into the blog myself so will printed out and will definitely use. Thanks for the information!!!

  • http://www.boastingbiz.com/ Kdboastingbiz

    This is a great article.  Very useful for SEO: blogging, website content, news letters, internet marketing…..www.BoastingBiz.com.  Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tmkconsult Themba Mkandla

    Sound quite useful, will give feedback in due course

  • Angie

    This is GREAT!

  • http://www.seoebooklab.com/ Ram Babu SEO

    thanks ahava for this very useful and informative guide on how to create valuable content!

  • Ed

    Good article. Checklists are always useful. Till the information tie definitely in our brains.
    As the information always changes, as you said, we always need to review our internal and external checklists.

  • PieterVereertbrugghen

    Wonderful. My content creators use it, my clients are assured by it.
    (Yes, I mention your name.) :-)

  • http://rikwilliams.net/ Rik Williams

    I’ve found Ahava’s checklist incredibly useful in my work, particularly for providing structure for content audits and also for competitor landscape analyses for web content. You can find out more about the latter via my site.

  • Dan Banks

    Great checklist. Really boils it down so you don’t get bogged down. thanks!