By Bernie Thiel published July 26, 2012

Why Content Quality Matters: The 7 Hallmarks of Compelling Content

content quality matters, CMIAs social media redefines what passes for communication and information today, companies are beginning to question whether they should continue to invest in developing high-quality content. Their thinking goes, “If we’re just tweeting or posting to Facebook and LinkedIn, we don’t need anything longer or more substantive.”

Our years of experience working with several leading consulting firms that embody the gold standard in content marketing tell us otherwise. These firms long ago recognized that superior content is the best way to enhance their brands, connect with prospective buyers and grow their revenues. They also know that while social media channels are valuable for staying connected with prospects and clients, they still need something of substance and quality behind the status updates and one-minute self-produced YouTube videos. We’ve not heard of any senior executives making a multimillion-dollar bet on a consulting firm because he was intrigued by a clever tweet.

What these consulting firms understand — and other B2B companies should, too — is that high-quality content is more important than ever. Here’s why:

1. Attention is harder to grab

More distribution channels for marketing messages mean more publishing and more competition for buyers’ attention. Bullet points aren’t the answer. Simply good content is the most effective way to stand out from the rapidly growing publishing crowd. Leading consulting firms have long known that to capture distracted executives’ fleeting attention, they must provide deep, valuable and concise insights relevant to the challenges those prospects are facing.

2. You can’t fool Google

Search engines are getting smarter and more proficient at sniffing out bad content, especially with Google’s Penguin algorithm. Why? By incorporating time spent on pages, bounce rates, sharing of pages with friends and other measures of how real people use websites, the new algorithm makes the quality of a site’s content much more important to search rankings.

3. Content lives longer and can have a lasting impact on a firm’s brand

Because of email and social media channels, it’s impossible for a company to fully control the dissemination of its content, good or bad. The risk associated with publishing poor content (i.e. not adding value) — and having that content live in perpetuity online — is greater than ever.

4. High-quality content combats pressure on prices and margins

Customers today are more focused on price than they were before the recession, particularly for commodity-type offerings. High-quality content that demonstrates a compelling reason why customers should buy a particular product or service shifts the conversation from price to the overall value delivered by the product or service — and thus elevates the company and its offers above less-expensive (but also less-valuable) competitors.

5. You need something to say, and something else to say tomorrow

In our experience, one of the best ways to ensure the idea pipeline stays full is by investing in major pieces of high-quality content that can be “sliced and diced” for use in different channels over a longer time horizon. For instance, leading consulting firms produce major research studies, the findings of which they release in phases via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook posts over several weeks or months to extend the content’s value while keeping their communication fresh.

6. Expectations increase for marketing ROI

As many companies’ marketing budgets have tightened in recent years, leadership is demanding a greater return from their marketing investments. Marketers must get the biggest “bang for the buck” from every collateral piece or campaign they create. By focusing on quality and not simply getting something in prospective buyers’ hands, companies can increase the chances their messages will resonate with target buyers.

7. High-quality content will increase your odds of getting new business

This is the No. 1 reason why high-quality content is more important than ever. Consider the IT services industry: According to a buyer survey by ITSMA, a service provider’s strong insights on a buyer’s problem and its best solution to that problem increase the odds the provider will win the work, even as a sole source. Great content also is an excellent way for smaller, less well-known companies to get on prospective buyers’ radars. This is especially true in the professional services industry, where executive buyers are intrigued by the strength of a firm’s ideas, not by the size of its marketing budget.

If high-quality content is so important, how can companies go about ensuring they produce it?

In working with leading consulting firms, we have found a simple set of criteria is useful for ensuring content quality. We have used these “seven hallmarks of compelling content” to evaluate the strength of consulting firms’ white papers, articles and other marketing materials. But any company can use them to improve the quality of their own content — particularly documents that promote a specific product or service.

  • Novelty: Is the content unique or does it break new ground?
  • Focus: Does it have a single, overriding message that can be stated in a few sentences?
  • Relevance: Does it meet a critical market or buyer need?
  • Validity: Is the product or service being advanced supported with strong evidence of how it works and how it benefits the buyer?
  • Practicality: Does the content demonstrate that the product or service can be used or applied by the buyer?
  • Rigor: Does the content have tight, consistent logic throughout?
  • Clarity: Does it use language and concepts the target audience understands?

By evaluating its content along these seven dimensions — for instance, using a simple 1-to-10 rating scale — a company can roughly gauge whether its content meets the high-quality standard or needs further development. For instance:

  • Content that is weak in focus should be stripped of extraneous material that obscures the main message.
  • A piece that lacks rigor or clarity may benefit from the help of a professional editor who can tighten the logic structure and enhance the writing.
  • A document that is not especially relevant may need to be recast to more sharply address a particular buyer need (or, in more drastic cases, simply eliminated).

Content should score an “8” or higher on all seven dimensions to be truly “market ready.”

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Author: Bernie Thiel

Bernie Thiel is a partner with Alterra Group, a thought leadership marketing firm in Cleveland. In his consulting role, he helps professional services firms develop compelling, high-quality marketing content, including white papers, books, case studies, bylined articles and research reports. His clients include global and boutique management consulting companies, as well as major IT services and solutions providers.

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  • Roger C. Parker

    Excellent roadmap to content marketing success; stresses both quality content and the steps needed to keep it alive.

    Includes simple 7-dimension evaluation criteria and way to track success. Definitely a keeper.

  • Scott Aughtmon

    Great post and great points, Bernie!  I really like your bullet points with seven ways to improve the quality of your content.  I’d add one thing to the list: personality.  I think personality is one way for a person to help their content standout from all the generic, regurgitated content that is floating around the internet.

  • Stanley Rao

    Great post and great points mentioned  … your post has been very clear like a road map in terms of content marketing…. like the concept of you saying something for today and something for tomorrow

  • Nick Stamoulis

    If you aren’t creating great content, it’s difficult to get noticed.  A social media and SEO strategy relies on fresh, relevant content.  Without content there is nothing to share and nothing to optimized.  Any industry online is competitive.  It’s the businesses that understand the importance of content that will stand out.  

  • Dale Lovell

    An interesting post Bernie about content and how to ensure quality. Do you think there still remains a need for marketers to appreciate good content? And for bloggers and content creators to actually value the content they are producing for marketing purposes – some content creators view it as not being the same as ‘editorial content’, but the truth is it is. It seems to me that this is beginning to come together, but more could be done. I’ve blogged about it recently:

  • Scott Roemermann

    I agree David. Obviously better quality content is desirable but more important than that is understanding it’s role and doing some market research to give your audience what they want rather than coming up with clever content ideas internally. More info…