By Ann Gynn published July 18, 2017

How to Define and Create Quality Content: Tips From 35+ Experts

We’re calling it: The debate over quantity vs. quality is over.

Quality wins. But what does quality content really mean? How do marketers guarantee that they are creating something that is high quality?

We asked the experts presenting at Content Marketing World 2017 how they define and achieve quality content.

I appreciate the simplicity of the response (and the intended grammatical mistake) from Doug Kessler, co-founder of Velocity: “Quality content resonates with its audience. If it doesn’t do that, it may be smart or beautiful or funny, but it ain’t quality.”

Read on for 35 more explanations and tips to help you create quality content for your brand from experts from Google, Microsoft, REI, Monster, as well as agencies, government, and more.

Go to Google

Check the one-box answers on Google. How do you stack up when Google gives only one answer to the question? How do your competitors? Another way is to ask your customers to rank content in real life. Show them three or four pieces of content (without branding) and ask them to stack the content in terms of ability to solve their problem.
Wil Reynolds, founder/CEO, Seer Interactive

Answer 3 questions

Anything that adds value to the reader is quality content. It’s industry-focused, not trite and trivial. It increases a reader’s understanding of a topic in a way they may not have been aware of. To “guarantee” high quality content, put yourself in your reader’s place and ask these questions: Is it relevant? Is it educational? Does it add value?
Chuck Hester, managing partner, T&T Creative

Know your ‘competition’

Your real competition is buyer inertia, apathy, and indifference. Quality content leverages urgent buyer concerns to break the ice of customer indifference and encourage deeper engagement – with you.
Jonathan Kranz, principal, Kranz Communications

Entertain, inform, forego vanity

Quality content attracts the marketer’s target audience by being entertaining or useful. You can know if your content is up to snuff by measuring it against KPIs that demonstrate actual business value (sales, brand lift, marketing efficiency, increased leads, shorter time to conversion, etc.). But beware vanity metrics! Mere traffic or engagement in the form of likes and shares is nice but not good enough.
Rebecca Lieb, author, analyst and adviser

Be transparent

Quality content is honest, clear, and serves no hidden agendas. The audience is smart and will see right through content that pretends to be one thing but is actually a veiled attempt at generating transactions.
Scott Berinato, senior editor, Harvard Business Review

Quality #content is honest, clear, and serves no hidden agendas, says @scottberinato. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Strike a balance

It’s about finding the right balance of providing quality content through the various mediums and touch points with prospects and customers in the right amount. Since the content should always be of high quality and relevance to the user, it’s more about finding the right moment to become successful.
Yuval Dvir, head of online partnerships, Google Cloud

Get out of your own way

What my audience really cares about is what they care about, not what I care about. We have to get out of our own way and help our audience by giving them what they want. “High quality” is the information that’s most relevant to them from what they want to know and what we want to tell them.
Skyler Moss, director of digital marketing, HCSS

Segment your content

If content isn’t created with a specific target audience in mind, it’s just a spray-and-pray strategy. Improve the quality of the content by segmenting the audience. Think about when and how a piece of content can be useful to a specific target group. But there is a flip side to segmented work – it takes much more time.
Joakim Ditlev, content marketing specialist, Content Marketing DK

If #content isn’t created w/ a target audience in mind, it’s just a spray-and-pray strategy. @jditlev #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Be unique and easy

Quality content is useful, based on actual statistics or experience, and unique — not available anywhere else. If people need something and you make it easy for them to find it, they’ll come.
Josh Bernoff, author, Groundswell and Writing Without Bullshit

Vary formats

I try always to consider not only the substance of content, but the structure of it, too. How does an audience likely want to consume content? Does an audience want to read long narratives to glean what happened at a conference? We doubted it, so our team endeavored to take a more “sound bite” approach, covering individual sessions with quotations from speakers, research highlights, practical tips, and more, rather than straight articles. In covering a tour of a revitalized neighborhood, I used precise times to move our coverage along so it would pique curiosity for our readers – what I call time-stamped reporting. Quality content employs alternative formats – bullet point format, time-stamped reporting, list format, and more – so the audience can consume content in interesting ways.
Michelle Park Lazette, writer, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Incorporate cultural context

Good content is relevant to your target audience. Great content also offers a level of cultural relevance. Why? Culture contains the ideas, convictions, beliefs, and implicit theories of the world we live in. Culture is what ultimately drives us and our decision-making process. Thus, letting your content speak through a filter of cultural relevance will make it a lot more likely to resonate and build long-lasting, meaningful relationships with your target audience.
Frank Thomas, director of content strategy and content marketing, adidas

Think short- and long-term

Quality content delivers value today as well as serves its readers for many years to come. In my experience, the content must offer utility and be able to be implemented instantly. The best way to guarantee quality is to revamp and improve existing content that is performing well. Take a winner and make it better and keep it evergreen.
Adam Franklin, marketing manager, Bluewire Media

Engage your audience

Another way of saying “quality content” is “engaging content.” If content is engaging to an audience, then it has a level of quality. For example, some people don’t look at tip lists as quality, but in reality, some media like BuzzFeed and Mashable have had a lot of success with these lists because they are extremely amusing, which is quality for their readers. I use the acronym IDEA to guarantee quality. If it’s industry-leading, data-driven, educational, and amusing, it’s typically a win with an audience.
John Hall, CEO, Influence & Co.

If #content is industry-leading, data-driven, educational, & amusing, it’s a win w/ an audience. @johnhall Click To Tweet

Be the only place to get it

Quality content is content your audience needs and can’t get anywhere else. It’s not “me-too” content – it’s content you’ve created in response to having a thorough understanding of the challenges your community faces each day. Ask yourself what special areas of expertise or data do you have internally to use for the benefit of our audience? That’s the type of content you should pursue, rather than clickbait “10 Things Marketers Can Learn From the Latest Social Media Meme” content.
Erika Heald, consultant, Erika Heald Marketing Consulting

Position your uniqueness

Create something that isn’t an also-ran of someone else’s work. Want to cover a topic that’s already received a lot of coverage? Ask, “What can I add to this that will be relevant and interesting to my readership?” or “What outstanding questions can I offer my company’s expertise to answer?”
Jeff Renoe, content strategist, Dickson

Dream bigger

I prefer to use the term “value.” You need to provide something of value to your audience and the more value you provide the better. Research what your competitors are providing and provide content more valuable. For example, imagine there were hundreds of articles related to building a persona for content marketing. Instead of creating another article, create a software program to help build personas automatically. This is what HubSpot did.
Ian Cleary, founder, Razor Social

Test it

Your target audience can tell you if your content quality is crap. You need to test content with a small segment of your target audience and get their reaction first. Too many marketers are guessing instead of using secondary and first-hand research to see what will succeed. Research reduces risk.
Melissa Eggleston, UX specialist and content strategist, Melissa Eggleston Multimedia

Don’t stop talking

I think it starts with your audience. Talk to them – not once, but often. How are their needs changing month to month and year to year? We all think we know our audiences, but no persona is as good as actually listening to their needs. Data can show you trends, but people’s needs are often irrational and unpredictable.
Ryan Knott, public relations specialist, TechSmith Corporation

Blend art and science

On the science side, the content meets the intent of a consumer, and that’s indicated and measured by engagement with the content. On the art side, the content has an aesthetic and style that meets the taste of a consumer. This is harder to measure but as important.
Paolo Mottola, managing editor, REI Co-op

Do the work for your audience

It isn’t enough to say, “this happened” or “this is going on.” High quality content synthesizes ideas and draws a conclusion, curates and brings together resources, or surprises and delights the audience.
Zontee Hou, senior strategist, Convince & Convert

Create buyer personas based on real people

Metrics such as downloads or page views tell us that buyers are searching for answers, but we still don’t know if the content we delivered was thorough and compelling. Begin with clarity about the questions buyers and customers are asking throughout their journey. Personas need to be based on in-depth interviews with real people who have navigated an actual buying decision, revealing deep insight into the buyers’ struggle to understand their options and make an informed choice. Making stuff up is always going to be a hit-or-miss proposition.
Adele Revella, CEO, Buyer Persona Institute

Get in your reader’s mind

Anyone crafting content must put him or herself in the reader’s shoes at all times. If you don’t know enough to get inside the reader’s head, do as much research as necessary until you are confident you understand their professional challenges, buying habits, wants, needs, and pain points. Ensure that writers and other content producers are capable of (and are) putting the audience first.
Lisa Murton Beets, research director, Content Marketing Institute

Anyone crafting #content must put him or herself in the reader’s shoes at all times, says @lisabeets. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Make it 10 times better

Ideation is the key to quality content. The process involves searching for content that exists on your topic, and evaluating what’s been said, where it’s been said, how it’s been presented, and who said it. It also involves ensuring that your topic is what your audience is searching for.

We’ve been implementing long-form, high-quality content, which Moz’s Rand Fishkin calls “10x content.” It uses ideation to identify the top post on a given topic and then creating content that’s 10 times better – going deeper on a topic and enhancing it with videos, images, and graphics. We’ve been doing this on our own blog for over a year now, and have seen organic traffic to our blog increase almost 50%.
Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures

Look at the data

Quality is really determined by our audience – prospects, customers, and agents. If they find it useful – which we can tell from the data and feedback – it may likely be quality. We aim to build on an insight and create content that is highly usable and/or inspiring to our audiences. That’s quality.
John Bell, vice president enterprise digital marketing, Travelers

Make it tight

Quality content is original, maybe even counterintuitive. Quality content is detailed and covers the topic from many angles. But it’s tight. Not a word is wasted. And it’s often highly visual and easy to consume. There is no guarantee, but if you go beyond what your audience expects, you’re on the right track. Look for clues in your data.
Andy Crestodina, founder, Orbit Media

Prove it

Attribution from reliable sources, quantifiable evidence, unique perspectives, and exclusive/unique points of view are the characteristics of quality content.
Dan Curran, president, PowerPost

Get readers to act

Quality content converts. It gets more people to subscribe to your blog, generates more downloads, and creates more leads for your business. Track the results of your content – stack pieces next to each other against your metrics. You’ll see patterns emerge of the assets that lead to the most conversions, and then you can make more content like it.
Heather Hurst, director of corporate marketing, Workfront

Quality #content converts, says @heatherhurst. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Be more critical

Marketers need to get stingier about what qualifies as an insight versus what’s just plain old information. An insight will register as unexpected. It will destabilize a prospect’s understanding of their world, making them rethink how they’re doing things today. Information, on the other hand, simply confirms already established or already inferable truths – what I call “true but useless” information.
Tim Riesterer, chief strategy and research officer, Corporate Visions

Fulfill at least 3 parameters

I consider five parameters and aim to get at least three of them to fit. Is the content (1) original, (2) relevant (to the platform and the audience), (3) timely (in terms of current issues, topics, or events), (4) optimized (not just for the platform and audience itself but includes a call to action), and (5) snackable.
Donna Moritz, visual content strategist and founder, Socially Sorted

Let readers make conclusion

Quality content is when others recognize you have something to say that relates back to something you believe in. Once this is unlocked, a whole new landscape takes shape. This is the ability to build an audience and create better customers. In the words of author Neil Gaiman, “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.”
Mark Masters, managing director, The ID Group

Meet at the intersection

Valuable content – content that drives revenue at the end of the day – is only found at the intersection of three things: relevance to your audience, consistently delivered on the same channel, and a higher quality than anyone else is creating in the marketplace today.
Andrew Davis, author and CEO, Monumental Shift

Go for the heart

Quality means hitting that sweet spot in the consumer’s heart. You know the one – where someone has a flutter of “the feels” after watching or reading a piece of content and it resonates in some manner.
Ben H. Rome, marketing manager, American Industrial Hygiene Association

Give them what they want

After consuming your content, readers or viewers walk away with advice, steps, or insight they can apply to a job they need to get done. Additionally, they can get through the content in a reasonable amount of time and are engaged enough to keep reading or viewing all the way through.
Sherri Powers, director of marketing, TechSmith

Gut check with 2 questions

Quality can be boiled down to the answer to two questions: (1) Is your content addressing your customers’ needs? and (2) Are your customers walking away satisfied with how you’re addressing their needs?
Margaret Magnarelli, managing editor for content, and senior director of marketing, Monster

Address 4 things

Quality content connects with:

  • Your audience – It informs, entertains, and changes a way of thinking. It connects with the brain, connects with the heart, and connects with their desires.
  • Your business objectives – It drives your audience through the customer journey by helping create awareness and interest, and developing quality leads that convert to sales and nurtures customers after the sale.
  • Your organization – It helps the sales team nurture leads. PR can tell great stories to enhance the brand. HR can use it to recruit quality employees. Customer service can use it to minimize call times and develop satisfied customers. Bring it all together by making your content strategy a cornerstone to your customer experience strategy.
  • Your community – It highlights the partners within your supply chain. Pull in influencers and thought leaders who resonate with your audience. Collaborate with complimentary suppliers within your industry to elevate the bigger story. Leverage internal expertise with employee advocacy. Encourage user-generated content to drive customer advocacy.

Scott Lum, senior content marketer, Microsoft

Conclusion

Jay Acunzo, creator and host of Unthinkable podcast, offers some great advice that can work with any of the tips on how to create quality content: “Try. Try really freaking hard. Try until you feel like you can’t try any harder, then go see your family or watch the game or take a walk. “Then come back to your work tomorrow, and try really freaking hard again.”

He continues, “Zoom in from the abstract ideal here and realize: If each thing you work on was slightly better than the last, others are more likely to love your content. If we just made the point constant improvement, rather than a nonexistent, final state of quality, the rest takes care of itself. There’s no clear line, no simple secret, and no guarantees. There is only hard work done with the right intent. In other words? Try.”

You can meet and learn from these experts as they present at Content Marketing World 2017 Sept. 5-8 in Cleveland, Ohio. Register today and use the code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Angie Jackson

    Hmmmm. I suppose you could try to master all this (at the expense of all the other stuff you already have to do). Or, you could hire a good editor! To a good editor, all this comes naturally, instinctively, and/or via years of experience doing these 35+ things.

    • Ann Gynn

      I smiled at your comment (#bias). Yes, a good editor can make all the difference. And it’s helpful for other team members to recognize how to achieve quality too.

  • http://quickneasyrecipes4u.blogspot.com/ Stacy Deason

    Nice tips. thank you. MOM i will follow these points to improve.

    • Ann Gynn

      Glad you found them useful — CMW presenters had a lot of interesting things to share on the subject.

  • Nummero Digital

    Clear, and simple guide. Thanks! Great job.

  • https://www.bloggingfromparadise.com/ Ryan Biddulph

    I love Rebecca’s advice Ann about entertaining, informing and forgoing vanity. Big fan of doing each through my blog and my entire brand. I never hesitate to self-deprecate 🙂

    • Ann Gynn

      Glad to hear Ryan. Rebecca’s advice is solid. And it requires all of us to step back and recognize that “vanity” is about far more than the word “I” and “me”.

  • https://harbren.com Jill Brennan

    Thanks Ann for gathering all the tips together. My favorite: break the ice of customer indifference. That is the key for me because its about engagement. If the reader doesn’t engage, its all white noise.

    • Ann Gynn

      You are so right, Jill. And it’s hard sometimes to even figure out what that “white noise” is. It’s not just your direct business competitors. It’s content from many sources. It’s time in their daily life. It can be a lot of things.

  • Ann Gynn

    Thank you Jim for your feedback. Too often the question is posed quality vs. quantity. And frankly, I’m tired of that conversation. I’m all for moving the conversation further to discuss what is quality — and quantity certainly fits as a characteristic to discuss under that umbrella.