By John Bottom published August 18, 2010

Checklist: The 4 Key Qualities of Effective Content

Over the last few years there have been some excellent examples of content marketing that have helped brands position themselves as experts in their field, and they have enjoyed direct business benefits as a result. Yet there are also accounts of campaigns that have swallowed up budget without producing real results.

The reason that some succeed and some fail is that, to be effective, content has to be more than just good: it must be compelling, fulfilling, convenient and efficient. I believe good content needs these four characteristics, so I offer this quick guide as a checklist to content marketers to ensure your content works for you.

This list was inspired by a recent conversation with a client. I found myself mentioning lots of different examples of content marketing, but they didn’t quite apply to his situation; the examples featured a different type of company, a different sector, a different proposition, etc. However, I saw there were themes running through all of these examples, so I developed these simple guidelines. I hope you find them useful.

Compelling

Content needs to promise value. It should address needs that are immediately relevant to the target audience. Make this clear in the title; the more attractive you make the title, the more likely people are to click on it.

Clearly, there is potential for “over-promising,” but the key is to state succinctly why your content is of interest to your audience. For example, if you have created something that offers information to a certain industry sector, make that clear in the title rather than using a general heading.

Fulfilling

Having promised value, the content must deliver it. Not only does this avoid the negative effect of disappointing the reader, but it also increases the chance of the content being further distributed/recommended amongst peer communities.

It is worth noting that expectations take many forms. First of all, you have made a promise in the title and should follow this through with the content, but also beware of calling something a white paper if it is only one page. Be honest – your readers will thank you for it.

Convenient

The content must be provided in the most convenient and appropriate format for the target audience. For example, complex information might require illustration that cannot be easily delivered via a podcast. Similarly, a distinction should be made between content that is designed for print and that which is designed to be viewed on-screen.

The perfect scenario would be to offer the content in a number of different formats, allowing your audience to choose. But of course, there is a cost factor involved, which brings us neatly to the last point.

Efficient

Content costs money, so any content creation schedule must be carefully managed to maximize efficiencies. Repurposing into different formats, such as filming an interview with the writer of a whitepaper, can extend the effectiveness of a piece of content. But careful planning is important to capitalize on economies of scale, for example, by doing all video work on the same day. Content can also be repositioned for a different audience with a small and inexpensive amount of careful editing, for example, to suit a specific industry sector or region.

The key, as always, is thorough planning. Once you have decided on the subject matter, the formats, and the people who will be creating the content for you, write out a plan that makes the most financial sense. Get the video guys in for one day (not three). Get the designer to do all your case studies in one go. Make life easy for yourself and reduce your costs at the same time.

Most of this is common sense, but do try to bear these four points in mind and make sure your content works as hard as possible for you.

Are there any other content guidelines you follow?

Author: John Bottom

After River Phoenix's dad, the second most significant John Bottom on the web. (check it out if you don't believe me.) That's not counting John Bottom, the insolvency lawyer in British Columbia. Or John Bottom of Lincoln who, according to judicial records, was indicted in 1767 for the theft of 32 pounds weight of raisins. We're a distinguished bunch, we Bottoms, and I just happen to be the side of the family that works in B2B marketing. I do it because I like it and have been fairly successful in helping clients plan and implement content marketing strategies that brings them results. And it pays better than stealing raisins. You can follow me on Twitter @basebot.

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  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi John,

    I like your list. The one thing I would add is truly effective content must have a call to action. I've seen far too many businesses invest time and effort developing their content but fail to encourage the reader to *do* something. Often the assumption is “content marketing doesn't work” when, in fact, they've failed to guide their readers to take action. I guess that quality could be called “Expectation”.

    Cheers,
    Sarah

  • http://thecontentbuffet.com/ John White

    Echoing Sarah.

    I also think that readers want to see and feel STRUCTURE in any piece of marketing content. It helps them follow you through the piece with the convenience and efficiency you've cited above.

    Lists (“4 Ways to Get Rich Off of Twitter”) are getting a bit old, but readers gravitate to them because they know what kind of structure they're in for.

  • johnbottom

    And then there were 5. You're quite right Sarah, and I welcome the addition! I guess what we have here are three qualities the content has for the consumer [fulfilling, compelling, convenient] and one for the content producer [efficient]. You could say that the need for a call to action works on both sides: for the consumer it is the need to offer more instead of leaving them at dead end – maybe call it “ongoing” to fit in with “compelling and fulfilling”. And then from the producer's point of view, it is about making the content have an effect and prompting a certain type of behaviour, which is what marketers are trying to do – in which case you might literally say 'effective', in that it creates a desired effect.

    If I had to rewrite the list – and believe me, I will for the next client meeting! – I would say good content needs to be 3 things for the consumer [compelling, fulfilling, convenient] and 2 things for the producer [effective and efficient].

    Thanks for your input!

    Cheers

    John

  • johnbottom

    I believe a coherent structure is the biggest difference between a well-written piece of content and a poorly-written one. People tend to get sensitive about spelling and grammar but, while these are important, it is the way a story is told that really matters. And one of the biggest failings of untutored writers is that they tend towards 'stream-of-consciousness' writing that gets tiring to read and difficult to follow.

    To be honest, John, I sort of had the idea of good structure under the heading of 'fulfilling' in that, if you tell someone they should click here to read a great piece of content and it is poorly structured, you are not fulfilling your part of the bargain.

    But you raise an excellent point, thanks

    John

  • http://www.4th-e.com Nick Wright

    When I worked at Time Inc, we were constantly told that magazine editorial content needed to do four things – 1. entertain; 2. inspire; 3. provide a solution to a problem; and 4. deliver an exclusive experience that could not be found anywhere else. I believe these key components are still relevant now, but when creating branded or custom content I would add one more: deliver value beyond the performance of the product.
    In other words, if you are creating a magazine for a golf equipment manufacturer, say, you don't just talk about the technology of the golf clubs in your features, but you include a whole range of content that helps people enjoy the game more, such as swing tips, golf course reviews and interviews with star players.
    It's all about putting the needs of the target audience or customer first.