By Skip Besthoff published September 9, 2013

Improve Your Website Content’s Quality: 5 Ways to Drive High Performance

drive better website content performance-carThe digital marketing world is increasingly competitive and driven by content. To play in this landscape, best practices drive digital marketers and publishers to crank out as much website content as possible. The thinking is that by publishing a lot of content — specifically content that is well-written (including in an SEO sense) — traffic and engagement will follow.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Your competitors are doing the exact same thing, and the net effect is that a lot of relatively low-quality content is flooding the market. Rather than providing your audience with valuable information that builds trust, credibility, and engagement, this approach creates a cluttered and frustrating experience — the exact opposite of the desired effect. 

We see this everyday as we look at the actual performance of content publishing and marketing programs. The realities are:

  • Over 80 percent of the content published on a given website drives little to no organic traffic (according to newly released InboundWriter research). This is obviously a large portion of a company’s content investment. When you factor in the fully loaded costs of creating website content — writing, editorial review, approval, publishing — this results in significant waste and lost opportunity.
  • Most of the performance of your content is locked in before you even put pen to paper. Fighting for an audience on the web is a zero sum game. Only so many people are searching for a given topic or subject in a given month. The publisher’s job is to drive traffic by writing on topics with a large potential audience — and to create website content in a way that helps the business stand above its competition. Well-established studies from Cornell, Chitika Insights, and others show that more than 90 percent of all organic traffic comes from sites that appear on Page One of a search engine results page (SERP) for a given topic.
  • Most writers don’t fully understand why a piece of website content will or won’t perform well. As writers and consumers of content, it is easy to default into a mode of assessing content’s value based solely on what we’ve read and how well it applies to our needs and interests. However, this is not the way the web and search engines make their determinations. In truth, there is an alphabet soup of behind-the-scenes analytic factors involved in driving content success, and these criteria go well beyond the content itself.

So how can marketers hit on the right formula for their website content? In our business we see two general approaches:

  • One way is what we call “The Treadmill:” Play the content game outlined above, run as hard as you can, and try to stay ahead. The issue with this approach is that you are not building an asset. Quality content, done well, will behave like an asset that provides positive yield — not just initially, but over time, as well. In contrast, if you are creating content “on the treadmill,” you will have to invest a lot of time and effort on a continuous basis just to keep up with content demand — and even then you may only achieve mediocre results. And should you ever need to slow down or stop content production for any length of time, your spigot will quickly run dry.
  • The other approach is to focus less on the volume of content you publish and more on the quality of that content — i.e., following the “less is more” principle, recently evangelized by CMI’s Joe Pulizzi, among others.

Let’s revisit the realities outlined above in the context of the less-is-more approach: If only a small portion of your content truly drives results, your challenge is to develop quality website content that will clear that bar; that is, to create assets that will have a large and sustainable impact, as measured by an engaged audience; strong returns on your content and marketing investments; and (ultimately) a competitive advantage.

Here are some explicit tips for developing a program that consistently yields quality website content: 

1. Develop concrete objectives

I know this may sound basic and obvious, but we often see businesses fail to consider their overarching objectives when they begin a content program. It’s essential to plan your website content around the goals you want to achieve. Are you looking to create thought leadership? Inform your customers and readers? Simply drive traffic to fuel your business? Often, some of your objectives can be at odds with each other, which is why it is important to outline them up front, and then prioritize. Otherwise, the probability that you will be happy with the outcome is low. 

2. Do research before you put pen to paper

Every writer and website has its own unique strengths and constraints — just like every business. And though we would all like our websites to have a domain authority of 100 and feature wildly popular content, it’s rare that both of these goals are achieved — and nearly impossible without knowing what other content is being offered across your marketplace.

Because developing online content is, by definition, a competitive process, you need to understand your competition, your audience, and where the keyword and subject matter opportunities lie for you to distinguish your website content. Otherwise, you may invest a lot of time and resources in creating content, and still miss the chance to connect with your target consumers. Just choosing to write about any old topic (even if it’s one you are highly knowledgeable about) without knowing whether your audience needs content in that area is leaving success to pure chance.

3. Don’t overlook the small stuff

Like most everything in online marketing, making small tweaks can have big impact: Let’s say your chosen topic is a highly competitive one, where the chances of standing out are slim. If you’ve done your keyword research (as per point #2 above), you may have noticed that slight variants of your chosen keyword terms have less competition, but are still searched on frequently. Tweaking your content to focus on these terms can help your business really start to “own” the conversation around your subject.

Other tweaks you can consider may be as simple as tightening your title, or using your keyword terms more consistently across your content efforts. While they might seem minor in the grand scheme of things, we know even slight adjustments can lead to big performance gains, over time.

4. Solidify your website content’s role in your marketing strategy

Once you have the basics in place, you want to be strategic and programmatic in terms of how your website content plan fits in with your organization’s other marketing efforts. To succeed in content marketing and publishing is not a one-shot deal. You need to develop a longer-term road map and consistently publish quality content that aligns with your enterprise-wide goals. In doing so, each piece of content can become an “asset” that can be repurposed for — or supported by — your other marketing materials. When your brand assets become indelibly associated with your business’s value, they will increasingly yield dividends in terms of traffic and long-term consumer engagement, which adds up to significant gains in ROI. 

5. Always track your progress

Regardless of how much effort we put into content development, if our content isn’t being read, or isn’t leading to other desired actions (like user engagement), then it has no value. Like most online processes, there are ample opportunities to benchmark the performance of your website content efforts, measure your progress over time, and use the resulting data to drive continual improvements.

As a disciplined content marketer, you should regularly be identifying your top website content (e.g., the content that drives the most traffic to your site), and evaluating its performance against your other content pieces. For example, what is the engagement rate (e.g., time on site, page views, visits, etc.) of top performing content vs. your other efforts? Does the new content you develop make as strong an impact on traffic and other key metrics that drive your business? If not, focus on what elements may have made your top content stand out (Is it the topic? The writing style? The headline? The format?), and look to align your other content efforts so that they also leverage the key qualities you’ve uncovered.


There is no question that emphasizing quality over quantity will yield better performance over time. Furthermore, it is not a huge burden to implement processes to ensure that you are able to continually improve your content’s performance.

That said, much of the challenge of improving quality is also simply adjusting your mind-set. Understanding your particular performance issues, realizing where your content investments aren’t yielding results, and deciding that you are willing to make necessary changes are the first, and most important, steps you can take. From there, you will find that implementing a content quality initiative is not a herculean task; and once you see the performance it yields, you will never look back.

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

Cover image courtesy of InboundWriter

Author: Skip Besthoff

Skip is the CEO of InboundWriter, the leader in content performance improvement. Skip has been in and around software and Internet-based businesses his entire career, from his first job at Andersen Consulting (Accenture) coding large-scale systems to funding and helping build fledgling startups into successful companies. Many of the software and e-commerce companies he has worked with have gone on to become successful enterprises including Avendra, Intralinks, Everdream, ByAllAcounts, MPV and others. In addition to being a contributor to CMI, he is a frequent speaker on content marketing and his insights have been published by, Fast Company, Advertising Age, MediaPost and many other industry publications. For more information, please visit InboundWriter. To learn more about how your content will perform before you write it, please read InboundWriter's latest white paper, Change the Rules of the Game: Know How Your Content Will Perform Before You Write It.

Other posts by Skip Besthoff

  • Geoffrey Gordon

    Love this one, quality vs quantity.

    I share this often with our clients, rather than publish a lot of content , write fewer posts, that are well researched and actually helpful.

    • Matt Kamp

      Great post, Skip.

      I agree with Geoffrey, especially when it comes to guest posting. Write less pieces of content that are actually valuable to readers. This will actually require some outside research and thoughtful effort on the author’s part, but that’s the reason we call it *thought* leadership.

    • Matt Kamp

      Great post, Skip.

      I agree with Geoffrey, especially when it comes to guest posting. Write less pieces of content that are actually valuable to readers. This will actually require some outside research and thoughtful effort on the author’s part, but that’s the reason we call it *thought* leadership.

  • Craig Badings

    Skip, it’s great to see people like yourself and Joe Pulizzi talking about quality over quantity when it comes to content, even on a website. I’ve coined it the ‘slow content’ movement which I talk about in a blog post on our website if you’re interested in taking a look.

  • Nick @ Wishpond

    I’m not sure I would agree with you completely that “fighting for an audience on the web is a zero sum game.” If you write on broad topics such as “How to Increase your Facebook Likes”, then yes, that is a zero-sum game. But if you write content for longtail keywords, niche markets or uncommon questions you will be able to break new ground and increase the size of the pie.

    For example, instead of my above topic, I could write an article titled “How to use conference merchandise to increase Facebook Likes” or “See how you can use Starbucks’ Facebook strategy to increase the Likes of your Coffee Shop”

  • Ava Cristi

    There is a lot of competition on the web, and those that are more valuable in terms of information are likely to better capture a reader’s attention. It is important to pay close attention to the way content is being streamed and keep it at quality levels.Great article SKIP!

  • Cat Fyson (Koozai)

    Great stuff, Skip. The competition is fierce online and too many people think what I would call ‘generic’ content is enough – more thought needs to go into what is being created and I think Nick has hit the nail on the head with more specific titles – although the fear with that is creating titles which are too long and complex and forgetting the principles of a snappy title which is more likely to draw people in. There’s got to be a balance between the two, I think.

  • Erin

    I agree about the importance of developing
    concrete objectives before beginning the process of creating content
    programs – without a solid baseline, it is extremely difficult to
    develop programs that will be effective in the long-term. Studio One has a
    good, basic article, “The 5 W’s of Content Marketing,” that lays out
    some important steps in this process:

  • Alex Mouravskiy

    This is the same generic pablum we’ve been getting for years now. Can we please stop writing contrite how-to’s that don’t actually tell you how-to do anything but spend a lot of words going over truisms and points so generic that they can apply to anything? This is almost a perfect example of “how-to get your content to fade into the background noise”. Ironic, no?

    • courtney

      Exactly. Ironic, but not surprising. I was just about to post something along the same lines…quality over quantity does not seem to be the model that Content Marketing World is following. This post is the perfect example of that. Bland, bland, bland. Waste of my time to read the same platitudes over and over again in these supposedly “helpful” articles about content marketing trends. Follow your own advice, CMW!

      • Michele Linn

        Hi Courtney and Alex,
        Sorry you feel this way. With content marketing, we’re all at different stages of what we want and need to know, so while some posts resonate for some (as this one did for many of the commenters below), the same advice may fall flat for others. We are continually working to improve our editorial, so if you have any advice for topics you’d like to see, please reach out anytime: michele [at]

  • TheEB

    Quality vs. Quantity! It’s great to see this coming to light. I would love to see more specific how-to’s on creating quality content. Skip, do you have any advice?

  • Skip Besthoff

    Thanks to all for the great responses to this post. I appreciate the various points of view, and agree with Michelle Linn’s comment that there are widely differing levels of levels of experience right now on how to drive content marketing / content quality. It is a dynamic and emerging space.

    The reason for this post is we see people struggling everyday with how to make content perform. I summarize this as easy to say / hard to do:

    Easy to Say: While many might observe that ensuring quality is obvious to drive performance, in our experience with customers both large and small, content quality is oftentimes an afterthought. We find the most successful organizations are ones where they adopt a deliberate, quality-oriented mindset throughout the content creation process. This is critical to long-term and consistent success and often overlooked.

    Hard to Do: I especially appreciate the comments from those that seek more specific, ‘how-to’ guidance. It is very difficult to wade through the various approaches to drive content quality and understand the performance implications. Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. Our goal is to raise awareness so that people understand the importance of content quality and can prioritize how to address it in a way that fits their business and unique circumstances.

  • Kara

    Nice tips Skip! Totally agree with these tips for quality content. As we all know, content plays are much more bigger role in the success of the website. And as marketers, one should consider that fact that your readers/visitors are the ones who’ll pull you your way up/down. Basically one just needs to contemplate that we need to give the audience qualify, sufficient yet simplified content that they would relate to. Great article!

  • הורדות

    Very nice article, thanks for great tips.

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