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Redefining “Quality Content” … And Writing It

Sometimes, I think that if I hear the cliche “content is king” one more time, I’ll scream.

…Okay, maybe I already have. Everyone’s talking about content marketing now that Google’s put (more) emphasis on “quality content”, but no one really seems to be talking about what “quality content” actually means.

Is it content that converts? Content that’s shared? Content that ranks well in the search engines? Content that “resonates” with readers? All of the above? Something else entirely?

And: where can we start creating this “quality content”—if, that is, we’re not doing it already…?

Enough with the cliches! What we need are some answers.

Quality content: a new definition

I think quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something that has value for me may have no value to you at all. So quality is closely linked to audience, to the idea being communicated, and to the way it’s communicated. But ultimately, I think it’s a pretty subjective description.

As a freelancer, I’m sometimes asked to write content that I’m not exactly excited about. Obviously as bloggers, we would never publish something we’re not proud to put our names to on our own blogs. But if you’re paid to write, sometimes client desires can see you writing copy or content that bores you to tears, or worse: makes you cringe.

Well, if “quality” is subjective, then I think our most basic definition of the term should entail a level of interest that captivates us as human beings. If your writing doesn’t intrigue you, how will it ever intrigue someone else?

So my new year’s resolution for writing is: don’t write what you don’t want to read. (Easier said than done with some clients!) To me, that’s the basis for quality content.

The elements of interest

There’s a lot that goes toward making a post interesting. Topic, writing style, angle, and presentation are just some of the keys to keeping readers reading, and minds cranking over.

Of those, topic and presentation are probably no-brainers for most bloggers and blog posts, most of the time. But if you see blogging like that, you’re probably headed for writer’s block and a blogging rut. If you decide you’ll only ever use text and images, and you won’t look at certain topics in your field because they’re not really “you,” you’re already cutting of your options for creating real, genuine interest among your readers. And, most likely, for yourself.

As for angle and writing style, these are two areas that I think can interact really well—two aspects that can help each other to develop if you let them. How? With the help of the Golden Rule for Better Blogging.

The Golden Rule for Better Blogging

That Golden Rule is: try something you’ve never tried before.

It sounds deceptively simple, but in practice, it can be daunting. Here’s how it might play out for your blog writing:

  • Never written a sales page before? Write one. If you don’t have a product, imagine one of your competitors’ products is yours, or dream up a product you’d like to offer and write a sales page for that.
  • Wish your writing was more sensitive/dynamic/powerful? Study an author or blogger you feel has this talent, work out what they do, then try to apply those techniques in your own writing.
  • Scared to pen an opinion post? All the more reason to draft one. Now.
  • Been putting off making approaches to other bloggers about teaming up on a project? Open up your email and start writing … from the heart.

Better blogging is about pushing the boundaries of what you know you can do. Better blog writing is a variation on that theme. Pushing the boundaries of your blog writing capabilities can be hard when you feel you’re not sure where those boundaries are, or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of advice that’s available to help you overcome that particular challenge.

The answer is to take it one step at a time.

An example: my writing style sandbox

Toward the end of last year, I realized there were certain bloggers and writers whose styles I really admired. At first I wished I wrote more like them, but I soon realised that what I actually wanted was to develop a more engaging writing style of my own.

I studied their techniques, but instead of emulating them, I wanted to use the feeling it gave me as grist to my own creative mill.

So I developed an idea for a blog, wrote a couple of posts, and launched it. The idea is to experiment with personal narrative as a vehicle for deeper connection with readers.

For someone who’s more used to writing other people’s product sales pages and email autoresponders, this is a bit of a shift. It’s outside my comfort zone. It’s beyond the boundaries of what I usually do. And the whole point of it is to experiment with writing techniques—to have a sandbox in which to play.

Your writing style sandbox doesn’t need to be a blog—it doesn’t need to be available to the world, and regularly updated. You could have your sandbox take up an hour every Thursday night, and a new folder on your desktop. Your sandbox could comprise a mutual writing critique session with a trusted friend once a month. It could be whatever you want.

No aim, no gain

The objective of this post is, first, to get you thinking about how you define “quality content” and second, to encourage you to set a goal to reach for better quality content every time you put fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper).

The important step is for you to look at writing that you believe reflects the qualities your own content lacks, and from there, to set a goal to work on those elements in whatever way suits you.

Without an objective, you’ll find it hard to improve. While we could look to our traffic analytics, shares, and so on for “proof” that our writing “quality” is improving, since the measure of quality is to write something you want to read, the best measure of your “success” will probably be a feeling rather than a figure.

What does “quality content” mean to you? And what are you doing to move toward it? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

About Georgina Laidlaw

Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Georgina…isn’t it interesting how quality content is completely subjective. It is just like a piece of artwork. One person will think it is amazing and another will yawn. I think that we need to mix it up. Write a story. Wirte some copy. Wirte a sales ad. Write an article that is really nothing more than a survey. If we put out content that is grammatically correct, well crafted and interesting…no matter what type of content it may be we will still be successful. Thanks.

  2. Nico Julius says:

    Hi Georgina, I’m glad your wrote this post and I’m even more interested in reading the thoughts of others. On my blog, I write tutorials and my goal is to write simple step by step guides. If at the end my readers understand it and more important, try them out, then my goal is reached. For me, that’s “quality content”, if it’s useful to others. It’s not always easy to write because good tutorials are very time consuming.

  3. Ally says:

    I like the tip about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. I have a couple of blogs filled with text and pictures but something I’ve never tried on them is adding videos so I might give that a go

  4. Love the idea Georgina because it focuses on moving outside of your comfort zone.

    I just achieved consecutive 1000 daily page view days on my cash gifting blog because for me, quality content meant solving probs for my audience and..drumroll please as I exited my comfort zone….writing 5 to 6 times daily on this blog. Yep I write another blog where I post 5 times or more daily too.

    This was tough at first because I ran into all types of blocks but as I maintained a simple writing approach, paid strict attention to my titles and joined tribes – another uncomfy thing for me to do – good things happened.

    Really, think of what your audience really wants them jump out of your comfort zone delivering the message, because increase readers and revenue reside in that space.

    Thanks!

  5. Eric says:

    I was just wrestling with this question of what is quality content the other day. I poured thought, time, and typed what I thought was a pretty impressive and quality piece that was looked over by at least 3 other respected writers before submitting to a client that thought it was not quality. I was very surprised especially since he was a long term client. I was than able to step back and listen to more of what he was really looking for, and was able to deliver his “quality” that he was looking for.

    Again thanks for sharing!

    Eric

    • Georgina Laidlaw says:

      Eric, you touch on an interesting point here.

      Sometimes your “audience” is your client, rather than *their* audience. If they don’t like the content, they won’t put it to their audience. Our clients are a key audience for everything we write.

  6. Mitz Panic says:

    Funny you should mention this. I started writing with my own crazy style from the beginning and some “grammar freaks” did not appreciate my errors but loved the style. I never claimed to be a writer and my only aim was to get a message across. This is exactly what I have done because as you say “quality is closely linked to the audience” and luckily my audience approves of my content. :)

  7. Carla says:

    I just re-watched the video with Steve Pavlina talking about what he does for interesting content for his readers. And that’s it – what’s interesting for YOUR readers. That’s quality content….

  8. On my blog, quality means emotionally resonant, thought provoking, and quirky. I want to write about popular topics to attract readers, but I always ask how can I write about this subject in a way that no one else could or would. I did a movie review like that and one commenter called it “beautiful.” That’s the reaction I’m looking for.

    I also like to take more obscure topics and spin them in a way that people find them interesting because of the way I’ve written about them.

    Thanks for pushing us to be brave!

  9. Ravi says:

    No Aim, No Gain. Completely Agree with you. One cannot try harder unless he tries to set particular Goals. Thanks for the great Post

  10. I’m quite sick of the ol’ “content is king” adage myself. It’s a popular phrase-turn for people who are about three steps behind everyone else in the Internet marketing game. Good article. I like the sandbox idea. Seems like a really practical approach to start the day off right and motivate yourself for some of those not-so-fun jobs, which for me would be writing about seat covers. Who gives a damn about seat covers?

  11. rahul says:

    dont you think that defining quality content and then writting it once again would be very time consuming….

  12. Hi Georgina,

    I agree with Ryan that, quality content for me means solving the problems of my readers. As a network marketer myself, I’ve been through much of what they’re going through themselves. If I can share how I solved my own problems with them, and they use that advice to profit, then I consider that piece to be quality.

    I also love what you say about breaking out of your comfort zone. When I resolved to write between 5am and 7am every day, that was a major challenge to my routine. It’s still tough sometimes, but I’ve managed to stick with it.

    I find that writing every day helps me to be more creative. When I encounter blocks, I find mind mapping works to eliminate those, pretty much every time.

    Great content, Georgina. Thanks for sharing!

    Gregory

    • Aric – Who gives a damn about seat covers?

      Who are the people who need them? Households with pets that insist on occupying chairs and couches, parents of small children (or teenagers), owners of somewhat worn furniture that needs refreshing on a budget, fabric stores that sell fabrics for diy. — These four popped in my mind immediately. We could probably come up with two dozen within half an our.

  13. I’ve been falling into the ‘I haven’t written a blog post in 3 days, I should write one today!’ trap which usually causes me to come up with a half-hearted blog post of around 500 words. I get annoyed when I haven’t updated my blog and so I rush into the next post. This post was definitely an eye-opener for me.

    Thanks, Georgina!

    • Georgina Laidlaw says:

      Yep Sam, I think that deadlines—even self-imposed ones—can be a hindrance more than a help.

      One of the things I’m doing this year to give the “sandbox” idea the chance to work is making more time in my schedule for experimental stuff. Gregory (above) mentions this as well.

      Professional writing is always bound by deadlines, but playtime isn’t :) The “sandbox” is playtime for me, so it has no time constraints.

  14. Susan Kelley says:

    You published this post on the day I decided to erase the boundaries around my rather narrow comfort zone.

    To get rolling, I enrolled in courses on blogging and Vlogging among others. I’ve always written from my client’s view (unless you count my journals).

    I think the audience decides the quality of the content they’ll even read. For me, I want readers to absorb the copy through to the last word.

    Thanks for the ideas and the encouragement, Georgina.

    Susan

  15. Paul says:

    Personally, I don’t care if the person writing can barely write in English, is disjointed, and has posts full of spelling errors. If they can give solid principles that will help the bottom line then their content is valuable. An analogy would be where English professors have but little money and high school dropouts with a limited vocabulary are earning millions.

  16. I love the way you put it! So very true

    I think quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something that has value for me may have no value to you at all. So quality is closely linked to audience, to the idea being communicated, and to the way it’s communicated. But ultimately, I think it’s a pretty subjective description.

  17. Hey,

    Very comprehensive post! Not sure what to add here:-)

    Thanks,
    Jenifer Taylor

  18. Jude Banks says:

    Georgina, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article and the posts of commentators. I landed here via Twitter from retweets by @WordPress Tribe and @robgoss. This topic has been much on my mind lately.

    I am relatively new to blogging and social media, though I’ve been around in online marketing for years.

    Your insights have given me food for thought. I especially like your suggestions in the “No aim, no gain” section about defining the objective of the post. I tend to jump in with just a broad idea about what I want to convey.

    Having worked in the government sector for many years, all the passive, bureaucratic government-speak has spoiled me when it comes to writing naturally.

    Much appreciated,

    Jude

    • Georgina Laidlaw says:

      Jude, I know what you mean. Professional writing usually requires us to assume a voice that’s not our own. That’s fine, but as we grow over time, I think we have the opportunity to bring more to those professional voices we take on.

      The thing is, it’s all too easy to stick in the tone “rut”: this is how we write for X client.

      By taking the time and energy to consciously extend ourselves as writers we can bring more to clients’ brands.