The No. 1 element of content quality is accuracy. If your content is not accurate, it cannot be deemed quality content, no matter how well-written, designed or promoted it might be.

In that way, quality content is a lot like an atomic clock: known primarily, but not entirely, for its accuracy.

There are certainly others areas to assess regarding content quality, but they all spring from this so-called first principle. Sadly, most brands never get this priority right, which means their ideas about what comprises quality content is akin to the performance of a cheap watch: always wrong.

We’re judging content quality incorrectly

Content quality isn’t about what we, as content creators, deem important. It’s also not reliant upon prospects doing anything after they consume our content. After all, some of the best content prospects read, watch and listen to daily typically results in little more than a mention to a friend or family member or, in the best case, is shared via social media.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the true measure(s) of content quality. I’ve read thousands of blogs, hundreds of ebooks and case papers, and dozens of books commenting on the topic. In the end, they all focused on the same area, the consumer of the content.

Collectively, each and every piece of content I’ve read on the topic has had an “If this, then that” slant. “If you blog daily, then your traffic goes up 890%.” (I’m exaggerating for effect.) They’re equating success with action, placing the focus singularly on the action the content elicits (e.g., that it was successfully shared, linked to, engaged with, etc.) and the consumers of the content.

Content quality has nothing to do with action. It has everything to do with concrete, mutually agreed-upon, often empirical, principles (which I share below).

Most times, when people talk about content quality, they actually mean value. Value can, will and often does mean something altogether different at the individual level. Quality represents a set of well-known standards that people recognize. To conflate the two is a huge mistake.

Let’s consider an example: Someone puts a 10-ounce medium-rare filet mignon on a plate in the center of a table, available to anyone who desires to consume it.

  • Using the value example, the steak is most desirable for folks who know and enjoy steak, consider a filet mignon a worthwhile cut of meat, find that medium-rare suits their tastes, and who are are hungry at the moment.
  • Using the quality example, the only thing that matters is that the steak could or would be deemed edible by anyone who is a fair judge of meat, regardless of their opinion of meat or steak in general. 

See the problem? Folks using the logic in the first example are making, pardon the pun, a qualitative, value-based argument: Is this valuable to me instead of is it valuable, period. If you apply the logic in the second example, it’s easy to see how the test is more quantitative, for the assessment is based on the meat itself and less on opinion and/or needs of any particular audience member.

How someone, anyone, feels about steak has zero to do with the quality of the meat. It only matters that what’s put forward could be deemed worthy of eating. That’s the minimum threshold for consumption.

It’s the same for our content.

Content value vs. content quality

Content value is a moving target that’s of far less significance than content quality. For example, you can create a piece of valuable content, but because it’s quality does not meet an acceptable threshold, you’ve effectively wasted your time. However, by investing in the creation of quality content, you’re also creating something of value. Stop thinking about creating valuable content and start thinking about delivering quality.

There are five key elements involved in ensuring content quality.

#1 – Accuracy is the hallmark of quality content

Is the information factual? Is it backed by data, research or, at the very least, capable of being corroborated by a third party? As a dyed-in-the-wool empiricist, one of the things that really raises my hackles about blogging is the rampant opinions expressed as fact. Everyone is an expert. The result of this is that much of what we see online each day is inaccurate to dishonest levels.

#2 – Content must be accessible for the prospective audience to be considered of high quality 

Can the audience for which the information is intended readily consume the information? This is in the realm of voice and tone but goes a bit deeper, trafficking in depth, breadth and how desirable such information is determined to be by said audience members.

#3 – Quality content is also applicable

How meaningful and relevant is the content to the audience? Does it meet them where they are with clear guidance to get them where they are looking to go? This is what I call the “just-for-me” aspect, which can really make your content sing. When readers/viewers walk away feeling like “This brand knows me,” they more easily, willingly return.

#4 – Being actionable is an important element of quality content

For all my complaints about blogging, I have come to appreciate the quick-hitting, walk-away-with-actionable-tips nature of the medium. Readers and viewers expect as much. Any piece of worthwhile content should have at least one solid takeaway.

#5 – High-quality content is always authoritative

For content to really resonate, it needs to be authoritative, something that encompasses everything from the site the content is delivered on to the author and the substance of the content itself. Does it take a stand? Does it make a clear, compelling point? Is the author a credible source in the realm? Should you reasonably expect to be successful after following the advice shared in the content?

What’s not important when considering content quality?

You likely notice I didn’t include aesthetic as a descriptor of quality content. How a page or image looks is important, but not nearly as important as we in the online world make it out to be.

It’s as though the only two metrics we care about are conversions and appearance. We seem to forget that our audiences can find our information amazingly useful without ever taking a “desired action” or going gaga over a snazzy graphic.

In point of fact, two of the most widely consumed pieces of content on the planet, The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, are rather boring to the eye. But no one would disagree that both are quality publications. Yes, the information needs to be appealing, but appeal should never trump the 5 A’s, in my book.

What are your thoughts on content quality? Did I get it wrong?