High-quality content is integral to content marketing success.
To borrow a quote from my colleague, Neil Barlow: “Users love quality content, and so does Google.”
And it makes sense.
Readers return to websites that consistently produce high-quality content.
If a website’s content quality varies wildly from story to story, you won’t see it as credible. Nor will you return to a website that only publishes badly written, boring, or factually incorrect content.
Only brands that consistently produce quality content will earn trust and attention.
Quality content also helps you win with search engines – for similar reasons. Search engines are built to serve people the best content, from credible sources, that answers users’ questions.
In fact, none other than Google says that websites must have high-quality content in order to rank well.
The stakes for quality content are clear.
So how can you ensure you’re creating high-quality content?
How a Checklist Can Improve Your Content’s Quality
I’ve found that a simple checklist can significantly improve your content quality.
By creating a quality checklist as part of your content marketing strategy, you and your stakeholders will determine a set of standards that aligns with your content marketing goals.
By committing them to writing, you’ll have benchmarks to which you can hold your work.
By distributing the checklist, you’ll ensure that contributors know what you expect from them.
And by sharing the checklist with others in your organization, they’ll understand what you’re looking to achieve with your content.
The Key to an Effective Content Quality Checklist
However, a content quality checklist is useless unless you actually hold yourself accountable to it.
For your checklist to be effective, you have to be willing to not publish content that doesn’t meet your standards.
Even if it disrupts your publishing schedule.
But you can’t improve quality if you’re always making exceptions and publishing subpar content just to meet your self-imposed, regular cadence.
I’m speaking from experience.
Soon after starting at NewsCred, I worked with my team to update our quality scorecard. Despite consulting it, I still published stories that I felt could benefit from more details or another round of editing.
Because I felt like it was better to publish something – even if it didn’t meet our standards – rather than nothing.
Yet, that negated the purpose of the scorecard.
Not surprisingly, our content quality didn’t improve.
After several weeks of not seeing our quality improve, my manager took me aside. She told me that she would rather have me publish nothing than something I knew needed work.
This convinced me that I had her full support. I no longer felt like I had to publish something – even under-baked content – at all costs.
I now had the freedom to evaluate every piece of content with a critical eye and spend time getting it into the shape we all desired. (This did require time – I reduced our publishing cadence to three original pieces of content per week, instead of four.)
Our Content Quality Checklist
So what does our content quality checklist look like?
Here’s a screenshot from our CMS; we actually have it integrated into each article and I must fill it out before I can publish any piece of content:
The first question is the make-or-break one: “Would I personally share this piece of content with C-Suite marketing executives/my smartest marketing peers?”
If the answer is “No,” then I will not publish it.
This ensures that I feel that our content not only speaks to our target audience (senior-level marketers and content marketing champions), but also provides them with valuable information.
The second question is also a crucial one: “Is this piece of content so exceptional that readers can’t find it anywhere else on the internet?”
“Exceptional” is a high bar.
But we set an aspirational standard to differentiate ourselves – because anyone can produce content that’s “good” or “on-brand.” As the leading content marketing company, we felt our content needed to be strong enough to represent the power of content marketing.
Admittedly, it took a while for me to start checking off “Yes” for that one.
But knowing my goal made me evaluate all of our content very critically. For stories that came close but didn’t quite hit the mark, I noted what I needed to do to get them to that level.
The other questions helped me further improve our content. They ensured that I was publishing content that would inform, educate, and entertain marketers, and ultimately, help them do their jobs better.
Some stories don’t meet every standard. For example, it doesn’t make sense for every piece to be “human- and narrative-driven.” And not all stories work with takeaways woven throughout or summarized at the end. And by its very nature, licensed content is available on other places on the internet.
But overall, having a set of standards that I evaluate every piece against has greatly helped me improve our content’s quality. I won’t publish a piece that doesn’t meet our top standard and at least five others.
Our metrics are showing the effects.
In January 2016, our average engagement time for each story was 45 seconds, and our engagement rate was 45%. In January 2017, our average engagement time increased to one minute and three seconds, and our engagement rate rose to 51%.
How to Create a Content Quality Checklist
While your checklist can be as long as you’d like, I’d recommend keeping it to fewer than 8 questions. You don’t want it to be so long that you won’t use it.
Here’s an outline to follow to put together your own checklist:
- 1-2 make-or-break standards: If your content does not meet these standards, then you will not publish those stories.
- 4-6 standards: These standards should closely align with your content marketing goals.
- The total number of standards your content must meet for publication: If an article doesn’t meet that score, then you will not publish it.
For more sample standards to include, see this checklist for creating exceptional content.
And it’s one hundred percent normal if it takes weeks or months to get your content to your ideal place. But evaluating every single piece against your ultimate goals will help you get there.
Heather Eng is NewsCred’s Executive Editor.