Do you ever have one of those moments when you hear something a quadrillion times and on the quadrillionth-and-first time it suddenly makes you want to throw a pie at everyone who’s ever said it?
Sometimes the same clichés and “tips” get circulated more than rumors about Nicki Minaj leaving Twitter or stories about Charlie Sheen “winning”.
One of the things that’s been moving the needle on my irritation-meter lately is the overcooked advice to “write quality content”.
Want to win in the search engines? Engage your social audience? Generate leads?
Write quality content!
Because, as I like to say, don’t we all sit around thinking, “Shoot, I’m just gonna throw some random crap out there that I wrote while I was working on my tan last weekend, call it content and hope nobody notices!”
(You may remember a similar rant about how to create “engaging” content for social marketing.)
Yes, if you write quality content you’ll be doing yourself, your blog, your website and your business a favor.
It’s great advice.
But the one thing that all the great advice leaves out is, “What the heck is quality content?”
Instead of holding my breath waiting for the big revelation, I’ve put together a guide so that next time someone says “create quality content” you can use these actionable tips to turn your content into something that is, indeed, quality.
Quality Content Tip 1: Mind Your Writing Skills
First: proofread! Your content should be free of obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. I know typos slip through but there’s no excuse for poor spelling in every third paragraph, missing punctuation and capitalization, and poor sentence structure.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read a lot. Read good writing and read bad writing. You’ll be able to tell the difference, believe me! Make a note about what makes some writing “good” and emulate it. The more you read, the more you’ll see patterns in what sounds “good” and what makes you want to fall asleep head first into your bowl of cereal.
When you read good writing you’ll notice that:
- Sentences and paragraphs flow smoothly. Try the “read aloud” test. If you find yourself stumbling over words and phrasing then your readers probably will too.
- Word choices catch attention. Be selective about your words and phrases. Make them clear, specific, purposeful and memorable. Re-learn those old English class conventions like onomatopoeia and alliteration. Use the corny phrases you otherwise try so desperately to keep out of your business conversations.
- There’s a rhythm. Vary the length of your sentences. When you intersperse “full thoughts” with punchy snippets you create a syncopated rhythm that helps readers get into a groove. Switch up your syllables, too. Too many words with the same number of syllables creates a sense of monotony. Lose the snore factor.
- Words are ordered well. Simply rearranging the order of words in a sentence can make it read better. For example, “I like lentils and mint” has a better cadence than “I like mint and lentils.” You can almost imagine singing the first one, can’t you?
- There’s an overall structure. Start at the beginning, write through the middle and finish at the end. I’ve read an unbelievable number of blog posts that just… start and end. An intro and a conclusion will go a long way toward creating order and flow.
Writing is like a muscle. It feels weird and stiff at first but once it warms up things will start to flow.
Quality Content Tip 2: Pay Attention To Story
If you read my last post, you know I used a personal story about my worst days in business to make a broader point about lessons learned and coping with tough times. I could’ve called it “6 Ways To Cope With Business Stress” and listed them out with six neat bullet points. It certainly would have been a quicker read! But I doubt it would have had the same impact.
Stories make content relatable. Tell yours if you want your readers to care.
Anecdotes are another great way to make writing more relevant and memorable.
An anecdote is just a story snippet. Anecdotes don’t have to be literal. You can take a snippet of a conversation or bits and pieces of a few different experiences and string them into a short tale that demonstrates your point.
Finally, use real-world examples liberally. It’s nice to give advice or tips (like “write quality content”) but better to show how. Vague ideas will leave your readers disappointed. If you’re going to say something subjective then you need to back it up with specifics.
Quality Content Tip 3: Find Your Voice
Sounds like more vague overcooked advice within vague overcooked advice! I bet a lot of people roll their eyes and give up when they hear that one, too.
And yet it’s crucial to the heart of your content.
So let’s call this what it is: being you.
There’s no secret to finding your voice and no treasure map to lead you there. It’s just about being who you are.
Writing is not about sounding smart or “official”. It’s not about passing an exam or getting an A. It’s not even about being impressive. At its simplest, it’s about having a conversation via keyboard.
The best way to “find” your voice is simply to stop trying to write and to tell people what you want to say instead. In your own words, with your own personality and style.
When you write, it helps to imagine talking to someone. Your spouse, best friend or even your favorite customer. Keep an image of a person in your head and write for that person. Write the way you would speak – slang, swear words and all!
Worry about grammar and rhythm later. It’s a lot easier to edit things out than to try to infuse life into a soulless paragraph.
Having a voice can even be about breaking the rules. Slang spellings, intentionally odd grammar or word choices and unique turns of phrase are part of what make you interesting. Don’t get so hung up on being “correct” that you stifle your creativity.
The more you write the better you’ll get at being yourself.
Quality Content Tip 4: Have A Purpose
Whenever you sit down to put words to page, ask yourself this simple question: “What’s the point?”
Content needs a purpose. That may be to amuse, entertain, educate, encourage, help, inform. Vague ideas and random musings don’t make for quality.
Give something that your readers can take away – an idea, an inspiration, something to think about, debate, test or practice.
Quality content provides a benefit, not to your business but to your readers.
And through the beauty of “give and you shall receive”, by providing a benefit to your readers you automatically benefit yourself – by proving your expertise, your commitment to excellence and your ability to deliver.
Sometimes to deliver something of quality you need to go beyond what you know and find out what other people know.
Spend some time researching your topic so you can see what others have said. Support your topic with references, links and statistics where appropriate. If you don’t fully understand what you’re talking about and haven’t bothered to dig deep enough to learn a little more, your readers will know.
Even if you do know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick Google search to see what else is out there on the subject. Before writing a post, I take a look to see what the rest of the world has to say on the topic. It helps expand my viewpoint, provides perspective and even triggers new ideas that I can share to help my readers.
Quality Content And Search Engines
Especially since Panda and Penguin, “quality content” has been all the rage. Everywhere, people are going a little crazy trying to figure out what quality content is for search engines. There’s a lot of talk about getting rid of “junk links” and staying away from article sites and aggregators.
Those people miss the point entirely.
Here’s how quality content and search engines really work: You write something smart, beneficial and memorable that people like. People then share and link to your content. Search engines catch on and realize your content is being shared and linked. They want in and start listing your content in some nice, obvious places in their listings.
The bottom line? There is no such thing as quality content for search engines. There is only quality content for people – and that makes search engines take notice.
I know, keywords and all that. If your content has a purpose, it should be easy to find and use keywords because you’ll already be dealing with words, phrases, questions and topics that people are interested in and looking for. But remember, people don’t read your content for keywords. They read it for ideas. Find a way to give that to people and you’ll get the benefit of search listings, too.
It’s not the fast, easy way, but it’s the most effective way, and the least likely to have you running around in a panic when Google releases the Parrot and Piranha updates.
Think you’ve got a better handle on that elusive “quality” thing now? Did you find something that you can act on next time you sit down to write? Don’t hesitate to call BS if you see any here! I’m happy to dig in deeper if anything is vague or cliché-y.
And if you’ve got something that you think makes for quality content, share your tip, too!
Join the discussion 28 Comments
Fantastic post, Carol. You did such a great job of presenting something that everyone talks about and making me think about it differently. I think a lot of times, at least for me, I get in the mindset of writing posts that will get found…instead of posts that will actually get read. BUT, I’ve also found that the times that I really have something to say and say it as ME, the response on the post is 100x better received.
Thanks for the reminder!
Thanks Brad, glad you can relate. Talking about writing good content without obsessing about keywords and search engines is usually the quickest way to send people packing. Everyone wants to know the SEO secret sauce. But it doesn’t matter if you CAN get into the top of search engines – if your content isn’t good, you aren’t going to build readership so your rankings don’t matter anyway. It’s possible to beat an algorithm. But it’s not possible to trick people into reading junk!
I think it was e.e. cummings who said you can’t break the rules unless you know the rules. All of these points are excellent! I especially like the have a purpose point as so often we see post after post that hammers the same point. To find your purpose will lead you beyond the obvious and the mundane to something that hopefully will spark an “aha” moment in your readers. You did that for me today.
Oh, good ‘ol e.e. was super at rule-breaking. But it’s true – there’s a difference between making a mistake and breaking a rule. Sometimes I read blogs and wonder… do people actually like this kind of stuff? I can’t imagine they do. I’m not talking judgmentally, but rather practically – posts that say generic, vague things that are clearly just the result of someone sitting there and pilfering a few bullet points from other people’s posts without actually saying anything remotely useful or interesting. We’re not all e.e. but heck, we can spend a few minutes making a point!
Hi Carol Lynn,
You hit the nail on the head with this one!
There is so much thrown around about quality content that the term is cliche’ – I think we even tune it out sometimes.
But you laid out exactly what makes quality content, from start to finish.
I think bloggers can get so caught up in the notion of frequent posting that articles slip out that are less than spectacular. Better not to post at all than post something mediocre. That’s why I didn’t post today! It just wasn’t “up to par.”
Thanks for sharing!
Good for you for knowing when you weren’t ready to post something! That’s not easy to do, especially when some of the advice you get is “stick to your schedule”. A lot of posts that I write are born out of a frustration that so many people say the same generic things but nobody bothers to tell you what they mean. Like, if you want to lose weight, exercise. Awesome! I’ve never heard THAT one before! Now I’m going to totally lose a hundred pounds!!! Really. That’s what a lot of marketing advice sounds like to me. “Engage your audience.” Super. And how? When? With what? lol, I could write another blog post 🙂
Thanks for your comments and I look forward to reading your next QUALITY blog post 🙂
Nice one, Carol Lynn.
This is one of the clearest How To posts on writing quality content I’ve seen. The point about writing with a story in mind is a great one – it’s much easier (and quicker) to write something if you think about it in terms of the beginning, middle and end of a story.
I love stories because it really puts things into context and gets a point across in a much more concrete and actionable way. Plus they’re more fun to write and if you write from experience, like you said, it’s a whole lot easier!
Thanks for a wonderful article! It
is about time someone cut through the entire BS that surrounds writing good
articles and told it as it is. And in the end writing good articles (telling stories
really) is always about just a few simple things that you need to keep in mind.
Write for people not web spiders and
It’s people who read your articles
and even if you could get top listings on Google and all the rest of the search
engines if people don’t like your article you’ve gained nothing anyway. I tell
people all the time;
“You will write many great
stories before you’re thought of as a good writer but only a few bad articles
will get you labeled as a bad one.”
Remember your audience and give them
stories they want to hear!
Nothing turns off an audience more
than finding that what they are being offered isn’t something they have any
interest in. Believe me if you invite people to a Willie Nelson concert then
try to introduce Kiss as a replacement act it will take riot control
to get you off the stage. So always make your writing fit
your audience as you’ll never succeed trying to make the audience fit
Tell your story don’t write your
Remember if you can’t read a story or article aloud and have
it sound good it won’t read and seem good silently. I always work by reading my
articles first silently as I compose and write them on the computer. And then
verbally as I go back and proof and correct them until they “sound” right. Then
it’s one or two good silent reads to catch any final proofing issues or
mistakes before I call any article done. Writing is like a carpenter cutting
wood on a construction site he always measures a board twice so he only has to
cut it once.
last but not least, “Leave the tricks and gimmicks for the magicians.”
In the end it’s the writer that thinks they are smarter or
more clever than their readers that makes the mistake of trying to trick their
readers into reading or liking their work.
Readers aren’t stupid and they don’t
like things like catchy headlines that don’t really fit the story, or articles
you’ve not done your home work on and are shallow and filled with clichés to try
and hide your lack of knowledge.
Remember you can only write well by telling
stories about things you know and understand. Readers instantly know when you
try to “pull the wool over their eyes” and their displeasure will rain down on
So above all be truthful, tell stories and write articles on subjects you
know about, and trust me your audience and search engine rankings will only grow
as your reputation spreads.
Wow, Frank, I think you should take that comment and turn it into a blog post!! Thanks for sharing so many great points. I agree, you have to write for people, not spiders, but try to convince someone of that when all they want is “SEO”.
Another point you brought up is also so important: don’t trick people with your headlines. I don’t mind if people use a bit of a “trick” in the headline IF they deliver on the post. For example, sometimes you read a title like “Why I hate XYZ” and then the article is really about why they LOVE XYZ but it’s written in a relevant, interesting and clever way. But so few people can really pull that off. I think it’s usually best to say what you mean – and stick to it in the post! Readers don’t want to be misled and we’re all so busy that who wants to spend time reading through a post and then realize it’s nothing but junk?
Stories are fantastic and they make a post relevant to you AND your audience so it’s a win-win.
Thank you for reading and sharing with me!
Thanks for the kind words Carol!
And it’s funny you should suggest making an article out of this reply as I’m doing just that.
It’s kind of another “secret” for me I’ve stumbled on to help with my writing to comment on most of the articles I read and like.
For me it seems that commenting somehow gets the juices flowing and many of my comments have either become articles or posts later on or lead to ideas that did.
And of course the connections and relationships that have also developed between me and many of those I shared comments with is also a real benefit. If you want to make a friend of any blogger just post good comments on their blog and your off to a great start..LOL
Anyway I guess it just shows that the real secrete to writing is to write often.. write.. write..write.. and then write some more.
That’s a neat strategy! I never thought of doing that but it’s a great way to get your thoughts out first, especially on a topic that you already have an opinion on! It’s true, writing is all about writing 🙂 You just have to keep doing it. I can’t wait to read your full blog post!
Yes Carol I do get sick of hearing you should do something with no clear direction of how to or what it is.
For someone new to the blogging world how do they know what quality content is or what it means. You have given some great information here.
There is some pretty average stuff around so I am not so sure they did not write it while working on their tan 🙂 – I love your sense of humor!
A great post thanks Carol
Ha, you made me laugh, too… I think you’re right, there are probably a few people out there who are working on their tan and throwing some keywords into a paragraph on their cell phone 🙂 Sadly, I bet they’re not the ones reading this! Thanks for your thoughts.
As usual, Carol Lynn, this is a fine example of “quality content.” I love following your blogs because of that. You pull the reader in and we can hear your “voice” loud and clear as a teacher! This is why I show up all the time – as a student of sorts. I learn not only from your content, but from your writing style. I’m not blessed with writing skills, but I do know my “voice” and that is what I focus on.
Knowing your Voice is important as you explained above. You really have to know yourSELF in order to communicate to your readers. Telling people what you want to say in your own words can be powerful.
As for Tip Number 1 – Thank God I married a writer! I write my blog in my voice, then have David edit it. If I didn’t have him, I would have to hire an editor! He He
Thank you for your guidance,
Donna, you absolutely have a voice and don’t sell yourself short on writing skills either! You write with passion and you inspire others with your insights and words of wisdom.
You’re pretty lucky being married to a writer. For most of my life – even to this day! – I have my mother proofread and critique my stuff because she’s an English whiz. Not with my blog posts (heck, I’d have to hire her full time) but with “important” stuff, like business communications or advertising materials where you want to be sure everything is perfect.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and keep on doing what you do – I enjoy reading your posts every time!
I agree and disagree with you. I agree on the fact that writers need to have a good mindset. But, I don’t necessarily agree with the point on structure – do you need a structure? A basic one is needed, but don’t focus upon it. A writer needs to have a purpose – it could be something that can be explained or it could just some emotion or passion.
As far as those small details, they matter, but we should never be carried away with them (Most people do carried away with these things. My principle is simple: Just write).
If you are writing for an audience, publish something valuable to them – something they can use and apply in their own lives or businesses.
And yes, stories are great – but they can also be bad, if not used in the right manner (lot of people these days take over advantage of these things, stories – just some random story isn’t going to do the trick. It should be something real, something honest and something relate-able, not just to the rest of the content, but also to the reader who is reading it (True, it can’t be relate-able to each and everyone, but make it relate-able, with whom you connect).
As far as quality content goes, how do you define quality content? There isn’t a real definition, because what one finds us quality content may not be of quality to someone else – because we all have different standards.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have a few comments to share as well.
“Quality” is certainly a somewhat subjective term. Some people read Hemingway and think he was brilliant. Some read him and think he was limited and terse.
However, we’re talking about blog and marketing content here, so I think there are some clear indications of when content is NOT quality. Poor use of language, many typos, lack of interesting or relevant points – some content is just poor quality and we can all pick it out.
I also think there is a difference between “quality” and “useful”. I may read something that doesn’t tell me anything new, that is too simple and uninteresting to me. So for me, that content is NOT USEFUL. However, it can still be GOOD QUALITY. Just because I personally didn’t get any value out of it doesn’t mean it’s poor quality.
So yes, people will get different things out of different content but quality content will make a point, make it well and provide a value or benefit to SOMEONE – maybe not everyone, but there’s no way to please everyone all the time!
I also believe that all good content has a structure – whether you recognize it or not, plan it purposefully or simply write that way naturally. I don’t mean to imply that it’s the only important thing but when it comes to blog writing especially, where we hope to share advice, tips, information or experiences with people, we need order in our writing – we can’t simply throw out a bunch of ideas randomly on a page and hope people will figure it out. If we say we’re giving “three ideas” then we should have one, two and three points, for example.
I agree that people can get hung up on technical details. That’s why I advocate writing first and editing later, which sounds like what you do as well. Write what you know (or have learned/researched), with your voice and passion and that will be the foundation of quality. Then you can attend to the finer points of style to improve the quality even further.
Finally, stories help to make abstract ideas “real”. Of course we can’t simply make up a story and call it quality. It all goes back to the purpose of the writing. The story should help define and explain the purpose.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I want to write a post about “how to get people to like you”. And my advice is “Drive a nice car.” Ok, what does that mean? Just telling someone to drive a nice car is NOT very useful and would probably not turn into quality content!
But I could tell a story (and I don’t mean it has to be long) about how I used to think my car was great but everyone who rode with me complained that it didn’t have air conditioning. So maybe that wasn’t the best choice of car! So you see, it’s subjective (what’s a nice car?) but there are examples and experiences that can make it easier for people to relate to and understand.
I bet if I put two blog posts in front of someone, on the same subject, but one was written well and one was thrown together haphazardly with no respect for style and structure, people would be able to pick out the better quality. Subjective? Yes. But in a world where we are constantly being compared to everyone else (there are millions of bloggers saying the same thing I am!) we have to pay attention to all the details that we can so when people compare us (subjectively) they will recognize the good stuff!
I appreciate your thoughtful response to my post and I think that it’s a “quality” comment 🙂 It has a structure (you made each point clearly), it’s written with a purpose and it has your own style and voice!
Of course, we could and we should make our content more useful (more of high quality) by writing in a structured format (I am just saying that we shouldn’t give too much attention to it, like most people). As for me, I write as I go, and I don’t re edit any of my posts (mainly because, if I start to edit, I just lose the flow and rewrite the whole thing itself).
So, I like to write and publish as I go.
As for structure, I have a basic structure. But, things change within my mood. For the most part, I write short paragraphs with lots of white space (and no headings). But, things change, depending upon the topic, my mood and where I write (Well, the audience).
I love this Carol and I enjoy how you just tell it like it is, from your perspective.
I have to agree although I tend to preach a little about the quality content thing. But I also like to make sure that it’s just information that others will enjoy and definitely in their own voice and I prefer from their own experience.
I love stories and it helps me to relate to the blog owner so much more because I feel what they’ve been through or I enjoy what they’ve taught me through their own experience. When it’s too technical I get bored really quickly mainly because I just don’t understand what they’re trying to share with me.
Another fabulous post young lady and keep them coming. I really enjoy your posts because you don’t give us any fluff at all.
Enjoy your week.
This is a fluff-free zone 🙂 I think I want that to be the name of my next blog!! I like stories too, which is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog, too. You always tell something in a way that I can relate. I think people hear “story” and the get scared because they think they have to write a novel or something. But even just a small example from personal experience really makes a difference. thanks as always for your input!
It would appear that you have a thing for quality content. I could not agree more. In fact i think a lot of bloggers are realizing that quality is better than quantity. It doesn’t mean that your posts always have to be super long or epic, they just have to delivery something extra to the reader.
This is where knowing who you are and who your reader is comes in handy. And like you said having a purpose is very important.
Each of your tips could bring about many more posts, articles or videos. The point of knowing your voice is critical, especially for new bloggers who are trying to make their way onto the scene.
Once you have established a voice and know your reader then you can deliver quality content without having to hype it up or be to pushy…which tend to happen with some people.
Thanks for all the great tips.
The Network Dad
I try, Ken, I try 🙂 I completely agree that “quality” does not have to mean “epic”. You can say something short and sweet and still make a point. Look at Seth Godin. He blogs about one paragraph at a time but it always packs a punch.
I think I should take your advice and churn out a post-per-point! Then I[d have quality AND quantity 😉
Hi Carol, Wonderful article and I wish this post was on “my” blog LOL!
As I was starting to read you post it reminded me how annoyed I was yesterday, reading a blog post (in one of the comment groups that I belong to) which was so poorly written. Almost no punctuation and long running sentences. Pretty bad. Even though I was supposed to share that post Ireally, really didn’t feel like it.
I am really mad when I see written crap like that. That is so showing that you don’t care and all you are looking for is trying to get traffic and sales. Problem is that you are losing in credibility.
I guess all we can do at this point is writing posts like yours here to try to help those people to just GET IT already!
Ah, that’s one of the things that drives me crazy, too – when I’m supposed to share someone’s blog and I don’t want to because it’s not very good. Plus it makes ME look bad, like I’m recommending junk! Maybe we can teach ’em a thing or two 🙂
I agree with that, too – if you do too much editing and worry about too many rules you’ll stifle your voice and creativity. Write first, edit later! And white space is good 🙂 People forget that and try to cram a lot of things into every space possible. There’s always a balance!
I am new at blogging. I find this article to be very informative. I want people to like what I write and come back again. Thank you.
That’s great to hear, glad to help! Let me know how it goes.