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If You Want ‘Quality Content’, Kill Your Babies

By September 13, 2013June 29th, 2015Writing & Content Marketing

Here’s a scenario that marketers often face: telling their customers that developing good content should be the principal focus of their marketing efforts.

This, as it turns out, is not always the advice that clients want to hear.

Nowadays customers want to hear about errors, flaws, glitches and SEO misfires that are at fault for any poor results in marketing.

Given enough time,we’ll eventually hear the client say something like, “I’ve done some research and I think we really need to improve our content.”

Saints be praised.

In one case many years ago, one of my clients had demonstrably worse content than their competitors, but the principal decision maker refused to make any changes to legacy content because she thought hers (which she had written personally) was superior.

In another case, a client wanted technical and engineering data to be rendered on a web page as a graphic instead of as text-based data, rendering the content less than suitable for reading, mobile and search.

These organizations, and the infinite number like them, have one thing in common. They have fallen in love with their content as if the content were their babies.

My suggestion to them: kill your babies.

As I understand it, the phrase “kill your babies” comes from novelists who write stories, but then fall in love with their words so much that they cannot edit the piece down to a superior form. A number of times I’ve heard of editors who hand back lengthy pieces with the phrase “kill your babies”.

The idea is simple: make your content – whether it is a novel, a brochure or a web site – the most compact and efficient content it can be so that customers can easily consume, understand and act on it.

Here’s an observation about the words “quality content”: quality content isn’t an absolute. It’s highly subjective. What is quality content to one person may be crap to another. When a business wants to develop quality content it needs to identify what its clients perceive as quality content rather than what the organization may internally perceive as quality content.

Tangential to this is that falling in love with your content, whether it’s your text, photos or logo isn’t beneficial to a contemporary business striving to adapt and compete.

Ultimately “quality content” means “content that compels your customers or potential customers to buy your product and service over your competitor’s.”

If your content doesn’t do that, kill it and make new and better content.

And when it comes to content; screw the search engines. Too often rookies make the mistake of “writing for search”. The search engines are not your friends. They don’t have an interest in you or your business. They are not going to buy your products. Why, then, are you producing content for them?

Even Matt Cutts, a big deal over at Google, advises businesses to develop content that is ideal for customers and not necessarily for search engines.

Here’s what you should do right now: stop reading this article, review your marketing materials and come up with a list of 10 things that can be improved to the benefit of your customers.

That 10 item list, if acted on, has the potential to generate more revenue than any search engine can.

Let me know what if you agree or not in the comments below.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Ralph I dig your view. Quality content is easily digestible and usable. People get value from it by reading it, digesting it and using it within minutes. Problem solving content. A solution. Create easy to use solutions. Now that is quality content. Super share!!

  • clarestweets says:

    Great post Ralph. I think the originator of the phrase was Stephen King. I have found that the best way to identify a ‘baby that needs killing” is when you are trying to hard to keep a sentence, phrase or paragraph by writing all around to make it fit. Strike it out and feel the relief it brings.

    • Sometimes, I like to “think like twitter” and challenge myself to say things in 140 characters or less. That length rule doesn’t apply to blog content (for example) but it’s a good way to add healthy constraints to yourself.

  • Hi Ralph,

    Great post! I have to admit that I got kind of amused at your “kill your babies.” It’s actually “kill your darlings.” There are several authors this is attributed to, but my favorite is Stephen Kings which goes, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” 😉

    • King borrowed the saying from Faulkner who borrowed it from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote in The Art of Writing (1916):

      “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

      Different variations exist for every author from George Orwell to F. Scot Fitzgerald.