Zen and the Art of Content Marketing: How You Can Add Quality to Your Content

by | Content, Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

When I first started doing content marketing, the advice was to blog 3-4 times a week to get results. But today, the focus on quantity has switched to quality. So what exactly constitutes quality in a blog post? I don’t have the answer, but I know who does.

My headline is a variation on one of my favorite books of all time: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My family moved a few months ago, and I purged all those books that seem to collect like dust bunnies under the couch. I kept a few faves: Zen made the cut.

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One of my favorite sections is where the author tries to define quality.  I was reminded of it when I read “7 Reasons Your Content Is Total Garbage,” a fantastic post by Suzie Blaszkiewicz.

I don’t want to steal Suzie’s thunder – I strongly suggest you read it – but she was lamenting the rubbish that content marketers are cranking out these days. She included a graphic courtesy of GetData on what annoys people most about blog posts.

I am reproducing it here because I think its points are so important. Again, read Suzie’s post as she delves into each topic.

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What Quality Isn’t

Take a close look at the GetData survey respondents’ top reasons that blog posts annoy readers, and ask yourself – as objectively as you can – whether your posts might fall into these categories:

  • Poorly written
  • Sensationalist headline that doesn’t deliver
  • Obvious attempt at selling
  • Doesn’t teach me anything
  • Isn’t unique – seen it before
  • Wrong length

This list holds important lessons for your content marketing program. Get a great writer on board. Don’t go sensationalist or overboard in your headlines. Please don’t sell – that’s the job of the landing page and website your blog is designed to drive traffic to. The blog content itself draws traffic by helping people.

But alas, those are things that are wrong with blog posts.  When I saw Suzie’s post shared on LinkedIn, I didn’t just want to pile on with all the other comments saying, “Damn straight” and “Yessir!”

I wanted to offer solution to the problem (which Suzie does in her post, by the way.)

I offered up the comment, “Quality is the key.”  And that’s when I thought about Robert Persig and his book.

Robert Persig. Photo courtesy of partiallyexaminedlife.com

Robert Persig. Photo courtesy of partiallyexaminedlife.com

Try to define quality. I dare you.

The protagonist in Persig’s book is a former philosophy professor who argues against the branch of philosophy concerned with definition of quality, known as esthetics. Even though he considered it an impossible task, he attempts to define quality throughout the book.

We do the same thing with the posts we write. We list the elements of successful posts, and define via data what has worked well in the past. But there’s truly no way to guarantee that the blueprints for success in the past will work again.

I’ve written countless posts that, when compared side-by-side, look extremely similar. But one outperforms the other. Why?

I can deep dive into the mechanics of the headline, into how many times I tweeted about it; the graphics, the data, the links — but at the end of the day, what seems to prevail is that the winning posts have a quality element. Something that simply helps readers get it.

But what is this element that set these particular posts apart?

The “Zen” protagonist asks much the same question about what defines quality, he’s told:

“Man, will you just please, kindly dig it, and hold up on all those wonderful seven-dollar questions? If you got to ask what is it all the time, you’ll never get time to know.”

This statement led the protagonist to a realization: Something is either “hip” or “square.”  (Perhaps today the words would be “cool” and “lame.”) As best as he could define it, quality was “hip”. So what the heck constitutes a hip post?

The One Who Knows

I attended a great presentation at Andy Crestodina’s Wine and Web gathering (wine and pizza are always served, so you can’t go wrong.) The speaker was Jeff Korhan, and he talked at length about, well, quality.

He didn’t literally name it, but he revealed some guidelines for finding it, much like Suzie did in her post. But I think some of the things he said really resonated with me because they were the antithesis of “squareness.” The biggies (and I’m paraphrasing):

Be helpful. We are all a self-serving lot. So how can you be helpful to the person we are trying to reach? I mean, really helpful? Not just dashing off a quick line or two with some surface level advice, but really trying to get to the root of the problem.

Sell a possibility. We are also ridiculously focused on selling our products and services, but how about selling the results of what happens with those products and services? How about revealing a possibility of what can happen? The human lot craves a vision – an ideal of what can be.

I may be getting a little over-dramatic if you’re selling garbage can liners, but maybe I’m not. Maybe that vision of a garbage can that is pristine and stink-free is something that you must offer up – because there are people out there who put a premium on that (anal me included).

I started this blog post by telling you that there is one person who knows what quality is in a blog post.  One person who holds the answer to these mind-bending question.

Is it Suzie Blaszkiewicz? Jeff Korhan? Robert Persig? Me? You?

It’s none of those. You know who it is. Quality – beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe it’s time you asked the beholder, no?


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Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio

Greg Mischio has been creating content for many moons. He is the Founder and CEO of Winbound, a sales and marketing agency that provides content and marketing services with a focus on manufacturing and industrial verticals.

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