Content Development: Balancing Quality vs. Quantity

Good Enough is the new Perfect. – Anonymous.

The question has confounded content developers since the first prehistoric writer scrawled a message on a cave wall: How do you balance the Quality of your content against the Quantity of the content you produce?

Quality and Quantity anchor opposite ends of the content spectrum. For any content marketing enterprise, striking the optimal point between these two extremes is the secret to producing consistent, compelling content at a sustainable cost.

Quality: The Pursuit of Perfection

By definition, quality is a measurement against certain criteria or standards. With respect to content, quality is primarily a subjective judgment denoting accuracy, brevity and clarity. Good content engages and informs customers without drowning them in excess. Quality is also reflected by how well the writer adheres to a style or voice that confidently conveys your brand to the reader.

So many content writers confuse quality with perfection which, like Infinity, can never be reached. Endless tweaking of text is a trap that wastes a company’s time and money.

Quantity: Round ‘Em Up and Move ‘Em Out!

Whether you track by units written per hour or hours per piece, content quantity is 100% measurable. Have you ever been told, just get it done?  Tight budgets and deadlines breed the temptation to do the minimum to meet throughput goals. Unfortunately cutting corners inevitably serves nobody’s best interests.  Large-scale content development should be a controlled march, not a stampede.

Good Enough is Good Enough

The next two paragraphs may give the perfectionist writers among us a stabbing pain. Be forewarned.

In his Theory of Bounded Rationality, the famed economist Herb Simon identified the concept of satisficing. A merging of the words satisfy and suffice, satisficing means not to seek a maximized outcome, but to seek a satisfactory solution. To paraphrase Dr. Simon, the theory states that once a satisfactory state has been achieved, the effort to reach an even better solution is probably not worth the time or trouble to find it. People just like you and me make satisficing decisions every day of our lives. Think about it.

The careful content manager should understand his content objectives, the technology and resources at his disposal, and the skill sets of the content developers. In addition, everyone on the team must understand and embrace the idea that Good Enough is Good Enough. That is, when an acceptable standard has been reached — when you have described your product completely and can’t think of anything else to say — stop writing and move on. 

Tips for Achieving the Balance

So how can you find that sweet spot between quality and quantity in your content writing? Here are seven things that work for me in practically any situation:

  • Know your authoring medium — If you’re in a Content Management System (CMS), learn its structure and functionality and how to navigate it; If you’re working in Word you have more leeway, so be on guard not to ramble.
  • Know your content elements — Every content field in a CMS has a purpose, a definition, character limit and an ordered place within the content outlet template; know these and you will understand how your content will appear to the customer
  • Have a style guide that contains the “house rules” for content. Combined with a Chicago or AP Style Manual, this helps to achieve a uniform look and feel to your content.
  • Follow good examples —Take the best of your finished work and use them as examples.
  • Measure and benchmark — Determine how long it takes your developers to write a specific number of products, or flip it and determine the number created per hour. Then strive to improve your rates over time.
  • Use technology to create efficiencies — If you work with a CMS, you may be able to import information from an Excel spreadsheet. Creating content in a spreadsheet allows you to create content quickly and consistently, especially when populating SKU-level attributes and specs. Similarly, within a CMS you can create a product, populate common information and duplicate it to create other products that share this information.
  • Allow a review cycle, preferably with someone else to review your work. Fresh eyes catch many an error.

My perspectives come from years of writing product descriptions for print and e-commerce catalogs, but my points can be broadly applied to any content enterprise. Good luck, and happy authoring!

Dan Skantar is Director of Content Services at JP Enterprises.

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