If you think that judging story quality is a subjective matter, think again.

You can learn ways to judge whether the stories you are publishing are good content – ideally outstanding content – and you can learn how to achieve the highest standard of content, too.

“Quality content” is the biggest factor in the success or failure of your content marketing campaign, the research tells us again and again.

And it doesn’t take Einstein to believe it. I received a really disappointing e-newsletter from HI Pages today with the headline: 9 Designer Secrets to Spruce Up Your Home.

I was hoping for some really top interior designers’ comments when I clicked the link. Instead I got thinly disguised spin from retailers pushing their own products. Yuk. (Normally, HI Pages has good content, so I’m going to give them another chance.)

Good content is informative and entertaining.

Brilliant stories do more – we feel we simply must read them today (even though we don’t have time), we feel they were written for us personally, and we believe we can trust what we read – we get the whole story (not just the bit that serves the company publishing them).

Your story sucks if:

  • it doesn’t have a snappy headline that tells readers why they have to read it NOW.
  • it doesn’t have anything to say – you have not decided what you are telling your readers.
  • it doesn’t have a nub paragraph that tells readers what you are going to say and why it is in their interest to read it.
  • you didn’t do any research.
  • it doesn’t present the facts in an informative way and present a persuasive case while still canvassing views other than yours.
  • it doesn’t use examples and anecdotes to bring your ideas alive.
  • it is full of jargon, acronyms and assumed knowledge – the art of journalism is to inform readers of what they don’t know without making them feel silly!
  • it is longer than it needs to be to get your point across.
  • it is shorter than it should be to convince your readers you are right.
  • it was your first draft.
  • it is spin in disguise (and usually not a very good disguise).
  • it is not about what really matters to your readers.
  • it is not delivering leads and customers

And here’s three ways to make it better:

1. Start with an idea that matters to your readers

Are you answering questions your customers ask you, and giving them information to enrich their lives

2. Do some research

C’mon, Google makes it too easy. There are heaps of posts called Why your content sucks, which I read before I wrote mine. I also checked: What do we read online? What is quality content

3. Write at least two drafts

No one, including an experienced writer, gets it right in the first draft. Experienced writers know they have to work on a piece of writing to make it really good.

Does each sentence start with an exciting bit? Have you repeated words (use the thesaurus to find alternatives). If you go back and rewrite, you’ll start to spot your own foibles and failings, and you can correct them before they go global.

And here is a scientific checklist to help you make sure you are getting it right – or at least getting better.