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The Science Behind Quality Content: A New Study

Cited in Forbes as the most influential woman in social media, and recognized by ForbesWoman as one of the “Top 20 Female Bloggers,” Ann Handley is a veteran of creating and managing digital content to build relationships for organizations and individuals. A monthly columnist for Entrepreneur, a member of the LinkedIn Influencer program, and the co-author of the bestselling book on content marketing Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business, Ann shows audiences how to create amazing content and marketing for businesses big and small. Below, Ann writes on the importance of content and how it’s not what you say, but how you say it:

Only a third of the world’s largest companies have quality site content based on human factors like style and clarity and tone of voice (in addition to basics like grammar and spelling.)

The study from linguistic analysis company Acrolinx is the first of its kind to try to quantify something that’s hard to pinpoint: What’s the value of writing to a business?

(It’s the first as far as I know. And I’m happy to be wrong. So let me know in the comments.)

At the very least, it underscores the need to pay attention to not just what you say, but how you say it.

Some details:

A mere 31% of brands worldwide earned a passing grade for the effectiveness of their website content—a score of 72 or higher on a scale of 0-100—according to Acrolinx’s analysis of marketing, corporate, technical, and customer support website content.

I like that the study looked at more than the marketing and corporate communications pages that we might typically think of as “content.” Because everything the light touches is content.

sing its proprietary linguistic analytics engine (say that 10xs fast!), the company scored the content of more than 20 million sentences and 160 million words making up 150,000 Web pages from 340 global brands with more than $250 million in annual revenue. (Got all those details? There might be a quiz.) Brands like Gucci, Exxon Mobil, and Harley-Davidson, among others.

Acrolinx tackled style, tone of voice, and clarity—not just the “easy” stuff like grammar, usage, and spelling.

The grammar and usage analysis was straightforward: Acrolinx looked at subject/verb agreement and use of pronouns, and it also didn’t not look at double negatives. (Ha.)

Then, it evaluated style, based on 62 separate rules and writing practices (the kind you find in The Chicago Manual of Style or Yahoo! Style Guide, and, of course, Everybody Writes).

It judged clarity (how easy is this piece of content to read and understand?) by evaluating things like sentence length, structural complexity, and word choice.

Based on its proprietary algorithm, Acrolinx gave each company a “content impact score” using a 100-point scale to give each company—a measure of how effective the writing is. A score of 72 or higher signifies content that’s effective.

“Most companies have not yet reached that level of content sophistication,” Acrolinx concluded.

Fully 69% of brands failed the content quality test, scoring below 72. The scores of the 340 brands studied ranged from 55 to 85.


Among other findings of the analysis:

  • Retail businesses exceeded the benchmark for content quality, on average scoring 73.2, followed by B2B tech with an average of 71.2; telecoms lagged with a 66.2 average.
  • From a global perspective, Germany and America tied, scoring the highest for content quality: 70.2 each, on average.

An interesting footnote: Acrolinx suggested a connection between Alexa website rankings and the effectiveness of site-content writing. Those with higher content impact scores had, on average, a 22% improvement in their Alexa rank over the past six months, while the companies with the lowest content impact scores had, on average, a 9% decrease.

Acrolinx fully admits that its data doesn’t necessarily show correlation between Alexa score and its “content impact score.” And, of course, others have pointed out that the Alexa rankings themselves can be a flawed measure of a site’s success.

But anyway, the apparent link is nonetheless an interesting footnote to consider.

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