For today’s marketers, creating and distributing high-quality content is a top priority. In fact, 88 percent of B2B organizations use content marketing and, as a recent IDC report notes, “building out content marketing as an organizational competency” is second only to measuring ROI among CMOs’ most important initiatives.

Yet, despite the proliferation and widespread adoption of content marketing over the past few years, it’s only just beginning to emerge from its infancy.

The fact is that only 32 percent of B2B content marketers describe their content marketing as sophisticated or mature, while just 30 percent consider it effective. Things aren’t much better in B2C land, where those numbers are 37 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

So why aren’t we better at content marketing?

Most experts agree that a lot of it has to do with the fact that the majority of content marketers — 70 percent of them according to an Altimeter Group report — lack a consistent, integrated content strategy.

Fair enough, but the reality is that’s only part of the problem. After all, even if you’ve got a world-class strategy, you’re never going to be a successful content marketer unless you’re creating great content. And great content starts with effective writing.

That may seem like an obvious point, but it’s worth calling out.

As marketers, we’re under constant pressure to create ever more content. Unless we can hire more people, we often have to work faster or cut corners to keep up with demand. Or we turn to our colleagues around the business — many of whom aren’t effective writers — to contribute to the effort.

The net result is that although the quantity of content we publish goes up, the quality of it starts to slip.

Why Content Quality Matters

When the quality of your content goes down, it’s a real problem. That’s because there’s no such thing as neutral content. Anything that you publish that isn’t high quality can actually have a negative effect on your brand.

Not only that, according to a survey by translation service provider Global Lingo, 74 percent of respondents are conscious of the quality of spelling and grammar on company websites. Of them, 59 percent indicated that bad grammar and careless spelling mistakes would prevent them from making a purchase from a website because they wouldn’t trust the company to provide good service.

That’s a pretty big deal.

And, not only does content quality impact audience perceptions of your brand, search engines, such as Google and Bing, are just as unforgiving.

Bing’s Duane Forrester says that “just as you’re judging others’ writing, so the engines judge yours. If you struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of content exist to serve the searcher?”

Of course, content quality is about a lot more than just spelling and grammar. It’s also determined by things such as style, tone, and clarity — the building blocks of effective writing that are essential for engaging your audience, building trust, and creating a better overall customer experience.

A Closer Look at Our Content Quality Research

Since content quality is so important, we wanted to see just how effective some of the top brands are at writing great content.

To do so, we used our linguistic analytics software to evaluate the online content of 340 companies around the world spanning a variety of industries — everything from retail and financial services, to aerospace and automotive, to high tech and manufacturing.

We focused our research on large organizations with more than $250 million in annual revenue, most of which are household names such as Gucci, Exxon Mobil, and Harley-Davidson. We also looked at various types of content, including marketing and customer support content, as well as corporate communication and technical product content.

We evaluated the overall quality of these companies’ content by analyzing it across two main dimensions: grammar and style.

To assess companies’ grammar usage, we examined their content against best practices for standard grammar conventions and then calculated how many errors it contained on average per 1,000 words. We’re talking about things such as subject/verb agreement and use of pronouns and double negatives.

Similarly, we evaluated each company’s style based on 62 separate rules and writing practices (the kind that you find in The Chicago Manual of Style) and on our years of linguistic experience. We also looked at clarity, which is a measure of how easy a piece of content is to read and understand — something that’s particularly important when you’re trying to communicate complex ideas.

As part of our analysis, we gave each company a score for quality and clarity using a 100-point scale. Using a proprietary algorithm, we then used these results to derive an overall content impact score for each company — a measure of how effective we believe that their writing is.

Based on our experience, we have determined that companies need to achieve an overall content impact score of 72 or higher in order for their content to be effective.

As it turns out, most of the companies we reviewed haven’t reached that level of content sophistication just yet.

Here’s What We Learned About How Effective Brands Are at Writing

The overall content impact scores of the 340 companies we studied ranged from between 55 and 85 points. Not only is that a pretty broad distribution, we were surprised to discover that less than one-third (31 percent) of those companies reached or exceeded our target benchmark score of 72.

 

Content Impact Score Distribution

content-impact-score-distribution

What this data tells us is that, despite the growing adoption of content marketing globally, maturity levels differ significantly. With more than two-thirds of companies producing subpar content, we think content marketers need to renew their focus on improving content quality and clarity.

Analyzing the data from a regional and industry perspective further underscores that this is a global problem. While content quality tends to be relatively consistent from region to region (with scores of 69.5 for the Americas; 69.8 for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and 68.1 for Asia Pacific), they’re all below the 72 point benchmark.

It’s a similar story when you look at the industry breakdowns, with one exception — the retail sector — earning a score of 73.2.

 

Content Impact Scores by Region and Industry

content-impact-score-by-region

So Who’s Got the Best Content?

Our intent with this research isn’t to call out specific companies by name whose content doesn’t measure up. Having said that, we do want to recognize a handful of the top-performing companies by showcasing examples of their really high-quality, effective writing. These companies include:

kohls

American department store Kohl’s has clearly taken care to create content with a warm, friendly, and inviting style:

Enjoy a refreshed and refurbished home with home decor and furniture from Kohl’s! Whether you’re overhauling your space or just tweaking your home’s design, you’re sure to find pieces and accents in the styles you want. From feminine shabby chic to more masculine sleek and modern, Kohl’s home furnishings add color, texture and function to your home.

catzerpillar

Another top performer, Caterpillar, is a company that’s known for implementing content strategy on a massive scale. Despite the high-tech engineering detail that their content needs to communicate, the company excels at connecting its technology with specific needs as seen in this recent blog post.

Like much of the northeastern United States, the town of Afton, New York, has been buried — literally — with snow this winter. Good thing the community has a new Cat® CT681 Vocational Truck on the job. ‘The town wanted to borrow it for the Christmas parade,’ says Kirk Hoyt, the truck’s operator. ‘We said they couldn’t — we were using it to plow snow!’

nab

From Down Under, National Australia Bank provides a great example of how financial services firms can go beyond the numbers to provide practical advice for their audience.

Think of your car like your body — would you carry a backpack if you didn’t need to? Of course not: it’d make you tired, thirsty, grumpy and give you a sore back. Your car’s the same — the more weight it carries, the more fuel it uses (and the more wear and tear there is on tyres, the chassis and suspension). The long-term effects mean a rest break at the mechanic, and more money spent on maintenance.

Will Your Content Be Your Competitive Advantage or Your Downfall?

Although content is obviously a very important part of marketing in today’s online world, all too often companies sacrifice the quality of their content for quantity. As we’ve seen, most of the 340 companies we reviewed are producing content that just doesn’t measure up. We believe those companies, and the countless others just like them, will be handicapped if they don’t start paying more attention to their content and to being effective writers.