The Goldilocks Guide to Content Quality

  • June 2, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 22 Comments

Goldilocks and Content QualityOne of the questions I hear most often from bloggers is, “how often should I post?” I like to turn the question around and ask: “how often can you produce high-quality articles that people want to read?”

The “how often” question can’t really exist on it’s own. There are just too many variables to give a standard answer. What topic is your blog about? Who is your audience? How long are your articles? How often do successful blogs in your niche post?

If you look around at popular blogs both in and outside of your topic, you’ll probably find examples that are frequently updated and some that are infrequently updated. For every Copyblogger, there’s a Tim Ferriss. You’ll find some that publish long, in-depth articles and some that only publish Godin-length posts.

The most important factor isn’t how often you post or how long your posts are. There is no magic frequency or length. It’s the quality of your posts that matters. More specifically, how useful or engaging are your blog posts to your readers?

You should set your content schedule according to your content quality. The more often you can post quality content, the better.

But hold on before you go and decide that you’ll only post when you have something epic to write about. Just like there are dangers in setting the bar for quality too low, it’s also dangerous to set the quality bar too high.

Problems With Setting The Quality Bar Too High

The trouble with setting an overly-high quality bar is that it can lead to burnout, “analysis paralysis” (where you over-analyze every post idea) and second-guessing yourself when a post you thought would be epic doesn’t end up getting much recognition.

  • Burnout is a very real problem in blogging. What starts off seeming like a doable plan to maintain a blog can easily turn into a dreaded chore over time. This problem is made worse when you won’t allow yourself to relax and experiment with your post types/lengths/frequencies because you’re afraid of writing something no one will appreciate.
  • Over-analyzing post ideas and articles will add a lot of extra time to your writing process and weigh down your efforts. When your content quality bar is too high, it’s easy to over-analyze every decision or idea.
  • Expecting every post to be a hit because you’re always aiming for quality can be a recipe for beating yourself up when a post inevitably bombs. Once you start second-guessing your writing abilities, you’ll start overlooking solid post ideas and make your job even harder.

Dangers of Setting The Quality Bar Too Low

I don’t want to make it sound like the only risk is in setting the bar too high. Writing mostly quick, easy, low-value posts might make your job as a blogger easier, but it certainly won’t build an audience very fast.

Producing consistently low-quality posts is worse than the opposite, especially in the beginning.

If you’re new to blogging or haven’t built the audience you’re aiming for yet, you should definitely err on the side of over-delivering value to your readers. Once you’ve gathered some momentum, you can afford to post less frequently and toss in more quick updates.

The Goldilocks Approach

There’s a Goldilocks approach to content quality that will serve you best. Don’t post useless fluff just to meet a self-imposed posting schedule, but don’t predestine yourself for burnout by setting an impossibly high standard for quality. Neither of those situations are ideal for building a loyal audience.

Instead, set a quality standard that is “just right” for you, in that it leads to consistency in value without risking coming to a dead end before you achieve your blogging goals.

The blogosphere is littered with blogs which started with good intentions but ended because their content quality was either too low (and they never got off the ground), or too high (and the blogger couldn’t keep up the pace). Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, but sometimes you need to take the lead by pushing things in the beginning.

photo by Krystn Palmer Photography

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Simon - 529IronMan June 2, 2010 at 4:51 am

Hi Corbett,
Damn fine article and a great quote the close out the piece.
I agree that it totally depends on your audience, history, environment, benchmarks… and gut feeling.
Thanks & enjoy!

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Cheers, Simon. I suppose you like any closing statement that includes a running reference ;)

Hear Mum Roar June 2, 2010 at 6:13 am

Thanks so much for answering this! It helps so much. I have wondered this, because, like many, I’ve been juggling my blogging with all the other things going on in my life, and in trying to set a schedule, the question on frequency keeps popping up for me. I’ve also set up a survey for my readers to find out how often they read my blog, and I’m hoping that will help to give me an idea of what I need to do

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Hey Sharon, are things still moving along for you over there? Good idea sending out a survey. It’s nice get real insights from your audience instead of guessing.

Sherryl Perry June 2, 2010 at 6:21 am

This post could not have come at a better time for me. I’m in real danger of setting the quality bar “too high” and it’s definitely tempting to post some fluff – just to meet my “self-imposed” schedule. Your advice on erring “on the side of over-delivering value” if you’re new to blogging is just what I needed to hear. Thanks. Now, I better get busy writing!

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Hey Sherryl, glad I could help. Funny your blog’s title is “keep up with the web,” because that’s definitely how it feels sometimes.

J. D. Bentley June 2, 2010 at 6:46 am

“Burnout is a very real problem…”

Tell me about it. One of the reasons I backed off of Wage Slave Rebel for a bit was because I felt I was starting to deliver low-quality posts just to make deadlines. Since then I’ve been figuring out a way to guarantee quality without burning out and the conclusion I’ve come to is, “Write way ahead of schedule.”

As I was writing for my blogging course (every day for over 80 days, 600 – 1000 words and sometimes video), I would have to figure out what for the week on Sunday. What I noticed is that having a plan and a backlog of ideas helped me pump out 1500-word posts in 20 minutes. So as the blogging course wraps up and I start focusing more on Wage Slave Rebel again, I’m transferring this method to my regular blogging. I have a pretty big idea folder already.

Planning things ahead of schedule allows you to take time to really make each post shine. If you don’t feel overwhelmed by an imminent deadline, quality comes much more easily.

Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist June 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yup, an idea backlog is really helpful. Often, I find myself not being able to finish the post I wanted to finish, because it just needs a little more time to ripen in my unconsciousness. But at the same time, I can have a look into my idea folder and write or finish the posts lingering in there.

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Awesome tips, J.D. I love the “idea folder” concept. It’s something I need to develop better myself.

Karen June 2, 2010 at 8:04 am

Hi Corbett,

As I was reading this article, I kept nodding my head – particularly at the analysis paralysis comment and the over-thinking part. When i write, I want to do the best that I can so often over-think the article and set the bar too high.

But, I’ve been learning to relax a little more in my writing. it’s amazing really – some of the articles that I thought were some of my best writing received little response while other ones that I were done almost off-the-cuff and spent very little time on, received the best responses.

So, you definitely have to test out different post ideas, lengths and frequencies. Shake things up a little. Also, keep in mind that over the life of your blog there will definitely be some winners and some losers articles. Not every one will be a home-run.

Karen

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Funny how posts often seem to exceed or disappoint your expectations, isn’t it. You just have to put faith in the process and not stress out too much about the results.

David Krug June 2, 2010 at 8:50 am

I believe as long as your publishing consistently it doesnt matter. I personally like a mix of styles between long and short posts, some features, some lists. In the end what matters is interaction and engagement and you can get that with a mix of styles but I think consistency is king.

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Yeah, consistency is really important, but hard to achieve. It’s especially hard to pull off when you expect too much from yourself and don’t plan ahead.

Stacey Abler June 2, 2010 at 11:19 am

I think developing some kind of schedule is important. I know when I stumble across a new blog, the first thing I look at is the date of the most recent post. If it was weeks ago (or even worse, months ago), I don’t stick around as I assume the writer has moved on as well.

Developing a backlog of quality content that can be posted when you just aren’t feeling “it” can always be useful in keeping on schedule and avoiding burn-out.

Corbett Barr June 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Hey Stacey, thanks for the comment!

I think some people can pull off the sporadic schedule well, but usually only after they’ve established an audience. I would usually recommend people post at least weekly when starting out (topic / goal dependent of course). In the beginning you have to set a rhythm and expectations for your audience. A schedule and backlog of content is a great way to make that happen.

Tim June 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I agree with you.

And especially when it comes to the whole “fit it to yourself” style of posting. Everyone has their different styles and reasons.

Just remember to let yourself go and do something oddly refreshing. And getting started in the beginning is more of an endurance race than anything. Yes, other stuff comes into play, but remember endurance.

Corbett Barr June 6, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Yeah, a lot of people give up before the give their blog enough time. I heard Darren Rowse from Problogger say that it can take 12-15 months to know whether a blog has real promise or not.

Warren Talbot June 6, 2010 at 8:02 am

Great insights Corbett (as usual). This post spurred a nice discussion over coffee and has us looking to change the frequency of our posting to less than 3 times/week in order to focus on raising the quality bar vs. schedule.

One question…as you look to change an existing schedule, do you tell your readers who may be used to your existing delivery plan, even if it was never stated?

Thank you for the ongoing sage advice. We are loving it.

Corbett Barr June 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hey Warren, great question, and I’m glad to have gotten you thinking.

Regarding communicating with your readers, unless you have explicitly talked about your schedule in the past, I’m not sure I would make a big deal about the change. You might mention it as part of a larger post, but I don’t see the value in writing a whole post on the topic (unless it’s helpful to your readers specifically). Besides, you might decide to experiment a little, and you could end up changing your mind in the end.

Good luck, and please let us know how the change affects your traffic and engagement.

trashtastika June 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Thanks for this! It confirmed what I was already thinking: it’s better to post less frequently with more quality. I also decided to ask what my readers would like more of, as I’m still getting my mix right (7 months in).

I like that you take the time to respond to your readers’ replies too :)

Corbett Barr June 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Well, I better respond to this comment as well, right? ;) I’ll be interested to hear what your readers say. Please share!

Hear Mum Roar June 4, 2010 at 3:36 am

It sure is! The results so far have been quite surprising and have given me more fresh ideas on the direction my blog should take

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