Master the 4 Cs of Quality Content to
Create Sparkling Results

Diamond

Most of us know that diamonds are just well-organized carbon. There are 4 Cs that differentiate a fabulously expensive, brilliant diamond from an industrial-grade one:

  • clarity
  • cut
  • color
  • carats

The same 4 Cs that define the value of diamonds can be used to shape great persuasive content. Master them and create content that attracts the eye, has real worth, and stands the test of time.

Fail to get them right, and you’ll wind up with a low-value commodity best used as industrial polish.

Take a look through your most recent post. How well do you score on these 4 C’s of content quality?

Clarity

Content is not king. Clarity is king.

Effective content must be absolutely clear if it’s going to persuade. There’s an old advertising saw: “The confused mind does not buy.” Whether you want your readers to subscribe, to bookmark, or to buy, confusion is the enemy of action.

Making your content clear isn’t the same thing as dumbing it down. For models of intelligence and clarity, start with Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, or Jane Austen.

You might find a readability scale like the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test useful. If your content scores above a sixth-grade level, take a look and see if you can simplify it. Shorten your sentences. Use simple, muscular words rather than the multisyllabic ten-dollar versions.

Clear, straightforward writing allows your brilliant ideas to shine more clearly. In fact, clarity is doubly important when your ideas are complex.

If you want a tougher test, give your content to someone who doesn’t know your subject. What seems straightforward to you may be hopelessly murky for your reader.

Cut

Great content gets to the point. A book reader might be willing to wade through pages of irrelevant description to get to the good parts. A Web reader is not. The more ruthless you are with that delete key, the brighter your copy will shine.

The first step is to look for extra words and flabby language. Clean up redundant expressions and wording that doesn’t directly get your point across.

Then make another pass to distill your ideas. Blog posts and online content work best when they focus tightly on a single topic. As a happy bonus, this not only makes life easier for your readers, it also makes search engines happy. The more narrowly you focus each individual piece of content, the easier your material is to find, to read and to act on.

Color

While you’re polishing and honing, make sure you don’t strip the color from your content! If your readers wanted the facts and nothing but the facts, they’d read software manuals. (Which, as we all know, no one does.) Your audience is coming to you for a colorful, lively take on your subject.

Color comes from two main sources: stories and details.

Storytelling is the most ancient human art, and arguably the most important for a persuasive writer. While there have been thousands of great articles and posts written on storytelling, here’s a quick tutorial: Put forward a main character your reader will identify with, make sure at least one interesting thing happens, and make sure there’s a point. Don’t be heavy-handed, but there should be a “moral to the story” somewhere, even if it’s subtle.

Once you have your story developed, make it shimmer with a few well-chosen details. Each detail should show us a little something about the main character or about the point. If your well-chosen details support those two, your glittering details won’t turn into dull, dusty verbiage.

Carats

What’s one of the key factors that makes a diamond really valuable? How much it weighs. All other things being equal, a single two-carat diamond is much more valuable than a pair of one-carat diamonds.

Lots of Web content is flimsy, weightless stuff. It may entertain briefly, but doesn’t have any real worth. It doesn’t build authority or a base of loyal fans.

Strategic content needs to have some weight to it. It’s fine (and a nice rapport-builder) to post something purely silly or entertaining from time to time. But most of your posts should contribute real value to your readers. Improve your readers’ lives on a subject they care about, and they’re much more likely to link to you, talk you up to their friends, and bookmark you on sites like Delicious.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the ephemeral appearance of the blogosphere. Content of substantial weight and value can continue to bring you readers for years into the future.

Collateral

Square cut or pear shaped, these rocks won’t lose their shape
~ Marilyn Monroe

If you’ve been reading me for any time, you know how much I treasure the relationship you build with your audience. I’ll never sell that love short . . . but as Marilyn sang so memorably, it’s diamonds that are a girl’s best friend.

Great content is more than entertainment or a way to waste a few minutes. It’s even more than a way to build rapport with your readers. Great content is an asset that can be leveraged. Create valuable, sparkling content and great relationships, for the most enduring success with content marketing.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (54)

  1. says

    Hello Sonia,

    thank you for getting this very clear to the point! Awesome! :-)
    One of the best “manuals” for blog-post-wrinting I read so far. Didn’t skip a single paragraph- so your concept really works! :-)
    Greetings and lots of success for you!
    André

  2. says

    Cut is so important. I do video and am amazed how often people take 30 seconds for opening credits on a 4 minute video. Or just ramble on.

    Focus people. Focus.

  3. says

    Sonia, I’m always impressed by your posts on Copyblogger. I found this yet another one I’d like to refer back to often. I’m presently reading “Made to Stick” which touches on similar themes.

    One of the big tests of a quality post is how well the idea sticks in the readers mind…

    The qualities the authors list for memorable ideas are:

    1. Simplicity
    2. Unexpectedness
    3. Concreteness
    4. Credibility
    5. Emotional
    6. Storytelling

    Anyone who enjoys this post and others like will love Made to Stick too…

    My 10 cents
    Glen Crosier
    Brighton, UK

  4. says

    I really like the comparison of great words to precious stones. I never thought of it, but you articulate it well. I’d add that, like diamonds, there is abundance, and those who control the stream, reap the most benefit.

  5. says

    You always have great metaphors! Not to mention, great points. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking too much while I am trying to get my point across – I do like to talk.

  6. says

    @Glen, I totally agree, I thought Made to Stick was brilliant. In fact, I need to re-read it.

    @Kevin, I love that you love it. :) I thought EH was a good example of very clear, straightforward prose with very subtle ideas.

    @Janice, xoxox.

  7. says

    Thank you for posting this, I was overcoming this obstacle in my writing. In school you are taught to elaborate and add a bunch of additional descriptive words, it was hard to break this habit, this is helping me out a great deal.

  8. says

    Excellent advice. Bloggers can sharpen their feel for the four qualities by reading authors who apply them consistently. They’re the four reasons mystery writers Michael Connelly and Robert B. Parker have enjoyed huge success: clarity, color, cut, carats. Even in high tech, they account for a large portion of the success of blogs like Cool Tools and Practical Technology. Good writing is a treat.

  9. says

    This is a great article and will go to my Delicious account – so you must have done something right.

    I’m a big believer in clarity. I don’t want my readers to have to read a sentence 3 times. I want the sentence to be so clear, it’s impossible to be confused. Yet I don’t want to dumb anything down either. This requires careful structuring and tactful simplicity.

  10. says

    Great post – I have been reading this blog at work for weeks – my boss hates it! ‘Cos I keep telling him “Well Copyblogger says…”

  11. says

    After 3-4 words, our content can begin to sound the same way Charlie Brown’s mother sounds to Snoopy. Keep it clean and focused. I enjoyed this article as usual.

  12. says

    Very well put! There’s a reason no one reads those damn manuals, no clarity, needs cutting, and not carats worth pursuing. I was starting to think I was the only one who didn’t read those things…

  13. says

    Excellent post! People blog for so many reasons, but if the ultimate goal of a blog is to add value to others, the blogger must take these principles to heart. Thanks for providing us with such a great tool to refer to as we write.

  14. says

    In solidarity with my copywriting brethren, I must say that there are a few (not many, but a few) decent manuals being written, but they don’t get read either.

  15. says

    Ok maybe I am going insane but didn’t you say 4 C’s? And wouldn’t “Collateral” make 5? I am tired so maybe I am just publicly making a fool of myself but …

    Anyway, excellent post Sonia!

  16. says

    Seamus, you are insane.

    No, actually, yes, there are the traditional 4 Cs from diamonds, and then a bonus for ya. “Collateral” isn’t so much a quality of your copy as it is a way of thinking about it.

  17. says

    I agree … simplicity when writing is so essential with online audiences because they can tune out pretty quickly.

    I also think that making sure your content is laid out properly with spacing, bullet points, highlights is also important.

    Thanks for a great reminder!

    Miss Gisele B.

  18. says

    I found this Writing Sample Analyzer link very interesting. I write three blogs, and analyzed several sections from all three. I found them to be around 6.6-6.7, with variations between 4.5 and 10.

    Eileen
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)
    elementaryteacher.wordpress.com

  19. says

    Another part about keeping it clear is clean code for search engines. Anyone like me who needs a good spell checker can write a post in word. However, copying and pasting from word can muddy the html. The solution is to copy from Word to Notepad, then from Notepad to the blog post.

  20. says

    I like your emphasis on clarity and cutting out bloated content. Reminds me of the fashion advice to keep it simple. Jackie O was the artful master of simple elegance.

  21. says

    Keeping it short and to the point is easier than it sounds. However, keeping it simple is by far the most useful advice. Knowing your topic helps. Don’t write about something you have no experience with.

  22. says

    I can’t remember the author, I believe it was Hemingway, that said to cut out words that have no additional usage. He also said, if you can say something in three words, never use ten.

  23. says

    Sonia – Been looking for ways to improve my writing skills! I think the key I got out of your article is to use the ‘delete’ key more! I think I have a tendancy to over kill my copy with too many words, trying to compensate for my lack of writing abilities. Thanks for the tips as this is something I’ll use starting tomorrow!

  24. says

    Thank you so much! I read some articles about writing successful articles last days. And I thinks this is the best one.

    You should read every word!


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