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This is not a theoretical question. I have seen heated arguments on this subject with my clients over the years over what is a deceptively simple question: can you measure the quality of content based on what it is (its intrinsic quality) or based on how successful it is in meeting customer needs (its extrinsic quality)?

Many people quickly say, “both,” but that’s no fun. Because if you say “both,” you are still left with the question of how to weigh one versus the other. More people than you think come down squarely in one camp or the other:

  • Extrinsic metrics are better. The only way to measure the quality of marketing content is in how it works. Does it attract more search views? Is it shared on Twitter? Does it result in more website page views? Does it lead to conversions? The proof’s in the pudding.
  • Intrinsic metrics are better. Sure, we believe in extrinsic measurements, but the problem is that you don’t know what to do, because you can’t get those measurements until long after you have created the content. Who cares that you can tell me which bet paid off after the game? We need to understand quality before the game, based on good writing (grammar checking, readability) on relevant topics (high search and social interest). There is such a thing as quality content which we can measure as we create it, not long after.

Knock-down drag-out fights ensue among the team. Content creators (right brain) tend to want some intrinsic measurements while marketers and execs (left brain) are happy with extrinsic. What do you do?

You actually don’t need to choose.

It’s possible (read: recommended) to use extrinsic measurements to identify the best content, but then employ intrinsic measurements to see what makes the best content tick. What kinds of intrinsic measurements seem to be correlated with the best content? Machine learning makes this a highly solvable problem. It just takes some effort to test enough hypotheses to start to uncover what works for your company with your customers.

Once you do, you can train your content creators to make more content like this. You can measure content as it is being created to ensure it meets the right intrinsic measurements. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it gently moves your content toward the quality that really matters.

Don’t let content analytics turn into a personality test within your organization. Right-brained and left-brained people both have a point here. Let’s use the analytics (extrinsic and intrinsic) to point us in the direction of what our customer really wants. Our customers use both sides of their brains.