New study finds quality of brands’ content sorely lacking

An algorithm factored in tone, clarity and sentence structure, as well as the basics of solid grammar and spelling. The scrutiny was not good news for about 70 percent of companies.

Only a third of the world’s largest companies have high-quality site content based on human factors such as 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: For a business, what’s the value of writing?

(It’s the first as far as I know, and I’m happy to be wrong, so please let me know in the comments section.)

At the very least, it underscores the importance of paying attention to not just what you say, but how you say it.

Some details:

A mere 31 percent 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 to 100—according to Acrolinx’s analysis of marketing, corporate, technical and customer support website content. Download the free white paper, “How to be a brand journalist,” to learn how to tell your organization’s compelling stories.

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. ​

Using its proprietary linguistic analytics engine—try saying that 10 times 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.) The brands included Gucci, ExxonMobil and Harley-Davidson.

Acrolinx tackled style, clarity and tone-not just the “easy” stuff such as grammar, usage and spelling.

The grammar and usage analysis was straightforward: Acrolinx looked at subject/verb agreement and use of pronouns; 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 the AP Stylebook).

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

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 percent 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 percent improvement in their Alexa rank over the past six months, while the companies with the lowest content impact scores had, on average, a 9 percent decrease.

Acrolinx fully admits that its data don’t necessarily show correlation between Alexa score and its “content impact score.” Others have pointed out that the Alexa rankings themselves could be a flawed measure of a site’s success.

The apparent connection is nonetheless interesting to consider.

See the full Global Content Impact Index here.

Ann Handley is the chief content officer of MarketingProfs and the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content.” A version of this previously appeared on AnnHandley.com.

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