A reader recently asked me how to know when their content quality was good enough. This question is interesting because it's rooted in a mindset of "What is required to get the best SEO results?"
However, this same question can be applied quite a bit more broadly. Here are some of the ways you can evaluate that question.
1. On-page SEO
Years ago, content developed specifically for on-page SEO purposes generally meant some level of artificially inserting keywords into the content. When you hear people talking about SEO copywriting, they essentially mean "What keywords do you want to make sure are included in the article?"
Two problems here: the resulting articles often don't really read that well (bad for users), and the search engines are getting increasingly better at detecting when content isn't written completely naturally. There is little win in having the search engine conclude that your content is either poorly written or written with the intent to manipulate search rankings. Think of this in the light of the search engine's goals to provide a quality experience to their users, and you can see that this easily could be a negative ranking factor.
Those concerns noted, there is a lot of reason to think about on-page SEO in creating a well structured content strategy. It helps feed the long tail of search and can increase the search engine's perception regarding the quality of the pages of your site.
Content can also be developed with a focus on conversion. This is often done through A/B testing or multivariate testing, using conversion optimization software. A free product that does this pretty well is Google Website Optimizer.
The concept is to do a lot of testing of various versions on your pages, measure which ones convert the best, and then pick the best converting one. Often, simple changes can have the best impact. One common principle that people espouse in conversion optimization is that "less is more," or that one thing worth testing is reducing the amount of distractions on the page (e.g., links to other resources or the presence of much text on the page).
While conversion optimization is extremely valuable, it only looks at part of the question -- how your site converts visitors to a page or set of pages on your site. Also, it doesn't take into account the obvious search engine benefits of having text on your page.
For example, you wouldn't want to increase your conversion by 30 percent but cut your traffic in half because you took the content off the page. Clearly, you want to strike a balance between SEO and conversion optimization.
3. Link Worthiness
When pursuing links to your site (without buying them or doing link swaps), one of the key questions is why someone should consider linking to your site. Recognized opinion leaders and recognized brands (e.g. Coca-Cola) get links because of who they are. If you don't fall into one of those two categories, then you need to fall back on providing something unique and compelling on your Web site in order to get links to it.
Some people use the term "link bait" to the concept of generating content solely for the purposes of attracting links. However, care is needed here too, because if you become too focused on using the content to attract links, you may create content that isn't relevant to your site, or otherwise not good for the image of your site.
4. Social Media Environments
Will users of Twitter and Facebook start sending around links to your content? Will StumbleUpon users stumble it?
On the other side of the coin, you don't want these networks to have a negative reaction to what you produce. The impact of how this will affect your content development strategy is growing. In a few years time it could well be a dominating consideration.
When you're considering your content development strategy, and how much effort to put into creating high quality content, consider all four of these factors. There certainly can be individual pages on your site where only one or two of the above factors apply, but, for your Web site overall, make sure your content strategy take all four pieces into account.