We propose the Gaussian content (GC) as an optional quality parameter for the characterization of laser beams. It is defined as the overlap integral of a given field with an optimally defined Gaussian. The definition is especially suited for applications where coherence properties are targeted. Mathematical definitions and basic calculation procedures are given along with results for basic beam profiles. The coherent combination of an array of laser beams and the optimal coupling between a diode laser and a single-mode fiber are elaborated as application examples. The measurement of the GC and its conservation upon propagation are experimentally confirmed.