Need content? You could enlist the services of a content writer. It probably won't hurt a bit. But it probably won't help either.
Given the immense demand for content, millions of freelancers, small agencies and writer brokerages have crawled out of the woodwork to offer cheap, quick-turn content writing services.
The writing they deliver seldom accomplishes much, as measured by marketing objectives, but no one's guilty of anything. The client placed an order for content. The vendor delivered it. End of story?
Yes, usually that's the story in its entirety. However, it's just the beginning of this one. You see, I wrote this article to answer questions I often get when asked to quote writing fees by prospects and new clients for creating content.
To simplify, it usually amounts to: copywriter vs. content writer - what's the difference? However, it may not be quite that simple.
A number of posts have been written as attempts to tackle the question - usually, they say something like:
- A copywriter writes ads or marketing material to sell products and services or raise brand awareness.
- A content writer writes educational content without promotional messages.
I'm not close to satisfied with this overly polarized answer. You might have some noble goals in mind for your content marketing, but it's not a public service, you do it for the reasons listed above in the copywriter definition. Those reasons are marketing objectives and to accomplish them you need a copywriter - and more - someone with marketing skills.
What an average web content writer does
An average content writer for the web writes content, usually blog posts. As you might expect, the writing's usually average.
Average content writing fees: < $100.
Average research: 10 - 20 minutes.
Average marketing experience: Minimal.
Average results: Words on a page. Zero links. Zero traffic generation. Zero conversion. Zero sales. (Read more about how most content badly underperforms in research published by Buzzsumo and Moz.)
You can probably guess the number of reasons I can think of to hire an average content writer.
This "writing service calculator" comes from the website of one of many content writer brokerages. You can select writers rated from 2 to 6 stars. To get an "average" writer, I went with 4 and an article length of 975 words. Looks like I'd pay $59.20. The writer will earn less to account for service fees. Good deal? You tell me.
Here's a take from blogger Chuck Frey, in a How to Use Content Marketing to Enhance Brand Perception, published recently on Content Marketing Institute...
"Don't think mediocre content cuts it. There's no question about it: We're in the middle of a content arms race. As more B2B marketers adopt best practices, buyer expectations continue to rise. They demand greater insights and information tailored to their deepest needs, not generic one-size-fits-all platitudes. That means you need to bring your A game."
What I do
Be forewarned: what you'll read next comes with a heavy dose of "Barry bias."
Feel free to bail. However, if you see yourself in the near future asking me (or any writer), "What do I get for the money?" this could prove to be helpful stuff.
Here we go. What I do when hired to write content is:
- Read your website
- Read your competitors' websites
- Setup Google Alerts to follow what's published in your market
- Review the content you offer online
- Ask to see your content marketing plan, or if you don't have one...
- Offer to help you document a content marketing plan
- Offer you my strategic workbook, The Planner
- Respond with questions about your strategy
- Ask questions regarding your current digital marketing metrics (traffic, leads, etc.)
- Ask to see your buyer personas, or if you don't have them...
- Offer to help you develop useful buyer personas
- Ask to see your Google Analytics or pull relevant reports from it
- Discuss potential topics for content
- Discuss plans to utilize various content formats
- Explain plans to develop big content that can be economically repurposed, or,
- Discuss ways to create a series of posts (I don't accept one-off, single post projects)
- Share relevant samples of my work
- Submit ideas in the form of headlines and/or outlines
- Conduct keyword research to position your content to rank on search (this is a biggie)
- Write multiple headlines for evaluation
- Research what's been written on the topic
- Research what's performed well via social media and search
- Download, read, and highlight useful background information
- Seek authoritative people and publications to quote
- Seek useful data to cite
- Discuss the possibility of conducting interviews with subject matter experts
- Write thoroughly researched posts of 1,000+ words
- Chapterize the posts or content with subheads
- Explore the use of lists
- Create an attractive, branded featured image
- Include additional images such as charts, screen shots, examples, etc.
- Write captions for each image
- Include internal links to relevant content on your site or blog
- Include external links to trusted sources
- Edit and proofread the work one or more times
- Offer to include social media updates and/or ads
- Offer to assist you with the email you'll use to promote your content
- Offer to write your landing page, if appropriate
- Upon publication, promote the content via multiple social media channels
- Monitor how the post performs via search and social
- Answer questions and respond to comments posted on your blog
- Discuss strategies to re-use the work as guest posts on high profile sites and blogs
- Follow-up with you to learn how the work performed relative to the objectives
I might do all these things. I might do less. It depends on what we're going to produce together. Sometimes there's time to do all of the above. Other times, the deadlines demand otherwise.
The point is, I believe my role extends beyond strictly writing content. My experience and skills as a copywriter and digital marketer enable me to help you create content that has a meaningful impact on your marketing.
Yes, my fees are substantially higher than the $59.20 or so you'd expect to pay for an average content writer from one of the many services that broker content writing services.
What do you need from your content?
It's a simple question, but I'll ask you to reread it. It's the whole point. If you don't have specific marketing objectives, the average content writer might accommodate you perfectly.
Interestingly, I just downloaded and read The Ultimate Guide to a Content Marketing Career, a joint production by Curata and LinkedIn. Here's research it contains:
"What's the greatest skillset missing from today's content marketing team?
The top skill set missing from today's content marketing team by far is content creation.Specifically, companies are looking for writing, editing and copywriting skills from "quality copywriters who can post to various content channels." They want creativity: People who can write "creative, engaging content," people who know how to research, and people with the ability to create "super in-depth content with stats and research."
The reality is, most content is noise.
Have you ever clicked-through to the suggested stories beneath a newsworthy post? You know, the so-called "content discovery" area? The same junk that sells tabloids at the grocery checkout counter preys on your endless thirst for shockers. It's noise. Usually.
But you click. Don't we all?
On the B2B front, where content's nearly universal goal is to draw you closer to the brand with helpful advice, we get another variety of stink bombs. It's not usually the revealing "you wouldn't believe" celebrity exposes; it's commonly unrevealing lists and how-to articles mildly plagiarized from authoritative sources.
Your typical B2B babble is like the bland chicken breast over rice you expect to be served at banquets. It won't hurt you, but it probably won't help and will fall far short of creating a memorable experience. It's average, predictable, safe, and boring. It won't give you food poisoning, but you won't be asking for the recipe.
Why do brands serve so much bland content? It's cheap and easy to prepare.
Who's behind all these flavorless excuses for "meat?" The answer is a one-two tandem:
(1) Brands buying into the nontent, er, content revolution, and (2) the average content writers they hire.
I've always taken pride in calling myself a copywriter because in my mind it suggests "marketing strategist." If you have experience hiring freelance writers, you may already appreciate the difference. If it's a new challenge for you, you may have never given it much thought.
But now you know the many things an experienced copywriter does to make their clients' content support their marketing objectives, such as generating traffic, leads and sales.
I believe that's what you need.