To get insights and tips, I had the great fortune to be able to speak with Matthew Holden, Director of Content Marketing for Online Writing Jobs:
When should a small business consider hiring a writer for content? Typically what would the timing and budget look like to keep an online content program current and running?
I know I’m not exactly breaking down walls with this, but I don’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach to content marketing. I don’t know that there’s a right approach. What I will say is that the time to hire a writer for your content is probably now. The thing about content marketing is that it’s often pushed to the back burner. It becomes a small responsibility of a C-level employee with a thousand other things to do. It’s not as easy to measure what you lose by not prioritizing content, so it’s not always easy to realize the urgency, but the worst thing you can do is wait until your competitors realize it for you.
That said, there’s a lot of noise out there, so I would say either do content marketing right or not at all. Doing so usually involves making content production and promotion a top priority, if not for you personally, then for someone you hire. Rushing through it to get to the next thing usually creates mediocre, boring content, which can actually hurt your writer’s authority, and by extension that of your brand. If your writer is writing three times a week, but nobody cares, it’s not a great sign to users or search engines, so do everything you can to make your content work for you, or hold off until you are able to give it 100%.
What is the budget for a company interested in hiring a writer?
Again, it depends. If you’re a technical site, you might need pretty deep pockets to get even mid-tier writers. If you’re looking for a mid-tier fashionista for your boutique store, you can probably get a good writer for less than $100 per post.
It’s really pretty cool. When I started writing online about 5 years ago, the value of the written word was, I hope, at an all-time low. Content farms and the like were paying hard-working writers pennies, and we writers had to take it. Today, with influencer marketing, writers are able to market themselves in a fair marketplace based on their expertise, be it writing expertise, subject-matter expertise, or both.
And what about companies that have more technical audiences such as technology companies, healthcare or B-to-B products?
The fact of the matter is, marketability of writers is no longer solely contingent on whether or not they can write. I’m not sure it really ever was, we see the definition of “quality” content broadening at the same pace as the metrics we use to measure it (social, user behavior, etc). You need to make sure the person you’ve hired to write your content is an expert. Tech companies, healthcare agencies, B-to-B vendors, they all have audiences in need of information. It’s your job to figure out what that information is and to hire a writer capable of relaying it in an engaging manner.
My advice is to consider a writer, even a freelancer, as another member of your team. You wouldn’t hire an in-house employee on a whim, and, considering all the good a writer can do for your brand, you should take the same time and care with your interview process here.
What is the best way to work with a writer to keep the quality and message on mark but to streamline the time required for direction and feedback?
If it’s possible (and I realize sometimes your budget prohibits it) I believe every company should have someone whose sole responsibility is the management of content strategy, production, implementation, and promotion. Content Director, Director of Content Marketing, Marketing Manager, whatever you call this person, their job is to do exactly that… keep the content focused and of the highest quality possible.
If that’s not possible, my best advice is to keep a schedule. Figure out how long it takes you to review the content every week and work that into a specific day. If the writing for the next week is due every Tuesday, maybe you review every Thursday. Take detailed notes and provide constructive feedback.
As a former freelancer, I can tell you we writers are a proud bunch. As writers, our performance on a professional level is often tied with our personal sense of who we are. We want to do right by our employers, and so constructive feedback will usually yield good results. The feedback will take less time as time goes on, and if you find you’re having to say the same things repeatedly, or the feedback is not received well, it’s time to find a new writer.
How is writing for the web different? Why is it better to opt for a professional writer than internal sources?
The great thing about content marketing today is that it’s more like old-school marketing than it’s been since the beginning of the Internet. Search engines are now looking at metrics having to do with user behavior, which is obviously the result of user experience. Writers are finally being able to go a little old-school. Write the content your users will enjoy reading, and you’ve taken what I consider to be the most important step toward great content production.
That said, writing for the web means taking into account SEO. At the end of the day, marketers often can’t get the budget because tracking the success of a content campaign is much more complex than, say, a PPC campaign. Results are more measurable and pronounced when, along with the creation of great, engaging content, you’re able to give the search engines what they need to index and display it well.
Any considerations for SEO purposes?
There are a ton of ways you can consider SEO in a very natural manner.
First, do research into your audience. Whether that’s instituting a survey on your site asking users what they would like to see, doing competitor research, or performing in-depth keyword research, you can find out what your users are looking for.
Once you have a list of topics, start riffing content you can create from that information. Order some pizza, get your most creative minds in a room for an hour, and you’ll be shocked what you come out with.
Say you discover that your users are really interested in 4 different general subjects. You look into the keywords surrounding those subjects and find there are 40 unique phrases covering 40 specific topics. You can then create brief how-tos, studies, infographics, timelines, videos, interviews, white papers, e-books, and on and on, for each of those topics. In this way, you’ve addressed the wants and needs of your customers, likely increased your share of voice, and are appealing to search engines by including relevant keywords on the page and in the title tag. Of course, there’s a lot more you can do from an SEO standpoint, but from a strictly content point of view, this is an extremely effective way to fill out an editorial calendar.
Revisit your editorial calendar as often as you need to, given your industry. Maybe once a quarter, twice a year, whatever makes sense, but redo the keyword research and take what you’ve learned from user engagement to identify new opportunities and inform your next round of content.