As a fledgling writer, I filled out endless proposals and applications for firms looking to hire content writers. Many of the hiring managers I spoke to seemed ready to tear their hair out.
One prospect even asked me flat out, “How can you ensure me that I’m not going to waste any more money?”
It made me think about the state of freelance. And while the rise of the gig economy is exciting, it’s not without its drawbacks.
Even with services that connect freelancers and employers more seamlessly than ever, it’s still a challenge to find high-quality work.
After asking some questions of my prospects, though, I realized that the frustrated hiring managers tended to not specifically define the role they were hiring for.
The clearer everything is, from the writer’s role, to your strategy, and everything in between, the easier it becomes to hire good content writers.
Follow this checklist to help you and your team formulate a cohesive, clear strategy BEFORE hiring a content writer.
If you’re confident in your own abilities, you can formulate keyword strategy yourself and streamline the process for your writer. There is a boatload of tools available for keyword research, and resources for learning how to do it.
This gets your content published faster, keeps the content focused, and should save you some money.
Keyword strategy is not as complex as “SEO experts” make it out to be, but there is a learning curve.
I won’t go into the technical details of keyword research and strategy but keep these three things in mind:
1. Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are imaginary representations of your ideal client.
When you formulate keyword strategy, you want to consider what keywords your buyer personas are going to use for their search queries. This means considering what challenges, objections, and concerns that persona has.
2. Buyer Journey
HubSpot breaks the buyer’s journey into three stages—awareness, consideration, and decision.
The terms your buyer uses in a search engine should give you insight into what stage they are in and what problem they’re trying to solve.
Keeping the buyer’s journey in mind helps you tailor your keyword choices and strategy towards specific searches.
3. SEO Checklist
When you hire a content writer, you want to make sure both of you know what optimization means to the other. Your idea of SEO could be totally different than your writer’s. Make your standards clear.
Keyword and Topic Pairing
This topic could fit under the subheading of keyword strategy, but I see so many people fail at this that it deserves an entire section
Even if you hire content writers with all the talent in the world, your content will fall flat if the keyword you’re targeting is not relevant to your topic.
You’re creating content for readers first, then search engines, and if you’re doing it right, it’s not difficult to do both.
I see this most commonly with location-specific keywords.
For example, let’s say I want to write a blog post and my keyword is “plastics manufacturer in San Francisco.”
Unless there’s something specific about plastic manufacturing in San Francisco, inserting this keyword into a general post about plastics manufacturing will be awkward.
But what if there’s nothing unique and you still want to use the keyword…?
Maybe this keyword doesn’t fit into an awareness or consideration stage post, but it definitely fits into a decision stage post.
In a decision stage post you could show a reader several options for plastics manufacturers in San Francisco (See? I just used our keyword. And you hardly noticed.)
This goes back to buyer personas.
It’s not enough to know what keywords your customers use. You have to know how they prefer to receive their information.
Do they prefer reading blog posts or case studies? Watching informative videos? Listening to podcasts? Skimming newsletters for offers?
Knowing the correct format for your content is just as important as knowing the right keywords to use.
Unfortunately, (and fortunately) there’s no way to know what format is going to work best until you start creating. While that means you have to take the time to figure it out, it also means you have an opportunity to stand out by providing more value to your readers.
Publication and Promotion
You can save yourself and your writer tons of time by establishing an easy, clear publication process.
Are your writers going to publish directly to your CMS? If not, how will they deliver the content? What does the writer need to include in terms of formatting—titles, subheadings, images? If the writer is sourcing images, where should s/he get them from? Will the writer handle attribution for public domain images?
While streamlining publication is mostly about logistics, promotion is a key part of your strategy.
And there are different concerns in terms of content creation for different promotion channels.
You can’t blame your writer for having a title that gets cut off on LinkedIn if you didn’t tell them you’d be publishing to LinkedIn.
Additionally, different types of content performance varies between social media channels. Ensure your writer’s voice fits the promotion channels you intend to publish on.
Managing your Content Writer
If you’re going to hire content writers, and you want to save money, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to enjoy a “set it and forget it” approach.
Figure out who is going to be managing the writer.
Especially when you first start out with a new hire, you don’t want to rely on them alone for quality-control. Of course, if they show a consistent record of high-quality work, you can start to ease off. But a hands-off approach to a new hire is sure to lead to disaster.
In addition to having a content editor, you can use a wide range of tools to ensure quality control. These include plagiarism checkers, advanced spell checks, SEO checks, and more.
Budget is difficult, especially if you’re just starting. It takes time to get momentum and once you’ve got momentum it takes skill to monetize that momentum. So understanding exactly how much you can pay for content is going to take some trial and error.
Generally, the lower your budget, the more work you should expect to do to keep everything focused and error free.
Despite what I’ve read by many of my contemporaries, I think you can get good content writing at lower prices.
But you must have everything else—keyword and content strategy, promotion, backlinking strategies, etc.—absolutely locked in before proceeding with a lower-cost option. And you must be in the right industry.
It’s unlikely you’ll find anyone able to understand and explain a complex legal or financial concept who’s willing to work on a shoestring budget.
I’m astounded by some of the law firms’ websites I’ve seen. Some of the written content on their sites is atrocious and obviously outsourced to a non-native speaker.
It’s amazing when you consider that certain niches in the legal industry have some of the most competitive keywords there are.
Why waste the time?
If you’re in a competitive niche, you’re better off allocating budget to fewer, high-quality posts instead of spreading a broad veil of thin content.
With the technology we have today, all it takes to apply to a freelance gig is an email address and a pulse. You’re going to run into some crap.
But having all this strategy in place will give you the best chance of (quickly) hiring a good writer.
You’ll attract better writers with your professionalism and discourage the bad ones who are just hoping for a quick buck and no accountability.