September 27th, 2012 § Leave a Comment
As an online marketing assistant many moons ago, one aspect of my role was writing copy for client’s websites. It wasn’t so much a part of my job description, but since it was generally my recommendation that they get new content in the first place and there was no one else around to do it, I ended up writing copy for all sorts of things from jewellery to hospital furniture.
It’s a strange thing, writing copy for someone else’s business website. After all, they’ve been living the business inside and out for years, and you’re just an SEO who can string a sentence together. I found that people didn’t really have the time or inclination to tell me what the copy should be like, if they’d ever even considered the question at all. All the wanted was to rank for “engagement rings” or whatever, and the rest was up to me.
Striking a balance between SEO-friendly copy and something a person might actually want to read isn’t always easy. I generally err on the side of “stop keyword stuffing and write properly goddammit”, but since I was the one recommending, writing and then signing off my own copy there were never any arguments about style, tone or quality.
Fast-forward a few years and I don’t generally write client copy any more. It’s mostly a case of being too busy doing other things (my job’s a lot more strategy-focussed these days), but my clients are generally big sites that need *a lot* of copy, not just the odd page here and there. This means that I spend a not inconsiderable effort outsourcing copy and signing off (or sending back) the results.
If you’ve ever outsourced copy you’ll know that the results can be incredibly mixed. Here’s my take on the options available, how to get the most out of them, and whether you should even risk outsourcing at all.
If you’re at a sizeable agency or you’re just lucky, you might have some in-house copywriters. They probably don’t just do client work – you might have some company-owned microsites or a company blog that they maintain, but these are generally your first port of call when you need some client copy. Hopefully, they’ve been hired based on their ability to put a sentence together, and as far as cost goes they get billed out to the client at whatever rate the agency decides.
The upsides are many – you can brief them in person, you can talk to them during the job, and since you work at the same place and are exposed to the same clients, they probably have a good idea what’s going on with the website anyway.
There are a couple of reasons you might not be able to, or might not want to use these guys for your copy – either the job is simply too big, or they don’t want to/don’t have the experience to take it on. Whether you need 5000 product descriptions writing by next week, or a technical tract on the stock market aimed at full-time investors, there are several alternatives to get the job done.
A Marketplace, Like Textbroker*
Ah, Textbroker. Much-maligned, and yet people flock back to you like a habit they can’t give up. Don’t get me wrong, Textbroker certainly serves a purpose, but I’m being brutally honest when I say that I wouldn’t use it for copy that was going onto a client’s site. It has some advantages:
- It’s cheap
- It’s quick – turnaround is often as little as a day
- Good writers sometimes use it to make extra cash, so you might get lucky
However, the inescapable disadvantage is that, *in general*, poor writers outweigh the good ones. There’s no particular barrier to entry; anyone can sign up to be a writer. I’ve had content back that’s been ill-researched, hastily-written and riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. All these when choosing the highest “level” of content available. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time for that.
I’d recommend Textbroker for: Copy that’s going on a microsite, or being used for linkbuilding.
A Private Content Service, Like PureContent**
Proving the old adage that you get what you pay for, using a dedicated content provider like PureContent might be the best move you make all week. In general, you get:
- An account manager who handles your content brief and any feedback/amends that you have
- Up-front costs and timescales
- Writers who can actually write. They’ve been hired for that purpose
- Experts in your field. If you need something specialist writing (like that horribly dense essay on the stock market), they probably have someone who’s written about it commercially before
Since someone else is liaising with the writers and making sure everything is delivered on time, all you have to do is provide the brief. Now, this bit is actually quite important so hold on for a few handy tips…
Writing a Content Brief
Your brief should explain the following things:
- What’s required? – this should include the number of pieces of copy, the word count for them, and what exactly they are (product descriptions? blog posts?)
- Audience profile – this should explain who the copy is aimed at. It’s useful information for setting the style and tone.
- Author profile – okay, so your content writer isn’t from xyz.com, but they’re sort of pretending to be. Give them the information they need to put themselves in the shoes of whoever they’re writing as.
- What should the reader think? – what message are you trying to convey to the reader? Is there anything that should be included in the copy?
- Style and tone – this covers things like the language that should be used and the general image you’re trying to convey.
- Keywords – what keywords are needed and how many should be used in each piece of copy?
- Call to action – is one needed and what should it be?
- Examples and references – including examples of existing copy from the site or links to relevant pages is really useful. There’s nothing quite like seeing how it’s being done already to show the writers what’s needed.
If not, you can’t really blame the writer for not giving you what you wanted. Take the time to create a really comprehensive brief at the start of the job, and you’re giving them the best chance to complete the job well.
Back to PureContent et al
I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a company before, but I’ve had really good service from PureContent on several jobs. I’ve always been able to just send the content straight onto the client without any changes, and even if the job’s been really technical or difficult they’ve had a writer to fit.
Content services like this aren’t cheap – you’re paying pounds per article rather than pence and if you scale that up to hundreds of pages on a site the cost soon mounts up. However, the difference in quality of what you get back compared to an article marketplace is obvious.
Copy is important – I’d argue that it’s just as important as the design of a site, so when it comes to choosing a company to go with I’d recommend looking for:
- A company in the same time zone as you – you can outsource all over the world, but if you’re working to deadlines then quick communication is key. A 10-hour delay on your feedback being acknowledged leads to bottlenecks all over the place, and ultimately unhappy clients.
- A company that uses native speakers of your client’s language – even American English reads oddly to an Englishman, and someone native to your target country has a much better chance of creating copy that resonates with your audience.
- Samples of their work – there’s no better way to see what sort of quality of copy they produce
- A sample of your job – well, except by asking for a sample of the job you’ve submitted. If you need 100 articles writing, ask for 5 before you commit to the rest. Any teething problems can be ironed out quickly, and if they really don’t fit the bill you can cut your losses and go elsewhere
Is outsourcing copy worth it?
Most definitely yes – outsourcing copy frees up your time and quite frankly, chances are there are better writers out there than you for the task at hand. Whether you want some simple, SEO-style copy for a microsite or some front-page copy for a multi-million pound e-commerce site, it’s all about choosing the most appropriate option and being willing to spend the cash if necessary.
When it comes to copy, you really do get what you pay for, but good copy repays you every time someone visits your site.
*I don’t mean to pick on Textbroker – there are lots of similar services, where you submit a brief and some random person from the internet says they’ll write it. Textbroker just happens to be the one that I’ve used myself – my comments quite possibly apply elsewhere.
**Likewise with PureContent – there are other services like this but I happen to have used, and been impressed by, these guys.