If you read a lot of SEO blogs, you've probably read that Google wants "quality" content.
You've also been told that your content needs to be "unique", "engaging", and "valuable".
But what does that even mean?
Quality Content Doesn’t Have To Mean Remarkable Content
If you're a bootstrapper in the business of creating web properties that rely mainly on organic search traffic - you're probably not in the business of creating remarkable content.
The truth is that you don't need anyone to tell you what quality content looks like at the highest level - you already know because you consume it regularly. These are the articles and blog posts we add to our bookmarks, that we talk about with our friends, that we think about and reference months or years after we first read it.
Its created by writers who have something worth saying, who craft their insights into memorable gems that deeply resonate with readers.
As Seth Godin might say, its something “remarkable”, and being remarkable is something all great creators should aspire to.
But you’re not aspiring to create remarkable content. You don't have anything remarkable to say (at least, not yet). You’re a bootstrapper looking to use SEO and content publishing to build yourself an income stream, and maybe even a business.
A Guide To Content Creation That's NOT For Content Creators
To be clear, this is NOT a guide for you if are, or aspire to be, in the business of creating remarkable content.
But if you're in the SEO business and you happen to rely on content publishing to generate income for your passive income web properties, then do read on.
I’ve been building SEO-driven, Adsense/Affiliate monetized sites for 4 years now. I’ve been through every Panda update and Penguin update. I've survived a lot of them, but I've been absolutely crushed by some of them as well. If getting crushed is how you learn, then I've learned a lot.
I started out building hundreds of microniche sites with content as cheap as $3/500 word article, to creating sites that received thousands of FB, Twitter, Reddit, and Stumble upon shares - even though my goal was solely to drive organic search traffic.
One article got over 100,000 likes on Facebook and millions of visitors. It cost me $30 to outsource and I made no effort to optimize it for social.
I don’t claim to be a content creation expert, but I’ve picked up a thing or two over the years, and this is the guide to SEO content creation I wish I had when I started.
In this guide, you will learn:
- Why your definition of “quality content” is probably wrong
- Why you shouldn’t ignore Google’s Webmaster Quality guidelines, even if you’re not a “WhiteHat”
- How you can make GreyHat sites rank long term
- The simple reason you might not have had success with “WhiteHat” linkbuilding tactics
- Why you should look at content creation as an investment instead of an expense.
- 1 Simple way to improve the ROI of your content creation
- How I use geo-arbitrage within the US to find good writers at great prices
- My favorite sources and tricks for recruiting quality writers
- My trick for getting 5 cent a word writers for 2.5 cents on Textbroker
- The workflow I use to automate quality content creation
- How to systematically find good article ideas
Every SEO who has tried to bootstrap a passive income web property knows intuitively that they're not in the business of creating truly remarkable content. They know that in order to make the SEO-driven, advertising/affiliate based web property profitable - the content they produce has to cost less than the money generated through whatever they're promoting.
The problem is that - once they conclude that they'll never be able to compete on quality against venture-funded media companies or passionate, talented bloggers who are leaders in their field - they immediately jump to the other end of the spectrum and try to pay as little as possible for their writers.
Of course, this isn't what Google wants at all. Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines state that they frown upon:
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Doorway pages
Most notably, it asks webmasters explicitly to “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.” Sound familiar?
Before you link to a Matt Cutts meme, roll your eyes, and head over to iWriter to place another 2 star order, hear me out:
Google's Webmaster Guidelines Are BS, So Learn To Read Between The Lines
We started this article asking what is "quality" content? What is "unique", "valuable", or "engaging" content? Looking at the Google Webmaster Quality guidelines for answers just seems to beg the question.
In their webmaster guidelines, Google says you should figure out what "makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging" and that you need to "Make your website stand out from others in your field". In other words, be remarkable.
But if you’re an independent thinker (like all good SEOs are), you know that's total BS, because most of the stuff in Google’s search results isn’t really all that unique, valuable or engaging. Most of it does not stand out in their field. The majority of it is definitely not remarkable.
So What Is Google Really Looking For?
Let's start by looking at the typical affiliate/MFA/niche site builder's idea of what Google is looking for.
Here's the gist of a comment I see a lot:
I got hit by Panda/thin content penalty. I don't get it…my site is an authority site with almost 100 pages of quality content. All of my content is at least 1000 words long, written by native English writers, 100% unique and Copyscape passed, and I proofread every article myself to make sure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes.
Does this describe quality content? To me, this describes the bare minimum required for "English language content".
A lot of SEOs seem to think doing one or a handful of the below = creating quality content:
Using native English writers - I'd say this is just the price of admission from Google's point of view.
Lack of grammar/spelling mistakes - again, just the bare minimum required to qualify as "content".
Passing copyscape - again this just a basic requirement to play in the Google sandbox.
Having 1000+ words - adding length doesn't make your content better, though it can help reduce your chances of a Panda slap and help you rank for more longtails - unless the extra words are fluff.
Writing content yourself - even if you're a decent writer you can produce poor quality content. A perfectly written article that doesn't solve any of the readers problems or impart any useful information is not quality content. If you're overly focused on SEO, you could very well be creating useless fluff.
Paying more than 1 cent a word - just because you're paying on the higher end of offshore wages doesn't automatically make your content quality.
Let's quickly revisit Google's list of stuff they don't want.
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Doorway pages
Notice something? You can create "quality content" in the eyes of Joe Affiliate Marketer and still be hitting every item on Google’s no-no list.
How Should We Define "Quality"?
Google is not an editor, it's an algorithm. So why are they giving editorial advice? Google can't actually penalize you for not being remarkable, at least not yet.
The way it understands whether your content is valuable, unique, or engaging is by comparing your content to bad content, comparing your content to content that has been deemed "acceptable", and using machine learning to algorithmically identify similarities and differences.
I would argue we can loosely define quality content in Google's eyes like this:
- Content that actually solves the visitor's problem i.e. acknowledges the intent of behind their query and delivers whatever they're looking for. (Measured via a combination of natural language processing and engagement metrics)
- Writing level that's at least comparable with the average, non-affiliate/seo based sites in the top 10 SERP rankings.
- No fluff (restating obvious facts, using generic descriptors that could apply to anything instead of presenting facts, rephrasing the same ideas over and over again)
- Writing that's not merely stating obvious facts rewritten poorly from another webpage.
- If your content is filled with affiliate links, it better have a lot more than 500 words of text regurgitating information from the product page.
- No over-optimized pages. If you're doing on-page optimization, an average reader shouldn't be able to tell you did any on-page optimization at all. Work your long-tails in naturally, and don't include them if they wouldn't make any sense.
- No over-optimized site - if you have multiple pages targeting keywords that mean essentially the same thing, Panda will get you.
- Doesn't have a drastically worse bounce rate than other search results.
- Doesn't get flagged as obvious spam by Google's army of manual reviewers.
Ever heard of the saying "GreyHat to get to the top, WhiteHat to stay?" These are all data points that Google's algorithms are sophisticated enough to detect, and they help distinguish poor content from passable content - though it says nothing about remarkable content. But as we observed earlier, most of the content ranking in Google isn't actually remarkable.
If you can meet these requirements, it will go along way towards protecting you from future updates targeted towards low quality content. Not surprisingly, just meeting these requirements also forces you to make your writing more palatable to the average web reader.
Content Creation Is An Investment, Not An Expense
Maybe it’s time to circle back and ask, why do you even want to create quality content? Just because Matt Cutts says you should? Because “content is king”? Because if you consistently write good content the rankings will come?
I think the answer is actually pretty simple: because you want to make more money.
You should be creating better content because it can give you a better ROI (return on investment). You're doing it because if your web property is an asset - creating quality content will give your asset a higher valuation.
You’re creating better content because focusing on content makes your sites less susceptible to Google slaps, more enticing for other webmasters to link to, and more sharable for social media users.
Yet instead of figuring out how to get more value out of their writer, the first priority for many niche site builders is to crank out content as cheaply as possible, then focuse solely on links. What they’re forgetting is that if you don’t get the content part right, you’re always going to be fighting an uphill battle.
At a minimum, we need content that people will read, find helpful, and occasionally share - and we need it to be profitable.
You don't need remarkable content to accomplish this, but you do need good writers, and you do need to understand what your reader is looking for.
Why Digging In The Content Bargain Bin Isn't The Answer
Having a writer who can craft proper sentences, do legitimate research, and who won't deliver an article filled with obvious fluff is the price of admission for building SEO-driven sites that don't get slapped every other Google update in 2015.
I can sense the objection already: "I'm just starting out. I don't have the money to pay for a decent writer."
Ok, fair enough. So let me ask you this: if I was selling a service where I could instantly help you:
- Greatly reduce the risk of Google slaps
- Increase your rankings
- Make getting natural links and doing whitehat linkbuilding 10X easier
- Get you real social shares
Would you be interested? How much would you be willing to pay for this service?
Think about it this way: Would you rather spend $10 and earn $5 a month for 3 months, or spend $40 and earn $200 a month for the next 2 years? Could you afford to come up with $40 if those were your options?
If you can afford to spend $5-$10 dollars an article on 5 shitty articles, you can afford to spend $30-$50 on 1 non-shitty article. There are a ton of decent writers out there willing to work for reasonable prices - there's no reason to be a cheap ass about one of the core pillars of your business.
That's the mindset difference between looking at content as an expense to be minimized versus looking at content as an investment that will generate a return for you. Making this mindset shift will open up a new world of opportunities for your business.
Suddenly, all that talk about "natural backlinks", "social shares", and "outreach" will actually start to make sense.
Stop seeing content as an expense to minimize, and start seeing it as an investment that will generate a return.
Are There Exceptions To The Rule?
Sure there are. Occasionally you might be able to find a decent writer who will work for bargain rates. In those cases, they will almost certainly get swamped with orders and become unresponsive, or they'll get burnt out because they're earning too little and either start slacking or quit writing altogether.
Just another reason to stop shopping in the content bargain bin.
You can spend your energy finding and attempting to manage the occasional good writer who's willing to work for well below their market rate, or you can spend it growing your revenue, scaling your operations, and improving your ROI per piece of content. It's up to you.
Maybe you need to stop asking "How can I find cheaper content", and start asking yourself "How do I get to the point where I can afford to pay reasonable prices for quality content?"
Doing Better Keyword Research Lets You Spend More On Content
Doing better keyword research allows you to generate a better rate of return on your content, which allows you to invest more money into the content in the first place.
Earning money with SEO driven content creation revolves around 2 factors:
- Your ability to rank (competition X onpage seo X offpage seo)
- How much you can earn once you rank (traffic X visitor value)
For both factors, keyword research is a crucial ingredient. Your keyword research tell you whether you'll be able to rank for the keyword, and it should also help you project how much money you'll make once you do rank.
I take an 80/20 approach to keyword research. Applying the 80/20 principle, I want to find the high volume/high profit keywords that will give me the most return for minimal backlinking efforts.
The simplest way to do this is to reverse engineer what other sites in the niche are doing. A detailed keyword research guide is beyond the scope of this article, but I’ll be publishing another post later this week to tackle this topic.
An Easy Win For Your Keyword Research & Content ROI
In the meantime, I’ve been working with Han Chang to build a keyword tool that will show projected earning estimates, and allow you to reverse engineer your competition’s keyword data in one click.
We’re planning to start releasing limited beta access by the end of January 2015, if you’re interested in checking it out, you can find out more here.
How To Find Good Writers At A Reasonable Price
The point I was trying to make in the last section wasn't that you need to spend a lot of money on writers. Just to be clear, my point was only that price shouldn't be the guiding factor in your content decisions.
The rest of this guide will be dedicated to getting the most bang for your buck when you seek out writers.
So we've established you should pay reasonable rates to get quality content. Next, we need to figure out:
- Where and how to find good writers
- How to get the most out of them
When it comes to building a team of good writers and getting the most out of them, I make sure to:
- Look in the right places
- Look for writers with real world subject matter experience (when possible)
- Screen writing samples and identify fluff
- Prune ruthlessly - if a writer doesn’t deliver, they’re off the team
- Provide good instructions and set expectations
- Provide good article ideas that address search intent
Where Do You Find Good Writers At Reasonable Rates?
Just like with any job application, you're going to have to screen lots of candidates to find the gems. But looking in the right place will greatly increase your chances of not only finding good writers, but finding enough of them to scale your content creation without headaches.
Finding good writers at reasonable prices doesn't have to be like looking for a needle in a haystack - you just need to stop looking in haystacks.
Should You Hire Offshore Writers?
There are a lot of people who can speak, read, and write in English in places like the Philippines or India, but writing effectively requires something beyond mere conversational fluency. The subtlety of phrasing, use of idioms and a significant cultural gap means that most offshore writers simply won't be able to produce content at the level we want.
Let's start with the premise that we're only going to hire native English speakers.
Obviously this doesn't apply to everyone offshore. There are ESL writers who write better than most native English writers, but again, you're looking for a needle in a haystack.
If we go on the premise that we're only going to hire native English speakers then let's ask ourselves - where can we get native English speakers who are educated, experienced writers, but also willing to work consistently for relatively low wages?
Our most likely talent pool will come from...
Regions With A Low Cost Of Living In English Speaking Countries
There are lots of regions in the United States with low cost of living compared to most native English speaking regions. If you live in an expensive urban city, you might be greatly overestimating how much it costs to hire an educated, experienced, capable writer.
Its simple economics. Put yourself in the writer's shoes - even if you're a capable writer willing to accept 2-3 cent a word in a place like New York or San Francisco, the high cost of living will force you to turn over articles extremely quickly - much too quickly to do a thorough job with research and likely at a pace that will force you to either burn out or raise your rates and cut back on your workload.
If you live somewhere like Cleveland on the other hand, your 2-3 cents a word suddenly becomes very reasonable - especially if you're the secondary earner in your household.
Everyone thinks geo-arbitrage is sexy when you're hiring someone on the other side of the world, but no one talks about how it can be leveraged in the United States. The US has a much bigger income/cost of living disparity within cities than any other native English speaking country, so understand that and use it to your advantage.
Note: I'm not saying you should filter by geographic area within the United States. That's unnecessary, but it’s useful to understand that you can get solid full-time writers at a reasonable price.
Work At Home Moms
Why would a skilled, college educated writer with professional experience do freelance writing for $20-$30 an article when they could be earning more in the workforce?
The answer is they're willing to give up money in exchange for flexibility. There is an army of smart, educated, and very capable stay-at-home moms (and dads as well) who are happy to get paid less than their market rate in exchange for the flexibility of working from home. Many of them are also the secondary earner in their household.
As a result, WAHM.com is a great source for capable, affordable writers.
WAHM.com, aka work at home moms, has a few writing/telecommuting job boards where you can post your help wanted ad for free. I've found a lot of really professional writers this way who will do a thorough job researching and writing about some pretty dry topics. I've also found writers who are legitimately passionate about some of the subjects I offer work in.
I offer 3-4 cents a word on my job postings, but you should be able to get decent writers for less if you're willing to do more filtering.
Make sure you demonstrate that you're a serious employer who treats their writers well and can provide a steady stream of work.
Aspiring writers are another talent pool you can tap into for cheap.
You do have to be careful choosing writers who understand how to adapt their writing for the web. Some fiction writers for example may use overly flowery prose that might fit nicely into a short story, but not so much with an article about nursing schools.
Writer Forums (e.g. AbsoluteWrite.com)
I've used AbsoluteWrite.com to hire some pretty decent writers in the past. They have a board dedicated to freelance writing, as well as a board dedicated to writing for big content sites like about.com, examiner.com etc. There are other writer forums with help wanted boards for aspiring writers to get freelance work while they ply their craft.
Are students really our future? If they are, here's your chance to hire the future of our professional work force while they're still willing to work for cheap.
The downside is that students can be flakey since school, extra-curriculars, partying, and friends will often come first. Deadlines tend to get missed around midterms and finals.
Local University Job Boards
The best place to recruit students is to go to your local university job board, or university job boards in areas with a low cost of living.
Different job university boards will have their own set of requirements. Some will require that you prove you're a legitimate company by providing a business number or business registration. Some may not let un-vetted employers post job ads. Do your research.
Journalists Looking For Work
As traditional media outlets continue to bleed money and scale back their workforce, the supply of journalists looking for work continues to rise.
Lots of these journalists looking for work also have twitter followings in the thousands, due to their work on the web properties of mainstream magazine/newspapers. This can give you a built-in jumpstart to your content if you leverage it correctly.
Look on LinkedIn for journalists in your niche and the word “unemployed”, you can also search for specific media outlets e.g. The Guardian, BBC etc. Use a tool like followerwonk to check their social media status if you want to leverage their social following as well.
Then simply reach out to them through LinkedIn, either via their publicly available information or LinkedIn’s InMail premium service, and ask them if they’d like to write for your blog.
Because they’re eagerly looking for work, these journalists will work for reasonable rates. If you’re used to working with flakey freelance outsourcers, you might be pleasantly surprised at the level of performance. Journalists are used to cranking out very high quality content on a deadline, so you might be surprised by their output.
Of course if your site sucks, no legitimate journalist will want to write for you. This is definitely a higher level tactic, but if you’re looking to take the next step from “niche site builder” to “publisher”, you should be using this tactic.
Published Freelance Writers
You can also recruit freelance writers from publications in your niche, or major publications like huffingtonpost.com. Many multi-author publications will have an author bio section for each writer. Some of these writers will be freelance writers you can recruit for your own projects.
You can search by browsing different multi-author sites, or you can also try searching for them in Google by using the "site colon" query. Example: site:huffingtonpost.com “freelance writer”. This will search the domain "huffingtonpost.com" for the term "freelance writer".
I’ve used this tactic successfully to get really high quality writers at bargain rates.
Problogger Job Board
The ProBlogger job board is filled with lots of professional writers, active bloggers, and aspiring bloggers/writers. Some of the applicants will have produced content for sites that you recognize.
ProBlogger really shines when you need content in a niche that a lot of people are passionate about e.g. health, green living, parenting, finance etc. You can end up discovering up and coming writers who are actually passionate about the niche they’re writing about.
You can still get good general-purpose writers who can handle anything you throw at them, but ProBlogger’s job board really shines when you’re looking for passionate writers and niche experts.
Why would you ever have a generic content writer producing content on fashion, home design, green living, nutrition, health, fitness, finance, relationships, tech, business - really almost any major evergreen topic you can think of - when you can find people who are passionate about the subject and have a wealth of experience?
Make sure your job posting conveys the opportunity to be creative and inject their own personality/ideas into their writing. This benefits you as well of course - if you can get passionate/knowledgeble writers, your content quality will improve.
You want them to get excited about the job, and you want to assure them that they'll be able to exercise their creativity. Make sure you demonstrate that you're a serious employer who treats their writers well and can provide a steady stream of work - make sure they know you're not some fly by night flake who won't pay.
It is a paid job board (last time I checked the fee was $50), but its worth every penny. If you include your site, you also get a nice backlink from a solid domain. A no-follow link granted, but it’s a nice bonus.
Textbroker.com is probably my favorite way to scale up quality content creation affordably. In my experience, most people are using Textbroker completely wrong.
Most people simply place open orders. If you only place open orders, yes you’ll get content quickly, but the quality will be extremely inconsistent, even at the 4 star level.
By taking advantage of all the features in Textbroker’s system, I've been able to find very solid writers here and build reliable teams of niche experts at very reasonable prices.
A big bonus is that Textbroker's system is amazing at helping you screen writers, manage the writing workflow, and ensure that you get what you pay for.
Some of my favorite features include:
- The writing workflow is built into the system - there's no emailing back and forth. Revisions are easy to request, and you won't confuse the original copy with the revised copy, or the 2nd revision etc.
- SEO features are built in - you can have the system automatically check for inclusion of certain keywords.
- Bulk order articles
- Time limits on content delivery are automatically enforced - no chasing up writers for content.
- If you test out a new writer and you get really poor content or content that doesn't match your specifications, you have the right to reject it and get your money back.
- No messing with file attachments or even organizing Google docs - its all in the system for future reference.
- Textbroker takes care of the copyscape checks for you.
- There's a great search system for screening writers, you can view their writing samples, profile, interests, work history, and more.
- Massive pool of writers - no matter what niche you're covering, you can most likely find a competent, consistent writer who either has extensive experience writing on the subject, or possibly even a personal interest or professional experience. I've hired lawyers to write legal articles (3 cents a word), veterinarian/vet techs to write articles about pets (5 cents a word for the vet, 2.5 cents a word for the vet tech), personal trainers to write about fitness (2.5-3 cent a word), nurses to write about nursing education (2.4 cents a word) etc.
- You can even bulk upload article titles w/ keywords to Textbroker and auto-export content to wordpress - if you combine this with a VA who can format your posts, you can put your content creation into virtual autopilot.
How To Order Content From Textbroker (The Right Way)
There are 3 ways to order content on Textbroker:
- Open orders
- Team orders
- Direct orders
There are also 5 levels of content on Textbroker, from 2 star to 5 star. Pricing looks like this:
2 star (legible)
$.013 / word
3 star (average)
$.018 / word
4 star (excellent)
$.024 / word
5 star (professional)
$.072 / word
5 stars are virtually non-existent on Textbroker, and I've never touched 2 star.
3 stars are much too inconsistent for my liking, though once in awhile you'll find an ok writer (who is probably on their way to 4 star).
So 4 star is the standard. Personally, I don’t see a reason to use any other star rating for your money site content.
Open orders are the most direct way to order content on Textbroker. You simply enter the criteria for your order, decide how long you'll give the writer to fulfill the order, and a writer at the star level you specified (4 star) will deliver the order.
The big problem with open orders is that the quality will vary a lot. Even at 4 star, the quality can vary quite drastically, and its pretty hard to scale quality content creation if you have no idea what kind of quality you're going to get. Sometimes the article comes back pitch perfect, sometimes its a piece of garbage.
I rarely use open orders, but I do use them sometimes to find writers for generic articles or simple research based articles - especially if I need quick turnaround.
For open orders, I'll check submissions carefully as they come in and give revision suggestions. If a writer does a good job, I'll usually send them a direct order and see if they're consistent as well. If they deliver consistently 2-3 times, I'll add them to my favorites or add them to a team and use them in my regular rotation.
If I need something done in bulk that is fairly generic e.g. descriptions for hundred different colleges, sometimes I will use open orders if my go-to writers are busy. If I find a good writer through open orders, I'll add them to my favorites, and either add them to a team or send them direct orders, depending on their direct order price.
To ensure I get somewhat consistent quality, I'll usually give very specific instructions - especially if its a dry, research-intensive request. See the template section below for more details.
A team order is basically an open order, but one that can only be fulfilled by writers you've already pre-qualified.
Unlike an open order, which has standard pricing set by textbroker, you can set the team rate that you're willing to offer. You can get writers to apply to join your team, and you can also invite writers to your team.
Building A Team
This is one of the most powerful ways to use Textbroker. If you're just using Open Orders all the time, you're using Textbroker incorrectly and wasting money.
I create a team with a detailed description of what I'm looking for, and I set it so that writers have to send in an application to join the team. If the team is based on a specific niche I'm tackling, I emphasize that I'm only looking for writers with real world experience in the niche.
For example if I'm looking for baby parenting articles, I'll actually state that I'm looking for parents of babies or toddlers, and have them tell me a bit about their family life. If I'm looking for articles on cooking, I'll state that I'm only looking for people who are serious cooks, and have them tell me about their love of cooking.
After skimming their application, the first thing I'll check when they apply is their feedback. Ideally you want them to have a 0% rejection rate, definitely nothing over a .5% rejection rate. I usually look for at least 100+ articles written as well, so I know they're dedicated.
I'll also make sure they include a writing sample to check that their writing fundamentals are solid (you can usually browse additional writing samples in their profile).
If it all checks out, I'll give let them take an assignment.
Of course, you can't screen 100% perfectly. As I assign orders to the group, I'll constantly prune writers who don't deliver to expected standards. I give constructive feedback and set firm expectations with writers who are doing a decent job, but who can still step up their game.
Feedback is always delivered in a warm, positive way E.g. "Hey I really like what you did here and here, but I think this over here could use some more of this and that, would really appreciate it if you could rework that." vs "This is not what I asked for, fix the last few paragraphs."
As you prune writers who don't deliver and add solid writers to your team, you now have a team of reliable, quality writers with real world experience in your niche.
The best part is it costs the same as a random (4 star writer), though I find paying a few cents more gets you much better consistency and faster turnaround.
On textbroker, every writer has a direct order price. That's the price they're willing to accept for you to send them a direct order. Sometimes this can be an incredible bargain when a good writer is eager for work. Sometimes it can be a bit higher than average, but worth every penny.
If you really want to work with a writer, sending them an order at their direct order price is the best way to do so. They’ll give your articles top priority and if they’re any good, they’ll work really hard to keep you as client.
An alternative strategy is to invite them to a team that may pay a bit below their direct order price, but still allows them to take work at this lower rate when they need to fill their schedule.
If I'm exploring a new niche, I'll often use Textbroker's search function, filter out all writers with a high rejection rate and less than 100 articles who haven't been active lately, and search for writers that mention my niche in their profile. I can then browse their profile, writing samples, and if they look promising, I'll either send them a direct assignment as a test or invite them to join one of my teams.
For direct orders, I pay from 2.4 to 5 cents a word, but generally speaking 2.4-3 cents a word will consistently get you very good writers.
Other Textbroker Tips
Avoid giving 1 day turnarounds, it'll be too rushed. Remember, you might not be their only client. Give your writers at least 2 days to return an article. I usually go with 4 days, though I'll go up to 10 if it's a larger bulk order.
Getting The Most Out Of Your Writers
Managing Writer Workflow
If you’re not using writers off textbroker, which has a fantastic system for managing content workflow, I highly recommend CopyCog.com. This kind of system will save you tremendous time managing writers via email, dealing with back and forth, figuring out which revision is the most recent one, chasing writers down for late content, paying writers, uploading content to WordPress etc. Remember, your time is a cost of content creation as well, so don't waste it bogged down in the minutiae.
Best of all, at the moment the software is 100% free!
You can also use a standard project management system like BaseCamp, Asana, or Trello, but I prefer using specialized tools.
Once you have a team of good writers in place, a good software system to their workflow, and a VA trained to format their work for publication, you will essentially have semi-automated content creation. You can eventually take your best writers, make them your editor, and with the right system in place you can create quality content on auto-pilot.
Find Writers With Real-World Experience In Your Niche
I've been asked hundreds of times where I find writers, but no one has ever asked me how to find people who actually know what they're talking about, no one has ever asked me how to keep writers motivated and performing at their best.
But if content creation is one of the pillars of your business - if you want to get the most bang for your buck out of your content budget - these are things that you should be thinking about.
The biggest hack for getting mileage out of a relatively cheap writer is to hire writers for what they already know. A good writer will go the extra mile to research a topic thoroughly, but if you can find a good writer who also has a real-world background in the topic…you've found a leverage point you can use to get awesome content for a very reasonable price.
I've described for each platform how I go about doing this. Don't overlook this - it doesn't matter where you find writers you use if you can find a writer with basic writing fundamentals with firsthand base of knowledge about the subject matter.
When you find a good, reliable writer who can follow instructions and produce a good volume of content at a relatively affordable price - do everything you can to hold onto them and keep them happy and motivated.
Work On Eliminating Fluff
Fluff is the #1 writing problem you'll face as an SEO when ordering content from freelance writers. It's a universal problem with bad writers, but its not limited to bad writers either.
Good writers can also resort to fluff if they're more concerned with filling a word quota than actually taking the extra time needed to do some extra research. Good writers can resort to fluff when given a silly assignment (like writing 1000 words on "used go karts for sale" and no additional instructions).
Good writers can resort to fluff when forced to meet an unreasonable deadline.
Good writers can resort to fluff when they're drastically underpaid and are trying to crank out high quantities of content on mind-numbing, highly specialized topics.
Even if you're doing the writing yourself, you might find yourself resorting to fluff if your goal is simply to fulfill a word count quota, or you're writing about a topic with no clear objective, other than to include a specific set of keywords.
The most common type of fluff involves stating obvious facts, generic facts that can apply to almost anything, and making generalized sweeping statements that accomplish nothing other than move the writer closer to their final word count.
"Even though the economy is terrible and no one can find jobs, nursing is a very good profession to get into. Nurses earn very lucrative salaries, and its one of the highest paying fields available"
"In a year where overall job growth shrank by 10%, hospitals and clinics continue to struggle to find qualified nurses to fill empty positions. As a result, the entry-level nursing salary in 2014 was $1,000,000,000, making the nursing profession the 2nd highest paying field for graduates entering the work force with a 4 year degree."
Disclaimer: facts in this example are 100% made up...because good research takes time.
When you're recruiting writers, you should reject anyone who uses fluff in their writing samples (its more common than you'd think). If they have fluff in their writing samples, they're definitely going to have fluff in the content they deliver.
But finding a decent writer is only the first step to eliminating fluff. As I mentioned before, even decent writers can resort to fluff in certain situations. You can help avoid those situations by providing good instructions, and/or using templates and providing example articles. I'll talk about this more in the next few sections.
Give Clear Writing Instructions & Set Expectations
You can't necessarily expect every writer to just "get" how to write for the web (although the best ones will). If it's your first time working with a new writer, you'll want to include basic instructions that set your expectations upfront.
If you're used to working with uber-cheap writers, you're probably used to writers not following your instructions properly. But good writers won't have any problems. If they do, they'll quickly adjust after you give them some feedback.
Here's a sample of some of the basic writing instructions I give to writers when we first start working together. Obviously some of these will vary depending on the niche, your site, and the type of article I'm looking for.
- Get right to the point in the first sentence/paragraph. Hook the reader into the rest of your article.
- Go with a casual blogging style that’s easy to read, but don't write from 1st person. Every word should have a reason for existence. Avoid fluff. Edit ruthlessly.
- Use everyday vocabulary – this isn’t an academic paper.
- Short, concise sentences preferred. Convey your ideas as simply and clearly as possible. Avoid fluff/filler words for the sake of word count.
- Use bullet points wherever possible.
- Keep paragraphs short. Since this is the web where attention spans are short, 2-3 sentence paragraphs are ideal. Even 1 sentence paragraphs can be appropriate.
- Use subheaders. If it’s not a listicle, make sure to use subheaders to break up large blocks of content. Having a meaningful subheader every 3-5 paragraphs is recommended.
- Cite the source if you're presenting a fact. Only cite authoritative sites. (Provide your definition of "authoritative sites" here).
One way to get better writing - especially on boring, research intensive topics - is to provide the writer with very specific templates. Having a specific template for the writer to follow eliminates the need for the writer to create the structure of the article.
In other words, you're giving your writer 1 less way to screw things up!
List articles (listicles) are a great example of where templates can make content both easier to read and easier to produce, but templates can also be used in other ways.
Templates are great for situations where you're using the same content format repeatedly, especially in dry, research-intensive subjects
For dry topics that are very research intensive, even strong writers can be tempted to cut corners and write a line or two of fluff here and there. I use templates in these situations to minimize fluff and make sure I get substantive content in the article.
Benefits Of Using Templates
- Increases quality of your articles by ensuring it has all of the important information the reader is looking for
- Consistent feel throughout the site - looks more professional and creates a better user experience.
- Makes the job easier for the writer and gives them less guess work, which keeps them motivated and delivering consistently
- Helps mediocre writers create good content - you're standardizing the process and making it harder for them to make mistakes. List articles are a great example - its easy to create list articles that get shared, even if you're a mediocre writer. As long as the list concept is interesting, the article will probably be interesting. It turns "writing" into a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. Of course, that's also why a lot of people think list articles are the bane of the internet...but that's a whole other discussion.
- Minimize the potential for fluff - since the writer has to address specific points in order to complete the assignment, they're less likely to fill their word count with generic nonsense.
Example: I may have a career site that targets a bunch of different professions. They may all share the keyword "how to become a [insert profession here]".
Instead of just assigning the topic "insert a profession here" to the writer(s) and letting them have at it, I might want to create the subheaders and define the subsections to ensure that they address all the points a reader will want to know about on the subject.
How To Become A [Insert Profession here]
1-2 paragraph overview.
- What is the path to entering the profession? Give a broad overview.
- Include a quick breakdown of the timeline from entering school to being a qualified professional (e.g. school, graduate school, on-the-job training etc), including a breakdown of where that time goes.
Discuss the educational requirements/paths to entering the profession. How long does it usually take?
Include a couple of sentences about the educational program itself, what kind of things do they study? Is there a clinical/hands-on component?
Some of the information that should be covered in this subsection:
- What kind of professional certification is available? Is there more than one level of certification? Are there national/state-by-state options?
- Is certification required to work in this profession? If so, who requires it? If not, is it beneficial? Does this vary by state? - Who is the certifying body? Does it vary by state?
- What are the pre-requisites to obtaining certification?
- Is there a national exam? If so, provide some information about the exam (e.g. exam fee, how many questions, etc).
Some of the information that should be covered in this subsection:
- Is licensing required to work in this profession?
- Does it vary state by state? Which states require it?
- In general, what's required to become licensed? If it varies by state, make sure to remind the reader that they need to check with the local state board for specific requirements.
1-2 paragraphs covering:
- How many new positions are expected to be created over the next decade or so? (BLS.gov usually has good data on this).
- What factors will affect demand/slow down?
- What sectors of industry/areas will have highest demand? Note: Don’t necessarily have to discuss these factors if the info isn’t available. See http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/emts-and-paramedics.htm#tab-6 for an example
For research intensive topics like this, I also make sure they cite the source of any facts they're quoting, and I make sure they know to only cite from authoritative sources. I rarely bother fact-checking, but the act of making them list their sources will improve accuracy.
You can include these references in your article as well to improve the legitimacy of your site, and also give you some nice outbound links to authoritative sites (another signal to Google that you're a legitimate site and your content is quality).
If you don't feel like creating the template yourself, an alternative is to give the writer an example of a strong article that's well researched w/ the type of formatting you want, and tell them to use this as a template.
Put More Thought Into Your Content Ideas - Identify & Match Searcher Intent
One of the criteria we set for quality content was:
"Content that actually solves the visitor's problem (addresses the intent of their keyword query)"
Its important to make sure your content actually solves the searcher’s problem, and isn’t just fluff to wrap around your ads or affiliate links.
This is a common problem I see with pure affiliate/MFA sites. The creator puts up a page targeting a keyword they want to rank for, but they don’t put any thought into what the searcher is actually looking for.
Someone finds a keyword like “used go karts for sale” and decides it has enough value to target. They come up with the first article idea that comes to their head, usually something like “Your Guide To Finding Used Go Karts For Sale”, or “Places To Find Used Go Karts For Sale”. Then they shoot it off to their writer.
But if you actually think about what the user is looking for, someone Googling "used go karts for sale" is not looking for a "guide" to finding used go karts for sale, or a generic list of places they can go to find used go karts for sale.
Obviously, the user is looking to buy a used go kart, or at the very least doing some comparison research because they're thinking of buying a used go kart. This isn't someone who needs a guide about used go karts - they're past that stage in the buying cycle and they want to find used go karts. What they'd probably want:
- Used go karts that are for sale: pricing, the ability to buy them from the page.
- Comparison pricing: how much can you save by buying used? What is the average cost?
Whipping up 1000 words of content and hiring a decent writer won’t do any good if you don’t address those issues. There are some additional tips on identifying and matching search intent here.
Sometimes a 1000 word article isn’t the best way to solve the visitor’s problem.
If all you’re doing is targeting “buying” keywords with page after page of 1000 word articles without considering what the reader is actually looking for, there’s a good chance your site will be low quality in Google’s eyes, even if you’re using decent writers or writing the content yourself.
Understand What's Already Out There
You don’t have to re-invent the wheel everytime you brainstorm article ideas. Chances are someone has already researched the keyword you're targeting and created a great article on the topic.
Look at what the top sites in the niche are doing and figure out how it can be replicated or improved upon. When you start looking beyond written content, some of the stuff will be out of your budget if you’re just starting out with a new site, but a lot of the time you can find relatively affordable ways to give your content a boost over your competitors.
For example, one of my sites is a site that mostly does lists/compilations. Some of my competitors produce unique videos. I didn’t have the budget to do professional video production or anything, so I just wrote up a simple script and cobbled together a bunch of different Fiverr services to put the video together. It looks professional and most importantly, visitors liked it, even though it cost $20 to put together.
Seeing what competitors are doing for content is easy. Just google the keyword and see what shows up. Use Buzzsumo.com to see what articles are trending and popular for that keyword. Try Quora, Yahoo Answers and other Q&A sites for other content ideas.
When In Doubt, Go With The List Format
List articles are a popular template format for a good reason - it works. Its easy for writers to write, and easy for readers to read, and t makes sense as a content format even with a lot of "buying" keywords where the visitor is looking to buy the product, not read an article.
E.g. If they're looking for cheap juicing machines and you don't have an e-commerce store, the next best thing you can do is list the Top 10 Cheap Juicing Machines. You can base it on a function of price and their amazon reviews, and actually provide significant value, while naturally pushing the reader towards a purchase.
9 Reasons Why List Articles Are Awesome
- Instant level up for writers - even a mediocre writer can create a great list article by doing some research. Even a weak writer can still create a decent list article with a little effort.
- Easy to research - lets you cover a topic superficially while appearing to cover it in much more in-depth. Example: It’s a lot easier to appear knowledgeable writing a paragraph each about 10 exotic sea creatures you didn’t even know existed until you started writing the article vs writing a single 1000 word article on the Coelacanth.
- Proven template to follow - the short intro paragraph, followed by X number of points w/ full-width pictures, followed by a short concluding paragraph, is simple and easy to follow. There are small variations on this (e.g. just pictures + funny captions), but a list article by definition has a very clear structure. There is no way for the writer to mess up the structure, or put up a painful wall of text.
- Easy to fact-check for the editor - if a list item seems out of place, its easy to tell with a quick scan.
- Easy to edit - if a list item is "fluffy', i.e. its only included to round out the list, it’s easy to just delete it.
- Readers are likely to click - readers love to read lists. It appeals to the short attention span in us since a list article is a promise that we can skim.
- Easy to read - the default reading style on the web is skimming, and the list format fits that beautifully.
- Readers are more likely to share a list - even if it's mediocre, as long as the list concept itself is good, it’s much more likely to be shared than a typice article. (reference: okdork.com/2014/04/21/why-content-goes-viral-what-analyzing-100-millions-articles-taught-us/). ○ One of the ideas behind creating SEO driven list articles - other than their ease of creation - is that the built-in shareability of list articles. Once you start generating some SEO traffic, you can multiply that traffic as it gets shared through social networks.
- People share list articles even when they suck - especially if the list sucks. Readers will still share a poorly researched list or a list they disagree with - e.g. man, did you see how stupid the list on X site was? Why is X on the list?
When in doubt, go with a list.
Don't Write Every Article For Google-Bot
Head over to Buzzsumo.com and find popular article ideas in your niche. If you can, try to take a new spin on those ideas and come up with something even better.
Not all content has to come in article form either. Here's a list of 15 different content types. Here are 5 ideas for levelling up your content. Here are some trending content formats according to Moz Blog.
It’s not 2009, you don’t need to repeat keywords multiple times, stuff related keywords in every subheader, optimize your image alt tags etc.
In 2015, you’re much better off under-optimizing than over-optimizing.
Put your main keyword in the h1 title (which will also include the keyword in your permalink if you’re using wordpress), maybe include another 1-2 related keywords in the <title></title> tags, and work your longtails into the content naturally when possible.
That’s all the keyword optimization you need in 2015. Spend the rest of your energy building your team of writers, building a better site, optimizing your social sharing tags, and making sure you're creating content that your readers find useful.
This was the ultimate guide to creating (mostly) unremarkable content.
Of course, in distilling everything I learned in 4 years of creating unremarkable content into a single guide, my hope was to create a piece of remarkable content. As Google's algorithms and the way we consume content continue to evolve, being remarkable is fast becoming the easiest way to drive traffic, authority, and sales - if it isn't already.
If you got value out of this, please share and drop me a line in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know how you're planning to create better SEO content in 2015.
And if you’re not entirely happy with how you’re doing keyword research at the moment, do check out my latest project for a better way to do keyword research.