14 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Content Writer

If you’re running a business today, you don’t need a website.

What’s that, you ask? I don’t need a website? No, what you need is a website with great content on it – just having a website isn’t enough these days. And with this need often comes the need to outsource content writing. 

While a lot of your company’s online content will include traditional website copy — things like your “about us” and “services pages — it should also include original blog content. Blogging is a highly effective way to promote your brand, establish your business as an expert in your industry and drive traffic to your site.

It’s also great for SEO (search engine optimization) and page rankings in the SERPs (search engine results pages). The higher you rank in search engines, the more likely it is that people will click on your link and find your business.

How do you get this great content? You could write it yourself, and there are people who manage to do this effectively. However, for every one business owner who successfully produces professional quality content, there are thousands more who don’t.

In fact, 95% of blogs fail. Why? There are various reasons, but most of them stem from one overarching truth: writing great content is hard work, and writing content that converts to revenue is really hard work (check out that link to see why).

95% of all blogs fail, mainly due to failure to convert content to revenue. Click To Tweet

This is why a growing number of businesses outsource blog content writing. If you think you need a writer for your business, but you’re unsure where to start, we’ve put together a guide to help you create a roadmap for finding the best content creators – and questions you should ask before you hire a copywriter for your business.

Why Hiring a Great Blog Content Writer Is So Important

Whether your business is large, medium or small, not being on the web will hurt you. Content marketing (based on content that delivers value to your customers) has never been more important for businesses, because consumers increasingly rely on the web to research products and services, and then find companies that sell them.

To get an idea of how critical it is for your business to be online, you need only look at the numbers. According to Adweek, 81% of consumers research online before making a purchase.

The stats are just as compelling for consumers who buy local. Here are some highlights from BrightLocal’s 2016 Consumer Review Survey:  

  • 95% of consumers read online reviews to gauge if a local business is good. (This means that just 5% of people don’t go online to search for local businesses.)
  • 84% of people trust online reviews just as much as the opinion of someone they talk to in person.

So we know that consumers — an overwhelming 95% of them — are searching for businesses online. It’s only logical, then, to assume that most businesses not only have a website, but also update their sites regularly with solid, useful content. Right?

Well, actually, they don’t. A survey conducted by the business-to-business research firm Clutch reveals that about half of small businesses don’t have a website. Of those that do, nearly 40% say they need to focus on improving their site’s content.

About half of small businesses don't have a website Click To Tweet

There are several reasons why business owners tend to drop the ball when it comes to content marketing and blogging. When you’re already juggling various tasks, from sales and IT to inventory and accounting, drafting effective web copy is just one more item on a growing to-do list.

When you need to keep the lights on, it’s hard to carve out time for blogging — especially if writing doesn’t come easily to you.

If this sounds like you, it’s probably time to hire a writer for your business.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Hire a Content Writer

Before you post an ad, you need to lay some groundwork. If you hire a writer without setting clear expectations internally, you could end up paying too much, getting poor quality work or — worst case scenario — paying too much for poor quality work.

If you’re going to hire a web content writer for your business, first ask yourself the following five questions:

1.What are the goals for this project?

What type of writing do you need? There is a big difference between website copy and blog copy, and it’s critical to find a writer who can deliver the type of content you need.

Furthermore, decide if this is an ongoing project or a one-time gig. If your website or blog content needs to be refreshed, you can probably hire a content writer to revamp it in a short-term project.

However, if you plan to ramp up your business’s blogging production, you should look for a blog content writer who can write engaging blog copy on a regular schedule, as well as give your blog a consistent style and tone.

Plus, you can often negotiate a rate discount for signing a 6+ month contract for consistent content writing work. This also gives you the added benefit of consistently creating valuable content for your audience, which will draw in more customers/clients and help you step up your SEO game.

You can often negotiate a rate discount for 6+ mo contracts for consistent copywriting work. Click To Tweet

2.Can I do it myself?

You can, but should you? This is where it’s important to know thyself — not to mention thine writing abilities. There are definitely business owners out there who craft compelling, kick ass web copy — or have an internal staff member who deftly handles their company’s content needs.

But there are many more businesses who can’t pull this off — we know because we talked to them when we wrote about the eight signs you should outsource blog content writing.

As you question whether “blog writer” is a hat you want to wear, be realistic about your time, your resources and your abilities. Can you commit to writing three times a week? Twice? Just once on Tuesdays? Consistency means fresh content, which is key for increasing your site’s traffic.  

Also consider whether you should hire a freelancer vs. a full-time writer (or a content writing agency).

There are benefits to hiring a freelance writer, but there are also some drawbacks. You may pay a little less (although not always), but you also have to be content with playing second, third or fourth fiddle to the other projects on their plate.

Are you prepared to play an active role in overseeing the quality of your writer’s work? Or do you prefer a “set it and forget it” approach to getting writing for your business?

More importantly, are you interested in developing a robust content marketing strategy that includes web content, SEO, PR and/or social media? This is where you get more bang for your buck — not to mention results — by going with a full-time pro or a content agency.

The graph above shows how a content agency can deliver more traffic to your website. At a glance, you can see that TCF ranks for over 18,000 keywords and generates $67.9k worth of search traffic every month. We rank for these keywords on the strength of our SEO — not paid ads (meaning this traffic is free, we just have to take the time to create the content and market it). To get the same results with paid ads through Google AdWords, we’d have to pay $814,000 per year.

3. What’s the total budget?

Setting a budget is a must. How much do you have to spend? Will you pay in advance or make payments as the work rolls in? Will you offer 50% up front and 50% upon completion? However you plan to pay, payment terms should be clearly defined and agreed upon before work begins.

You should also decide if you want to offer a kill fee, which allows you to pull the plug on a project if it starts to go off the rails. This is usually a good idea for longer types of copy, such as an ebook or content for a full website. A kill fee gives you an out before you sink more time and money into a project you know that you won’t be happy with.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for — and content is no exception. However, this doesn’t mean you should dump buckets of money on hiring a content writer and expect great results.

Just as cheaper is not always better, the most expensive writing isn’t necessarily going to check all the boxes on your list of must-haves. Set your budget, then compare it against the going rates for blog and content writing. Our breakdown of professional web content writing costs is a good resource for getting a range of prices for various types of online content – including what we charge.  

Whatever you decide to pay, compensation terms should be clearly defined before you even begin your search for a business copywriter or content agency.

It’s also important to budget for all aspects of your content marketing. For example, you might be paying a flat fee for someone to write your website content, but how much does your content optimization cost? Do you even have someone to handle that? How about images for your website? And what about PR? Should you pay for it? (If you ask us, you probably don’t need press release distribution.)

4. Who’s in charge of the writing project?

Does someone on your staff have the time and skill to oversee the project? You don’t necessarily need an in-house content specialist to manage your content writer, but you do need someone who can give the work a thumbs up or thumbs down.

This person should know what “good” looks like, and have a clear vision of the goals for the content project. This ensures that everyone’s on the same page and that the content that’s delivered will achieve the outlined objectives. At the very least, you should assign a single point of contact for the writer, which will cut down on miscommunication and hopefully eliminate confusion on both sides.

Ideally, your business should always have an individual who is tasked with managing and monitoring your content — even if he or she doesn’t actually write it. Take it from us, if your business is going to live on the internet, you need to make sure you check and double check your content management strategy. Otherwise, you might will inevitably make costly mistakes.

5. What keywords will we use?

Content writing and SEO are not the same thing, but they are definitely intertwined — don’t take it for granted that the content writer you hire will know that. While SEO is a cornerstone of any professional content strategy, there are plenty of writers out there who will tell you it doesn’t matter.

Although they’re half right (there are no “tricks,” and “keyword stuffing” will only get your page sent right back to the early naughties where it belongs), the reality is that keywords form the foundation of any solid piece of content.

Of course, the first step then is finding keywords that matter to your business.

The good news is there are plenty of tools and resource guides that will help you find keywords. Even better, many of them are free! In fact, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite ways to find keywords for SEO.

Once you’ve identified potential keywords, you need to decide which ones you want to target. You don’t need fancy tools to do this — you can do it with a simple spreadsheet. Here’s how we do it, along with a downloadable spreadsheet template you can use to organize your own keyword research data.

Keywords aren’t difficult to find, but ranking #1 in the SERPs for them is an entirely different story. Selecting keywords to focus on is driven partly by data analysis and partly by experience and a willingness to engage in trial and error. This is why your site’s content always needs to be a work in progress, even if it’s just giving it the occasional polish and update.

9 Questions to Ask Interviewees Before You Hire a Content Writer

You’ve set a budget, you know who’s overseeing your writing project and you’ve selected keywords that will send customers to your digital doorstep.

Now it’s time to hire a content writer for your business. Here are 10 questions to put on your list as you evaluate candidates and content agencies:

1. What do your portfolio and references look like?

This is a no brainer and probably something you will do before you even speak to candidates. Read through the writing samples they provide and try to put yourself in a reader’s shoes. Does the title grab your attention? Do the headlines make you want to keep reading?

Does the piece even have headlines? (Most content should.) Are there subheads, preferably using H2 and keywords/variations? Are the images optimized for SEO?

As you review a writer’s past work, ask them to explain the KPIs (key performance indicators) attached to each piece. How did they measure how well a particular blog post or webpage performed? Are they especially proud of an article that went viral? Did one of their clients experience a significant jump in website traffic after a certain blog post was published? Did the writer help improve the client’s SEO rankings?

If a writer has been instrumental in growing another business’s online reach, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do the same for yours.

2. What kind of content does the writer like to create?

The writer you hire doesn’t have to be an expert in your industry. For example, our writers at TCF cover subjects ranging from health insurance to personal lubricants. You don’t need a subject matter expert, but you do need someone who’s an expert at research (and following notes that experts from your company give them).

You also need a web content writer who can produce the type of copy you’re looking for. When you look through the writer’s portfolio, keep an eye out for variety, both in topics and form.

You might find a blog writer who excels at producing 300-word articles, but quickly runs out of steam when asked to create a 2,000-word piece. Conversely, someone might be an ebook ninja but not that hot at writing landing page content.

Also consider if the writer has the chutzpah to make your topics sing. The reality is that not every business has a sexy or exciting product. Most people don’t jump online and get pumped to read about vacuum cleaners or hot water heaters. No, they research and read about these things when they need them — and they look for authoritative websites with appealing content that holds their interest.

It’s not easy, but there are writers who can make even vacuum cleaners interesting to read about. And if you sell vacuums, that’s the person you want to hire — because when you introduce your business/product/service to people while they’re in the research phase, you’re much more likely to land the sale if you demonstrate your expertise, provide value in the form of educating the reader and position what you’re selling as the solution to their problem.

Don’t believe us? Consider Marcus Sheridan, a small business owner who was on the cusp of losing his swimming pool installation business when the housing bubble burst in 2008.

When it came down to sink or swim (bad pun intended) Sheridan was determined to keep his head well above water (sorry, we had to). Instead of dumping more marketing dollars into radio ads, he began blogging — answering common questions about swimming pools online.

Within one year, Sheridan had not only saved his business — he had increased his organic site traffic by 120%. His company, River Pools and Spas, now gets more traffic than any other swimming pool installation company on the planet. Since then, Sheridan has gone on to write marketing books about how website content revolutionized his business.

Seems like swimming pool installation is pretty sexy, after all.  

3. What are your ideas for content?

As a business owner, you may already have a good idea of the topics you’d like the writer to cover. In some cases, however, you may want the writer to pitch ideas.

If you’re hiring a blog content writer, you’re probably going to want ongoing posts, which means you’ll need a stream of fresh ideas to write about. If pitching is going to be part of your writer’s responsibilities, make sure both sides agree on how much you will pay for pitches and how you’ll handle rejected ideas for posts. Ideally, you can roll all of that into one package, which is what we do at TCF.

4. How do you conduct research?

Great content almost always requires in-depth research. The internet is a goldmine of information, but finding relevant, reliable sources to support your content is a skill — and one the writer you hire should definitely have.

That’s not to say you won’t get lucky and stumble upon a legitimate industry expert who can pump out top quality web content on the regular. Nevertheless, everything you post should cite (and link to) credible sources using the right anchor text.  

5. What kind of SEO and keyword research do you conduct?

Does the writer you’re considering have any SEO experience? How can you tell?

Here’s a suggestion: ask them, what is a keyword? If you’re met with a blank stare or, if you’re interviewing over the phone, a prolonged silence, you should look for writing talent elsewhere.

This may sound harsh, but you can’t afford to hire a content writer who lacks a basic understanding of keywords and why they’re important for online content.

The writing you’re commissioning will be published online, which means it needs to check a lot of boxes:

  • Is it well-written? Quality counts, and it always will.
  • Does it answer the reader’s question and provide value?
  • Is it properly formatted, with the right headlines, heading tags and paragraph structure?
  • Does it contain good keywords and the right frequency of keywords?
  • If SEO is the objective, is there enough content on the page, and is it properly formatted?
  • Does it include internal links?
  • Does it deliver value to your customers by answering a question, solving a problem or convincing people that you’re a trusted authority?
  • Does it include a meta description designed to rank well?
  • Is it content others will want to share?

It’s a tall order, but that’s why you’re hiring a professional, right?

At the end of the day, the content you pay for needs to appeal to humans and perform well in search engine crawlers. The very best content does both of these things incredibly well.

6. What does your editing process like?

Writing is both a service and a product. Whether you’re hiring a blog writer or a website writer, you’re entrusting your business — even if just a small part of it — to your writer. Before you place your business in someone else’s hands, make sure their quality control process is as rigorous as yours.

Editing can take various forms, whether it’s handing a piece off to an editor or simply putting it aside for a few hours and then rereading it. Here at TCF, everything we write goes through not one, but two editors. More eyes on a piece of content means that many more opportunities to catch an error.  

7. What do you know about us?

How did the writer find you? What about your business made them reach out? Or, if you reached out to them first, what research have they already done on your company and website?

Interviewing and hiring a blogger for your business is a bit like online dating: everything might look great on paper, but you should dig a little deeper before committing.

And much like dating, you want to know what attracted the person to you in the first place, as it will give you a good indication of whether you’re ultimately a good fit for each other. The best writer in the world might be a terrible communicator who leaves you hanging for days with no response. Or maybe the person does great work, but they’re tone deaf when it comes to writing in the style you’re aiming for.

Whether you’re hiring a freelancer for a single project or a content agency for ongoing work, your writer should be able to produce great work, understand your goals and work well with the rest of your team.

8. What is your work schedule like?

If you’re hiring an independent contractor, your project is likely to be one among several on their calendar. This is one of the downsides of working with a freelance writer, where you have little or no control over when or how the writer completes your project.

However, you can avoid missed deadlines and substandard work by setting clear expectations from the start. Create benchmarks that allow you to assess their progress along the way. This can take various forms, from a simple list of blog topics and keywords to a one-page outline (we did one for this blog) that covers the points they’re going to write about.

9. Now that you’ve seen our style guide, can you produce content within these guidelines?

What’s that? You don’t have a style guide? No worries. There are free style guides on the web, which are an excellent starting point for creating your own.

Eventually, however, you’ll want to tailor these guidelines to your business and your website. For example, there are certain web content writing tips you should incorporate, from basic things like whether you prefer “internet” or “Internet” to the proper use of em dashes — which is more important than you might think.

Basically, you want to give your writer clear instructions for what your content should look like. If you’re still stuck, you can borrow a (literal) page from our book by taking a glance at some of the web punctuation rules from our writing guide.

Getting the Job Done

Writing web content isn’t rocket science, but it’s also no walk in the park. Ultimately, it’s about connecting with people — both loyal customers and potential newcomers to your business or brand. As a business owner, you can make the most of your content marketing dollars by asking the right questions when you search for a writer who can deliver value to your business.

Good web content writing that effectively positions your company as a trustworthy provider of value can drastically improve your business and sales. TCF’s clients find us, not the other way around. This is because we rank so well for keywords that are relevant to what we do as a digital PR and content agency — we practice what we preach, and have the results to show for it. You can take the same approach with your business, but only if you hire talent that is capable of delivering these kinds of results.
Want to talk about how TCF can help you create website or blog content for your business? Interested in digital PR or social media marketing? Contact us to learn more.

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