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How to Choose a Content Writer Who Does Not Suck

writerchair_blogLast week I wrote a post on How to Find a Content Writer Who Does Not Suck. One person who read the post said it was way too long.

“I know how to find a great content writer,” she said. “Just hit reply and ask you.”

Thanks Dr. Susan Smallegan Maples, ace dentist, primo marketer and bff extraordinaire. But let’s assume I’m not right for everyone. Then what?

Then you have to decide your priorities—or let me suggest some. So in order of importance, here’s how I would choose a content writer after I’d identified a slate of candidates.

1. Cost: I say cost not because I think you should go with the lowest bidder. But you need some idea at the outset what each content writer charges; if you can’t afford to pay them, it matters not how terrific a job they would do. So set a budget and make sure you’ve been as generous as you can. Remember, you want quality content: It will help your business rank higher in Search engines, drive Web traffic, keep visitors on the site once they arrive and sell products and services.

We’ll talk more about the price of a content writer in another blog post. For now, just make sure you recognize that you get what you pay for, in content writers as in everything.

2. Tone and style: You want content that informs and entertains. If you’re planning content that’s also hard to understand—extremely technical or financial material—then familiarity with the subject matter may come into play. But if your business isn’t that hard to grasp, you’re better off with a smart writer who can make words dance on the page. You can’t bore your customers into buying your product or service. So check samples and make sure they’re compelling enough that you’d want to read them day after day, week after week, for years to come.

3. SEO experience: OK, you’ve narrowed down your list to smart, engaging writers you can afford. Now make sure they can get the right words in the right places, so you can actually march up the Search engine rankings.

If you expect your writer to come up with keywords, you’ll want to know how they’ll go about it. If you plan to provide your writer with keywords, you’ll still want to know where they plan to use them—in titles, hyperlinks, headlines and so on. Ideally your candidates will be able to provide information on how pages they’ve written have ranked in the past. But be aware that search engine algorithms are a moving target—a page that ranked well on Tuesday can be MIA by Friday.

4. Personality/Professionalism: Choose a writer who’s easy to get along with and committed to producing high quality, on time and within budget. Those last eight words required no thought, because it’s the promise I make my own clients. They don’t pay if they don’t like what they get. They always get copy before it’s promised. And I never charge more than the agreed-upon price unless we’ve discussed it first.

How do you make sure your writer meets these standards? Look at their testimonials online. Look at their recommendations on LinkedIn. Ask them for references. Call their references and ask pointed questions—like how long you’ll typically wait for an answer to calls, emails and texts. Unless you like the content writer search process, do your due diligence right now.

5. Background in your industry: See 2 above. Unless you want the writer to blog about specialized topics to the specialists, assume that native intelligence and curiosity will carry the day. I wrote for General Motors Research for 11 years and my contact knew I had no idea what makes a car go. But that didn’t keep me from writing about natural gas vehicles and die-casting aluminum and enhanced battery life.

How was that possible? Because I read every piece of background information I could find and wanted to hear every word the researchers said about their work. In the end, I wrote accessible pieces that completely captured the technical side. Remember: At some point, your writer didn’t even write, let alone understand the nuances of internal combustion. We all start somewhere.

6. Content marketing spin: Ultimately your content writer supports your content marketing strategy—which means they should have some idea what marketing is all about. OK, so maybe they can’t tell you what the 4 Ps are, but they should recognize that you’re educating and entertaining people in the hope they’ll eventually buy your product or service. They need to figure out what will make people “know, like and trust” you and want to cozy up to your business—and also understand that content differs from sales-y copy by never being self-serving. It’s about what’s best for your customer.

7. Social media expertise: A lot of journalists are leaping over to the social side. And why not? Instead of relying on a publisher to give them the thumbs up, they can be the publisher now. Journalists bring one skill that’s priceless: the ability to tell a story. But blogs, Websites, Facebook posts and Tweets all have their idiosyncrasies, just like the articles and press releases we all learned to write in J-school.

Any journalist will understand the importance of a good headline—but what makes a headline work for an article may not be the same for a blog. Make sure your writer has embraced the social tricks that can make your content truly work for you and your neighborhood search engine.

Now that you’ve chosen your content writer, what should you pay them—and how? By the word? The hour? The post? The project? Stay tuned …


Diana Kightlinger is a professional copywriter, content writer and blogger. For lots more helpful info, sign up for the EclipseWriter Blog and get her FREE REPORT on “50 Things You Must Check Before You Send Your Email Offer.”