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How to Find a Content Writer Who Does Not Suck

Content writer?You’ve heard enough about content marketing that you’re convinced: If you provide valuable content on a consistent basis to your prospects and customers, they will reward you with their business and their loyalty.

Note that the word consistent is italicized? That’s because success in content marketing depends on it. Research from IBM conducted in 2010 shows that about 80 percent of corporate blogs never post more than five entries. But I’m sure all the marketers who started those blogs did so with great enthusiasm and intention.

How do you not end up as part of IBM’s statistics? One key is to find a content writer who can write human- and search-engine-friendly copy that attracts your target audience week after week, year after year.

So where do you find a great content writer?

Let’s start by assuming you’ve already checked your local pub and a remote Asian country where English is not necessarily the native language. Let’s also assume you’re looking for a person who

a) writes entertaining and informative content,

b) knows how to target audiences, attract attention and motivate people to act,

c) understands short-and long-tail keywords, the ever-evolving search-engine algorithms and strategy,

d) enjoys happy, long-term client relationships, and

e) fits your budget.

So now let’s get serious. Where should you look for a Web content writer?

1. Don’t laugh—I know this is obvious to you—but check with your print copywriter. Believe it or not, a few years back one of my regular clients asked me if I wrote online copy. I thought that would be a no-brainer, but apparently not. She seemed shocked—and delighted—to learn that I went digital in 1994.

Now, not all copywriters are content writers. You definitely want someone with proven ability in all things c) in our list above. Anyone can achieve high rankings with unpopular keywords; it’s the writer who understands how to do that with popular ones who you really want to cozy up to.

2. Word of mouth and beyond. You’re not the only person looking for a content writer. If you work for a corporation, ask your colleague in another division who they’re using. If you’re the only marketing manager in your company, ask your peers who work for other companies. If you’re peerless, identify authoritative content you’d like to emulate and find out who wrote it.

You can also contact writing organizations in your community or farther afield to find out if any of their members specialize in Web content writing. Possibilities include the Society for Technical Communication (even for non-technical communication), Professional Writers Alliance and Professional Writers Association (yes, really two different organizations).

3. Search engines. Put “content writer” in Google and see what’s unleashed. Whoa, 455 million results. At least you know the companies that show up first have a solid grasp of SEO—whether their writers do or not is a question you’ll need to answer.

But you may choose to calm the frenzy by going specifically to sites where freelance writers hang out, waiting to pounce on your ad and dazzle you with their qualifications. Those sites include Elance, Guru and oDesk.

Of course, the bids you get are only as good as the description you provide. Before you start, make sure you pin down key factors like the skills, experience, specialized knowledge, and academic background the ideal content writer should have, as well as the topics, length, format, and timing for the work itself.

4. Social networks. One of the best places to find online content writers is online. Last December, a friend working for one of the top leadership schools in the country put out a call on Facebook for a social media expert. Within 10 minutes, she had five qualified recommendations, including one from me for a friend who’s a digital strategist. The point is you don’t know who the people you know know. (Got that?) And if you trust your friends’ input, it’s a great place to start.

You can also use the Advanced Search function on LinkedIn to enter keywords related to your content writer search. For example, if I use the keywords “content writer environmental,” I find myself, my LinkedIn connection Caroline Ailanthus and Claiborne Ashby, a “Certified SEO Content Writer for the Environmental Industry.” I feel good about all three of these choices, especially now that I remember I have an M.S. in Environmental Science (my fun degree). You can contact us via email, if it’s listed, or through the LinkedIn message board. And if you want to ask your LinkedIn colleagues for their recommendations, check LinkedIn Answers.

Of course, you don’t have to stop there. Try any of your fave social networks—including Twitter and Google+—and search using the words “freelance content writer” and perhaps the type of content you need. (I say perhaps, because I think the best person to provide information to the uninitiated is often uninitiated as well. They’ll come up with questions you never dreamed of asking.)

5. Your own backyard. Look outside, just past that bare spot in the grass that you meant to reseed, and you’ll see a content writer, lazing away in your hammock, waiting to Wow you with …

Wait, this is your figurative backyard, not your literal one. So who are you overlooking in your own company? Could be the guys who provide tech support for your equipment can answer just about any question—in writing—in a blog. Could be the gal who handles bookkeeping is a wannabe writer who’s never been given a chance.

Before you start spending your time and your company’s money looking for a content writer elsewhere, give the people in-house a chance. You may be amazed at what your own staff can do, competently and at low cost.

OK, you’ve found some candidate content writers, but how do you choose the one who will do the best job for you—and your budget? 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.”