Now, choosing (and providing) content writers is something I happen to know a lot about. So I thought I’d compare notes. I’m so glad I did.
“How to Choose a Content Writer” starts off with all the usual gusto — explaining that you need a writer who’s “engaging, educational and entertaining,” and so forth. Stuff no one can disagree with. (Unless one prefers the serial comma, but I digress.)
Then I realized I was headed down a rabbit hole of deceit. I had stumbled upon a virtual underground of “professional advice” that’s misleading and even dangerous. And it’s designed to lead readers to unethical or inappropriate vendors.
I knew I had to write about how to avoid buying into spammy blogs.
Problem 1: Writers who can’t spell or use good grammar
My first tip-off that this blog was going to lead its readers in the wrong direction is the number of spelling and grammar errors. Here are just three.
And you of course want to choose someone that’s [sic] witty, educated and that [sic] has flawless grammar. (How to Choose a Content Writer)
If you run a beauty product company, you may come across a talented, skilled writer who’s [sic] past work is mostly in engineering and mechanics. (How to Choose a Content Writer)
Hmm. A story about finding writers that’s riddled with errors no professional writer would be caught dead making?
Problem 2: Vague information yet very specific recommendations
Businesses looking for content writers may have very diverse needs, among them:
- White papers
- Social media posts
- Long-form blogging
- Short-form blogging
- 8 1/2″ x 10″ one-fold brochures (i.e., in-depth writing)
- Small, two-fold brochures
- Other stuff
The blog writer doesn’t get into any of these areas, however. He lists seven or so “rules” for hiring writers: skill level, past experience, and so forth. None objectionable on their own.
Then, suddenly, the writer feels that he must give his reader something hard and fast, so he quotes some numbers from another web site.
The blog writer cites WriterAccess.com:
For example, grant writers for hire will look at a 750 word [sic] blog post that’s based on a press release re-write [sic] and figure that content will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. A writer that’s [sic] taking on a 500-word article about resolving a computer issue that requires research citations may take anywhere between one and two hours to complete.
Next you need to consider that freelance writers have to find a time block to fit that content in to their day and likely only [sic] work between 8 and 10 hours a day. That means each 24 hours you give to an assignment implies about 8 hours of actual potential work time.
Freelance writers also have to consider unexpected setbacks in their schedule like having to stop work to pick up a sick child from school or requiring an extra hour of research to really nail a specific talking point. (WriterAccess.com) (For your reading pleasure, I divided this humongous quotation into three paragraphs.)
I’ve never read such hooey. It could take a day to write the perfect 500 words, especially if it’s a commercial script or a print ad — maybe even longer. Or it could take 30 minutes to write a 500-word blog.
It all depends on the assignment, the assignment’s expectations (a commercial ad, for instance, is expected to drum up a lot of business and therefore takes a lot of finessing to be just right), the depth of research required, and perhaps how long the copy will remain in the public eye, not to mention how visible that life in the public eye may be (in other words, one may give more care to a print ad and less to its electronic counterpart).
But what really cracked me up was the slam that writers like to work “only” 8 to 10 hours a day. I’m sorry — did I miss something, or is about 8 hours a standard work day for most people? And what is “actual potential” work time?
Perhaps, as I surmise, the website implies that freelance writers exist to work at the command of business — late into the night, on an emergency basis, ever so glad for the crumbs of work their employers mete out to them.
One truth about contractual writing
The world of contractual writing is, by and large, not like this at all. Some businesses, such as ad agencies, might require a lot of emergency, last-minute help.
Most companies I work with know how to work with contractual writers and expect a well-structured schedule. If all of my work was last-minute, I wouldn’t have the time to edit and revisit copy before turning it in. I wouldn’t be half the writer I am now. And I wouldn’t have stayed in this business.
Also, the implication that freelance writers are going to complicate their employers’ schedules by having to “stop work to pick up a sick child.” I mean, sure, this can happen. But why is this important in a conversation about turnaround? Most professional writers I know, even if they work at home, have childcare solutions in place so that they can meet their schedules. To not assume the same for all contractual or “freelance” writers is to denigrate them.
In fact, there is nothing true or useful about freelance scheduling in this entire “article.”
On turnaround time
Worse than that, WriterAccess.com throws out some actual, and very confusing, figures:
- Straight-forward, 30 minutes to complete: 24-36 hours
- Somewhat-complex, over an hour to complete: 48-60 hours
- Complex topic, will take several hours to complete: 72 hours
- Substantial research, editing, and writing: 1 week (WriterAccess.com)
Here’s what I think this list means: each line except the last suggests how long writing will take (e.g., 30 minutes) and that the actual turnaround to expect is 24 to 36 hours. Yet, here’s what’s missing from this list:
- Kind of writing (e.g., technical or marketing)
- Length of final (in words or pages)
- Form that writing will take (e.g., television script or blog)
- Amount and depth of research required
I work so hard on my own blogs to ensure their accuracy, and to invite opposing points of view, that I am flummoxed when I see anyone try to use the Internet to pull the blogging wool over a potential customer’s eyes.
Did I mention that WriterAccess.com‘s writer is “Dan S”? Someone who doesn’t even want to be identified by his full name?
That made me curious, so I clicked on “Dan S” which took me to his profile and “writing” samples, also on WriterAccess.com.
Come to find out that this entire site (WriterAccess.com) is about hiring writers. Writers pay to be listed on this website.
To find out more, just click on “Hire Me” under Dan S’s photograph.
Similarities between the two web sites
- Each has vague if not poor writing.
- Each pretends to know, and explain, some very important concepts.
- Each is a smokescreen.
What do I mean by smokescreen?
WriterAccess.com draws you in by pretending it’s got valuable information to share. It doesn’t. Plus, it’s a cheap cover for a poorly conceived writer factory.
DreamGrow wants you to believe it has valuable information to share. It also does not. But DreamGrow actually does something much, much worse than WriterAccess.com: it’s a cover for an unethical business.
Problem 3: Support of unethical writing
DreamGrow‘s writer suggests that, to evaluate potential writers, you should visit online freelance writers’ communities. And here’s what the writer considers valid freelance writers’ communities, as cited on the website itself:
I wasn’t familiar with these “communities,” but it turns out they’re the lowest of the low — they’re factories for writing student papers and dissertations.
So, if you’re a business, you’re going to actually hire a writer who supports an unethical industry? Why should you when so many honest writers are out there?
Problem 4: Hiring only people who know your particular industry is not a great idea
But one of the very worst suggestions this blog (DreamGrow) makes is that you should only hire writers who have experience in your industry. Nothing could be further from the truth.
- Most of your business’s writing will be read by people who don’t understand your business fully, as you do. A good writer is objective and a good interpreter — channeling your content to lay audiences with the eyes of an “outsider.” (Now, if your content is for expert audiences, you might want an expert writer in your field.)
- An “outside” writer can bring a fresh new writing style that can reinvigorate your team’s thinking.
Sure, it’s OK to continue to use the same writer for a long period of time. But you might just find that changing your writers up every now and then has a good effect on your ROI. I say that and I am a writer for hire.
DreamGrow also suggests that using marketing writers as content writers won’t work — that the two are complete polar opposites. That’s just not true (read on to see what The Content Marketing Institute says on the subject).
Plenty of writers do both marketing and deep content — you just need to see samples to know that that’s true. A good writer has written for just about every format you can imagine, from newspapers to magazines to books to social media. And much more.
Problem 5: Setting standards readers don’t know how to meet
The only vaguely useful information in this blog reads:
Your main concern should be if [sic] you and the writer are on the same page. Find out if [sic] they [sic] are willing to take criticism, if they [sic] can work as a team creatively and if they [sic] have their [sic] own database of ideas and inspiration. (DreamGrow)
Only problem is, this tiny paragraph packs a wallop. It’s not easy to determine whether someone can take criticism well or whether he or she can work well with a team. How are you going to plumb those depths? I say, you have to rely on your instincts.
And what does the writer mean by “find out … if [sic] they [sic] have their [sic] own database of ideas and inspiration”? What does that even mean?
So, I sadly realized today that although these two blogs may not use black hat SEO, they may well embody at worst less-than-ethical and at best less-than-useful kind of writing.
How to avoid buying into spammy blogs
How can you avoid buying into spammy blogs, and by that I mean “recommendations” from businesses such as the ones mentioned here?
- Check out the review’s links. If they look spammy, they are spammy. (If it walks like a duck ….)
- Don’t be persuaded by one or two links that appear to be “good.” Check them out, too. For instance, The DreamGrow story cites the Content Marketing Institute, a reputable source: “Content Marketing Institute writes that many copywriters are eager to accept work from anywhere” (as if that’s a bad thing). I could find no evidence of this stance on CMI’s linked-to blog. In FACT, the CMI blog in question is largely about how good content writers are good marketing writers, something the writer expressly said does not happen.
- Look for vague writing. If there’s no support for the points made, move on.
- Question facts and figures that claim to be rules of thumb.
- Look for misspellings and bad grammar.
- Beware of oversimplification (e.g., when a “writer” takes a complex topic and boils it down to something that sounds simple).
In short …
I am extremely disappointed to discover what is probably a growing underworld business. People trying to steer companies to the wrong solutions for their own ill-gotten gain.
“Black hat” SEO may be heavily penalized these days, but people can still say anything they want to on the Internet.
Be careful out there.