SEO

How to Find, Hire and Manage Rockstar Copywriters

It’s easy to keep repeating the SEO mantra of ‘content is king’, but at the end of the day, sometimes it can be difficult to produce mind blowing and optimized content on a daily basis. Sure, some companies are blessed with a copywriting and public relations team which can churn out content at the flip of a switch, but what about the companies and consultants who do not?

A great copywriter is worth his or her weight in gold, but it can take years to find a writer who can transform what they learned in copywriting school (if one so exists) into SEO and blog post style copywriting; like having a 1,000 word article writer transform their thoughts into the restricted world of Twitter posts or AdWords copy.

For the rest of us, we tend to go onto the web and try such services as eLance or Odesk, which can deliver good people, but a lot of trial and error AND wasted money is needed to find those good people after you’ve burnt through hundreds of bad ones.

So, how do yo find a good copywriter? I’m going to review some tactics which have worked for me and others, along with some resources that should help you along your path.

To start things off, here are some tips we discussed at IM Spring Break on hiring and grading copywriters :

  • Never pay for your first article : If you were a magazine, newspaper or other publication, chances are you would require that the copywriter pitches you with a fresh article given the criteria you want. For example, if you have a home improvement site, give the copywriter 2 or 3 ideas for an article, a deadline, the amount of words and other basic info and see what they come back with. If it’s great content, then formulate a copywriting agreement. If it’s not good at all, move on to another writer. At least this way, if you get bad content back, you’ll only be losing money in time, and not paying out a writer. Furthermore, you’ll have an idea on how they are at reaching deadlines and turn around.
  • Do They Have a Grasp of SEO? : So once you obtain your first sample article from the prospective copywriter, look at their writing style and their structure. Do they have SEO in mind? I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve spent re-doing a good article with no SEO what-so-ever. If you find a good copywriter, make sure to introduce them to keyword research tools, basic SEO guidelines, and the proper use of headers. This will not only save you editing time, but also will help with your traffic in the long run.
  • Formulate a Payment Structure : This is a rather big one in my book. If you are outsourcing a copywriter for the purpose of generating good content for a low price, not to over pay them. I suggest that if you are contracting out to India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Russia or even New Zealand; get a grasp of the local payment structures and common wages. Chances are that you’ll pay way too much if you do not. If the average daily income is $5 and you’re paying someone $10 an hour for their time, something is wrong with the picture. Sure, if the contractor is churning out good content and service, then bonuses are key, but start at a managable and reasonable level so you can move up the payscale when needed, and not overpay in the beginning.I’d like to also add that paying per blogpost or per word is fine, but paying per hour and expecting a certain number of posts per hour can save you a lot of money, and heck, don’t most of us get paid on an hourly scale anyway?
  • Performance & Success Metrics : Link I hinted to above, use success metrics to grade your writers. Set up measurable metrics like the number of inbound links, bookmarks, votes and traffic each of their posts receive. This way, you’ll have some numbers behind the performance and this will also incentivize your writers to push your content out via social media networks and communication tools like Twitter. Give your writers that produce the most return different bonuses and keep the ones around who are producing. And if some aren’t, don’t be afraid to let them go because you may be opening up a spot for the next future Rockstar.

So, where to begin finding copywriters?

As I mentioned before, Odesk is a good place to begin. One aspect I really like about Odesk is that it uses screenshots to track the hours worked by the freelancers. So, if you’re paying for 20 hours of work per week, and 5 of those hours you’re seeing nothing is being done or the freelancer is playing World of Warcraft, you can catch them and either reform them or let them go.

Furthermore, Odesk works in a very professional atmosphere, working almost like a matchmaking service, and helps you to interview and select the best people for your job. Then, using Odesk, you also manage your remote development team, so it pretty much has all the services you need rolled into one in terms of managing a copywriting team.

In addition to Odesk, I’m also a big fan of using Craigslist as a recruiting tool for copywriters. By utilizing Craigslist, you can target seasoned professionals in various fields who are in your local area.

  • For example, if you have your Home Improvement site, why not look for out of work contractors who can also write? There are a lot of people out of jobs right now who need extra money and live right in your backyard. You never know, you may be able to not only find some really good local writers via Craigslist, but also bring them into the office for a part time or fulltime gig if they do turn out to be the Rockstar who you desire.
  • Furthermore, on a personal level I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that I can help out someone in my local area who is highly qualified, and can honestly churn out more work in an hour for a competitive rate (in the office or Starbucks) than an offshore copywriter may charge for just one article.
  • By hiring a part time contractor, I can give them the goals of churning out one or two articles or posts an hour, get them commenting on the posts of others and also using their social media networks to assist with our projects. These are also people who have networked in the local business area, and can perhaps bring in new clients or make excellent connections. They know other likeminded local people and can attract other students and interns to our business, and other Twitters via TweetUps.

One other service I’d like to mention today is TextBroker, which is a little different and simpler than the above methods of finding and hiring copywriters. TextBroker is a content generation marketplace which matches your ideas with quality copywriters (with strengths in various categories) who accept jobs and deliver them to you in a timely manner, matching your asking price on the piece of content.

TextBroker’s pricing structure is fairly cheap, and if you don’t like the content as provided by your writer, you can refuse it or ask for a rewrite. If you like it, you can “favorite” the copywriter and work with them via the TextBroker system in the future. TextBroker gives a reasonably priced fixed-word-rate or direct negotiations to get the best price possible. You’re not going to get the best work out of this service, but if you need to churn out 100 articles or posts for a site and need original content (all articles are checked for duplicate content via Copyspace), this might be a good option or alternative.

I only manage copywriters for several projects, but I’m sure there are many readers who manage a lot more. Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM How to Find, Hire and Manage Rockstar Copywriters
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM How to Find, Hire and Manage Rockstar Copywriters

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31 thoughts on “How to Find, Hire and Manage Rockstar Copywriters

  1. Content really is the red-headed stepchild in SEO. Everyone wants good content that will make them stand out and get people interested…but then it’s being outsourced to India for $5 a day. It makes no sense. With newspapers going down left and right and more and more people jumping away to go online, the talent is there. The respect for their talent and what they do, however, is not. So its outsourced.

    There’s a difference between words and content. Most companies are just looking for cheap words. It’s sad. And incredibly frustrating.

    /rant

  2. “I’d like to also add that paying per blogpost or per word is fine, but paying per hour and expecting a certain number of posts per hour can save you a lot of money, and heck, don’t most of us get paid on an hourly scale anyway? ”

    If you’re outsourcing the job, I think paying on a per blogpost would be more economical and realistic. But that is if you are limiting the writer’s post to a maximum of two. Two would be even too much if you are looking for quality content.

    On a different note, these are nice tips Loren.

  3. Great rant Lisa, and so true. There is so much content in our own backyard, it’s flowing like a river out of control. That’s why I’m saying .. TAP Craigslist, TAP oDesk (not just offshore but there are lots of freelance journalists who need jobs too). And manage Offshore intelligently. I’ve found great writers, friends and experts outside of the US, not just from India, but Brazil, Europe and other English language countries as well.

    Also, ex-pats are the bomb in content production. We used to manage a group of English teachers in Japan who all were excellent writers and needed extra money. They would throw down 2 or three posts in their expertise per day. Solid, passionate and in the flesh.

    So even if the backyard is flooded, sometimes its easy to look over the fence, and get great, honest and affordable results.

  4. Interesting ideas, but I suspect that you will have a hard job finding a “rockstar copywriter” who is prepared to write for you on spec!

  5. Nice post, and I agree with almost everything said here. However, I question the “don’t pay for the first article” tip. If you’re saying writers should be expected to work for free on the first assignment, then get paid for subsequent assignments, I disagree. If you’re saying “don’t pay for the first assignment unless it’s something you feel is of a quality you can use,” I can get onboard with that.

    I write SEO content for clients and I take pride in the fact that no one is unhappy with my work. I write on deadline. I provide a draft to clients & give them a chance to tweak it if needed, and I present them with a clean final product.

    As for foreign writers, I find it difficult to believe that they can write SEO content as well as native English speakers. But that’s just my opinion.

  6. Thanks Lorrie. Well, I think it’s fair to say that if an established copywriter has a portfolio of articles and blogposts to share with you as samples, then yes, this rule can be adapted to the individual.

    I have found though that some writers will jump at the chance to show their worth, especially when meeting locals via Craigslist.

  7. I would find it hard to believe that anyone would do a “free article for you” (if they’re a copywriter, they should have past work they could share). Plus, paying a copywriter by the hour (as opposed to by the post / article) seems a little weird since a bit of WoW/Twitter/Facebook actually benefits the content creation process.

    Still, a valuable post with many good points.

  8. I agree with Lisa. $1 for a page of content is absurd and it makes it hard to earn a living for some writers.

    I have written sample articles for people in the past and then they decide they don’t like it…then I find the exact content I wrote up on the web. Some people just do that over and over to get free pages.

  9. Uultimately, you get what you pay for. You can’t pay bargain basement prices, and expect great content or a reliable writer. Spend the time and the money and track down a legitimate and professional copywriter. It will be well worth it.

  10. I don’t know, I think for different projects and different ideas, you have different copywriting needs.

    I’d rather find a diamond in the rough via Craigslist, teach and polish it via SEO and experience, and then continue to shine that diamond THAN going to Jared’s and paying bookoo bucks for that already polished diamond.

    Again, it depends on the project. If I’m going to need a copywriter to formulate a copy strategy for a 150 page business site, well … I’m going to go to Jareds.

    If I want someone to work on a blog from the ground up which isn’t yet making any money, I’m probably going to grab my shovel, and go digging in the backyard.

    Sure, I’ll probably dig up some sh!t along the way, but those diamonds are much easier to find and train than some might think.

    I find it hard to believe that some of the commenters would not agree that finding an out of work real estate professional, who can write, and putting them on a blogging project is not high quality. Perhaps I’m reading you wrong.

  11. Regarding Loren’s comment of “I’d rather find a diamond in the rough via Craigslist, teach and polish it via SEO and experience, and then continue to shine that diamond THAN going to Jared’s and paying bookoo bucks for that already polished diamond.”…I agree with him 100%.

    I’m continually amazed by the talent that I can find by going after people who are NOT actually entrenched in the industry as of yet.

  12. @Julie Joyce Yes, seriously, part of my job is finding the people who have a wealth of knowledge, and giving them the tools to share that knowledge … and make some money doing it :)

  13. Regarding Dan’s comment: “I have written sample articles for people in the past and then they decide they don’t like it…then I find the exact content I wrote up on the web. Some people just do that over and over to get free pages.” That is my biggest fear, and what keeps me from doing freebies as a tryout. The writer has virtually no recourse.

    I wouldn’t call a handyman and say, “Do my bathroom tile for free and if I like it, I’ll pay you to do my kitchen.”

    Why should writers be expected to do that?

  14. @Julie Joyce fresh blood, right? It’s always nice when you find someone to write for you and does it with a passion. We trained someone who could write well but knew nothing about SEO and within a few weeks started blogging about her whole experience. Now she calls herself a “copybloggie”

  15. I totally agree with Lisa: I think outsourcing copywriting to countries like India will ultimately have a bad impact on the industry: standards will go down as the brightest and best among local writers get tired of trying to compete with poverty-line pay and decide to do something else. Or, they’ll set themselves up in business online, and then those who are depending on parrot-style copywriters will go down with the ship.

  16. I disagree with you that writers should do the first article for free – why should they? They do a skilled job which not many people can do, it really isn’t the fault of the many good writers out there that there are an equal amount of rubbish ones! I suggest that you read a few samples of a writer’s work to asses if they are going to be good for the job, then pay them a fair wage – its the right thing to do!

    And as content is possibly (in my opinion definitely) the most important part of SEO then, seo companies should employ a writer – or two or ten – they are incredibly important and valuable.

  17. What Lisa said and then some. Writing is a frustrating and loathsome task that requires an enormous amount of skill, dedication and diligence. Very good writing is much harder.

    As content creators, writers are making the meat of any given web page or document they work on but find themselves in a constant race to the bottom when it comes to remuneration.

    Content is the undervalued king. Publishers need it. People read and learn from it. Search engines eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nobody cares where it came from or under what conditions it was created until the quality drops off the desk, (and then only a few well educated readers appear to notice).

    Content gets used, abused and reused again. It gets stolen, scraped and blatantly copied. There’s virtually nothing a writer can do to protect the integrity of their work much less project the value of it. Publishers are always seeking ways to skim somewhere and outsourcing content creation is one of the first places they look. That’s business and that’s understandable but the reality is, great writers starve (relative to the work they put in…) while sloppy webmasters steal.

    If Lisa, Patricia, myself, Todd or Loren had a nickle for every incident of content theft or abuse, we’d be as wealthy as some of the scumbag AdSense scrapers are. We’re not. We’re just humble (or not so humble) scribes who often feel treated like forgettable functionaries. What makes us different is that we are very good at what we do and we do it squarely in the public eye. That, however, doesn’t matter much. We’re just writers and like the wonderful words an editor cuts, we are ultimately expendable.

    Some of us have been luckier or better business people than others. Those are the exception to the rule. Unless one is extremely fortunate, writing truly is a road to financial ruin in a constant race towards the bottom of the fee scale. It, unfortunately, is also a compulsion. Good writers NEED to write and all writers need to eat.

    First reality came for the quality newsrooms and the Internet industry laughed as if to say, “We told you so”. Next reality comes to the content writers SEO/SEM readers love to read. Who is going to be around to tell us that they told us so? It’s not likely many of us will survive this phase of business devolution and remain public writers. We simply won’t have the time, energy or impulse anymore. Many, like myself will be forced into managing teams of writers and thus become managing editors. (A fate only slightly better than having one’s fingers chopped off in my world)

    For readers, that’s OK as there are always other good writers growing into their talent who want to be published. For established writers themselves however, the future looks about as daunting and frustrating as a contract to write copy for a never-ending kitsch catalog site.

  18. Jim, if there was ever a living example of the phrase ‘the pen is mightier than the sword”, you would be it my friend.

    I think my post is getting a little misunderstood. I’m discussing tips on FINDING and UNEARTHING the next Rockstar Copywriter, and not replacing established and incredible writers with oDesk.

    And yeah, most freelancers I know in print media have to write an article first, pitch it, and then find out later if it is approved or not.

    If I’m dealing with a freelancer, I want to see what the work is and what can be done for the publication before committing. Maybe the “Never Pay for Your First Article” is a bit too negative, but when unearthing local talent who don’t know how great they are, sometimes forcing them to step up to the plate and prove themselves, is going to result in either a homerun … or a strike out.

  19. Understood Loren, and thanks for your kind words.

    My response was not intended to be an attack on your article though the rant was amazingly cathartic. (that’ll be $5usd please)

    The future of content creation is fuzzy but not in a nice comfy blanket sort of way. It’s scary to look to a future when research and hard work take second place to cost reduction and efficiency. Actually, that future is today’s reality. I know many great content writers who have been forced out of the business because operating from North America simply does not make business sense.

    (hmmm… what the hell am I doing here anyway? Fiji or some Samoan Island look pretty good these days!) Perhaps the content writers clique should pick up and move to the South Pacific. We could start a commune and work as a co-0p. There will be unicorns and bunnies (the survivors which didn’t get eaten) and puppy dogs and kittens and unlimited WiFi for all! That’s a reality I could get used to. :)

  20. I’m a copywriter with tons of web and SEO experience. But believe me SEO isn’t all you need. Good SEO will get you visitors, but will they turn them into customers?

    Poorly written copy is off-putting to customers and reduces the trust that they have in your brand.

    Great copywriters aren’t cheap for one reason – they make money for you. They’ll engage your clients, help build your business and may turn out to be the best investment you’ve ever made.

  21. I agree with Susan 100

    I agree with Susan 100%, there is no need to pay an unskillful copywriterm no matter what the he/she charges for below average results. I presently am in quest of a good copywriter. my interest is the end result of the sales letter. I am being enlightened by Loren, because I did not know abouot Texbroker, will check that site out.
    The goal of a good salesletter is threefold, to get read, generate leads and make sales.
    I also agree with the premise of reviewing previous work first before hire.

  22. I am just getting involved with using world wide sites that house individuals and companies that seach for work and offer anything you can imagine to assist a business in their ventures.

    I cannot believe I hired someone for 3 bucks an hour to edit and rewrite a small book I had trouble putting into a format that was worthy of putting out their to the public.

    I was about to hire someone from America for about $20 an hour but when I read the blogging that this collage grad from another country was writing , I could not believe the handle she has on the American english language.

    She has mastered our language far better than many people I have encountered here. Her humility and eagerness to quickly get involved with my project far exceeds what some typical Americans display. I’m proud to be an American but we can learn so much from the work habbits and eagerness of other countries.

    It’s hard to believe that someone is eager to work for 1.11 an hour.
    I’ve even seen people from the Phillipeans offer themselves for 50 cents an hour.

    I think what some of them do is get into the work and raise their fee as time goes on. The site I have been using just recently is http://www.odesk.com .

    I’m starting to get projects underway that I have had on a shelf for a while.

    A guy from Poland is going to write the background music for for a song I wrote 30 years ago. I’m not trying to become a super star I just wanted a Christmas sond I wrote to come to life, more than just what I can play on myh guitar. $40 dollars and he creates a version . Wow.

  23. “Never pay for your first article”?

    I would never hire someone who did not have pride enough in their work to want to charge me. Can you imagine saying that to a plumber? “I won’t be paying for the first couple of hours of work, naturally”. You’d end up wearing pipe.

    You get what you pay for. And that will never change.

  24. I agree 100% with Martin. I have never (read: never) written an article for nothing, and no successful copywriter I know does it either. Writing on spec is fundamentally different than what this article is proposing, which is essentially free content. Copywriters deserve better than that, and it’s a shame that the content industry is becoming a race to the bottom.

  25. You can get a good copywriter now for 10 cents a word. Compared to some of the hard core big timers who charge upwards of $950 for a 300 word email (Bob Bly). I suppose if he’s that good why not but no one has that kind of dosh laying around except for large corporations and people with money on the toilet paper roll in the john.

    Thanks for this write up, nice work!

    Angel

  26. Loren – Yes, Odesk and Craigslist in addition to Elance are great places to start when searching for someone to hire to help you meet your goals and free up some of your time to attend to more important aspects of your business.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ambrose