SEO

Just for SEOs – How to Find and Keep a Great Copywriter

One of the things I enjoy most about SEO is that I get to work with a lot of creative, talented specialists, especially copywriters. For those who don’t know, a copywriter is someone who writes marketing copy. In essence, a website content writer is a copywriter.

The world has thousands and thousands of copywriters. Sifting through the masses to find a talented, affordable, and likeable copywriter is not always an easy task. But after some time, I’ve managed to find and keep a few great ones. Here’s how I’ve done it.

How to Find Good Copywriters

There are a lot of places to look for copywriters, but these are some of my favorites:

  1. AssociatedContent.com – If you need a writer for a specific subject area, Associated Content is a great place to look. Not only are there thousands of writers to choose from, but you get to review samples of their work before you decide to contact them.
  2. Blogs about Writing – Good copywriters are constantly honing their craft, which means they often comment on and contribute to popular writing blogs. MichelleRafter.com, for example, holds a massive annual writing contest that attracts numerous high-quality bloggers and writers…each of whom offers a series of contributions on their personal or business website. These contests are a great way to identify talent.
  3. Craigslist – If you don’t mind pouring over dozens of emails and attached writing samples, Craigslist can be a great way to find good copywriters (especially local copywriters).

Some favor sites like Elance.com or Guru.com, but I’ve found they can be hit or miss. While you can definitely find someone that offers great quality and value, I’ve found that many of the people actively bidding on copywriting projects are halfway across the globe. When you’re working with a copywriter, it’s essential that both of you can pick up the phone and talk about your project. If your copywriter is 12 time zones away, that becomes much more difficult. As a result, these sites are low on my list.

Six Tips for Keeping Great Copywriters

Once you’ve found someone who can create the writing you need, it’s essential that you cultivate a relationship with them. Great copywriters have plenty of opportunities to work (good writing, like SEO, is an in-demand skill), and as a result copywriters are as much evaluating you as a client as you are evaluating them. Here are some tips for building a great relationship:

1. Find out what they like to write. Some copywriters salivate at the prospect of writing 500 words about mortgage refinance. Other copywriters would rather have sharp pieces of bamboo shoved under the fingernails than write about anything financial.

Before starting a project with a new copywriter, take a few minutes to discover what they enjoy writing about so that you can match them up with projects they’ll like. When you can match a copywriter with an enjoyable topic, the result is a well-researched and top quality product…not to mention a copywriter who always looks forward to working with you.

2. Open communication is essential. Many experienced copywriters have a standard questionnaire that each of their clients must complete before starting a project. These questionnaires help a copywriter learn about your project’s marketing goals, you or your client’s preferred writing style, etc. If the copywriter you’re working with doesn’t have a questionnaire, help them develop one.

3. Recognize that writing is a process. It’s not realistic to expect a copywriter to generate exactly what you need in their first draft. Copywriting is a creative process. It’s expected that you and/or your client will give feedback and ask for revisions.

4. Don’t ask for it right away unless you need it right away. One of the easiest ways to turn off a copywriter is to demand quick turn-around on all of your projects. First of all, most copywriters have dozens of clients – it’s simply not fair to demand they drop everything to complete your project right away.

Second, if you ask for something ASAP and then don’t respond to your copywriter immediately with feedback or revisions, you’ve made yourself look bad. At best, they’ll ignore your next “emergency” request. At worst, they’ll never work with you again.

5. Remember that writing is not a commodity. I can’t tell you how many web designers, developers, and SEOs I’ve talked to who view copywriting as some sort of machined commodity. Instead of recognizing that copywriting is both art and skill, these people ask how many 400+ word articles they can have written for $50.

If you don’t value copywriting as a skill, that’s your own business. However, no self-respecting copywriter would choose to work with someone who doesn’t respect their skills. If you want to keep a great copywriter, you must respect what they do.

6. Most Copywriters need SEO guidance. I’ve yet to talk to a writer who doesn’t claim to “get” SEO, but a lot of times the copy still comes back with keyword-less headlines, no bold or emphasized keywords, no integration of skimmable items like lists and sub-headers, or poorly chosen anchor text. This is to be expected – most web copywriters were educated to write as a journalist or novelist, so optimizing content for search isn’t necessarily a natural mindset.

In order to minimize revisions, I have a short SEO copywriting checklist that contains all the SEO elements I want from my copy. I send that checklist to my new copywriters and give them SEO tips during the revision process too. Over time, we develop an understanding of what I’m looking for.

Great copywriting is the backbone of many powerful websites, and successful SEOs understand the importance of well-written content. Considering that one simple article or blog post can spontaneously generate links, leads, and/or sales for you or your client, it’s essential to get the best possible writing you can afford.

Great copywriters may be hard to find, but the reward is substantial. Take the time to find writers that know what they’re doing, remember that writing is a process, and respect the skills. The reward will be strong relationships with people whose work will make you look better in your client’s eyes.

Special thanks to my wife, Sara, website copywriter extraordinaire, for teaching me so much about copywriting.

 Just for SEOs – How to Find and Keep a Great Copywriter

Jason Lancaster

Jason Lancaster is President of Spork Marketing, a Denver Internet marketing company specializing in search engine optimization, marketing, and web design.

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24 thoughts on “Just for SEOs – How to Find and Keep a Great Copywriter

  1. Another good way to find a solid copywriter is to ask around. I’ve gotten hired by probably 3 SEOs through referrals. SEOs don’t seem to mind sharing!

  2. Really great article. Can I suggest a point seven? PAY YOUR INVOICES ON TIME. Sorry to shout. But paying your freelancer promptly means they waste less time on admin which leaves more time to produce great work for you and their other clients.

    1. That should have been on my list. Freelancers don’t like it when they don’t hear back on invoices for weeks…it’s not just about money, it’s about feeling like their work was valued.

  3. Wonderful tips Jason and of course the seventh point has weight too. On time payments are something that boost the writers moral and the trust which no doubt is essential. And payment that meets their skill and talent is crucial but i think when you say ASAP to a writer or anyone who is in a creative field that rush can really lower the quality and i don’t think complaining can do better. If you are expecting an extra ordinary outcome then its better to have patience until the writer dives in and across the subject to bring out the real pearl for you.
    Great post and really enjoyed a lot with your tips. Thanks to Sara and your effort! :)

  4. Great points–I wish every client would read this. I love Sookio’s point too. I recently worked with a client that I liked a lot, but with all the hassle I’m having over getting paid, I will never work with them again.

    If I were to add a point 8, it’s this: Understand that you’re only getting copy (not design). Maybe it’s because I’m an American living overseas, but I’ve had this situation a couple times with Asian clients. When people don’t understand the value of a good copywriter, or even know what a copywriter really does, they get confused about deliverables.

    1. Carl – Also a good point – #7 could have been “Pay your bill on time” and #8 could have been “Remember what copywriters actually do – don’t expect them to design anything”

  5. A lot of very good points — like a good graphic designer, a great copywriter is an invaluable asset to any professional graphic design company. On the payment front the standard in Scotland for new clients is 50% up front fee.

  6. Those are great tips for anyone working in the web design or SEO field and need to find a good web copywriter. I do want to point out that there’s a distinct difference between copywriters and web copywriters though.

    In point 6 you say “most copywriters need SEO guidance” and that you often get copy back without the important keywords in headings and without any subheadings and bullet points etc. I would say you’re not using specialist web copywriters but ‘normal’ copywriters – which I really wouldn’t recommend if you’re looking for good, attractive, persuasive and well-optimized website content.

    I’m an experienced web copywriter and SEO expert and I know there are many web content writing experts with excellent knowledge of SEO out there just like me. In fact, if you’re looking for the best of them, you won’t find them on Craigslist or Elance or any other freelancers’ website. You’ll find them on the first Google search results page for relevant keywords like “web copywriter”, “web content writer”, “SEO copywriter”, “SEO content writer” etc.

    If you see that a web copywriter’s own website ranks well for their relevant keyword phrases and you like the writing on their website and maybe some of the projects found in their portfolio, I would say that’s the best way of finding and choosing a good, expert web copywriter with SEO knowledge.

    1. Micky – Great point. There *is* a difference between copywriters who specialize in the web and those who do not. However, since there are far more copywriters who don’t specialize in web content (or simply don’t understand SEO), I’ve focused on that group.

      Also, in the context of publishing, there are a lot of experienced journalists and writers who are out of work following the virtual collapse of that industry. Those people may not be SEO savvy, but they’re excellent writers definitely worth hiring.

      Still, your point is well taken. Thank you.

  7. Hi Jason. In point 6 you said ” I have a short SEO copywriting checklist that contains all the SEO elements I want from my copy. ” Would you mind sharing that checklist?

  8. Hi Jason. In point 6 you said ” I have a short SEO copywriting checklist that contains all the SEO elements I want from my copy. ” Would you mind sharing that checklist?

  9. I just wanted to add a note to your sixth point. It also really helps to discuss specific keyword targeting at the beginning of a project, so the desired keywords are added holistically throughout the copy, instead of the SEO having to go through the copywriter’s finished product and altering their artfully-crafted content. A lot of copywriters go to great lengths to make sure their content is creatively written. They take pride in their work. You wouldn’t believe how deflated it can feel to have even a sentence changed that you worked hard to carefully construct. Of course, there is always a fine line. The content has to be somewhat malleable and copywriters have to be receptive to editing. But when you maintain the integrity of a copywriter’s work and not just treat it as a commodity, you will also maintain a better relationship with them. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post.

    1. Just to add to that, altering a good piece of content that has been SEO’d can alter the effectiveness by a tremendous amount–most average business people have no idea.

      AND making sure you have the right keywords is essential–not always the ones the client things are right.

  10. Nice article but I have to agree with the former comment as CraigsList isn’t a good source and eLance offers up a lot of junk along with some good people. As a small business SEO writer I don’t waste my time trying to bid on jobs that are full of applications and often low fee driven.

    And although Micky has a good point, I have to say that mine is a bit neglected. LOL But there is a difference in web content writing with SEO savvy. I like to work behind the scenes with web designers and get the architecture and other elements tackled too.

    And to Chris, I like that idea of hooking up with SEOs so far I’ve only been doing web design peeps–so thanks!

  11. I’ve worked with in-house and freelance copywriters to help them produce the SEO copy I was looking for. One big breakthrough for me was sitting down with an in-house guy and talking how Google intelligently understands synonyms and word stems. Once I stopped asking for “keyword, 3 times please” and started recommending “keyword / keywords / search terms / search query / search queries” (bolding “keyword” so it gets used at least once) I started getting copy that not only read more naturally, but also ended up being packed with more SEO value. Not only that, turnaround time decreased because this writer was less constrained and could enjoy the writing a little more.

  12. I’ve worked with in-house and freelance copywriters to help them produce the SEO copy I was looking for. One big breakthrough for me was sitting down with an in-house guy and talking how Google intelligently understands synonyms and word stems. Once I stopped asking for “keyword, 3 times please” and started recommending “keyword / keywords / search terms / search query / search queries” (bolding “keyword” so it gets used at least once) I started getting copy that not only read more naturally, but also ended up being packed with more SEO value. Not only that, turnaround time decreased because this writer was less constrained and could enjoy the writing a little more.

  13. Jason, you’ve written an AWESOME article. As a copywriter, I can’t tell you how great it is that you SEOs recognize and appreciate our hard work. I often use questionaires with my clients and I’m glad you find them useful. And, SEO guidelines to go with a job make a good SEO client into a favorite SEO client :)

    I agree that points #7 and #8. I’m legally blind, so I have to laugh whenever people ask me to do design.

  14. Thanks for giving a shout out to the worth of copywriters, Jason. I’d add just one more to your tip list – Invite Collaboration. Opening communication lines between the designer, the copywriter and the sales team means you can all work towards the same goal.

    Because hopefully a copywriter will be asking about conversion factors, calls-to-action, capturing leads and the way the writing will flow into the look and feel of the website/print design. A lot of cool and useful things can result from brainstorming around these areas.