If you want something done right, do it yourself.
Surer words have never been written when it comes to outsourcing content for blogs and niche sites.
The amount of grief I’ve suffered over wasted time reviewing lousy articles, revision requests, more time reviewing and in worst-case scenarios, having to roll up my sleeves and write it myself after all that.
My blood pressure is spiking as I write this.
Few things get me as frustrated as dealing with garbage articles I paid money for.
I know many other website publishers have gone through the same experiences because they tell me.
If you want to go crazy and work in a business that frustrates you endlessly, outsource your articles.
This only applies if you care what gets published on your site.
If you don’t really care as long as it’s reasonably legible, by all means publish outsourced junk in bliss. Lucky you.
Table of Contents
- The problems with outsourcing
- The above is an example of something I’m doing on other sites…
- My solutions to the above content outsourcing problems
The problems with outsourcing
There’s an inherent conflict of interest
Most writers and agencies pay by the word. That means they have a built-in incentive to write as quickly as possible and hit the word count. This compromises quality. How could it not. It’s the classic piece-work dilemma. You can’t blame them unless you’re paying them a pile of money per word (i.e. $.20 per word or more).
If you pay per hour, you have the opposite problem. They may take way too long for what the article is worth and you end up paying too much.
I in now way mean to offend writers here. Many business relationships have built-in conflicts of interest. It’s unavoidable. Both sides of the relationship must deal with it.
Training writers can be soul-crushing
Training takes time and patience. It’s boring. It feels like a step-back. And after all that, writers still get it wrong. Aaaaaaarrrrrgh.
But sometimes, no matter how much training you offer, your communication is not clear. I’ve been guilty of this big time.
In fact, sometimes, too much detail confuses writers. There’s only so much they can reasonably follow. At some point they say to themselves “screw it, I’ll wing it to the best of my ability and see what happens.” That’s what I would do. I’m not sure I would or could follow some 3 page brief unless most of that brief is an organized content outline I was to follow (which is helpful).
On the other end of the spectrum is too little guidance. I’m more often guilty of this. I say “write about X” expecting them to read my mind and produce 2,500 words exactly as I envisioned without any guidance.
When I get the article back, it’s something entirely different than I expected but if I step back, I can usually understand how they came to write the way they did given my lack of instruction and communication.
I have only myself to blame, but it’s yet another instance where I find outsourcing enormously frustrating. After all, who has time to prepare detailed, but not too detailed briefs?
Even well researched articles that are grammatically correct can be boring and blasé. The internet is littered with this stuff. It’s dry and lacks beauty. After all, it takes a lot of effort to go from “just the facts’ to “damn, this is really good writing.”
Outsourcing compromises site quality
Most of us site publishers started by writing our own content. I sure did. The “a”, “e”, “c” and “s” on my keyboard is worn off. Nobody writes for our sites as well as we do, at least that’s what we believe.
In time, we scrape together a few bucks and hire a writer thinking “if 100 articles makes $X amount, 500 articles will quintuple that.” However, we don’t have time to publish 400 articles over the next 6 months so we hire writers. 10 articles in we realize the content we paid for simply isn’t as good as we write ourselves. But since it’s paid for, we publish it anyway with fingers crossed.
Before we know it, the content quality on our sites is compromised. Yes, there’s more content but it’s not as good as it should be (in our minds).
What do we do?
- Go back to writing everything ourself?
- Pay more per word? Is that even economical?
- Accept that the content isn’t as good and be okay with that?
- Spend time editing it?
There’s no easy answer, but I do make a few suggestions below.
Outsourcing causes apathy
This is a very interesting consequence of outsourcing that I’ve experienced.
There have been periods where I write the lion’s share of the content for my niche sites. When I do this, I care a lot more about my niche site and pay attention to a lot more details.
When I outource everything, there will be days that I don’t look at it. I assume it’s being handled and fall into a pattern of “ignorance is bliss”.
The thing is there’s a happy medium. I shouldn’t ignore my sites. On the flip side, when I get too involved, I get carried away with perfection. Days where I get bogged down into details and trying to do too much on my own are stressful and exhausting. Days where I stay entrenched in my publisher role but take time to review and issue instructions for corrections, I’m much more relaxed and not nearly as tired at the end.
Profiting from content is delayed a long time
This goes to the heart of the problem.
Unless you buy traffic, content doesn’t pay for itself for many months. Some content never pays for itself.
This means your budget is always short; you want more content for less which means lower quality content. This is a bigger problem for newer sites which can take over a year to pay for itself.
If every article I published made $300 within 30 days and then continued earning $300/month, I’d be perfectly happy spending $300 per article.
But that’s not how it works.
A good article won’t pay for itself for 3 to 6 months and that’s a $75 article (which isn’t cheap but certainly not top-notch content).
Given the economics of being a content publisher, I can only spend so much on most content. Sure, I do pay for higher-end content that’s subsidized by more profitable content but I certainly can’t restrict my site to top-notch content only (at this stage).
And so some of my content is just okay because it happens to be profitable in the long run without a huge outlay of cash.
The above is an example of something I’m doing on other sites…
The above is an example of getting your readers’ attention by publishing something controversial and opposite to positions you typically publish.
I suspect I got your attention with the above and this email’s subject. After all, I’ve written a lot about the benefits of outsourcing content. Then I come out with this zinger and so you probably had to find out what was happening.
If you don’t want to come across as a hypocrite or confuse anyone, write it under a pen name on your site as a guest contributor. Create an alter-ego profile just for fun.
An alter-ego column can be a blast.
I’m experimenting with this on one site – both an alter-ego column and a regular contributor who writes some really outlandish stuff for fun.
Here are a couple of examples:
Suppose you’re in the camping niche, write a scathing article all about how you (or your alter ego or guest writer) loathe sleeping in tents.
Or, if you’re in the fitness niche, pen something about why yoga classes are an utter waste of time. An article on why yoga classes are a waste of time will get attention. It would get my attention and I’m not all that much into fitness.
What’s great about these opinion pieces is that they’re opinions. Everyone has one. They may require extensive research, but they aren’t difficult to write. There are almost always reasons for and against any position.
Before I leave you hanging, I’ll toss in my solutions to the above-noted problems with outsourcing. Here they are.
My solutions to the above content outsourcing problems
Despite all of the above problems I face daily publishing niche sites and blogs, I continue outsourcing the lion’s share of the content I publish. While I’m not problem-free, I’ve continued to hone my workflow and content sources over the years to minimize problems. Here’s what I do.
Use multiple content sources based on content complexity
I’ve yet to find a writing agency or individual writer who is perfectly suited for all the different types / quality of content I publish.
What I’ve learned is that you need to assign the write content tasks to the right content source. I’ve used so many writing agencies over the years, it would make your head spin.
Here’s my current cadre of content sources along with my explanation of what I use each for.
- Content Development Pros: This is one of my lower cost content sources. I use this service for simple, listicle type content. Because listicles include a lot of images (at least mine do), this service is ideally suited because they get and format the images as well. In fact, the image sourcing can take nearly as long as the writing so they are perfect for simple listicle articles that require basic research and writing only.
- Textbroker: I use Textbroker for one main purpose these days and that is very simple assignments that I use for updating existing articles. I come up with some long tail topics, assign them as short articles to TB and receive the finished work within a few days. Textbroker is inexpensive and quality is decent for very simple articles. I don’t use it for higher quality. I reserve high quality content needs for my last current content source which is…
- Writer Access: This is my big gun, top notch, high end content source. It has been for years. My budget for this service varies considerably. Some months I order nothing, other months I spend $5,000. It boils down to whether I need complex content that is best-of-the-best. These days I’m ordering quite a bit from WA because I’m investing in higher quality content.
WA can be good for simpler content as well – just be sure to pay for the lower tier pricing such as $.04 to $.06 per word. While that’s low for WA, it’s high for other writing services.
If you want high end content from WA, expect to pay $.10 to $.50 per word. Yup, some writers actually charge $.50 per word. It’s very good, but not always worth quite that much. Yes, I’ve ordered $.50 per word articles.
The more research and technical expertise you need, the more you should expect to pay.
You seriously can’t expect 3 hours of research and pay only $.04 per word. Nobody will do that. I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t.
In other words, be realistic about the quality you should get for what you pay.
If you insist on perfection, you’ll have a tough time outsourcing.
I shoot for good enough is good enough. For some content good enough must be outstanding. For other content, good enough is reasonably good content. It all depends on the potential of the article and its purpose.
One big benefit I’ve enjoyed from outsourcing is often writers will tackle articles from a slightly different angle and it’s better than I imagined. Moreover, they often do actually do really good research (even the lower cost content providers) that is beyond anything I would have done. These are great results and they do happen regularly.
Choose the best publishing model for YOU
A simple distinction between a blog and niche site is a blog is published by a personality and a niche site is published by a brand or corporate identity. There are exceptions and we could debate this forever, but that distinction is simple and is fitting for you having to choose a publishing model.
If you want to publish a site with all personality that oozes you and develops an audience that likes you, choose a blog and write most of it yourself. Just accept you will not be able to publish 3 articles per day.
If you prefer to be a publisher of a site under a corporate identity or brand and want lots of decent content that goes in-depth in a niche, then go the niche site model.
I do both… most of my sites are the niche site model though.
If you can’t handle outsourcing because your blood pressure is exploding and your doctor is telling you that you must settle down or find a different line of work, perhaps blogging is the right model for you.
Put time into content briefs for more higher quality content
While I stated above you shouldn’t provide huge briefs, there’s one exception, and that’s if you’re commissioning expensive content. If you’re paying $.20 per word, you can reasonably expect the writer to carefuly go through a 3 page brief so that it’s done perfectly.
On the flip side, if you’re paying $.03 per word, expecting a writer who to comb through a similiar brief is unrealistic.
Creating a 3 page brief takes time unless you have a template. I have my fair share of templates, but often such high-end content is unique and I invest time into each brief for each article. Time invested into briefs can save time when publishing the content.
You get what you pay for you but so too should you allocate your time toward content based on its importance, complexity and potential.
You can always go back and make anything better. This is one motto I live by daily… and yes, I frequently go back and improve older content.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.