“You charge THAT for a blog post? But it’s just some words. I could easily just write it myself.”
If you’ve been a writer for a while, you’ll understand statements like above.
What’s even more interesting is that a lot of people find our agency from reading our content or our case studies.
They’ve seen the kind of results we’re able to produce, yet when they’re met with the price they grimace.
I sort of get it.
We were all taught how to write so it goes without saying that anyone should be able to sit down and put together a blog post, right?
You see when it comes to content marketing, a blog post is more than just words. The ‘words’ are simply a tool to help you market your product.
Alongside those words, you need a full understanding of the marketing part of content marketing and how that particular blog post will fit into your overall strategy from the top of the funnel to the bottom of the funnel.
Alongside that, you need an understanding of what makes a good blog post and what you need to include to ensure you stand out from the 10000’s of pieces of content created every single day.
We decided to put this theory to the test and find out the true cost of (really good) content.
Not through surveying writers, but actually purchasing content from writers (at different pay brackets) and directly comparing them.
We spent $700 on content and this is what we found.
Writing B2B content is hard. Mostly because, in general, the topics are boring. You’re not writing about the new coolest hoverboard or amazing energy drink.
You’re often trying to dissect complex issues making them easier to understand for everyday people.
And when you get it right, the results speak for themselves.
Yet, despite this, too many people think writing (and writers) are a commodity.
For the basis of this post, we sought out two writers.
One charged $640 per article.
The other charged $15.
It’s our hypothesis that the $640 will be significantly better than the $15.
Disclaimer. It would be interesting to re-do this exercise with a third writer – someone who charges around $100 mark.
Our first writer – we’ll call ‘Writer A’ was Elise. When it came to picking a writer who we knew had exceptional skills – Elise was a no-brainer.
You’ve probably read some of her content before.
We then had to source the cheapest writer we could find (Writer B). For the purpose of this article, we’ll choose to omit names. (We’re not here to tag and drag).
For full transparency, this writer charges $15 for 1500 words.
Shocking, I know.
Putting together a brief
We wanted this experiment to be completely fair, so we created our brief and tried to include as much detail as possible.
We sent the same brief to both writers:
The first thing we asked of the writers was to provide us with 3-4 alternative title ideas. Getting your title right is important as often, it’s what compels someone to click through to read the content or not.
We encourage anyone who works with us to spend time thinking about not just one, but multiple titles.
As well as providing the writer with an understanding of the topic, we wanted to give them a bit of a backstory as to why we feel this content should be created.
We’re not in the game of just creating content for keywords-sake. We want to provide real, actionable content that can help people get better at content marketing.
The paragraph above helps to provide the writer with some element of positioning for where this content should sit on the internet.
The goal of the content is in some ways just as important as the actual content itself. Understanding the goal helps the writer know if the content they’ve produced actually fits the brief or not and enables them to assess the quality of their own content.
Often, it’s too easy to write about a topic and completely miss the objective, so we provide each writer with a goal to help them monitor their own work.
The general ideas/concepts to cover gives the writers an idea of the things they should cover in the blog post.
It’s a good idea to give a certain degree of freedom to allow for effective research, but having some sort of guidelines ensures the writer will always stay on task.
Finally, we gave the writers an indication to the number of words needed. We said “around” 1500 because there’s no point trying to constrain a writer who can get the message across perfectly in fewer words.
Equally, there’s no point limiting a writer who eloquently gets the same message across but uses more words.
In this instance, we’ve asked the writers to use their discretion.
Writer B had 1799 words. Just looking at the word count, however, doesn’t tell us much about the quality of the content.
In comparison, Writer A’s blog post was 1782 words.
Before reading both blog posts in depth, it’s clear they have both followed the brief to write around 1500 words.
We’re off to a good start.
Analyzing the use of images
In the brief, we specifically asked for the two writers to avoid stock images. The issue with stock images is they pad out the article to make it look longer but don’t actually add anything to the article itself.
The image above is from Writer B. For reference. This image sat underneath the introduction.
I understand the thought behind the image. The post is about writing and so they’ve found an image that shows writing.
However, would the post be significantly worse if the image wasn’t there? Probably not, and for that reason, I don’t think it’s needed.
The second image (also from Writer B) follows a similar path. Again, it’s better than most of the generic stock images, however, it is still a stock image and doesn’t add anything to the article.
When I saw the image above from Writer B, I was pleased they’d included a chart. Charts are effective for visually showing data and ideas.
The only downside to the writer using this image is that the placement of the image didn’t match the text it was next to. Therefore, it seemed misplaced.
If you want to sprinkle images into your articles (and you should), try to make sure they’re relevant to the point you’re currently making.
Now to writer A.
The image above shows a screenshot of a Google Trend – specifically for the topic in hand (SaaS marketing).
This is effective for a number of reasons:
- It shows the writer has actually done their own research into the topic. They haven’t just rewritten content that already exists.
- It’s real data. When you tell someone something is the case, it’s much easier to believe if you can show real data.
The second image from Writer A is a screenshot. What’s particularly good about this screenshot is the use of the arrow.
The writer wanted to show all of the results, but they also want you to focus on one particular aspect.
The arrow helps achieve that.
Remember, your images should always be relevant to the point you’re trying to make. But, they should also be easy to understand.
The introduction of a blog post is usually the first thing people read. Because of that, you need to make sure it explains the problem, empathizes with the reader and promises a solution.
Writer A’s intro is good. First, they start with a statistic. We’ve already mentioned, hard numbers sell.
If the writer had started the post with “content marketing is a big industry”, it just doesn’t have the same effect as it does with the statistic included.
The writer then goes on to show the reader that they understand their pain points.
Remember, writing effective blog posts is all about taking the reader from point A to point B.
Finally, Writer A includes a rhetorical question to get people to think.
As the saying goes, if you want people to think about you, you need to get them to think about themselves.
If we compare that to Writer B, we see a different tale.
Upon first glance, it’s already clear that the introduction is a lot longer than Writer A.
However, as the text hasn’t been broken up into smaller paragraphs, it immediately looks clunky and uninviting.
With a good editor, this introduction could be good. If you read it, you’ll see that the writer sort of understands the topic and has gone some way to explain what the article will be about.
However, due to the consistent repetition and poor level of English, it’s actually quite difficult to understand.
Analyzing the conclusion
Your conclusion is the final thing your reader sees, so it’s important to make some impact.
For many writers, though, it’s often one of the more difficult things to write.
In fact, in a recent Twitter poll, Elise (Writer A) said herself that writing the conclusion is the hardest part about writing a blog post.
However, when it comes to reading her conclusion, you wouldn’t think that.
She starts off by reminding readers about their problem. This is important because you need to help your audience reflect on where they were and how your writing has helped them get to where they are now.
She then goes on to recap the most crucial points. Again, effective because, as humans, our attention spans are sparse. People might not pick up on all the points and even if they did, retaining them to the end of the post is often a challenge.
Finally, she ends the post by offering a sense of hope. You finish reading the post with an idea of several (5) strategies you can start using.
Writer B’s conclusion was significantly shorter. In fact, it was only two lines.
Although to be fair to Writer B, although they didn’t write much, they did conclude the point fairly well.
Structuring your article involves a number of skills. You need to be able to:
- Understand the topic in enough depth to ascertain which points are most important
- Understand how people consume content to order the points effectively.
What you don’t want to do is write about point A, move on to point B and then go back to finish point A.
Not only is it sloppy writing, but it makes for a poor reading experience for your writers.
When working with freelance writers, the ability to structure an argument coherently is one thing we look for.
One of the reasons we ask for all drafts to be sent as a Google Doc is for the “view document outline feature”.
This feature will allow you to see the headings the writer has used.
You can quickly (before you’ve even read the article) see whether or not the structure needs additional work.
In our most Writer A’s work, the structure looked like this:
Before I’ve even read the post, I can clearly see the points that will be addressed.
Writer B’s article was sent as a word doc and so, we’ve uploaded it to Google Docs ourselves to see the outline. It looks like this:
Comparing the two outlines, you might assume that as the second outline is a lot longer, it covers more information and is, therefore, better.
Simply not the case.
Immediately I can see that the structure makes no sense. There are two different sections titled: “How to make your saas content different” and they contain different information.
As a reader, you’d read the first section and then move onto the next only to be like”
“Hey, haven’t I just read about this?”.
There are also a number of sections that don’t seem at all relevant to the overarching topic.
What writing style do they use?
Analyzing writing styles is often difficult simply because a lot of the time it comes down to personal preference.
However, what generally works best for B2B SaaS companies who write content online, is to write in a succinct, friendly tone that addresses complex issues.
One thing to look for in a writing style (regardless of what that style might be is how people put together their individual points.
If we look at one of Writer B’s points: “How to make your saas content different?”, regardless of the style they use, what we should really see here is that they’ve actually answered the question.
However, if you read through, the paragraphs don’t make sense and the reader is left feeling more confused than they were before.
Compare that, then, to Writer A.
If anything, this point feels like a mini blog post in an of itself. Writer A has successfully used a B2B storytelling technique within the post to ensure that the readers stay engaged.
Writer A has started with a short introduction line, explained the problem and provided a solution with real statistics.
As you can see, they’ve opted for shorter sentences and paragraphs (making for an easier reading experience).
How much research has each writer done?
With so much content being produced on the internet every single day, it’s hard to stand out. That’s why so many people struggle to see any ROI on content marketing.
However, one way you can stand out with your content is to research.
The more research you do, the more you understand what the other content out there lacks.
You can use this understanding to make your post better than the others.
Writer A included 24 external links in the blog post. This shows they’ve found 24 sources of information to back up their points and provide readers with alternative further reading.
Writer B didn’t include any links (apart from URL sources for the images) and so without a prior understanding of their experience in the industry how is a reader meant to trust anything they say?
If you want to start including more research in your posts, start by finding useful, relevant statistics that back up and support the points you’re making.
You can then take it further by conducting your own original research. This is effective because it means you’re content will be wholly and universally unique as you’ve sourced the research yourself.
So just what is the cost of B2B content marketing?
When it comes to content (especially good content) you really do get what you pay for.
Certainly, there will be opportunities to find your “unicorn” – people who charge very little but still produce good content.
However, in general, these people are new to the game and are yet to discover that they can be paid for what they’re worth.
If you’re looking to produce content for content’s sake, then, by all means, seek out the cheapest writer you can find, but if you really want to make a statement, prepare yourself to pay more.
And when you start to value both your writer and the content they produce, you’ll find all areas of your business improves.
If you’re looking to write exceptional content for your business, get in touch.