Content marketing has been around long enough now that most of the new clients my agency takes on have already attempted it in some shape or form. We usually ask them about their experiences with previous agencies and content creators. Their most common complaint? “We just weren’t happy with the writing.”
Sometimes, our clients are talking about sloppiness, bad grammar, and missed deadlines. More often, though, it’s a variation on one of these points:
- “The content was all very surface level.”
- “The writer couldn’t speak to our customers.”
- “It took so much revision, it would have been easier/quicker/cheaper to write it ourselves.”
- “The writer didn’t make us seem like experts.”
Is the world of professional content writing really such a vast, dark chasm of incompetence? It’s easy to find a good inbound marketing agency, a good web designer; crack social media experts are a dime a dozen. Are there really no decent content writers to be found?
I’ll admit, I’m more than a little biased, but allow me to stand up in defense of my vocation.
It’s not the writer; it’s you.
Sure, there are plenty of bad content writers out there. But, in my experience, when businesses have problems with their content writers, it rarely has anything to do with the skill, background, or artistry of the writers. It has much more to do with what they’re given to work with.
The Myth of ‘Industry Expert’ Writers
When a business is unhappy with a content writer it will often take the most logical step to remedy the problem: go searching for a new writer. Usually, this is where businesses are willing to loosen the purse strings a little bit, graduating from a bargain basement online content market to a dedicated freelancer, or coming to an agency like mine. This is also where businesses start looking for writers with “a corporate IT background,” “experience in the financial industry,” or “a PhD in biotechnology.”
Here’s the problem with that:
- Writers with “industry experience” are few and far between—if they exist at all. Why would you work as a writer when you can make a hell of a lot more money as an IT engineer?
- It doesn’t matter, anyway. Content writers are only as good as the instructions they’re given and the strategy backing them up.
Surface-level, uninspired, uninteresting, out-of-touch content requiring multiple rounds of revision and wholesale rewrites are, usually, not the result of a bad writer. They come from:
- The lack of a content marketing strategy.
- An inadequate content creation process.
Content Writers Are Not Content Strategists (Unless Maybe You Pay Them More)
In content marketing, the whole point of content is to get readers to do something: download another piece of content, get in touch with your sales team, follow you on Facebook. You can’t get anyone to do anything if you don’t understand who they are and what they want. Yet, so many content assignments begin with the barest amount of information about who the piece is for, what it should get them to do, and why they should even care.
Sometimes, this is because of bad instructions (see the next point below), but just as frequently, this is because the business giving the assignment has never bothered to answer these critical questions. Of course the content will turn out poorly; it has no reason to exist (and no one will ever have any reason to read it).
The best, most high-priced content writer in the world is useless without a content strategy.
Invest in a strategy before you invest in a writer.
Content Writers Are Not Magicians
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Good content is specific. Good content gives specific answers to specific questions, specific solutions to specific problems. This is what people are searching for online and this is the kind of content they find most valuable.
Where do specifics come from? They come from your unique experience and that of the rest of the people who work at your business. They come from the unique messaging and the unique insights you and your team have developed from helping your real customers solve real problems.
A writer—even an “industry expert”—won’t have access to this experience and these insights. At best, he will have some general industry knowledge, but he won’t have the specific knowledge that differentiates your business from your competitors. You have to find a way to get it to him. In other words, you have to give really good instructions.
At my agency, our content creation process involves content briefs, interviews with our clients, outlines, first drafts, and second drafts. We ask our clients for approval and feedback every step of the way, because we know it’s the most effective way to get what’s in their brains out into the world.
Even with this involved process, the resulting content isn’t always perfect. An hour-long interview is a poor substitute for years of experience. And then there are the clients who feel the process is burdensome. Like many of those new to inbound marketing, they feel compelling, insightful, useful, specific content should just spring, fully formed, from the quills of their writers based on as little as a title (or less).
It’s just not possible. Not even with the most talented writers.
Help your content writer understand your business.
Of course, if this sounds like too much work for you, there’s another option (actually, the one I recommend):
Write it Yourself
I know. The whole reason you paid for a writer in the first place is because you hate writing, or you don’t have time for it, or you’re just plain no good at it. These are all good arguments, but there’s a better one in favor of doing your own writing:
If you truly believe in the value of content—that the right content can bring visitors to your website and customers to your business—you have to recognize that creating content is a valuable use of your time. We’ve all read examples where a single blog post lead to millions in revenue for one company or another. That sounds like a pretty good ROI for a couple hours of work, even if it’s work you hate.
As for not being any good at writing, that’s fixable. Keep paying that writer. Just give him a new title. You take the first pass and he’ll clean it up and make it sparkle.
Forget about writers; hire an editor.