SaaS Marketing Metrics You Can Ignore If You Want to Fail Miserably

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If you’re like me, when you see an article that says that you “must know” something, your immediate response is, “Why do I need to know it?”

I mean, I’m pretty sure something like SaaS metrics isn’t going to show up during Tuesday night’s trivia contest.

I would be very surprised (but also very happy).

The more research I do in my writing, the more I find that there are a ton of marketing topics that get the “must know” treatment. Kind of like keyword research — there’s a lot to remember and not much application.

So forget “must know.” How about some applied knowledge for a change?

For a brief, shining moment, I want to give you a breakdown of the most important SaaS marketing metrics and how to use them to grow your SaaS marketing efforts.

I’m not only going to introduce the SaaS marketing funnel and metrics you’ll need, but I’ll also share the context that you’ll need to use them in. You’ll see why they’re important and how to use them to inform decisions.

Let’s get started.

Why Are SaaS Marketing Metrics Different?

First off, you have to understand that SaaS marketing really is different than normal digital marketing.

Really, it’s just because some people are gluttons for punishment. (I’m looking at you, SaaS peeps.)

To illustrate why I say that, here’s an image that you’ve probably seen a million times (or at least seen a million versions of):

Customer-Engagement-Funnel

(Image Source)

This is the customer engagement funnel, which is a euphemism for “sales funnel” or the “customers journey.”

Call it whatever you want, but go look at it again. Most funnels stop at the middle after you close the first sale, right?

So why is there an inverted funnel at the bottom of this one?

I like to call that the party hat because that’s where SaaS businesses really make money.

Again, because the SaaS marketing funnel is different.

The challenge of SaaS sales and marketing is that it never ends. Thus, they’re gluttons for punishment.

Here’s what I mean:

When you sign people up on a monthly subscription, you have to make sure that their credit card is still billable at the end of each cycle.

If they drop out, unsubscribe, or their card expires (guilty), then you don’t get any revenue. The first payment is just a drop in the bucket compared to the recurring payments you’re aiming for.

So the traditional metrics fail to capture key elements that drive SaaS marketing ROI. The normal way of looking at metrics would bankrupt you in about three months.

The result is that SaaS marketers have three jobs instead of one.

Lucky them.

Your normal marketer just has to acquire a customer. SaaS marketers have to retain them and then monetize them as well.

Just look at a successful SaaS service like Visual Website Optimizer. To get you started (once they attract you to their site), they offer a free 30-day trial.

Visual-Website-Optimizer-Signup-page

That gets you through the door, but it’s not making them very much money.

It definitely costs them money, but they’re hoping that you’ll like the service enough to buy in. That’s retention.

And once you buy, you’ll probably start at their lowest level. But they anticipate that your business will grow, and then you’ll need and pay for more of their service.

Or in other words, they upgrade you in order to monetize.

Visual-Website-Optimizer-Pricing-Tiers

That’s a pretty standard SaaS sales funnel. Free stuff, then not-free stuff, and then expensive stuff later.

But what does that actually do for SaaS marketers? It leaves them in an ROI hole when they win a customer. Most SaaS business models take months or even years to recoup their customer acquisition costs.

Single-Customer-Cumulative-Cash-Flow-graph

(Image Source)

If it weren’t a brilliant business model, you’d look at a graph like that and think that all SaaS businesses were dumb. (They’re not, but talk about risk!)

So SaaS marketers are not only on the hook for longer than others, but they’re also fighting against negative cash flows for months on end. I don’t have to tell you what happens if they don’t make up that cash flow.

And then, to make matters worse, there’s the ever-present temptation to just measure everything. This leads to anchoring, which leads to bad decision making.

And bad decision making puts you squarely in the startup graveyard zone.

Three-SaaS-Sales-Model-Price-Complexity-Chart

(Image Source)

So the domino effect is real here. One marketer doing a bad job means that everyone loses their jobs in the end.

Thankfully, you have guides like this to help you do your SaaS marketing correctly. In this case, your success hinges on some need-to-know metrics and how you approach them.

So for the rest of this post, I’m going to break down the metrics you need in order to acquire, retain, and monetize your customers like a pro.

Seven SaaS Marketing Metrics You Can’t Afford to Ignore

But first, a word on the importance of reading things and acting accordingly.

When I was 18, I ignored a stop sign and was lucky enough to have a courteous cop pull me over. It’s almost like he knew that people did that all the time at that one abandoned railroad track, but I digress.

I got off with community service hours —lucky me. But it could’ve been much worse. I could’ve intimately introduced myself to a train engine.

So I don’t do that kind of thing anymore.

But these metrics? They’re that metaphorical stop sign, and you’re 18-year-old me (sorry).

I was dumb to ignore that sign. I could’ve died.

And you’d be dumb to ignore these metrics. If you do, your business canwill go under.

So, first things first. Let’s point out some metrics that will help you reel in some customers.

These metrics will help you assess the overall health of your inbound marketing and let you see if your SaaS marketing funnel is actually working.

1. Visitors, Marketing Leads, and Sales Leads

It’s simple math: If your site isn’t getting any visitors, then you won’t be getting any marketing conversions. No conversions, then no customers.

No customers, no business!

This is all basic, top-of-the-funnel stuff, which means that it usually gets thrown into one big bucket for you to digest because “you already know it.”

That may be so, but I want to break all of that down to its basics and show you why this is still important for you to track. This might seem simple, but try telling Lebron James that the fundamentals aren’t important!

So, first things first: Where do you go to measure traffic and start this chain of basic metric glory?

My recommendation for measuring traffic would be to use Google Analytics. It’s free, simple, and accurate. Just go to Audience > Overview and then set your desired date range to get your unique visitor stats.

Google-Analytics-Audience-Overview-Report

But what traffic stats do you need to aim for? That depends.

The current median traffic for a SaaS site is about 45,000 visitors per month. The top 10% see upwards of 100,000, and the lower end sees less than 10.

Blogs-average-visits-from-organic-traffic-per-month-graph

(Image Source)

So, what should you aim for?

The honest answer is that you need to get “enough” traffic for your business. Depending on what you’re selling and how you’ve priced your product, more or less traffic can be good or bad.

Unique visitors can be a vanity metric though. High traffic is no guarantee of customer conversion.

You need to have a balance between your traffic, good content, and a compelling CTA in order to turn those customers into leads.

And speaking of leads:

Remember that funnel from earlier? Well, here’s another one:

Top-of-the-sales-funnel-MQL-and-SQL-Volumes-graphic

(Image Source)

What’s different this time?

Trick question. It’s the same funnel with different labels. Marketers and their shapes, right?

Only this time, we’re only looking at the top, and we’re talking about how you can categorize and track leads in your funnel.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) are top-funnel SaaS marketing metrics. They’re simply a shorthand for different stages, but tracking them is still important.

So to kick things off, your first goal is to get your visitors to become MQLs. MQLs are individuals who, based on their behavior, look like they might be interested in buying.

On the other hand, SQLs are those who have moved past marketing and are ready to buy. Even though they may not complete a purchase, tracking SQLs can give you a better idea of where your bottom line stands.

To track these two metrics, you will need to either be a very diligent notetaker or invest in a good CRM. You’ll also need a good lead magnet to keep your prospects moving through the funnel.

Tracking your leads is vital, though. Yet again, it’s another basic element of SaaS marketing.

This affects your conversion rates and ultimately helps you determine how much traffic you need in order to attain the right amount of customers.

Let’s look at an example.

Say you get 1000 unique website visitors per month. Of those 1000 visitors, 100 indicate that they are MQLs. That’s a conversion rate of 10%.

From there, 10 of those become SQLs. Again, another conversion rate of 10%.

Let’s say that an average of 5 of those 10 SQLs start using your product. That’s a 50% close rate of SQLs, but an overall 0.5% visitor-to-customer conversion rate.

You gotta pump those rookie numbers up.

But now you know what to look for. And you can start using these numbers and the corresponding conversion rates to go back and inform how many unique visitors you need in order to stay afloat.

And once you’ve taken care of the top of the funnel, it’s time to turn your attention to the bottom. Let’s look at that now.

2. Customer Churn

Customer churn is, metaphorically speaking, the divorce rate of SaaS marketing metrics. It seeks to tell you how many of those hard-won customers decided that they would rather keep their money in their own bank accounts.

If that’s not bad enough for you, here’s a rather macabre image involving fish that will help you understand churn even better:

Customer-Churn-and-Logistic-Regression-graphic

(Image Source)

That poor little goldfish.

All jokes aside, this is a great representation of how your SaaS product is going to work.

Some of your fish (customers) will happily stay at the basic levels of your product. Some will jump to the exclusive fishbowl that costs extra.

And some will jump out of the tank altogether.

The nice thing is that you can track and eventually predict how many of these customers will jump ship. This helps you go back to the top of your funnel and make even more adjustments.

But it also helps you see how effective your product’s onboarding is. If there’s a lot of churn, you probably didn’t quite nail the user experience of your product. That means that lowering customer churn should be a priority.

Once again, a good churn level is relative. Average churn rates are around 6.12%, but that doesn’t make a higher or lower number good or bad. B2B and B2C will be different, and even then, it’s hard to definitively say without putting it next to your bottom line.

Average-Churn-Rate-report

(Image Source)

For example, in Groove’s case, they were sitting at a 4.5% churn rate. That’s well under the average churn rate above, but they knew from their own data that it wasn’t sustainable for their business.

They needed to lower it, or they’d lose the farm.

They found that if they could keep a user engaged for a little more than three minutes during their first session, the user was far more likely to keep using their software.

Average-user-time-on-website-over-30-days

(Image Source)

So they rolled up their sleeves and improved their onboarding. Farm saved!

But customer churn is only one part of the equation here.

In addition to customer churn, you also need to assess how this affects your bottom line. That’s called revenue churn, and it’s where all of this starts to get trickier.

You know that marketers love to make things more complicated than they need to be, so I’ll help you out.

3. Revenue Churn

Revenue churn is pretty easy at first if you understand customer churn. It’s just the dollar amount that you can assign to the customers you lose.

In other words, this is what you pay in alimony and lawyer fees once the divorce is finalized.

Let’s look at a basic example.

Let’s say that you have a 5% churn rate one month. During that month, you also closed the deal with 100 customers. So, you lost 5 customers almost as soon as you got them.

Those five customers would have paid $10 for their subscription, but now they won’t. That means that your revenue churn is $50.

But why does this matter? You still make money off of the other 95 customers, right?

It matters because, over time, those churned customers would have been worth much more money than one small monthly subscription fee. That means that your retention metrics are pointing customers further down the funnel toward your monetization metrics.

We’ll tackle those next.

4. Net Dollar Retention and Negative Churn

Net dollar retention is the ultimate application of customer and revenue churn. It seeks to display the overall health of a company’s retention tactics.

In terms of our ongoing divorce analogy, you can think of this like getting back into the dating pool — while still married.

Maybe this is getting too edgy now, so I’ll drop the analogy.

But let’s get back to the business end. The idea is that by expanding on the worth of a retained cohort of customers, those customers will be worth more than new ones.

In other words, selling more to the customers you already have should be an easier path to profits for you.

This goes back to that graph that we looked at earlier that went from negative to positive ROI over time.

The goal of net dollar retention is often expressed as net negative churn. This is the ability to prove that the revenue from your retained customers is, in fact, making up for customer and revenue churn.

In order to find out what your net negative churn is, you need to know two things:

  1. How much revenue churn you’ve had
  2. How much expansion (upsell or cross-sell) revenue you’ve had in the same time period

To find out if you’re growing the worth of previous customers, you need to take your lost revenue percentage and subtract the expansion percentage. If the number is negative, your churn has a net negative, which means that you’re still growing your revenue.

Net-Negative-Churn-Rate-Calculation

(Image source)

With a net negative churn, your customers slowly increase their worth to your business and grow your bottom line over time.

To illustrate the long-term effects of failing to achieve net negative churn, here’s a look at a graph that shows the potential earnings of different churn rates over a period of time:

Bookings-versus-Churn-graph

(Image Source)

As you can see, a net negative churn of even -2.5% can make a serious impact on your revenue streams. Retaining customers and selling more to them is highly profitable.

A great example of this is the ecommerce platform Shopify.

Shopify allows business owners to set up a store even if they have no previous experience. Each year, Shopify has continued building their revenue on top of the previous year’s cohort despite churn.

Shopify-Billings-By-Cohort-Chart

(Image Source)

That’s the power of net negative churn. It takes $100 worth of customers and turns them into $150 worth.

Which, coincidentally, leads us to the next monetization metric you should consider.

5. Customer Lifetime Value

Customer lifetime value (often abbreviated CLV or LTV) is one of those quintessential SaaS metrics that every marketer needs to consider but no one seems to agree on.

Seriously, there must be at least a million different equations for CLV on Google.

But since SaaS products are built to generate recurring revenue, this is the literal backbone metric of your whole operation.

Simply put, it shows you how much money you’re likely to make from a single customer over the course of their relationship with you. A one-time buyer is only worth the amount they spend once, whereas a subscriber generates repetitive income.

CLV is usually calculated with a series of projected metrics, sort of like this:

Lifetime-Customer-Value-Calculation

(Image Source)

A great example of how this helps you comes from a study done by Nielsen and Kimberly-Clark.

In the study, they found that the average shopper would buy $1,000 worth of diapers over the course of their child’s infancy. That means that Kimberly-Clark knows exactly how many customers they need to hit certain sales targets.

Since they can’t do anything about the declining birth rates, their only way to increase their sales is finding new ways to either win customers or improve their lifetime value.

And for companies that aren’t able to do this type of extensive research, Google Analytics is now giving you the next best thing. They’re currently running beta tests on their own lifetime value charts.

So, maybe just ignore all of those equations unless you know something I don’t.

Just go to Audience > Lifetime Value and find the chart that looks like this:

Google-Analytics-Lifetime-Value-Chart

(Image Source)

This information lets you compare lifetime value from your various marketing campaigns and channels. It shows potential weaknesses in your acquisition and retention strategies, but more importantly, it shows you where you can start further monetizing.

And this isn’t just something I pulled out of thin air. Another great case study comes from Snappa, who managed to get more than $33,000 in recurring monthly income in only two years.

How? They quantified CLV and doubled down on it.

And then they balanced it with our next metric: Customer acquisition cost.

6. Customer Acquisition Cost

Customer acquisition cost (or CAC) is yet another piece of the monetization metrics puzzle, and you’ll see why in just a moment.

This metric is pretty self-explanatory. It’s how much it costs your business to win one new customer.

To find it, all you have to do is divide your marketing spend by the number of customers you’ve picked up over a set time period.

Customer-Acquisition-Cost-Calculation

(Image Source)

Your end result is that you know how much money it takes to get a new customer. It’s a simple but important calculation because it relates to the CLV:CAC ratio.

7. CLV:CAC Ratio

The ultimate monetization metric isn’t just one metric. It’s two becoming one. (Had to have at least one marriage joke to make up for all the divorce references.)

The customer lifetime value to customer acquisition cost ratio (CLV:CAC) allows you to measure the relationship between how much revenue you’re likely to make and how much it costs you to make that revenue.

LTV-to-CAC-Ratio-Sample-Data-Report

(Image Source)

And as a subscription-based company that starts in an ROI hole, this metric is vital.

Just think about what this ratio means in application. If you have a 1:1 ratio here, that means that you spend the same amount of money getting a customer as they’re likely to spend on your business.

Since your business has more expenses than just marketing, a 1:1 ratio means that you’re bleeding money.

But what about a 20:1 ratio? That means that you’re making 20 times the amount it takes to acquire a customer. That’s good, right?

Yes and no. It’s good because you’re making money, but it’s bad because a competitor can come in and undercut you without any serious consequences to their bottom line.

You’ll eventually start losing sales to competitors on price alone, even if your product is better.

That’s why studies have revealed that the ideal ratio is 3:1 for this metric. That’s enough so that you’re making money on each customer while maintaining your bottom line and fostering a high degree of competition.

And this metric is vital because it allows you to circle back and factor in the rest of the metrics we’ve looked at via conversion rate optimization. If you can lower your CAC or raise your CLV in any way, it will impact your bottom line.

Conclusion

So the next time you’re at Tuesday night trivia and get a SaaS metrics question, call me. Because I’m moving to that town.

But until then, start applying your SaaS marketing metrics knowledge in a way that actually helps your business stay afloat.

Don’t just go for one-sided metrics that show that you’re winning customers. Take your metrics all the way down the funnel and then out the other side.

Your job as a SaaS marketer is to acquire, retain, and monetize. It may not be fair that you have more to do than the rest of us, but the truth is you may actually have it easier.

Using the metrics in this post can allow you to inform every stage of your product’s evolution. That’s not a perk everyone gets.

So start tracking and don’t let up.

 

How to Build a Content Strategy Framework That Doesn’t Flop

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Unless you’re living under a rock or haven’t upgraded from dial-up internet, you know that content is only getting better.

Posts are becoming more information dense.

Images are becoming more applicable.

Walkthroughs more intuitive.

Keywords more natural.

No longer are the days of launching your content out into the ether and watching the sheep flock through the gates.

Content needs purpose, optimization, and most importantly, objective and actionable goals.

Without it? Your content is gonna flop. Hard.

Here’s how to develop a unique content strategy framework that doesn’t suck.

Key Components of an Effective Content Marketing Framework Plan

It’s easy to read any number of clickbait headlines proclaiming that content marketing grew a business by 10,000% in a week and start pumping out content.

Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it still serves my point.

Content without direction is merely another page that only Google crawlers will see.

Before blogging was saturated to no end, producing some posts on anything would net you traffic.

Now? Not a chance.

Content needs a laser-like focus to bring success. And that requires a custom content marketing framework.

What exactly is a content strategy framework?

In short, it’s a structured plan of attack on how you will go about creating content, why you’ll be creating it, for whom you will be creating it, and how it factors into the buying process.

Key components of an effective content framework are:

  • Goals
  • Clear cut audiences
  • Understanding user behavior, touchpoints, and flow
  • Segmentation
  • Funnel stages
  • Content to match all of that!

But do you really need a framework plan? Yes. Yes, you do.

Is just putting content ideas on a calendar sufficient? Not even close.

Here’s why.

Why You Need a Content Strategy Framework Yesterday

Most businesses that start to create content do it in-house.

They test it out and give this whole content deal the old college try.

I mean, content is king, right? Better get to writing!

They read HubSpot’s benchmarks and see that 16 blog posts a month are a good start.

Inpact-of-Monthly-Blog-Posts-on-Inbound-Traffic-chart

(Image Source)

While that’s higher than most can produce from the ground up or at the startup stages of content creation, they still start to generate content, a definite step in the right direction.

But generic, simple content that most create isn’t going to do anything.

Good content isn’t good enough anymore.

Not when millions of posts get published daily.

Not when top SERP spot holders have thousands more links than you:

Hubspot-1.4k-Linking-Domains

Think you’ll get 3.3k inbound links from 1.4k domains to overtake them? Not if your content isn’t 10x better than theirs.

The top organic SERP position holders (1-5) are capturing 90% (or more) of the attention. So if landing a page one SERP spot is your goal, it’s still not “good enough.”

Beyond that, most content usually has no focus.

What’s the goal? The plan? The timeline? Non-existent.

What purpose does each piece serve in the greater goal of growing sales?

How do the pieces connect and serve to drive action from TOFU to BOFU and every micro-moment in between?

A content strategy framework is essential to prepare for these inevitable epiphanies. Unless you want to waste the next six months creating content that nobody sees. Unless you enjoy your boss breathing down your neck asking why he’s paying your salary to generate 10 views a month with a 99% bounce rate.

Now, here is how to do it.

Set Goals, Subgoals, Sub-Sub-Goals, and Then Do It Again.

Content marketing is a pretty diverse landscape.

Depending on your business goals, content can serve countless purposes from brand awareness to closing deals and every step in between.

Everybody wants their content to drive sales, but that’s not an actionable goal.

How do you accomplish that goal now?

You need a subgoal and sub-sub-goals and so-on.

You need goals for your goals for your goals.

Instead of looking at content as a black and white issue of generating traffic or sales, think of goals in terms of inputs and outputs.

Start by listing off specific outputs, or end-goals, for your content. Highly-specific, actionable things like:

  • Increasing blog traffic by 10%
  • Increase social shares to 50/month
  • Decrease bounce rates by 10% next month
  • Increase conversions from TOFU blog posts to lead magnets by 5%

These are actionable, specific outputs that you can build a framework around.

Nadya Khoja has written an article on her content strategy that provides an overview of how to figure out what content to write that will achieve a range of different goals.

If your current goal list consists of:

  • Increase sales
  • Get more traffic
  • Post more

Delete that and start listing out actionable items that are realistically achievable in a given time-frame.

The key with content marketing frameworks is placing everything in a real timeline.

If your goal is to increase traffic, that’s overall pretty easy: just post more, and you’ll probably get a bit more traffic.

But if you want to grow 10% in the next month, you need specific inputs to go along with it.

Start breaking down each goal into subgoals, inputs, and outputs:

Goal: Increase blog traffic by 10% in the next 30 days

Input 1: Develop XX more blog posts on XX high volume topics

Output 1: Generate 5% more traffic or 500 more visits in the next 30 days

Input 2: Amplify social sharing strategy with cheap social ads ($10 /day ad spend)

Output 2: XX more social shares generating XX visits/week, an XX% increase

Result: Increased blog traffic by XX% in 30 days

So, how do you figure out what inputs are required to achieve desired outputs?

By doing a bit of research on your current traffic levels. In Google Analytics, look at your current monthly traffic:

Google-Analytics-monthly-traffic-metrics

Sort your report by organic visits and set the date comparison range to “Last 30 days” (or whatever your timeline goal is).

“Sessions” is the traffic you are currently generating from organic search each month.

Google-Analytics-organic-visits-report

Is your goal to increase that by 10%? That means you’ll need 189 more sessions next month, totaling 2,083 visits.

Knowing that, take a look at what content pieces are bringing in the most traffic.

Google-Analytics-content-piece-traffic-report

This gives you a clear picture of what a single content piece might do for your traffic in a month.

Only need 189 more visitors? According to the example data above, you probably just need one more kick-ass blog post as each is generating over 200 a month.

Now you know your required input for this month (a kick-ass blog post) and the expected output (189+ visits).

Now get back to the drawing board and do it all over again for each end-goal you listed earlier.

Yep, it’s tedious and brutal. Worth it? You know the answer already.

Content Without the Right Audience Is Just Content

Know your audience!

You’ve probably heard that tiresome marketing/sales phrase thrown around hundreds of times.

Personas, bios, the works.

When it comes to content, the audience is a significant factor.

But it goes way beyond knowing your customer demographics.

That’s child’s play.

If you are looking to scale growth, you need to focus more on content audience.

Getting lost in the weeds of “24-45 years old” and “likes fishing on the weekends” is setting you back.

I mean seriously, that’s great that they like to fish, but that ain’t got squat to do with your list posts.

Don’t get me wrong, demographics and ideal customer profiles are great for selling. But trying to craft every content piece around them is a waste of time.

Instead, you should be focusing on creating content that your audience actually cares to spend their time reading.

Some key questions to ask yourself in development of a content audience are:

  1. Are you talking to beginners in your space or are they topic experts looking for insanely actionable, high-level posts? I.e., can you blog about simple head terms or does your audience and product level require some in-depth long-tail mega posts?
  2. Does the content you already produce or want to produce relate to what you sell? I.e., are you blogging about Facebook PPC strategies when you sell organic social tools?
  3. Does talking about topic X make users interested in your services? I.e., are you solving all of their problems for free or presenting value and tools to guide them on their journey from awareness to a decision?

For example, take a look at Search Engine Journal. If someone new to SEO stumbled on their site, they’d probably be shakin’ in their boots:

Search-Engine-Journal-high-level-topics-on-homepage

Why? The content isn’t meant for a noob. It’s for well-seasoned experts looking to take their performance to another level or squeeze every last percent of performance from their plan.

Touching on point #2, AdEspresso is a prime example of producing content that actually relates to what they sell:

AdEspresso-blog-page

If their customer segments ain’t interested, they ain’t writing it.

On the last point, does the content you make segue naturally into your services?

Would an SEO guide help you sell your products, or does it just sound nice because it has 300,000 searches a month?

SEO-Keyword-Monthly-Volume

After you’ve listed out your boring demographics and personas, you can dive into the meat and potatoes:

Content audience.

Focus on crucial audience factors like experience level, relation to company products and common pain points (which will differ vastly at experience levels), and more.

Audit Your Existing Content and Analytics First

It’s tempting to jump from “my audience wants information on technical SEO only” to writing dozens of posts on the subject and calling it a content plan.

But you don’t really know what your audience wants. Not unless you’ve spoken to them and directly asked.

And more often than not, they don’t wanna tell you or take the time out of their day.

An easy way to assess what resonates is to audit your current content.

Use Analytics to see which pages produce more and better traffic based on your KPIs:

Analytics-Ave-Time-On-Page-metrics-report

For instance, carefully look at dwell time metrics like bounce rate and time on site.

While TOFU blog content naturally will have higher bounce rates, average times on page can tell you a lot.

If people are spending nearly 10 minutes on average reading your post, it’s a sign that your content is captivating them.

This data is a good start, but it’s not complete.

You need to know what your loyal readers like. Returning customers. Not just the looky-loos window shopping your tactics.

Use the New vs. Returning report under “Audience” in Google Analytics. Sort your secondary dimension to “Page” to see what pages your returning visitors are browsing:

Google-Analytics-Audience-Page-New-vs-Returning-report

Now analyze those same dwell time metrics, like:

  • Bounce rate
  • Session duration
  • Pages/Session

This should shed some light on what specific posts and topics your regular readers enjoy.

But don’t stop there.

If you have on-site search enabled, which you 100% should have for your blog (at least), you can utilize Google’s on-site search keyword report:

Google-on-site-search-keyword-report

This is a goldmine of terms that your readers are actively looking for.

Don’t have existing content for some of the searches shown?

Eureka! You just discovered gold in the form of easy topics to write about that your audience is practically salivating over.

Use on-site search topics to help develop your content plan and even understand the level of technicality that your audience is looking for.

Then Develop User Flows and Touchpoints to Form Your Framework

Auditing is a significant step in the development of a good content framework plan.

Beyond it, you need to start developing a tangible framework with journey-esque steps.

A good start would be analyzing your existing user flow and common touchpoints in the buying process.

For example, when looking at our user flow on Analytics, I noticed we have a pretty common user flow:

Organic blog entry -> lower level/head term post on blogging statistics – > touch back again for a higher level tactical post on link explorer – > view portfolio work….

User-flow-on-Analytics

And then finally, they engage with our “Get Started” CTA:

6th-interaction-of-user-flow-get-started

This is a prime example of our content marketing framework plan in action.

You can’t expect to land clients, sales, or customers with a single post. Not even two, three, or four.

You have to structure loads of unique, high-quality content that’s structured for multiple stages of a user journey.

Speaking of unique content…

Fill Your Framework Plan With Unique Content

Like I said earlier, content is only improving and exceeding what it did last week, month, and year.

Generic content won’t fly anymore.

Domain authorities of 80+ dominate even your coveted long-tail phrases with peewee league volume.

SERP-Analysis-international-seo-domain-authority-results-page

This ain’t AAA ball. It’s the majors.

Sandlot-GIF-playing-baseball

(Gif Source)

For your framework to pan out as planned, you’ll need content that goes above and beyond daily SERP results or even “evergreen listicles.”

It might sound mythical, but this type of content actually exists on dozens of sites in the marketing space right now.

Posts like Brian Dean’s skyscraper….

Brian-Dean-Link-Building-Case-Study-Post

Or BuzzSumo’s Content Trends report:

Buzzsumo-Content-Trends-2018-Report

These are examples of content that can make a huge impact on your business.

Where most go wrong is immediately trying to copy it.

Sure, the skyscraper technique was a massive success for Brian. But that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

And now, years after he first posted it? Probably won’t do much of anything to get you links unless you write in a space with almost zero content.

Content like those examples above made waves at the respective sites because they were unique.

So merely doing them on your own is counterintuitive.

But they touch on some great markers of what stellar content is today:

  • Highly engaging: a success story that motivates through storytelling.
  • Shareable: clickbait potential while still delivering results.
  • Linkbait: studies, insane growth = links, links, and more links.
  • Unique: these haven’t been done before like your standard listicle.

So, what’s that piece of unique content for you? Something that shifts the status quo in your niche. A landmark study, an unconventional way to deliver results, a David and Goliath story where you put your own business on the line.

So, where do you start? Where do you find these ideas?

By tapping into funnel stage pain points.

Segment Content Ideas for Funnel Stage Pain Points

Depending on the funnel stage of leads visiting your site, pain points can vary widely.

For example, someone searching for “social scheduling tips” is clearly in the awareness stage, just starting their searching history on the topic.

Their pain points likely center around finding good ways to consistently publish on social media.

On the other hand, someone searching for “social scheduling tool with custom modifiers and segmented audience targeting” is closer to the bottom of the funnel with dramatically different pain points centering around bad tools they’ve used in the past.

To engage prospects at each stage, you’ll need unique content at each step.

Refer back to your user flow that you analyzed in Analytics.

Start from the first point of contact that you notice:

You need lower level, entry content to bring people through the door.

Then you need to layer that in with content that ramps up in skill level to bring your new reader up to speed and continually address pain points as they shift in the buying cycle.

Only then can you include salesy CTAs: when they are on the cusp of buying.

This will drive them to your work and ultimately to engage the onboarding process.

Take your user flow and a good ol’ spreadsheet to establish a realistic journey. Fill out each stage that you want users to hit with content tailored to common pain points:

Spreadsheet-of-stages-with tailored-content-image

By segmenting your content like this, you can quickly bring newly aware visitors into deeper funnel stages.

For example, by linking out to more advanced content at the end of each post in a given stage will bring their journey from awareness to consideration faster:

More-recent-stories-links-at-end-of-post

Remember my user flow example? That image above is a screenshot of suggested content at the end of our blogging stats post.

According to the user flow, most people jump straight into stealing content ideas with Link Explorer.

Tailor your suggested content at the end of each post in a given stage to link to content in the proceeding stage.

Now, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back.

You made it.

You’ve got a unique content framework that:

  • Outlines critical steps in the customer journey
  • Is tailored to your returning readers and at ramping up new readers
  • Has goals, subgoals, and accurate inputs required to achieve their outputs
  • Uses keywords, topics, and existing posts to inform your next content breakthrough
  • Has a segmented content plan to ultimately convert traffic

👏

Conclusion

Content without a framework plan is like sailing without….well, a sail.

You’re left to end up wherever the current takes you, good or bad.

You may end up on a deserted island or on a white sand beach in Mexico, beer in hand.

Without one, chances are it’s the former. No traffic, no sales, and no growth.

Developing a framework plan can feel tiresome and (honestly) downright boring.

And that’s because it is.

But a few months from now when your content turns thousands of readers into brand supporters and real people giving you real dolla dolla bills, you’ll be thankful that you put in the work.

Or you could just let us handle your content framework plan too.

Original Content Marketing Case Study: How We Increased Average Session Duration by 281.05% & Reduced Post Promotion CPC by 70%

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Content is subjective.

People like one style or another. They hate one writer or another. They love long, eloquent, flowing prose, or prefer short, snappy, staccato bursts.

Content is also becoming a zero-sum game.

The rich literally get richer while the poor continue to languish in obscurity.

That means ‘more’ won’t work unless it’s ‘better,’ too.

Yes, quantity is still important. But if quality is subjective, how exactly do you go about making something ‘better’?

Or even proving it to customers, bosses, and clients?

That’s what we set out to answer in this content marketing case study.

Continue reading “Original Content Marketing Case Study: How We Increased Average Session Duration by 281.05% & Reduced Post Promotion CPC by 70%”

B2B Content Marketing Best Practices: Why Most Are BS and What to Do Instead

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Most B2B content marketing best practices are bullshit.

They tell you to “develop long-form content” and “create content for the buyer’s journey.”

Don’t get it twisted: both of those are significant steps in the right direction, but they aren’t best practices anymore.

Those are standard, bush league, rinse and repeat steps that should serve as a baseline for anything you do in B2B content marketing.

It’s not unique to create long-form content. Everyone does it. Buyer’s journey? It’s been around the block longer than Jenny.

Best practices are the tactics that most B2B companies aren’t doing.

Ones that will actually net you results instead of trying to compete with 80+ domain authorities for a low traffic long-tail term.

Here are some B2B content marketing best practices to nail that you probably won’t hear elsewhere.

Quick Fireside Chat: What Is B2B Content Marketing?

B2B (business-to-business) content marketing is simply content marketing for the B2B arena.

This could be anything from a blog post to an infographic to a learning center on your site.

It’s essentially any form of content that helps you:

  1. Build a brand
  2. Bring in traffic
  3. Turn that traffic into real sales

For those bookworms out there, here’s a concrete definition.

B2B Content Marketing Definition: The marketing practice in which a business uses content (like blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, etc.) to grow their audience, develop brand awareness, drive traffic to their website, and turn users from leads into clients.

Bored yet? Probably.

Now it’s time for the fun stuff: B2B content marketing best practices that you probably won’t hear from cookie cutter blogs.

Ready? Of course you are, you were born ready.

Best Practice #1: Branding Isn’t Just for Coke and Pepsi

Branding is just for huge brands.

Lol, you’re in B2B? Don’t waste your money on branding.

Unfortunately, these are common things you’ll hear in B2B content marketing best practices.

Or you’ll hear branding thrown on the backburner as some side project that you do when you’re bored or done with all your other work. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

Branding isn’t just for consumer-focused companies or mass-produced goods or even the big-spending corporations.

Sure, it’s easier for Pepsi and Coke to brand themselves because their product almost has no target market.

But that doesn’t mean B2B isn’t brand focused just because markets are more niche.

Think of CRM companies.

What just popped into your head? HubSpot? Yep. Social scheduling tools? Buffer? Yep.

Case in point, branding is probably the most important factor of B2B sales and content.

An older 2013 study on search results and brands found that the first thing that searchers look for before clicking on a SERP result is branding.

While the study itself is old, it still holds true. You’ve probably subconsciously done this yourself, too. Think about it:

Are you gonna click on an XX tips post from genericmarketingname.com or HubSpot? Chances are it’s the latter no matter how compelling the title tag was.

Google-search-showing-Hubspot-first-on-list

Why? Branding signals trust and authority. It signals that you’re gonna get what you want when you click: good content.

Recent data and Google trends like this and this prove that branding is and always has been huge in SERP importance.

Not only does Google cater to brands, but users are more likely to engage with ones they know on SERPs.

Beyond that, why do you think it takes tons of touches to build a single viable lead?

Salesforce says it takes 6-8 touches. The DMA says 7-13.

Why?

Brand perception. Users are forming an image of the brand in their conscience before making a buying decision.

Rarely do you ever conduct a single unbranded search and purchase on your first touch.

Brand building is a critical piece in content marketing. And no, I’m not talking about optimizing your existing site content for “branding.”

This isn’t driving traffic to an about me page. That’s a colossal waste of time.

Branding in B2B is done through informative content.

HubSpot is a prime example of this, yet again:

Hubspot-resources-page-listing-types-of-content

Content builds their brand. And that image revolves around knowledge and education.

Helping other businesses learn about marketing is their forte.

Their brand is resource based. Name any single marketing topic that you want to learn the basics/beginnings of and HubSpot is there as the first resource you find.

That’s branding themselves as a teacher in the marketing space.

So, how do you brand your own business through content? Here’s one way to start.

Guest Posting to Build B2B Brand Awareness

Start by guest posting on topics that relate to your business and help develop your brand.

But don’t follow crappy advice that tells you to do it “for the link juice!”

Sigh.

Ignore that terrible, terrible advice.

Look to get featured on popular sites in your space and focus on generating awareness of your brand, your expertise, and your ability to communicate that to eager beavers.

For instance, I recently guest posted on BigCommerce and generated over 1,000 social shares with a single post on local marketing:

7-Tactical-Ways-Every-Business-Can-Use-Local-Marketing

Guest posting gets your content in front of a new, relevant audience, allowing you to make a first impression and brand your business (and yourself).

Plus you get a snazzy byline to drive more traffic and turn new readers into loyal readers.

Jeremy-Moser-Byline

That’s a win-win.

Use guest posting as your time to showcase what your brand is all about.

Do you sell social tools? Craft the best damn social selling post you can.

Do you sell email marketing tools? Your email tips post better be kick-ass.

You Are Who You Associate With: Mention and Get Mentioned ASAP

Our parents used to drive this point home like there was no tomorrow.

Literally, you thought the convo would never end. You probably weren’t even listening.

Simpsons-gif

(Gif Source)

Heck, I don’t blame you. I sure as hell wasn’t. Sorry, Mom and Dad!

It turns out they were actually right (you’re welcome, Mom and Dad!). Especially in B2B content.

Building your brand through content is easier when you mention or get mentioned by other top performers in your space.

Mentions lead to links which lead to traffic and new audiences. That’s more impressionable to visitors that read your content and become brand followers.

You can see this strategy in full swing with a few top players in the B2B content space, like Aaron Orendorff, Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus:

Aaron-Orendorff-listing-top-performers-who-gave-insight

Neil Patel? CEOs and CMOs?? HARVARD??? This dude must be legit! 😉 — Social proof in action.

Or me, capturing some valuable mentions and brand awareness on Shopify marketing tactics from Databox to showcase ecommerce writing skills that might drive a few leads to check out our work:

databox-mention-of-Jeremy-Moser

Mentioning and getting mentioned help to establish critical markers of social proof: trust and authority.

Got mentioned by a top site? People are gonna think you’re hot shit because they think that site is hot shit.

Doing this, you’re killing two birds with one stone: B2B content & brand building.

Best Practice #2: Create Content That Doesn’t Suck (Harder Than You Think)

Most B2B best practices for content marketing will tell you the same old crap:

Just churn out content. Tons of it. At least 2k words with dozens of semantically related keywords.  Cool. Thanks for the wonderfully personalized advice.

“Just blogging” doesn’t do shit for your B2B sales.

And creating long-form content because someone told you doesn’t either.

Sure, long-form content is great. If you can pull it off without your readers dozing off in the first 15 seconds (which 55% of them will).

People skim. So “good” content isn’t going to cut it.

Most go wrong when following traditional B2B best practices for content marketing because they try to hit every single marker of a “good post.”

Arbitrary things like word count, keyword density, keywords in every damn subheader from H1 to h2o.

While these are good for SEO, readers won’t stick around long enough to form a brand impression.

Boring content is boring. Stop focusing on checking boxes off your list for word count and start focusing on creating memorable pieces of content.

Want an example? Read any post from Joanna Wiebe.

Or even just her bio:

Joanna-Wiebe-bio

I bet that about page was more interesting than the last generic B2B post you read, right?

Even her meta descriptions are catchy:

Joanna-Wiebe-meta-description

Content doesn’t have to suck, but unfortunately for readers, most of it does. And the ones who are creating content that doesn’t suck are the ones satisfying readers and growing their businesses every month.

How to Develop Content Ideas That Captivate Your Audience

In B2B content marketing, there is one rule that should stick with you:

If thinking of the content idea was easy, you shouldn’t even bother to spend the time on it.

XX social sharing tips? 68 million results.

A more complex topic like B2B social selling? 7 million.

These ideas are easy to think of off the top of your head. And that’s why most people write them. They’re easy to create, and it helps to add content to your site quickly. But those topics don’t captivate your audience. If you birthed the idea in ten seconds, scrap it.

You think it took Buffer ten seconds to put their entire businesses value proposition on the line for a post on Facebook organic reach? Heck no!

Buffer-post-on-Facebook-organic-reach

Were the time, effort, and huge potential risk worth it? You tell me:

Buffer-Overview-Page-Authority-Linking-Domains

You think it took Groupon ten seconds to decide to put their organic traffic and entire business at stake for a single content piece on dark traffic?

Probably not.

Was it worth it? SERP results years after speak for themselves:

SERP-results-showing-Groupon

This type of content is what readers want. Something interesting and captivating. Something that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Something that makes dreadfully boring topics interesting.

Organic reach? We get it. It’s bad. Borrrrrrring. Snoozefest. But when Buffer, a social scheduling tool, goes against their business model of mass content scheduling to see how it impacts their organic reach?

Now you’re hooked like an 80 lb. shark from the crow’s nest.

The-Office-meme-Andy-Bernard-caught-80lb-shark

(Image Source)

So, where do you start? Start by looking at current SERP results for big-picture ideas that you want to cover:

SERP-results-of-B2B-Content-Marketing

Ask yourself how you can add spice and flavor to overtake that content. Can you produce any cool experiments in-house with your tool or service?

What value can you add that doesn’t suck the life out of readers?

Take a look at the “People also ask” section. Here’s an interesting, common search:

People-also-ask-what-is-b2b-example?

Maybe you can create a huge content piece deconstructing the top B2B content marketing campaigns of 2018.

Look at SERPs for broad topics and start to think about the big picture. About content that can really captivate users instead of put them to sleep.

If this takes you weeks or even a month to generate an idea, don’t feel discouraged. It’s not easy and creating top of the line content will never be easy.

If you want baseline results, you wouldn’t be here.

Crafting Your Business Brand Tone and Style

An essential component in creating content that doesn’t suck (and builds your brand image) is tone and style.

What style of writing are you using? Are you just free-flowing words on the page or do you follow a carefully crafted system of baiting and setting the hook?

Do you tell your readers how to do something or do you creatively explain it with humor, wit, and make the piece actually fun to read?

The easiest way to set up a framework for better content is to develop a style first. Personally, I use the PAS (problem, agitate, solution) style of writing on a fair amount of content and sprinkle in some witty or “against the grain” verbiage for dramatic effect.

Even the intro to this post was using PAS:

Intro-showing-Problem-Agitate-Solution

Why? It works.

It…..

  1. Taps into common pain points
  2. Agitates those pain points in a dramatic and suspenseful fashion
  3. Provides real ways to fix it beyond generic advice

As for tone, that can depend on brand image goals as well as expertise levels.

For instance, is your product or service more technical or for high-level brands? If so, you’ll want to cater your content and verbiage toward that (think: SEJ):

Search-Engine-Journal-ranking-factors-post

You wouldn’t want to talk about the basics of SEO to an audience looking for an in-depth technical SEO tool.

That just wouldn’t fit your audience.

Keep in mind these factors when writing as they can have a massive impact on whether or not your content sucks in the eyes of readers.

Best Practice #3: Align Content and Branding With Realistic Goals

Everybody wants to be king of the hill. They want that elusive 10,000% growth case study that goes viral.

But most of those are like Instagram fitness accounts: false realities that produce false hope.

These false realities lead to bad goal setting and eventually proclaiming that a tactic doesn’t work or is dead. Or that your genetics are bad and you can’t ever hit a 300 lb. squat.

Same thing, different situation.

And we’ve sure seen it before:

search-results-Is-SEO-dead?

Tactics rarely die (see: people are still producing big wins on freaking radio advertising).

Instead, the same generic advice gets spewed over and over until it’s run into the ground, like basic B2B content practices.

Meanwhile, there are still a few key players at the top driving engagement and real sales from their efforts.

The difference? They have realistic goals and ways to achieve them that are measurable and attainable. They ignore basic shit and pursue the unconventional.

This leads to rich data that can show them whether efforts flopped or became a cash cow.

Did merely creating long-form content do it? Let’s look at the data. The goals, the sub-goals, and the inputs.

In the end, it might not have been simply upping the word count but the study that was added to the post, giving it more value and take-home points.

When setting your goals for B2B content marketing, set a top goal and then list out sub-goals and inputs for each. Inputs are essentially what it takes from you to produce the results to match a goal.

For example:

Goal: Sign 3 more clients in 90 days

Sub-goal: Generate 30 qualified, high-quality leads

Inputs required: Develop 3 blog posts by XX date and 1 landmark post by XX date

If it worked, continue your process and continually improve it.

Stop focusing on generic crap like “hit 2k words on this post” or “blog more.”

Focus on realistic goals that separate your B2B content from the rest.

Conclusion

Most B2B content marketing advice and best practice tips are generic.

Hit a word count. Post XX times a month. Tap into the buyer’s journey.

This stuff is standard work now, not a best practice. Best practices should net best results, not baseline results.

Focus on creating content that doesn’t suck. Content that helps you establish a specific brand image, whether that’s an expert teacher or a vast resource library for advanced marketers.

Align both with realistic, timeline-driven goals, and you won’t need to sweat the small stuff.

Or you could just let us handle your B2B content for you. 😇

SaaS Marketing Is Different. Here’s How to Do It Well.

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Creating an effective SaaS marketing strategy isn’t easy.

While more traditional companies can follow more traditional methods for achieving steady business growth, SaaS brands follow a very different business model — and they need very different marketing strategies to match.

Fortunately, plenty of successful SaaS companies have already developed methods for reaching and converting customers.

So if you haven’t yet found an approach that works for your brand, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Instead, keep reading to learn what makes SaaS marketing so uniquely challenging, as well as five tactics you can use to overcome those challenges.

Is SaaS Marketing Really Any Different?

The most obvious difference between SaaS businesses and traditional product-based businesses is that software isn’t a tangible item in the same way.

Plus, convincing a user that your tool deserves to be an integral part of their daily routine tends to be a more difficult task than persuading a shopper to buy a t-shirt.

But beyond that, is marketing a digital product that much different than selling a physical one?

In a word: Yes.

While many retailers generate revenue even from single, one-time purchases, the SaaS model relies much more heavily on ongoing subscriptions.

And though many SaaS products technically fall under the B2B umbrella, their sales cycle follows a distinct, three-step process:

  1. Acquisition: Earning new users
  1. Monetization: Converting those users into paying customers
  1. Retention: Convincing those paying customers to stick around

And while marketers at more traditional companies tend to focus primarily on the acquisition, that would be a huge mistake for any SaaS company.

An analysis from Price Intelligently found that when comparing the relative impact of 1% improvements in each of these three stages, monetization and retention both had much more significant impacts than acquisition.

Impact-of-improving-each-growth-lever-chart

(Image Source)

So while earning new customers may have a clearer impact on growth, it’s certainly no more important than the subsequent steps in the process.

And any SaaS marketing strategy needs to take all three into account to be effective.

5 Tactics to Include in Your SaaS Marketing Strategy

If your current approach to earning and retaining customers for your SaaS business isn’t getting the results you want (or you haven’t yet created one at all), you’re in the right place.

You can use the following five steps as a rough SaaS marketing plan for your business, and be confident that your approach takes all three stages into account.

1. Create Content Your Audience Wants to Read

Most SaaS companies know by now that content marketing is one of the best ways to earn new users.

In fact, brands attempting to reach prospective buyers have already overtaken the search results for just about every need a SaaS product could solve. Just take a look at what shows up for the phrase, “how to create an invoice.”

Google-search-for-how-to-create-an-invoice

Square, QuickBooks, and Wave all have resources readily available to help searchers achieve their goal.

And it should come as no surprise that each of them is optimized to convert those searchers into leads for their business. After all, this is the primary goal of most content marketing strategies.

If you’re not yet familiar with how, exactly, this tactic works, Bryan Harris’ approach to building an audience for VideoFruit is a perfect example.

First, he added a blog to the company’s website. Then, he created a free course and added it as a content “upgrade” in the blog’s sidebar.

VideoFruit-sidebar-free-course-button

(Image Source)

In exchange for their email addresses, readers could gain free access to this resource (“Valued at $250”!) that would tell them how to create explainer videos for under $100.

And within the first 30 days, he earned 107 subscribers.

It’s no wonder, then, that content is such a popular strategy among SaaS marketers.

And now, many of them are stepping up their game by experimenting with new formats and ways to attract attention.

For example, productivity-focused project management platform Hive created a Productivity Styles quiz that tells users more about their work styles.

Hive-Take-the-productivity-quiz-button

This is likely much more engaging for the majority of visitors than even the most well-written blog post on the subject.

But before accessing their results, users are shown the following prompt encouraging them to subscribe to updates on new blog posts and quizzes:

Hive-subscribe-to-be-notified-of-new-content-prompt

Of course, visitors can still see their results whether they subscribe or not — but if they enjoyed taking the quiz, this prompt might be all it takes to turn them into a lead for Hive.

And the fact that brands are now bringing this level of creativity to their content strategies is great news for consumers, as it means that the overall standard of quality is improving.

But it also means that if you want this strategy to work for your company, it will take more than merely publishing a blog post every few weeks.

Now that virtually every SaaS brand in existence is creating it, “good” content is no longer good enough — and to get the results you want, you need to be willing to put in the time it takes to find unique angles for your brand.

That said, one content format that’s proven to be effective across the board is the case study.

And when I say “effective,” I don’t just mean in terms of their ability to attract traffic.

One study found that when compared to other forms of customer stories and testimonials, respondents were much more likely to be willing to pay for a product after reading a case study.

Case-Studies-Increase-B2B-Willingness-to-Pay-chart

(Image Source)

So if you’re looking to improve your results in the monetization stage, the answer as to what kind of content you should be creating is fairly clear.

Take a look at your user base, identify customers who’ve experienced positive results from using your product, and ask if they’re willing to be subjects for a case study.

Then, combine data illustrating their success with some background information on their company and goals — and you just might have a winning piece of content on your hands.

Finally, it’s important to note that content can also be used to boost your results in the retention stage.

Video platform Wistia’s Learn section is a prime example of this.

Wistia-page-of-tutorial-videos

The company has essentially dedicated an entire section of their website to tutorials on every part of the video creation process, from coming up with video ideas to improving video quality.

And it doesn’t take too much critical thinking to see how encouraging users to invest in video might be beneficial for a video hosting platform.

So if you’re struggling to get results with content, consider which stage in your marketing strategy needs the most work. Determine what needs your target audience has in that stage, and focus your content efforts on addressing them.

2. Boost Acquisition with Free Trials

The ability to offer free trials is one advantage that SaaS companies have over those with a more traditional business model.

A furniture store, for example, couldn’t just give all prospective buyers a free couch to try for 30 days — at least not without running into a logistical nightmare at the end of that trial period.

For SaaS companies, this process is much easier.

There’s nothing to return at the end of a trial, whether a user decides to move forward with a paid plan or not.

This means that there’s a relatively low barrier to entry — and you should highlight this by featuring a trial offer prominently throughout your marketing materials.

For example, take a look at OptinMonster’s homepage.

OptinMonster-homepage-with-3-get-started-buttons

That’s three free trial CTAs above the fold alone.

Overkill? Maybe.

Impossible to miss? Definitely.

And as you build your list of email subscribers, you can also include trial offers in your email content, like Evernote does every time they announce a new feature.

Evernote-start-free-trial-button

After all, building a list is only beneficial for your company if your subscribers eventually try out your product — so it’s in your best interest to regularly remind them of just how easy it is to do so.

3. Look for Ways to Encourage Activation

During the acquisition stage, getting a user to sign up for a free trial is only half the battle. The other half is getting them to actually use your software.

But that doesn’t just mean sending an email every few days to remind trial users how much time they have left.

Instead, you can take a strategic approach by determining which actions drive trial users to become paying customers.

For example, Autopilot found that while only 9% of their total free users became paying customers at the end of their trial, that percentage jumped to 21% for users who’d published a journey, and 35% who’d added a tracking code.

Impact-of-Product-Usage-on-Trial-Conversion-Rate-chart

(Image Source)

And while the exact actions are different for every product, you need to determine what they are for yours — then create a strategy for encouraging users to take those actions.

Autopilot, for example, created in-app prompts instructing trial users to complete the steps they’d identified as having the strongest correlation with conversions to paid subscriptions.

Autopilot-prompt-to-start-tracking-code

(Image Source)

But if you’re interested in SaaS marketing automation, this is the perfect place to incorporate it.

Automated email campaigns, like this one from Aritic, are an excellent way to deliver relevant content to trial users, tailored to where they are in the activation process.

Aritic-flowchart-on-automated-email-campaign

(Image Source)

Each email is based on the actions a user has (and hasn’t) already taken, to maximize their usage of a product during the trial period.

The goal here is that each user will become as familiar with your product as possible while it’s free.

Then, at the end of the trial, they’ll know exactly what they stand to gain by becoming a paid subscriber — and what they’ll be missing out on if they don’t.

4. Experiment with Your Pricing

If you’re used to a more traditional sales model, pricing may not seem like a marketing strategy — because, in the context of more traditional businesses, they have very little to do with one another.

But within the SaaS model, they go hand in hand.

Getting trial users to convert into paying customers is a huge part of SaaS marketing, and pricing plays a significant role in this process.

One study found that companies that consistently optimize their pricing have six times the LTV/CAC ratio of those who don’t.

How-Pricing-Correlates-to-Growth-chart

(Image Source)

Pricing models can also play a role in establishing a steady flow of revenue for your business.

Expansion revenue makes up less than 10% of monthly revenue for subscription-based companies — meaning that your success ultimately depends on your ability to generate ongoing subscriptions.

And from a cash flow standpoint, getting customers to sign up with an annual agreement is the best-case scenario.

But you’ll want to run a few experiments to figure out the best way to offer these agreements to your customers — because the most effective approach isn’t always the most obvious one.

For example, because most consumers don’t naturally understand percentages, they’re more likely to take advantage of an offer that gives them something for “free,” instead of one with a percent discount.

So if you’re trying to get users to switch from a monthly plan to an annual, offering a “free month” may be more effective than a 10% discount — even though the second is technically a better deal.

Though this may seem like a minor semantic difference, even a small increase in conversions could have a major impact on your ability to earn valuable subscriptions.

And considering that each of those subscriptions can translate directly into revenue, it should go without saying that the time it takes to run a few experiments is more than worth the payoff.

5. Give Users a Reason to Make Referrals

Most marketers are well aware of the value of referrals.

Considering that 82% of Americans seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase, it’s safe to say that a positive review from a trustworthy source can go a long way in shaping a prospective buyer’s view of your brand.

But getting even the happiest of customers to tell others about your brand isn’t exactly easy.

So to make this a viable marketing strategy for your business, you need to offer your users something in return.

For example, you may have heard the impressive story of how Dropbox grew their user base from 100,000 users to over 4,000,000 in 15 months by offering users 16GB of free storage in exchange for referrals.

Dropbox-offer-of-free-space-by-inviting-friends

(Image Source)

And even if giving away certain features for free doesn’t make sense for your product, this is still a strategy you can use for your brand.

Evernote, for example, centers their referral program on giving users “points” they can use toward their subscription costs.

Evernote-referral-program-page

For every three friends a user refers, they get three free months of Evernote Premium. With this strategy, the brand essentially incentivizes referrals with their own product — making it a win for both acquisition and retention.

And beyond the standard referral model, many businesses have also developed their own affiliate marketing programs to earn new users.

Envato Market’s affiliate program essentially makes users an extension of their sales team by offering them a 30% commission on the first purchase a referred user makes.

Envato-Become-an-affiliate-now-button

Of course, the best referral model for your business depends on both your product and your marketing budget.

But as long as you’re able to build a user base of happy customers, and you offer something of clear value in exchange for their recommendations, this has the potential to be an extremely powerful addition to your marketing strategy.

Conclusion

At its core, SaaS marketing is still marketing.

In practice, it can look very different from anything a traditional marketer is accustomed to.

But when it comes down to it, the most critical factor in your strategy’s success is whether it effectively addresses all three parts of the SaaS sales cycle.

If your approaches to acquisition and monetization are strong, but your retention efforts fall short, you’re unlikely to see the results you want. And the same holds true for any other stage in the process.

But if you’re willing to invest the time it takes to create unique strategies for each, achieving steady growth is entirely possible — making that investment more than worth it for your business.

Codeless - SaaS Content Creators

The Content Farm Olympics: We Bought & Tested 5 Content Writing Services. Here are the Results.

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Content marketing generates traffic, leads, and sales.

Anyone, anywhere can take advantage of it.

But there’s a problem:

‘Good’ content isn’t good enough anymore.

Not when there are millions of blog posts published daily. Not when only the top three positions on any given SERP see all the results. Not when the bar to create awesome content keeps rising exponentially, taking longer and longer and longer to come up with stuff that gets results.

What does all that mean?

It means average isn’t good enough. It means only the excellent stuff breaks through the noise, getting ranked, clicked, or shared. And it means your options for scaling KPI-generating blog content are getting smaller and smaller.

Freelance blog writers don’t always work well…

… and neither do content writing services, despite being one of the most popular ways to find blog writers for hire, which we’ll illustrate in this case study.

We purchased articles from five popular content writing services. We gave each of them the same writing prompt. And below, we’ll compare them not only to each other, but also the top content currently ranking for the same keyword to show you exactly why each example falls way, way short of ever delivering an ROI for you — despite the ‘low cost.’

Ready to get started? Here goes.

Case Study Contents: How These 5 Content Writing Services Stack Up

This guide is over 13,000 words. So use these links, and the ones under each section, to jump around. If you get stuck somewhere, click on the little arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the screen to come back up here. (Example)

➊  Results Comparison

➋  Method: How the Content Farm Olympics Work

➁.➀  How this Case Study Works

➁.➁  SERP Comparison #1. Content Marketing Institute

➁.➂  SERP Comparison #2. Neil Patel

➁.➃  SERP Comparison #3. Moz

➌  Objective Grading Scale: How the 5 Content Writing Services Will Be Assessed

➂.➀  How Grading Works

➂.➁  Internal and External Links

➂.➂  Article Structure and Readability

➂.➃  Plagiarism

➂.➄  Content Accuracy

➂.➅  Expert Opinions

➍  Content Farm #1. iWriter

➃.➀  How iWriter Works

➃.➁  Internal and External Links

➃.➂  Article Structure / Readability

➃.➃  Plagiarism

➃.➄  Content Accuracy

➃.➅ Expert Opinions: Aaron Orendorff, Len Markidan, and John Doherty

➎  Content Farm #2. Textbroker

➄.➀  How Textbroker Works

➄.➁  Internal and External Links

➄.➂  Article Structure / Readability

➄.➃  Plagiarism

➄.➄  Content Accuracy

➄.➅ Expert Opinions: Elisa Gabbert and Benji Hyam

➏  Content Farm #3. Crowd Content

➅.➀  How Crowd Content Works

➅.➁  Internal and External Links

➅.➂  Article Structure / Readability

➅.➃  Plagiarism

➅.➄  Content Accuracy

➅.➅ Expert Opinions: Andy Crestodina, Jason Quey, and Edward Dennis

➐  Content Farm #4. Constant Content

➆.➀ How Constant Content Works

➆.➁ Internal and External Links

➆.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➆.➃ Plagiarism

➆.➄ Content Accuracy

➆.➅ Expert Opinions: Anna Crowe and Zach Bulygo

➑  Content Farm #5. Writer Access

➇.➀ How Writer Access Works

➇.➁ Internal and External Links

➇.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➇.➃ Plagiarism

➇.➄ Content Accuracy

➇.➅ Expert Opinions: Brian Jackson and Lianna Patch

➒  Conclusion

➊ Results Comparison

Here is the comparison of each content writing service, their cost, and their rating for each objective grading criteria. (Star values for overall ratings will be rounded.)

The short answer? Somewhere between not good and not terrible. Read on below to see how we came to this conclusion, along with feedback from over a dozen other content experts.

Blog Writing Services Comparison

✅ Crowd Content came in first place with three out of five stars.

✅ Crowd Content was the only content service that got a single “Yes” from influencers when asked if they would publish on their own site. Although it was “Yes, but it would need some soft changes.”

✅ TextBroker and Writer Access had low plagiarism scores and unique article structures.

❌ Crowd Content, iWriter, and Constant Content had suspiciously similar article structures and even directly copied sections from popular content, suggesting that it was simply regurgitated rather than original, quality content.

❌ Three out of Five services (iWriter, TextBroker and Writer Access) lacked any internal or external links. Yikes!

 

➋ Method: How the Content Farm Olympics Work

Section Contents

➁.➀ How this Case Study Works

➁.➁ SERP Comparison #1. Content Marketing Institute

➁.➂ SERP Comparison #2. Neil Patel

➁.➃ SERP Result #3. Moz

➁.➀ How this Case Study Works

Content Writing Services Research Process

So, what is the Content Farm Olympics and why should you care?

The Olympics is the testing of five major content writing services. These services are used by thousands of other businesses online to get content for their websites.

You might even be here looking for reviews and information on one of these sites based on your own content writing needs. Creating good content is crucial for driving organic traffic online.

But creating it sucks. When was the last time you sat back and enjoyed spending hours writing a post? Or spending multiple days doing keyword and topic research as well as months of content strategizing?

Psh, me neither.

Your time management is of the essence. And content is very personalized: each business has a different tone, style, and audience, making the outsourcing of content a tricky process. We have to cater to multiple diverse personas in a single post. To tap into their fears, wants, and desires.

It’s critical to find a company that can adapt fast to different verticals, audiences, and tones. Most turn to less expensive and fast-tracked services like content writing services that can produce 1,000-word articles for $100 in 10 days time. It almost feels too good to be true.

And we’re here to find out if it is by putting these services to the test to see how the content they write would match up against current top SERP content for the following prompt:

What Is Content Marketing and Who Can Benefit From It?

In the Content Farm Olympics, we will be testing the following five services:

  1. iWriter
  2. Textbroker
  3. Crowd Content
  4. Constant Content
  5. Writer Access

Giving each of these services the same prompt, we will be testing the same pricing and service level on each platform: the highest quality article.

Each service platform will write the same prompt shown above for the same quality piece.

After completing each article, we will compare the quality to each article on the top page for the prompt search:

Who-can-benefit-from-content-marketing-search

And we’ve got some heavy hitters on the top page that we all strive to emulate: Moz, Inc, ThriveHive, WordStream, and more.

Why does it matter how these services stack up to SERP results?

Because content for the sake of content is useless. Producing content for our blogs to have nobody read it is always disheartening. If your content can’t compete for the top page results, you won’t get any traffic.

Essentially, you’d be paying for blog posts that nobody will see. Blog posts that won’t result in real, tangible sales for your business. If you are shelling out hard earned money on content marketing pieces, they should be top of the line.

Testing each service against current posts in the top search results will allow you to judge whether the content is good enough to rank, and ultimately, good enough to spend money on.

What is content marketing?

What-Is-Content-Marketing-Search

The top content on the SERP for this search term right now has some big hitters:

  1. Content Marketing Institute
  2. Forbes
  3. Neil Patel
  4. Moz
  5. Copyblogger
  6. Marketo

These are some of the biggest names in the marketing industry when it comes to thought leadership.

So, how does content farm content stack up to the current SERPs? Is it worth it?

Specifically, we’ll look at the following three SERP articles from a range of the ranking spectrum:

➁.➁ SERP Comparison #1: Content Marketing Institute

First, you can see some significant strengths in the CMI post, ranking first on this search.

Namely, the structure is very easy to follow, and it contains excellent, informative H2 and H3 subheads. Plus, there are many internal and external links.

Marketing-is-impossible-without-great-content

Tapping into both video and infographics, their post has great visuals to accompany their text. These features aren’t commonly available with content farm services.

In terms of actual length, the post isn’t that long, giving hope for this topic. The post length is less than 1,000 words.

While this is just a single topic and other topics are likely to be heavier in length, it shows that word count isn’t the only factor in ranking high.

This provides great promise for a content farm where you can get articles with low word counts fast.

The content in this CMI post is regularly updated and refreshed, something that content farms don’t do.

This is a big plus for CMI, as fresh content is key to staying relevant in the SERPs.

➁.➂ SERP Comparison #2: Neil Patel Guide

Neil Patel is widely known in the marketing space for producing some seriously long guides.

We’re talking posts with up to 30,000 words total. This one is (only) 15,537 words with a 72 readability score, much higher than anything we received from these content farms.

Neil-Patel-Document-Insights

But in those posts, you can see some quality highlights as to why his content ranks:

It goes in-depth.

Where content farms fall short, Neil doesn’t.

For instance, the content writing services we tried would merely mention a topic with a few sentences.

Neil breaks down each topic heavily, giving actionable advice to go with it:

Neil-Patel-giving-actionable-advice

Tons of external links fill his content that signal to Google for authority and topic information.

Plus, internal links are always there pointing traffic to his other related content.

The structure is easy to follow and offers a table of contents at the beginning to accompany it due to the length and depth.

Readability is also much higher than content farm pieces, making this 15,000+ word post seem easy to skim and enjoy.

Overall, it’s hard to imagine any of the content farm pieces outranking his post. It’s simply too in-depth, covering all topics like their own article and using non-stock images (something that content farms don’t do).

➁.➃ SERP Comparison #3: Moz

Moz. The king of SEO content online.

It should come as no shock that they’ve produced a huge piece on content marketing that content farms simply can’t live up to.

Their piece on content marketing is a nine-chapter guide covering everything from content marketing’s history to background to strategy and execution.

Moz-content-marketing-chapters

The post contains countless internal and external links pointing to relevant sources and their own blog, helping to circulate traffic and build relevance.

The content is freshly updated, and you can bet that accuracy is a significant factor for them.

There were nearly 2,500 words in the first chapter. Assuming all nine have similar amounts, that’s a huge post.

Loaded with visuals and great formatting, it’s hard to see one of these five content farms being able to produce such great content.

Moz-chapter-page-example

On top of custom icons and visuals, real screenshots were a critical factor in the success of this post.

Moz-screenshot-of-Google-Trends

Explaining and showcasing tactics requires more than stock photos. You need original screenshots, custom images, or photo editing to visually illustrate the points being made.

Overall, this Moz post is stacked to the fullest with links, accurate info, screenshots, amazing structure, and more.

When it comes to SERP content for this term, we’ve deemed the following result:

Content farm pieces simply can’t hang.

Even if you purchased a 5,000-word post from one of the five we reviewed, their services still lack critical factors like original images that make these SERP pieces so great.

Here are the objective grading criteria we will use to assess article strength.

➌ Objective Grading Scale: How the 5 Content Writing Services Will Be Assessed

Content Writing Services Grading Checklist

Section Contents

➂.➀ How Grading Works

➂.➁ Internal and External Links

➂.➂ Article Structure and Readability

➂.➃ Plagiarism

➂.➄ Content Accuracy

➂.➅ Expert Opinions

➂.➀ How Grading Works

Copywriting, blogging, and content, in general, are very subjective. I like Shakespeare, and you like Christopher Marlowe. Your boss loves storytelling, but you prefer short and sweet listicles.

You read a post and you either love it or hate it. You’re either glued to the screen or running for the hills to the next piece of content. But when it comes to content marketing for organic search, there are some objective ways to grade success.

Namely, factors that you commonly see amongst top ranking articles for a given keyword search.

For instance, writing a blog post of 500 words with no internal links, external links, or structure would obviously not rank for a popular keyword. It doesn’t meet the standards of top content for that search.

For grading the articles written at each service, we have developed an objective grading scale based on the latest studies of top content and what ranks for a given search.

On top of that, we will be comparing the content farm articles directly to top SERP posts to see if they undershoot, meet, or exceed quality standards and current competition.

Let’s dive into the factors we will analyze.

Internal links simply point to other relevant pieces of content on your site. But more importantly, they help shape site architecture (creating webs of related topics to boost authority).

Stunning-birth-photo

When writing in your niche, it’s common that topics will overlap. It’s natural, and a gives you a great chance to send traffic from your new post to related posts.

Writing content and having nobody visit it is devastating. Internal links give you a chance to showcase more of that content to visitors already on your site.

So it’s a win-win for both Google + visitors.

According to Brian Dean of Backlinko, 2-5 internal links per new post is the sweet spot. Rand says, “A lack of internal links can seriously hamper a page’s ability to get crawled + ranked.”

Relevancy is also crucial when adding internal links. It’s tempting to feel like a marketing wizard and sprinkle internal links all over the place. To keyword stuff your links and anchor text. Try to shy away from that strategy and instead, focus on 2-5 relevant topics you’ve covered before.

External links are the opposite of internal links: they link out to other websites posting relevant information. You are giving another site a backlink by doing so, but also signaling relevance to Google by referencing authoritative sites.

Plus, you’re increasing credibility in claims by referencing third-party sources that backup your points.

Brian Dean says: “Not linking out might be the #1 on-page SEO mistake that I see people make. I try to use 2-4x outbound links per 1000 words. That’s a good rule of thumb for most sites.”

Why so many links? Because linking out to relevant and high authority sites sends signals to Google that you desperately crave: trust, credibility, and topic authority.

Don’t fall into the trap of linking to link. Link to relevant studies and publications whenever appropriate.

➂.➂ ✅ Article Structure and Readability

When you’re writing, it’s natural to get into a flow state. Things start to click. You’re sitting in your favorite coffee shop drinking a black coffee (or a unicorn frappuccino, if that’s your thing) and the words just roll off your fingers onto the keys.

Hours go by, and you’ve written thousands of words of prime content filled with stories, facts, and helpful advice to your readers.

What you do next can make or break your article success: structure.

Structure and readability strike a fine line between optimization. Data tells us to optimize for keywords, anchor text, images, etc. But our human brain tells us to just write and let it flow.

Focusing too much on either side can be detrimental to success.

Being too rigid ruins the flow state of both writing and reading, but having no structure leaves readers confused and scrambling to find what they want within a detailed post.

To objectively analyze this, we’ll look at how Grammarly reports on readability:

Grammarly-Readability-Report

(Grammarly doesn’t cost much, so you can follow these exact steps.)

The higher the readability score, the better. In addition, we’ll look at the structure of the article itself:

Do they use H2 headers? H3s or bolding for subsections? Are the heading, intro, and conclusion clearly separated from the body text?

All these factors will play a role in how we score for structure and readability.

➂.➃ ✅ Plagiarism

High school and college teachers across the world are jumping for joy. Yes, plagiarism with online content is a real thing. Whether it’s copying the exact structure of existing articles or lacking citations on borrowed phrases and sections, it’s plagiarism.

And if our teachers would expect anything from us, it would be to avoid it like the plague. Unless of course, you want to get expelled. Ah, the good old days.

Back on track, there are a few ways to objectively check for plagiarism that we will implement here:

  1. Using our Premium Grammarly account that scans articles and compares them to billions of web pages: this will tell us what percentage of content is copied or used in other places on the web. Perfect for spotting direct text copy and pastes. But what about indirect plagiarism?
  2. Double-checking against top SERP results for the target keyword. The prompt we test has the main keyword of content marketing, so, chances are, writers will be searching that as a base-point for research. We will be looking into the top results for that term and inspecting factors like article structure, H2 header similarities, etc. These will give us an idea of how unique the content is, or if it’s merely recycled and re-written junk.

As you can imagine, any form of direct plagiarism where content is copied and citations are intently left out will result in a serious penalty to the overall score.

➂.➄ ✅ Content Accuracy

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Essentially, we will be combing each article to see if the content is accurate.

For instance, are they defining tactics correctly? Did they say “XX tactic is good for this” when data proves that it’s not?

Content accuracy is key to success in content marketing.

Users in your niche can quickly tell if you know what you’re talking about or not.

Even if they can’t, they’ll find out the hard way, and it will come back to bite you.

You can’t have a writer talking about buying social followers as the best way to grow your traffic when that’s clearly not true.

When looking for content accuracy, we will review every statement and see if any are verifiably inaccurate or lacking the proper citing.

Honorable Mentions: Images and Length.

I know what you’re thinking: how has he not covered images or word count yet?

The one issue with covering these two crucial topics in this study is the simple fact that we controlled for word count and images cost extra on these services.

Due to this fact, we can’t knock the sites for not producing 2,000-word posts with 15 images when we didn’t buy them.

➂.➅ ✅ Expert Opinions

Content is subjective at the end of the day. No matter how thorough we try to objectively grade it. (And we’re talkin’ thorough, as you’ll see below.)

So we reached out to a few experts, who all perform content marketing at the highest levels, to ask them a very simple question:

Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)? And why or why not?

We told them to ignore word count alone, so that the writer (and blog writing service) wouldn’t be judged solely on that if we didn’t pay for a long enough piece.

Simple, right? Well, wait ’till you see what they have to say for each one.

➍ Content Farm #1. iWriter

iWriter - Content Writing Services Comparison

Section Contents

➃.➀ How iWriter Works

➃.➁ Internal and External Links

➃.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➃.➃ Plagiarism

➃.➄ Content Accuracy

➃.➅ Expert Opinions: Aaron Orendorff, Len Markidan, and John Doherty

➃.➀ How iWriter Works

iWriter’s main premise is to write your articles, blog posts, press releases, eBooks, and pretty much anything that requires a lengthy amount of writing.

iWriter-Order-Custom-Content

It’s currently one of the most popular content farms online. When you search for a writing or blogging service, iWriter is consistently at the top.

iWriter describes themselves as:

“The fastest, easiest and most reliable way to have content written for your website. You’ll be able to post a project and 1000s of freelance writers from across the globe will have instant access to write your content quickly, professionally, and affordably.”

Here’s how the process of acquiring content with iWriter works:

How-Does-iWriter-Work?

With just five simple steps, you can open up a content request to thousands of writers, allowing you to pick which writer you get.

First, you create your free account. Next, you select the type of content you want them to write, your topic/prompt, and then your content gets written. After you approve it, you can download and freely use that content in any way that you wish.

Currently, iWriter has nearly one million writers on their platform to pick from, ranging from lower to higher levels of skill and price points.

Today-On-iWriter

No matter what niche or industry your business is in, iWriter has a writer that can cover it:

iWriter-Recent-Projects

Want blog content about carbs and nutrition? Check.

Anxiety remedies? Check.

Cryptocurrency? Check.

iWriter definitely excels when it comes to a diverse writer base and being able to fit almost any niche there is.

For pricing, you can sort by what you’re looking for in articles, blog posts, rewrites, eBooks, and more:

iWriter-price-sorting

We chose to sort by articles, as the Content Farm Olympics will be testing 1,000-word blog posts at the highest quality across all five services with the same prompt.

iWriter-pricing-tiers

The price stays the same for blog posts and article re-writes, but changes when you go to press releases, eBooks, and Kindle Books.

They structure their pricing plan by the quality of the content you are looking for, as well as the length.

Their motto:

iWriter-Motto

And indeed, these prices are extremely low when you look at total word counts. For a top-tier quality article (Elite Plus) at 4,000 words is only 260 dollars.

As far as quality goes? That’s what we’re here to test for you.

To get started, we went to the “order content” section of the home-page:

iWriter-Order-Content-Section

Here you are going to make an account and signup for a free account:

iWriter-Signup-For-Free

Once you create your account, you get thrown into the belly of the beast:

iWriter-Dashboard

What the heck is going on here? That’s a pretty complicated dashboard to start out on.

The dashboard tells you about how you can be a writer:

iWriter-Dashboard-For-Writers

Or a client:

iWriter-Dashboard-For-Clients

On the main dashboard, they have a friendly welcome message and point you toward some tutorials:

iWriter-Welcome-Message

The tutorial videos are nice and helpful as the dashboard can seem complicated for a first-time user. With so many different sections and functions, tutorial videos are essential.

iWriter-Tutorial-Videos

But, they also have annoying, insane ads on the sidebars, like this one promising to turn a single piece of your content into $15,000:

iWriter-sidebar-ad

If you ever see an offer to turn your article into many thousands of dollars and “get to the top of google” by “submitting your article…all over the internet,” you should run. Fast.

Anyways, the dashboard also refers you to top writers on the site, giving you access to better content faster.

iWriter-lists-of-top-writers

When we were ready to order content, we went to the first step on “for clients” to get content.

iWriter-first-step-get-content

Then we were prompted to fill out their form to get more information on what we’re looking for:

iWriter-Submit-a-new-project-form

For example, the project type, description, category, desired length, language written, any keywords to focus on, what quality level, writing style, purpose, and any instructions.

They also give you details on total project cost which is a nice feature:

iWriter-project-cost-feature

This way you can customize settings and see your pricing in real-time, rather than waiting for a quote and going back-and-forth with a representative to finally settle on a price and quality level.

From here, we put in our information and put it to the test.

Our prompt was:

What Is Content Marketing and Who Can Benefit From It?

As for pricing, we went for 1,000 words (standardized for all five services) with their most expensive service: Elite Plus.

iWriter-Elite-Plus-pricing

On the pricing page, iWriter doesn’t give any details that distinguish each service cost from one another, unfortunately.

This makes it pretty difficult to set expectations beyond just likely a more seasoned writer.

Regardless, we made the purchase, and it was exactly the cost that it said it would be:

iWriter-payment-receipt

From here, we started to have a few issues.

The biggest issue was that our order magically disappeared along with our credits. At the top of our dashboard, we can easily access their simple “Content Creation Process.”

iWriter-Content-Creation-Process

This is an excellent feature as it simplifies the ordering process to figure out where your content is and what to expect.

But when clicking on our order section, it was blank for two straight days, showing no orders whatsoever.

Then, we checked our messaging inbox to see this message from an iWriter:

Message-from-iWriter

We’re not sure what happened here, but the order somehow disappeared and then reappeared a few days after this message:

iWriter-order

Thankfully, we got it sorted out.

We faced more issues when downloading our written piece. For example, downloading the DOCS format didn’t work, and the file wouldn’t open.

iWriter-Download-Checked-Orders

We were forced to download it as a TXT file to copy and paste the text back into a Google Doc, requiring us to reformat the entire thing.

Finally getting the content downloaded from them, here’s what they came up with in a five day turnaround time:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c1_FXvWLZSOKeUE74FBpnHkan0H3wnNRPn-I7F-VTzA/edit?usp=sharing

Before we dive in with analysis, let’s again recap the specific details of the piece:

  1. 1,383 words (383 more than requested)
  2. Cost = $72
  3. Turnaround time – up to 10 days

Now that we’ve recapped the pricing, length, and turnaround to expect, let’s jump into the content.

Right away, I’m sure you can notice some obvious flaws with the iWriter piece.

Going back to our objective grading scale, the main factors that we will analyze in this piece are:

  1. Internal links/External links
  2. Article structure/readability
  3. Plagiarism
  4. Content accuracy (is what’s being said actually true?)

Let’s start with internal links and external links.

As you can see from the raw post that we downloaded from iWriter, there aren’t any links in the post whatsoever.

Regarding external links, this is pretty problematic due to the author actually using statistics to back up their points.

iWriter-no-source-cited

But without citing, knowing what source those statistics came from forces a reader to do the extra legwork, which is obviously not good.

Plus, lacking external links hinders on-page performance and rankings due to the lack of authority signals.

With no internal links, we can’t drive any traffic from this blog post naturally to related posts on our blog. And we have related posts.

A simple two-minute scan of our blog would allow any writer to inject a few links related to content marketing.

While we can go back into the article and add our own links, it’s nice to see that writers do the research and smaller tasks that improve personalization of the writing.

Writing shouldn’t be able to be sold to any site. The post should be made specifically for the client, and point to strengths on their existing blog too.

Looking at the statistics themselves, we can also see some flaws:

iWriter-flaws-in-statistics

First off, the delivery of the statistics is a bit overwhelming.

Backing up your claims with data is great, but merely tossing long-winded stat after stat with bullet points doesn’t do that.

Each stat is dramatically unrelated to the other, and none of them show the strength of content marketing.

This type of article is catering toward beginners looking to learn about content marketing.

So making the jump from facts on how emails and TV don’t work for marketing as reasons why content marketing is important can be confusing for a new marketer.

Why does the fact that email blasts aren’t open mean that content marketing is important?

Each statistic instead should be weaved carefully into the hook and plot of the article itself, rather than just dumped in for the sake of data.

I would have loved to see a few case studies on how content marketing has impacted companies and their success. And finding those is a single, easy Google search away:

Content-marketing-case-study

On top of that, this is the only section of the post where they use data and studies. This is potentially problematic as there are dozens of claims in the post as to why content marketing is useful.

But as a reader, you need facts that prove what the writer is claiming, and in this piece, there aren’t any.

➃.➂ Article Structure/Readability

If you took a peek at the article submitted from iWriter, you could likely tell that article structure is severely lacking.

Remember back in the college days where professors wanted you to write long-winded history papers with detailed outlines where you’d hit Z in the alphabet with bullet points?

Yeah, that’s not what keeps readers engaged in 2018.

You should write content for the reader, not the search engine or editor.

It should flow naturally from section to section with great transitions and a smooth setup.

Reading it shouldn’t be a chore, annoying, or tedious, but rather, enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the iWriter piece doesn’t do that:

iWriter-piece-lacking-headers

It has a structure in terms of paragraph separation, a clear introduction and conclusion, but there are no uses of titles, headers, or bolding to distinguish sections and make content easily read for readers that skim (43% of readers just skim blog posts).

Plugging the article text (as is) into our Grammarly editor, the readability score was just a 55:

iWriter-readability-score

Scores at a minimum should reach a 60-70, preferably being much higher.

Overall, structure and readability were big downsides with iWriter.

➃.➃ Plagiarism

Most content writing sites will double check their work for plagiarism.

But we aren’t really sure on the extent to which that covers. Plus, scanning for direct text copying only does you so much.

Here at Codeless, our articles are guaranteed to have 3% or less from outside sources. And 99% of the time if an article reaches 3%, it’s just happenstance that phrases match up to a random article on the web from vastly different industries or topics. So we use the initial percentage to dive deeper into analyzing each potential plagiarism warning.

On top of that, we manually check the SERP for each piece we do to make sure that the article structure is always unique (a big problem we’ve noticed with most content writing services, and bad blog writers or freelancers).

Here are the results from our Grammarly plagiarism scan:

iWriter-plagiarism-score

The scan we conducted showed a 4% match in the entire text. That’s not bad!

Breaking down each matching source, three marketing sites popped up that brought up red flags:

iWriter-matching-sources

Looking at the text from each of these, it’s hard to imagine that they copied it on purpose as it was mostly short phrases that have likely been written on thousands of sites before.

Beyond just general plagiarism scans for directly stolen text, it’s also important that we look at the articles themselves.

Plagiarism has evolved from simply copying and pasting text without citing. That’s just being lazy.

It now involves directly copying article structures and layouts and even sections. This makes writing a whole lot easier.

Simply Google search the topic, find the top posts, create a word doc, and steal their sections for ideas, right? Wrong! That’s bad.

You don’t want re-written content. You want unique content that isn’t found using slight word variations on another site.

Looking at a highlighted source in the Grammarly scan, we noticed some glaring similarities in article structure and section structure, showing the exact same section progression and bullet point usage:

iWriter-uses-same-article-structure

While it’s impossible to really know if a writer ripped off a site intentionally, the sections progress the same as the referenced post and utilize the same bullet-pointed structure, raising a few eyebrows.

➃.➄ Content Accuracy

Last but not least, we have content accuracy, a crucial and potential success breaking point in your articles.

If you nail all of the above criteria with perfect scores yet you use wrong information, it doesn’t matter.

Nobody will seek your blog as a thought leader for expert advice.

It can stain your brand and reputation for good.

Combing through the iWriter piece, the information was accurate and updated, which is terrific.

The only gripe would be to include stats, case studies, and examples to back up these claims for readers who might not know them as truths.

➃.➅ Expert Opinions: Aaron Orendorff, Len Markidan, and John Doherty

Aaron Orendorff, Editor in Chief at Shopify Plus

aaron orendorff

1. Who are you?

Aaron Orendorff, Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No.”

3. Why or why not?

“Five reasons …

First, given Shopify Plus’ focus on large to enterprise ecommerce businesses – namely, our commitment to multi-channel strategies and highly-developed tech (tool) stacks – the piece is far to “entry level” for our target audience.

Second, even on my personal site – iconiContent – the piece profoundly lacks practical application. What do I mean?

Third, there are no visual examples of successful content marketing to show the reader what the various forms they list look like in action.

Fourth, there are no linked data points – particularly in the “Why is content marketing important” section – showing how content marketing can and does solve those problems.

Fifth, the questions they ask in the ‘Content Marketing Strategy’ section are too generalized (and include neither guidance nor, again, examples) to help answer them.”

Len Markidan, CMO at Podia

len markidan

1. Who are you?

“CMO of Podia, an online course platform. former Head of Marketing at Groove (built a $500k+/month business with content as the #1 channel), created/sold an online course on content marketing with 250k+ in sales to date.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“Nope 👎”

3. Why or why not?

“This piece is high on fluff and low on value. I’d probably do 4-5 hours of editing — approaching a full rewrite — to get this into publishing shape, so this article just got a lot more expensive. It’s full of filler sentences, along with confusing ones. I’m not the smartest guy in most rooms, and if I can’t decipher a sentence, my audience probably won’t be able to, either.”

John Doherty, enterprise SEO consultant and founder of Credo

John Doherty

1. Who are you?

“My name is John Doherty. I have been doing content marketing since before it was called that, and I have worked professionally in SEO since 2010. I’ve led SEO and digital marketing for some of the worlds largest brands. And I created Credo to help in-house marketers find top marketing talent.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No”

3. Why or why not?

“This piece is pretty surface level and doesn’t actually answer the question of “what is content marketing?” It provides a lot of data and statistics which is good, but it doesn’t really add anything to the discussion.

Stylistically, the writing is fluffy and passive voice, when something like this should be active and drive the user to do something. When I’m thinking about content going out on my site, I think “Am I proud to publish this?” and for this one the answer is no because it doesn’t go deep enough or answer the question it is supposed to with the tile.”

➎ Content Farm #2. Textbroker

Textbroker - Content Writing Services Comparison

Section Contents

➄.➀ How Textbroker Works

➄.➁ Internal and External Links

➄.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➄.➃ Plagiarism

➄.➄ Content Accuracy

➄.➅ Expert Opinions: Elisa Gabbert and Benji Hyam

➄.➀ How Textbroker Works

Textbroker’s business model centers on offering high-quality content — simply, quickly, and at a competitive price point.

Textbroker-Custom-Content

Their motto is:

“Get Custom Content. It’s fast, affordable and scalable. With the world’s leading digital content platform, you have direct access to thousands of verified US authors.”

They also claim to be the leading article and content writing service on the web:

Textbroker-leading-content-writer-service

They offer blog posts, product descriptions, technical content, and more. They also claim that they can “capture your users’ attention and increase search engine ranking.”

Plus, Textbroker packs some serious promises:

Textbroker-promises

Promising content that “breaks the mold” and focuses heavily on SEO optimization is talking a big game. It’s tough to do. And we’re here to put their promises to the test.

Currently, Textbroker has over 100,000 verified authors in the United States and more than 53,000 returning clients.

That’s a ton of writers and a ton of loyal clients, which is a great sign.

Depending on what content you want, you can order content in up to 15 languages for as little as 1.3 cents per word.

To explore pricing options, we clicked on “I Need Content” at the top of their menu:

Textbroker-I-Need-Content-option

This drops down two options:

  1. Self-Service
  2. Managed-Service

The managed service is a start-to-finish solution for outsourcing all website content. We don’t want that for this test article, so we chose self-service.

Here we are prompted with their offers and pricing section based on author and service levels:

Textbroker-Self-Service-Pricing

What’s nice here is that you can see an example of these “Author-Level” texts. Here is the 5-star example:

Textbroker-5-star-example-text

Compare that to the 2-star:

Textbroker-2-star-example-text

If you want to mess around with pricing, they also have a pricing calculator:

Textbroker-pricing-calculator

So, to get started, we clicked on “Free Client Registration.”

Textbroker-Free-Client-Registration

Here we can create our free client account to get started with ordering content:

Textbroker-Client-Account-Form

Once you create an account, you will get a confirmation message to check your email and confirm the account:

Textbroker-confirmation-message

Once confirmed, you get directed to your dashboard:

Textbroker-Dashboard

Here you have a few options. If you want to start ordering content, you can quickly create a new order:

Textbroker-Create-New-Order

At the top of our dashboard, if we want to browse authors, we can look through the author search and build a list or team that we like:

Textbroker-author-search

We decided to start at the most basic point, at the beginning of the dashboard:

Textbroker-Create-New-Order

Then, we got prompted again to select our order type:

Textbroker-Order-Type

Here we clicked on “Place Order” for the OpenOrder type.

Textbroker-Open-Order

Now you can choose from which template/product type you are looking for:

Textbroker-Template-Order-Type

We decided to go with the “Blog” template and began to fill out order information like word count, quality level, category, blog title, keywords, and instructions:

Textbroker-General-Order-Information

Repeating the same method for each content farm, we chose the highest level writing at 1,000 words, totaling to $72:

Textbroker-self-service-at-a-glance

Overall, the process is pretty simple. It only takes a few minutes to set up your account and post an article that you want them to write.

The dynamic pricing tool is excellent for customizing price on the fly without any back-and-forth.

After customizing our order preferences, we were billed just over $72:

Textbroker-payment-receipt

In our orders section, our new project was displayed instantly, a significant benefit that iWriter was struggling with:

Textbroker-Orders-Section

When ready, we just clicked on the order to pull up our piece of content:

Textbroker-Open-Order

So, how did it turn out?

Here’s the finalized article we got sent:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gdjTuIw-bKNiErthI36TT2VQr6of1K0pk2SdZ3dKlvU/edit#heading=h.qchkg0eohpe9

Ready for the breakdown?

  1. 1,047 words (47 more than requested)
  2. Cost = $72
  3. Turnaround time – 4 days

With that information in mind, let’s break it down by the following factors as we did for iWriter:

  1. Internal links/External links
  2. Article structure/readability
  3. Plagiarism
  4. Content accuracy (is what’s being said actually true?)

First up, internal and external linking.

You know the importance of internal and external linking.

But just like iWriter, there isn’t a single link in the entire post.

This is somewhat troubling, especially that there are no external links (at the least).

Adding a few external links can help you build credibility in your blog post, and internal links are critical for circulating traffic on your site.

Unfortunately, neither are in this post.

➄.➂ Article Structure/Readability

At first glance, the article structure of the post from Textbroker is much better than iWriter. It flows naturally with a header, intro, H2s, and a clear conclusion.

That’s a great start.

It’s already much easier to digest and skim. If you wanted to, you would barely have to read the post because the subheaders tell you information on what you can expect.

Beyond basic structure, the sentence structure is a bit crowded, but that’s more subjective than objective.

It could use some line breaks to make the reading a bit more smooth:

Textbroker-article-structure

Moving on, let’s look at the readability.

Plugging the article into Grammarly, the article received a 69 readability score, which is great.

Textbroker-Readability-Score

The word length could be improved, however.

This lower score on word length raised a few red flags that I investigated.

Reading the entire post, you’ll start to notice that the tone is very strange, negatively impacting readability.

For example, the following phrases highlighted in red:

Textbroker-awkward-phrases

These awkward phrases make reading the post slightly harder.

Another example I saw of this (amongst many others) was in the e-book section:

Textbroker-E-books-section

That opening statement is very weird to read. Of course the reader wants another idea about content marketing. That’s the whole point of the post.

This sentence negatively impacts readability and isn’t needed in the first place.

Overall, the structure of the article is solid, but readability could be improved.

➄.➃ Plagiarism

Copying and pasting the article into Grammarly, we noticed that the text returned a 3% match to other online sources, none of which were marketing related:

Textbroker-plagiarism-score

That’s a wonderful thing to see.

Beyond text-based plagiarism, we analyzed content from around the web on the subject of content marketing, finding that no structure was copied directly from any other articles.

While the tactics mentioned are also used elsewhere, the exact structure of the post and headings appeared originally structured in the Textbroker article.

That’s a win in our book.

➄.➄ Content Accuracy

Reading through the Textbroker piece, we came across a few phrases that were questionable in accuracy/validity.

For example, the section about “Guest Posts.”

In this section, the writer said:

“In addition to posting content on your own blog, you can also publish content on other blogs in exchange for a link pointing to your website.”

You see, guest posting is a tricky subject nowadays. Five or six years ago, guest posting for links was a viable strategy.

But Google caught on. Even back in 2014, guest blogging was declared to be done.

Sure, you can still get links from a guest post, but if Google finds out that your entire goal of guest posting campaigns is solely for a link, you’ll face serious penalties. Not to mention that byline links aren’t as strong as natural links.

So, seeing this statement in an article about content marketing in 2018 is a bit worrisome. You wouldn’t want to post this on your website as is, as you’d be risking posting false information and misleading your customers.

Plus, more experienced users would look at your post and never return to your site.

A second statement we noticed in the article was a bit flawed in nature:

“The most useful approach is to require your prospects to enter an email address so that you can send them the e-book.”

When talking about e-books, the author of the post said that the most useful approach is using it as a lead magnet in exchange for their email.

Essentially, the author is talking about forms.

But forms aren’t the best converting approach for lead magnets anymore.

In fact, forms are likely dead. Drift proved this with their landmark, year-long study where they generated 15% more new leads, and a faster sales cycle through conversations instead of forms.

Replace-Lead-Forms-With-Conversations

(Image Source)

Saying that forms are the best way to use an e-book is not factually correct in 2018.

Instead, we would have liked to see a few ways that the e-book can be used to collect leads, whether it’s forms, live-chat or another tactic.

➄.➅ Expert Opinions: Elisa Gabbert and Benji Hyam

Elisa Gabbert, head of content marketing and SEO at WordStream

Elisa Gabbert

1. Who are you?

“I’m the head of content marketing and SEO at WordStream. Our blog gets about 1.5 million visitors a month and drives more than half of our leads.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)? Why or why not?

“I would not. From a quick skim, it doesn’t seem that bad at first, but if you actually read it a lot of it is gibberish. Take “If you are looking for a way to grow your business and expand your reach, marketing your content can help.” Or “If you want another idea about marketing your content, consider writing and publishing short e-books.” These sentences make it clear the “writer” doesn’t even have a basic understanding of what content marketing is (it means marketing through content, not the marketing of content!). It basically seems like someone just cut and pasted sentences from other articles and changed a few phrases to make it qualify as ‘unique.'”

3. Why or why not?

“It’s really important to us that people get actual value from our blog, and even if the writing here were edited and polished, the content itself is way too superficial. It’s not actionable and there are no examples. Who would take content marketing advice from a source that’s not good at content marketing?”

Benji Hyam, co-founder of Grow and Convert

Benji Hyam

1. Who are you?

“I’m the Co-Founder of Grow and Convert – an agency that runs content marketing for companies like Patreon, Leadfeeder, and Inflow. Co-Founder of Wordable.io (Acquired). Previously ran marketing for two VC backed startups.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No”

3. Why or why not?

“The first thing that I notice is that you can tell the writer has no experience in the subject matter they’re writing about. People who write on subjects they don’t know about tend to use filler sentences that state obvious facts, for example: ‘If you are looking for a way to grow your business and expand your reach, marketing your content can help.’

There’s a lot of cheesy statements throughout: ‘The information you discover will arm you with everything you need to move in the right direction, and the outcome will make you smile.’

It doesn’t help the reader accomplish anything. It’s basically a bunch of ideas without a cohesive structure or argument.

There aren’t any real examples in it. Content that comes from subject matter experts reference real examples to help make their argument.

If you’re using this type of content to sell to experienced practitioners, you’ll lose their attention in the first couple of sentences and the content will likely give them a poor perception of your brand instead of a positive one. The articles you produce need to solve a pain point for the buyer, educate someone (with real experience and examples), and/or entertain them. This article doesn’t meet any of the criteria.”

➏ Content Farm #3. Crowd Content

Crowd Content - Content Writing Services Comparison

Section Contents

➅.➀ How Crowd Content Works

➅.➁ Internal and External Links

➅.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➅.➃ Plagiarism

➅.➄ Content Accuracy

➅.➅ Expert Opinions: Andy Crestodina, Jason Quey, and Edward Dennis

➅.➀ How Crowd Content Works

Crowd Content is a “scalable content marketplace” for anyone looking to boost their content output.

Crowd-Content

They have the goal of making the content creation process and ordering custom content super easy, while still providing high-quality products.

We-make-content-creation-simple

The setup process is simple and only takes a few minutes to get your content project out into the marketplace:

Crowd-Content-Setup-process

They offer countless options for content opportunities to purchase from blog posts to social posting and more:

Crowd-Content-Options

The pricing is very straightforward and broken down into three segments: Marketplace, Special Formats, High Volume.

We chose marketplace as we wanted to test a single 1,000-word blog post.

Crowd-Content-Pricing

These are all the options for Marketplace:

Crowd-Content-Marketplace-Options

Quality level tiers the pricing; increasing quality will obviously cost you more per word.

Crowd-Content-Marketplace-Pricing

In our order, we selected the top option (four stars) for 12 cents per word, totaling to $120 for a 1,000-word blog post.

So we decided to start now and open our account to get the process started.

Crowd-Content-Start-Now

Then we selected self-serve as we wanted to test out a single article and order custom content fast:

Crowd-Content-Self-Serve

Then you sign up and enter information to create your account:

Crowd-Content-Create-Account

Once you sign up, you input more account information and then get directed to the dashboard:

Crowd-Content-Dashboard

This dashboard is much more straightforward than others, with the ability to jump into an order immediately and easy tutorial videos on the side, without any spammy ads.

So we decided to create our first order:

Crowd-Content-Order-Form

Choosing their highest quality settings, 1,000 words and a two-day turnaround time, we were billed $120:

Crowd-Content-Order-Summary

From there, our dashboard displayed that our order was processing. Within a few hours it was confirmed and opened up to writers on the platform:

Crowd-Content-order-opened-to-writers

Soon enough, we received another notification showing that our order was being written:

Crowd-Content-Notification-of-Writer

Overall, the process on Crowd Content seemed much smoother than iWriter, Textbroker, or any other for that matter.

Hiccups only came in the fact that revision time was so low. We had almost no time to look over the article before they closed the order for good.

So, was the article any good??

Here is what we ended up getting after paying $120:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/13bo4Zm7Dooh89reqsH2DtbDfSQXi5HcLqOyUrEI2_PI/edit?usp=sharing

And now, let’s break it all down and see how it stacks up to the competition.

  1. 1,030 words (30 more than requested)
  2. Cost = $120
  3. Turnaround time – 3 days

Finally, a content farm piece that actually contains external links!

Right off the bat, you likely noticed that this piece contains three external links.

Crowd-Content-External-Links

That’s a good amount of external links for a 1,000-word blog post.

Sure, there definitely could have been more and there were even parts of the article begging for a reference, but at least there are external links.

These links are great, too.

They come from three very high domain authority websites in the marketing space:

  1. Content Marketing Institute
  2. Business Ideas Lab
  3. Contently

Off to a great start.

Unfortunately, there are no internal links in this post.

We were expecting a bit more considering the content was more expensive than other outlets.

Paying $120 for a single post on a basic topic should generate some good internal links.

➅.➂ Article Structure/Readability

Scrolling through the article from Crowd Content, you can see that the article structure is excellent.

The writer used H1, H2, and H3 headers to structure it, giving each a clear-cut headline that explains what you can expect within each section.

That’s great!

With a dedicated intro to set up the article, readers have a smooth transition from section to section.

But, there isn’t a formal conclusion to wrap up the thoughts and recap the article.

Conclusions serve as a perfect chance to display a call to action and remind the reader of actionable steps to take with content marketing.

For readability, we plugged in the article to Grammarly. Here’s what it scored:

Crowd-Content-Readability-Score

56.

That’s not great when you look at the readability suggestions.

Why is it so low?

Likely because each paragraph is massive without proper text breaks.

Crowd-Content-no-text-breaks

This breaks up the flow of reading and doesn’t cater to most internet users who skim posts.

Essentially, low readability often leads to bounce rates and lost conversion opportunities.

While the article has good structure and usage of headers, it lacks readability that keeps users around.

➅.➃ Plagiarism

When checking for plagiarism on Grammarly, we found that this article contained 5% of content to matched sources:

Crowd-Content-plagiarism-score

Thankfully, the largest portion (4% from CMI) was cited and quoted correctly, meaning that it wasn’t actually plagiarized.

Taking a more in-depth look at related content, we saw some near matched similarities in the content used.

While not directly plagiarized from written words, the topics covered were identical.

The referenced CMI post covered the history of content marketing and direct references to the John Deere example used in the writer’s piece:

CMI Source:

Crowd-Content-John-Deere-example

Crowd Content post:

Crowd-Content-post-using-john-deere-example

We also found another troubling discovery in the CMI post that our Crowd Content writer referenced.

In the Crowd Content article, our writer talked about two key benefits of content marketing….

Crowd-Content-benefits-of-content-marketing

…both of which were directly referenced in the CMI post too:

CMI-content-marketing-post

This is not great when looking to produce original content.

Simply copying the structure and exact points made by another site and changing the wording doesn’t make the content original.

It’s only regurgitated content with different copy.

➅.➄ Content Accuracy

Reading the post, we found no content inaccuracies.

But, we found sections where the writer made claims that were not backed by data to prove it.

For example, saying that content marketing increases your sales and produces brand loyalty.

While for some readers this is common knowledge, beginners are unlikely to know that it’s true, meaning a good source and data point is critical to making these claims accurate and true.

Overall, the content is up to date and accurate.

➅.➅ Expert Opinions: Andy Crestodina, Jason Quey, and Edward Dennis

Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO of Orbit Media

Andy Crestodina

1. Who are you?

“Andy Crestodina, Co-founder / CMO of Orbit Media 10-years of content strategy experience. Listed as a Top 25 marketer about once a week.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No.”

3. Why or why not?

“The big problem is that these don’t align well with my content strategy (“practical advice on content strategy, Analytics and web design”) because they are all too general. Beyond that, this is undifferentiated copywriting. They are pouring a bucket of water into the ocean.

But some are better than others.

For this job, you’d need a killer opening and a lot of formatting, including these points from my content checklist. If I were writing this, I’d shoot the reader right between the eyes with a bullet list.”

Jason Quey, co-founder of Growth Ramp

1. Who are you?

We help startups increase traffic and profit using an SEO-driven content strategy.

2. Ignoring word count alone – would you publish this on your site (yes or no)?

Yes, but it would need some soft changes.

The definition of content marketing is vague. With this definition, someone could include almost every marketing channel. Not the fault of the writer, because I’ve seen many bloggers say the same thing.

3. Why or why not?

The content itself is targeted at a more basic level than my target audience. But that may have been avoided had the writer had the instructions. That said… The biggest challenge of content marketing is showing true thought leadership. True thought leadership:

  • Provides a useful answer,
  • Answers customers’ questions and challenges,
  • In a way your customers will find and consume.

how-to-create-true-thought-leadership-with-content-marketing-768x695
(image source)

I have a hunch that content mills AT BEST can provide useful content targeting a basic expertise level. Beyond that, they don’t have the industry expertise to give a great answer.

Edward Dennis, Digital Marketing Manager at Coredna

dennis

1. Who am I?

“Dennis – Digital Marketing Manager at Coredna. I grew our organic traffic by 363% in less than 12 months (still growing by 10% month-to-month and we don’t even publish that many content every month), so I kinda know a thing or two about content marketing and SEO.”

2. Ignoring word count alone — would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“Heck no.”

3. Why or why not?

“Let’s just assume for a minute my target audience is people who are not familiar with the concept of content marketing. The goal of every content that we publish is to generate traffic, links, and ultimately convert visitors into customers. This content looks “good” on the surface, but it doesn’t solve a specific problem. It doesn’t stand out. It’s more or less the same as what’s already out there. Bottom line is this: You can’t put a make-up on “cheap content”. Doesn’t matter how many custom images you produce for said content.”

➐ Content Farm #4. Constant Content

Constant Content - Content Writing Services Comparison

Section Contents

➆.➀ How Constant Content Works

➆.➁ Internal and External Links

➆.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➆.➃ Plagiarism

➆.➄ Content Accuracy

➆.➅ Expert Opinions: Anna Crowe and Zach Bulygo

➆.➀ How Constant Content Works

Constant Content offers 100% unique content that is hand edited by 100,000 expert writers. Currently, they serve over 50,000 businesses.

You can either order custom content from professional writers or buy ready-made content, for example, a blog post on The Best Baseball Gear, etc.

Constant-Content

The two main content services they offer are category/product pages and blog post style writing:

Constant-Content-category-and-products

If you want more customized and specific content types, you can choose between a list of their custom content services and categories:

Constant-Content-Custom-Services

They also have a huge image library if you are looking to add images to content. But unfortunately, most of these photos are stock photos.

And as we discussed in the objective grading scale section, studies show that stock photos hinder performance.

They claim to have one of the easiest setup processes to get started ordering your content:

Constant-Content-easiest-30-second-setup

Going through the process ourselves, the setup of an account is extremely easy. But, the actual process of buying content was a nightmare. It was the worst out of all five services we tested (by far).

We’ll go into more detail on that in a minute here.

So, why choose them over the others? Here’s what they promise with their services:

Why-choose-Constant-Content?

The one annoying thing about Constant Content was the lack of pricing transparency. We couldn’t see a simple pricing page to get started looking at options, so we decided to create an account:

Constant-Content-Get-Started-in-Seconds

Once you fill in the information, you choose between the following:

Constant-Content-Request-Type

We decided to do the “Order Content” request type, rather than buying pre-made content.

In general, the pricing varies between 20 to 200 dollars per 1,000-word article. That can either be very cheap or expensive compared to the other four platforms we tested.

After creating our job listing, we were prompted to buy credits. We bought $125 worth of credits as their system said that was what we needed for the quality and length requested:

Constant-Content-Order-Confirmation

But when we checked back on our account, we saw the following message:

Constant-Content-adding-credits-to-your-account

It says, “Your credits are now available to use,” but right above this it says that you have to forward your receipt to their support email to confirm.

While this added bonus of extra account security is nice, we waited four days for them to confirm the credits. We checked back daily, and nothing happened.

So, we were forced to take matters into our own hands and use their live-chat service to get them to finally confirm it so we can order content.

Yes. We needed help to give them money.

The account setup process was a breeze. But that’s a no-brainer. No account setup process in 2018 should be hard.

But ordering content was another story. We couldn’t even use our credits that we already paid for.

After they approved our credits for usage, we began the order process by using their “Expert Request” feature to match up to marketing writers:

Constant-Content-Expert-Request

After inputting our article title and topic, our request was pending approval, waiting for a writer to claim:

Constant-Content-Pending-Approval

After a writer claimed our article, we received our content four days later. Upon receiving the notice, we found out that our content costs were $150, not $125 like their calculator told us:

Constant-Content-Unclear-Pricing

As noted earlier in the account setup process, pricing is very unclear on their site.

Even if you select the highest quality article writer, your content could vary between 20-200 dollars.

And there isn’t a single point in the buying process where you know what separates a $20 article from a $200 article.

This process is slightly annoying and feels uneasy to use.

You should always know exactly what you’re getting when paying money for content.

Regardless, we added the extra $25 in credits to our account to complete the purchase:

Constant-Content-Shopping-Cart

And here’s the content that we received:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CwwtK_UaNrrA9sOnQc3kzzoL2KThOQge-UXVN_sDueM/edit

Constant Content was the most expensive content farm that we tried.

Comparing content from the highest price point on each site with the top ratings, here are the stats on content received from CC:

  1. 1,260 words (260 more than requested)
  2. Cost = $150
  3. Turnaround time – highly customizable, ours took five days.

So, was the price worth it?

At first look, the piece we received from Constant Content had no links.

Despite offering statistics and information from other sources in the piece, they did not directly tag links as anchor text for anything.

Scrolling to the bottom, you should notice a list of “Sources” containing links to referenced posts.

While this isn’t ideal, it’s better than having zero references or links.

At least it’s something.

But again, this forces us, the buyer, to go back into the content and find where the source was for each point.

That’s potentially an hours worth of work on our end for something that takes minimal effort from the writer to do during the construction of the article.

This signals to us a lack of effort. For a $150 post compared to the rest of the services, you’d expect to have the linking done for you.

Reading the entire post, you can see a few spots where links should be. But that means we have to go back and Google phrases to figure out their origins. And when paying for content, that shouldn’t happen.

In terms of internal links, we found zero.

A simple, quick visit to our own blog would highlight some great content to include as a link.

It’s a simple way of showing the client that you made that piece directly for them, rather than being generic and easily distributed to any other blog online.

➆.➂ Article Structure/Readability

The structure of this post covered a few of the basics that we expect to see in a blog post:

  • An introduction
  • A headline
  • Subheads

But, this post lacked a formal conclusion to summarize the post.

Plus, headers were merely bolded rather than utilizing H1s and H2s.

Generally speaking, the format was lazy:

Constant-Content-lazy-formatting

There were no spaces between introducing bullet points and even between the bullet points themselves.

This led to a cluttered post that was extremely hard to read or follow.

Like others, they simply dumped stats into bullet points rather than describing them.

This seriously hinders readability and dwell time.

When scanned with Grammarly, it generated a 49 readability score, the lowest of all content farms we tested:

Constant-Content-Readability-Score

For being the most expensive (even double other prices), that’s bad. Really bad.

Overall, the structure of the article was just not good. The lack of simple spacing or breaking down points and over-relying on bullet points made it tough to digest.

➆.➃ Plagiarism

Scanning the article with Grammarly’s plagiarism premium feature, the article used 3% from matching sources:

Constant-Content-plagiarism-score

That’s pretty solid.

But beyond text-based comparisons, there were some red flags.

Tons of the content simply wasn’t original, but re-written and regurgitated from existing posts.

For instance, the section of the post that talks about the benefits of content marketing. It directly referenced a post from the Content Marketing Institute:

Direct-reference-to-CMI

While referencing is great, the entire section was merely rewritten based on CMIs post. Compare the bullet points above to each numbered point on CMIs post:

CMI-post-on-content-marketing

That’s zero originality. References are amazing for content, but merely referencing and pasting isn’t.

References should enhance your point, pulling a point or stat from the post, not the entire post in your own words.

This occurred in a few other sections where the writer seemingly reworded content.

➆.➄ Content Accuracy

In terms of statement accuracy in the article, there were no inaccuracies.

The information cited was great and from high quality, high domain authority links.

This is all a big bonus.

You can’t afford to have and pay for outdated content.

➆.➅ Expert Opinions: Anna Crowe and Zach Bulygo

Anna Crowe, Senior Editor at Codeless

anna crowe

1. Who are you?

“Anna Crowe, the Senior Editor at Codeless, has spent 8+ years building marketing campaigns like a race-walking athlete prepares for the Olympics; with tenacious energy, mindful preparation and a relentless pursuit of greatness. I’ve worked for global brands like Marriott, IHG, McDonald’s, and Mailboat Records to name a few.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No”

3. Why or why not?

“There’s no sugar-coating it: This isn’t the sexiest piece of content. No one wants to publish content that’s the equivalent to the launch of Eminem’s Revival album, forgettable.

The fallbacks: boring intro, hard to read sentences, and the use of a passive voice. These things don’t exactly spell out the best piece of content, do they? This article needs more TLC before I would hit publish.”

Zach Bulygo, former blog editor Kissmetrics

1. Who are you?

Zach Bulygo, former blog manager and editor for the Kissmetrics blog, and freelance blog editor.”

2. Would you publish this piece on your site?

“No”

3. Why or why not?

“I first notice its poor readability. Bullet points help with readability, but having bullet points consume the majority of each section is just lazy writing. It’s a shortcut for skipping detail.

Also, one of those bullet points isn’t aligned correctly. It’s like double spaces or misspelled word. It’s a sign of laziness and work that values speed over thoroughness.

Images can also enhance the readability of a post, but this one doesn’t have any. Few people today are willing to read a wall of text, especially when it’s a topic as well written about as content marketing. (The quantity of articles on this topic means that they can easily find a better article). They’ll simply click the back button and read a different article from the SERP. And that pogo-sticking will decrease rankings even further.

There are lots of places to add images, even in this post. How about an image of The Furrow or The Michelin Guide? Or some images of good white papers, infographics, ebooks, original research, etc. Show readers, don’t just tell.

The 3-5 spaces in between each paragraph is ugly and doesn’t help the reader in any way. It’s an easy fix for the person editing the post, but to me it makes it look like the writer was never properly taught how to write in a Word doc/Google Doc.

I can tell that whoever wrote this article (and maybe it was a small team that put it together) has no experience or familiarity with content marketing. They Googled information on content marketing for 10-20 minutes, and then wrote what they found and put it into this doc. If I’m going to be publishing something on content marketing, it needs to come from someone who has been in the game and knows what they’re talking about. Someone who doesn’t need to Google. It should have personal anecdotes, stories, lessons learned, non-generic advice. Something unique that they couldn’t find anywhere else.

The intro is arguably the most important piece of a blog post. The only thing possibly more important is the title. The intro (and title) need to hook readers in and inform them of what they’ll be learning about in the blog post. I like intros that are short and hook people with something unique or surprising. It could be something like, “Hey, everyone has an opinion on x. Here’s why I think they’re wrong (and the data I have to prove it).”

The intro in this post starts off with a long sentence, whereas I’d prefer a few short sentences with my intros. And then they don’t explain what will be in this post or what’s unique about it. If I was just searching for this general, broad overview I’d click the back button and read the Wikipedia page.

I like conclusions that wrap up the post, summarize what’s been discussed, and in some cases lead to a CTA. This post doesn’t do any of that – it doesn’t even mark where the conclusion is. (One of my biggest pet peeves). It just appears after the 5-6 sentence paragraph near the end.

The final reason why I wouldn’t publish this post, is because it has zero chance of ranking for any keyword. If you Google content marketing and check out some of those articles, you’ll notice that this one is 10x worse than what’s currently on the first page of Google’s SERP. And today, the only chance you have for ranking is 10x content, with backlinks. This post isn’t 10x content, and won’t get any quality backlinks (because no high DA site will link to crap content). Similarly, no “influencer” or “thought leader” would share bad content through Twitter or Facebook because it would make them look bad. So you’re paying for content that won’t get any eyeballs.

And, just a minor point, no one dumps all their sources into a list at the end of a post. This isn’t Wikipedia. It’s a blog post. You put your sources as anchor text in the blog post.

I don’t publish low quality content because it reflects poorly on the company and brand. Because if someone came to this article and saw how poorly it was put together, they’d think the same thing of the product we’re selling. If they let this shoddy work pass through, they’ll let any shoddy work pass through. Low quality standards resonate throughout the entire company.

So, this is a hard pass for me because it’s bad content. It lacks readability, depth, and proper formatting. It isn’t unique and doesn’t hook the reader in. It won’t rank for any keyword because no authoritative source will link to it. And it won’t be shared on social media by anyone with a following.”

➑ Content Farm #5. Writer Access

Writer Access - Content Writing Services Comparison

Section Contents

➇.➀ How Writer Access Works

➇.➁ Internal and External Links

➇.➂ Article Structure / Readability

➇.➃ Plagiarism

➇.➄ Content Accuracy

➇.➅ Expert Opinions: Brian Jackson and Lianna Patch

➇.➀ How Writer Access Works

Writer Access’ motto is that they offer over 15,000 freelance writers with award-winning content creation and their one of a kind platform and that they can cover all industries and businesses with great content.

Writer-Access

Currently serving agencies, businesses, and global brands, Writer Access has some great social proof and credentials.

You can search for writers on their site by industry expertise, project category, or star rating:

Writer-Access-Search-and-Find-Writers

They charge by the word, and you can get any content type from articles, blog posts, case studies, web copy, editing, and white papers, from 2 cents to 2 dollars per word.

That’s cheap and diverse. Off to a great start.

Writer-Access-pricing-by-the-word

They also offer multiple types of services such as self-service where you can select editors, writers, etc. as you go to fulfill your needs for projects. Then the plans upgrade in cost up to $10,000 depending on the package.

Writer-Access-multiple-types-of-services

So, we decided to check out the pricing page for single articles, rather than contracted, long-term commitments that can be difficult to get out of:

Writer-Access-Pricing

First, we receive a few things to explain how their pricing works, how their packages work, and how their pre-pay plans work.

Writer-Access-How-Packages-Work

Currently, Writer Access has two different marketplaces:

  1. Writer Marketplace
  2. Expanded Marketplace

The Writer Marketplace is where we chose to start, as it lines up with the previous four content farm services in terms of star quality and pricing.

Writer-Access-Marketplace

We chose the highest quality selection: 6 stars for 10 cents/word (totaling to $100) under the “Specialty Writing” level:

Writer-Access-Specialty-Writing

Next, we decided to open an account and get started:

Writer-Access-Open-Account

Again, when we signup, there is an insanely confusing toggle:

Writer-Access-Prepay-Signup

You have to prepay to open an account for most of these? Confusing and risky if you are just looking to test the waters with a specific service.

We opted for the free trial before deciding which article service we wanted.

After filling out a lot of information, we finally get the account up:

Welcome-to-Writer-Access

After we confirmed our account, we got directed to the WriterAccess dashboard:

Writer-Access-Dashboard

Immediately we were confronted by a strange opt-in offer that we couldn’t get rid of:

Writer-Access-Confirm-Mailing-Address

Any book? I prefer pastry cookbooks if you’re asking. But on a serious note, that’s weird.

Anyways, we decided to proceed with an order and get started:

Writer-Access-Place-Order

When starting your order, you are prompted to fill out a detailed form just like any other content farm service:

Writer-Access-Basic-Information-Form

After inputting our order preferences, we were asked to pay $103.20, just about exactly what their pricing model said:

Writer-Access-Confirm-Order

Once paid, our order was confirmed, allowing us to visit the order management page:

Writer-Access-Order-Placed-Successfully

Here we could see the status of our order and which writer was going to accept the position:

Writer-Access-Manage-Orders

After selecting the standard 10 day delivery time, we finally got our content. Here’s what we received:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/134w2OObfD8BiVE0MLmLnSUQSliKp-0uQ6aO_x2IMU4w/edit#

Before we break down the Writer Access post, here is a quick recap of the basic facts of this service:

  1. 990 words (10 less than requested)
  2. Cost = $103
  3. Turnaround time – up to 5 days

If you took a moment to read the full article above, you likely gathered that there are zero internal and zero external links.

Yikes.

This seems to be a common trend with article services, which is strange considering we purchased the most expensive, top writing packages at each of these content services.

You would think that top quality writers on their sites are taking a few minutes to do proper research on good sources to cite and internal links to boost traffic.

Most of the content that we see that lacks links is a prime example of content that you could replicate for any business without any tweaks.

This content should be personalized, referencing specific posts on our own site, and citing relevant sources to our business.

➇.➂ Article Structure/Readability

At first glance, the article structure is ok. It’s nothing special, and it’s clearly not optimized, but it’s also not bad.

It doesn’t contain weird numeric numbers to list off each element, and at least there is a semblance of bolding to distinguish sections.

Despite that, there are no uses of H1, H2, or H3 headers.

Writer-Access-bolded-but-lacks-headers

On top of that, the text is very dense and hard to skim or read fast.

Each section could have significantly benefited from broken up paragraphs and smaller sentences.

This post contains a formal introduction (albeit the title is missing) yet lacks any conclusion whatsoever.

This makes an awkward ending for the article. It simply stops rather than summarizing the dense information just covered.

That’s not good.

Overall, the structure of the post is good but not great.

In terms of readability, the Writer Access post scored a 57, lower than we’d like to see for a basic article:

Writer-Access-Readability-Score

While word and sentence length scored high, the big chunks of blocky text that can be hard to get through likely impacted the readability.

➇.➃ Plagiarism

When scanned with Grammarly, Writer Access returned a 5% match to other online sources:

Writer-Access-plagiarism-score

While not bad, it’s definitely higher than we’d like to see for such a short article.

For reference, all of our content is 3% or below for 2,500-word posts.

In terms of related structure, we saw nothing out of the ordinary beyond basic references, giving us a good idea that the writer naturally crafted this article structure. Great!

➇.➄ Content Accuracy

The content written by Writer Access was excellent in terms of accuracy.

The statements were almost all relevant and up to date, except one:

“In general, higher visibility is associated with a higher conversion rate.”

This isn’t really true:

The more impressions you get doesn’t mean getting higher conversion rates.

In fact, in content marketing, getting more impressions usually means targeting head terms which convert worse than long-tail terms.

Why? Because head terms are more basic and bring in more traffic. While you could end up with more conversions (in total) from a head term, the conversion rate is likely to be worse.

Overall, the content (aside from this) was accurate.

➇.➅ Expert Opinions: Brian Jackson & Lianna Patch

Brian Jackson, CMO at Kinsta

Brian Jackson

1. Who are you?

“Hey, Brian Jackson here. I’m currently the Chief Marketing Officer over at Kinsta, where we offer premium and high-performance managed WordPress hosting. I’ve been blogging, writing, and working in various marketing fields for over a decade. It’s my passion, and I’ve loved every second of it.

My primary daily tasks involve a lot of SEO and strategic content creation. Putting together the puzzle pieces of what it takes to translate words on a page into first-page Google rankings is exciting as it changes almost on a weekly basis. With a little hard work and some exceptional content, we were able to increase organic traffic to our website by 571% in just 13 months. Check out our SEO checklist.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“I can easily say I would not publish this piece on our site. I was cringing the entire time I was reading it and honestly didn’t want to finish.”

3. Why or why not?

“The primary reason I wouldn’t publish this piece on our site is that everything in the article is entirely generic. This isn’t what people want and you’re not going to get any shares or backlinks with this type of crappy content. You’re just wasting your time.

You need to share applicable tips and tricks for readers to latch on to your content. Everyone at this point knows that content marketing can help them, what they want to know is what they need to do to translate this into their own marketing plans.

Also, you need stats in an article to back up what you’re saying. I wouldn’t believe you after reading this that content marketing works (even though in this case we know it does). Include references, sources, and graphs. These always do well as people can more easily relate with “proof.”

Also, sorry, but word count has to be brought up as I still see so many businesses publishing short content like this, and in most cases, it’s not going to produce the results you’re looking for. Also, it’s hard to demonstrate or show proof of anything with anything under 1,000 words.

If you do a little keyword research with a tool like Ahrefs or SEMrush you can easily see that the competition is going to crush you if you’re trying to rank for anything closely related to “content marketing” or “what is content marketing.” Search is rapidly changing as voice and longer-tail queries continue to grow. According to research from Jumpshot, 84% of desktop search queries now contain between 1 to 5 words.

My suggestion for this article would be to add a couple thousand more words (yes, I said a couple thousand more) and rewrite it to focus on a particular niche within content marketing, something that is less competitive. And don’t obsess so much on one keyword, but more on a phrase or topic (after looking up competition and search volume of course). If you continue to repeat this process and do research before writing every post, you’ll soon start to see a big difference in results. You’ll also figure out what does and doesn’t work.

In summary, always tell people how to do something, not just that it’s incredible and that they should be doing it. After that, show them it works with proof (stats, graphs, charts, references, case studies, etc.). Writer smarter not harder by researching before you start to write. And last but not least, always think about whether you would actually want to read and share the post yourself. If the answer is no, delete the draft and start over.”

Lianna Patch, conversion copywriter for ecommerce and SaaS companies

Lianna Patch

1. Who are you?

“I’m Lianna Patch! I write copy, do customer research, and come up with conversion improvement ideas for ecommerce stores and SaaS companies at Punchline Copywriting and SNAP copy. I also speak at marketing and industry events worldwide.

BUT, before I started focusing on this niche, I was an editor for 7 years. I worked with print and online publications, both writing content and editing other writers’ work. I’ve also been an inbound marketing director, responsible for commissioning content from freelancers. Later on, I wrote long-form content on retainer for multiple SaaS businesses, bringing in up to 3k per piece.

TL;DR I’m a big ol’ word nerd and I know what I’m doing.”

2. Ignoring word count alone – Would you publish this piece on your site (yes or no)?

“No.”

3. Why or why not?

“This piece is too general. There are a million articles about “content marketing” out there (and I bet you at least 75% of them start with some variation on “Content is king”).

Even putting that aside, there’s no “so what” in this article. There are no stakes! Why should I CARE? Presumably, it’s because of the results great content can bring me – but that section is buried all the way down at the bottom of the piece.

The final nail in the coffin is that on a line level, the writing just isn’t polished. It’s better than what you’d get from an article spinner on a true content mill (i.e. this piece has no egregious typos and mostly makes sense)… but sentences like “In order to view the content itself, the viewer must be properly enticed with information that he does not know” are sooooo awkward and boring and make me want to die.”

Conclusion

Are content writing services good or bad? Gaetano sums it up nicely:

Gaetano DiNardi, head of demand generation at Nextiva

Gaetano DiNardi

“Content writing services are mostly garbage quality from my experience – largely because the writing does not come from a truly credible person with hands-on expertise in a given field. Most content shops hire a bunch of outsourced researchers that are stringing together a collection of regurgitated ideas from other existing sites, so nothing is uniquely valuable. I call it, content marketing recycling. There is also a new phenomenon where crappy link building companies are trying to disguise / position themselves as a content marketing service. Some even get as sleazy as listing their prices based on the domain authority of the site they place the article (backlink) on. What’s made Sales Hacker and other companies I’ve worked with the most successful is getting contributors in the field to share their ideas, and shape it together with an editorial expert with strong SEO chops. This is the future of content in my opinion.”

Content is digital marketing.

You literally can’t generate traffic, leads, or sales without it.

And yet, most companies look to save a buck on content creation.

They focus on the cost, instead of the investment.

Having content made for the sake of filling up your blog isn’t going to work. It doesn’t work. As we’ve shown here.

Terrible content won’t rank. It won’t persuade visitors. And it won’t keep people coming back for more.

All it does is gather digital dust and cobwebs.

There is no ‘middle’ ground, either. You’re better off NOT spending money on content, if you can only ‘afford’ mediocre drivel.

Otherwise, the only way to stand out, get ahead, and start growing your top line is through awesome content. Excellent content, created by excellent craftspeople.

Yes, it’s going to cost you more. But it’s also going to actually create a positive ROI, too.

Unlike all of the content writing services we just reviewed.

Codeless - SaaS Content Creators

The 3 Best Executed SaaS Marketing Strategies for Sustained Growth

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Want to uplift your conversions by 10,000% overnight?

Want your email list to grow faster than a chia pet on steroids?

Me too.

Which is why it’s a shame that every piece of SaaS content promising that is full of it.

Because that’s just not how it works.

Marketing isn’t some magical essence that you throw onto a completed dish at the end of your cooking show, yell “Bam!” like Emeril, and then wait for the adoring fans to roll in.

Growth takes time. Sustained, healthy growth — the kind that you can actually maintain and scale — takes even more time.

Here’s how to do it.

Though first, we should probably talk about what SaaS actually…is.

What Defines SaaS Marketing?

SaaS marketing is the promotion of the services or products for a software-as-a-service company. Typically, strategies deployed in SaaS marketing include free trials, paid advertisement, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, and search engine optimization.

But I know, I know. You already know what SaaS marketing is — right? No need for a boring-as-a-brick definition.

It’s just marketing with a SaaS flavor.

Except…

What exactly is SaaS other than a dangerous acronym to type?

The fact is, SaaS is growing at such an exponential rate — 86% of businesses are expected to use at least 80% SaaS products by 2022 — that nailing down an industry definition and making it a standard gets more difficult by the day.

(Image Source)

Whether SaaS includes IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), or any other prefixes, varies from person to person, company to company.

At its heart, most people seem to agree that SaaS is all about cloud computing.

If the product lives in the cloud and gets accessed over the internet, it falls into the SaaS category.

Netflix is one popular, productivity-killing example.

(Image Source)

Another common way of looking at SaaS is as the internet equivalent of a rental agreement.

A consumer pays for access to a product on a monthly or annual basis — whether that’s a resource, program, a database, or so on — but the goods never fully leave control of the landlord.

But this is where things get a bit tricky. Because by those two definitions, anything that gets downloaded to a local machine and runs off its hardware shouldn’t fit into the model.

My monthly bank statement begs to differ. As do the monthly statements of 90% of the world’s creative professionals.

Because of this hot little SaaS number?

Definitely takes up some real estate on my local machine.

Adam Fiveson, an Adobe certified instructor, neatly explains why the Creative Suite still falls into the SaaS category — because it needs unmitigated cloud access regardless of how much of my hard drive or backup software it’s eating —  but it still makes my original point.

Defining what is and isn’t SaaS isn’t a cakewalk. Which makes nailing down the top SaaS marketing strategies for growth even more of a head-scratcher.

Which is why I say ditch the gimmicks, trends, and get-rich-quick schemes. If you want to rock SaaS marketing, go back to the basics.

I’ve got three for you today. Two are obvious. One you probably haven’t heard of.

So naturally, that’s the one we’ll start with.

3 Brands With the Best Executed SaaS Marketing Strategies

Customer Experience

Called CX for short, customer experience is this weird, wonderful mashup of user experience principles with marketing and business. It takes the traditional sales funnel and creates a loop.

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Another way of looking at CX is basically the resulting perception of every single interaction your customer has with your brand on every possible channel.

Social, support, sales — on your website, on your customer service line — all of it constitutes the customers’ experience.

And that experience has become the sticking point for competition between brands.

It’s anticipated that 89% of companies will soon compete primarily on the basis of CX.

Some people are even going as far as to call CX the new brand entirely.

In fact, CX is already making waves for businesses who want to get a competitive edge.

Doubling-down on their CX efforts helped Three, a telecommunications provider in the UK, drastically change the reception of their mobile app with first-time users.

To the tune of a 300% increase in add-on purchases and 34% increase in monthly (recurring!) users.

So CX is as much a marketing strategy as a business model, and it’s not one you want to neglect.

Now, who does this well?

Unsurprisingly, the customer service experts: Help Scout.

They have even optimized their navigation menu for the customer experience.

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Instead of making potentially upset customers scroll all the way to their footer to find contact — and the help they need — they have their documentation and contact forms ready from the get-go.

They cleanly organize their help documents in sleek, legible, ultra-concise boxes — but they don’t sound like robots. They strike the perfect balance between concision and readability.

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But the real test of their customer experience lies beyond these boxes. Does the document live up to the presentation?

Yes. Look at this gorgeous, gleaming beacon of readable, personable help documentation.

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Actual helpful help documentation shouldn’t be a rarity, but do you remember the last time you went digging through a SaaS company’s help docs?

It was probably written with as much personality as a fossilized acorn.

I’m not the only one who noticed how stellar Help Scout’s customer experience is, either.

Just listen to Brianne Henderlong, Community Experience Director of Threadless, explain:

“Our team was able to teach themselves Help Scout in a day. It’s like using a shared email inbox – just way more robust and better looking.”

Co-founder of BeerMenus Will Stephens echoes her sentiment, noting the quintessential human touch of Help Scout’s CX:

“Conversations from Help Scout feel human. You’re not getting entered into some large, complex system, and you’re not treating your customers like a ticket number.”

And that is the crux of what sets Help Scout’s CX apart from the competition. They make a promise and deliver on it: help desk software made more human.

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So if you want to follow in their footsteps — and you should — examine the promises you’re making to your customers. Are you living up to them?

Good. Now do more. Your brand depends on it.

Key Takeaway: If you want a strategy that covers your business from top to bottom, you need more than a one-and-done campaign, you need an experience that delivers consistent excellence.

Search Engine Optimization

I’m guessing you already know what SEO is and have hit up enough SEO tutorials to make your head spin by now.

When you strip away all of the metadata, tags, site architecture, and crawlers, SEO is visibility, plain and simple.

SEO is what gets you in front of the 91.5% of customers who won’t go past the first page on the SERP.

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And it matters (unless it doesn’t, and you’re better off with no keywords at all) to marketers.

A lot.

In a survey of 503 marketers, over half said their SEO budget blossomed in 2017, while only 1% said it decreased.

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So who does SEO better than the rest of the class?

Again, unsurprisingly, the experts. Moz.

Try shaking a stick at an SEO keyword without hitting a Moz article. You’re gonna need a real, real big stick.

Don’t believe me? I’ll get my stick.

First, a Google search for the head term, SEO.

Moz is the first organic option.

Alright, let’s make things a little more complicated. Let’s look for an SEO lead magnet.

Second organic result. Not quite as illustrious as the first, but the click-through rate for the second position isn’t half-bad at 14.54 on desktop and 13.68 on mobile.

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OK, let’s bump the difficulty up a bit more. Let’s look for something that’s a lot less generic and a lot more targeted.

After all, people looking for “SEO” might just be passing by and want to know why their marketing friend talks in acronyms, but people who look for “keyword research”?

They’re probably at least in the consideration stage of the sales funnel.

So yeah, Moz is pretty great at this SEO thing. Enough so that founder Rand Fishkin, who recently disembarked Moz to launch Sparktoro, was able to build his homegrown SEO blog to a SaaS business raking in over $40 million a year.

His secret to dominating the SEO world?

Getting to know his users and going beyond the keyword data for deeper, more nuanced insights into search intent.

Along with a few technical bells and whistles, of course, all of which helped Moz land in the top 5,000 websites globally.

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But rather than try to tell you how to follow in their example, I think I’ll let the experts do what they do best and tell you themselves.

Key Takeaway: SEO is vital for any business, but if you’re a SaaS company with income solely reliant on the internet, SEO needs to be as ingrained in your marketing practices as CX.

Conversion Rate Optimization

In its most distilled form, CRO is the marriage of design principles, iteration, and persuasive marketing to get users to do what you want.

And it’s an even higher priority for marketers than SEO. Generating new leads, enabling more sales, and increasing conversion rates all fall under the CRO umbrella.

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SEO brings new users into your company, but CRO tells them what they should do once they’re there. “Build it, and they will come” doesn’t do much good if they don’t know what to do once they arrive.

But despite the critical nature of CRO for online businesses, only 22% say they’re satisfied with their conversion rates.

Which means 78% are saying they aren’t optimized enough.

Our cream of the crop for CRO? HubSpot, hands down.

Not least of all because they’ve taken their own medicine. From customer-driven copy that improved conversions by almost 100% to website redesigns that uplifted new product signups by 27%, HubSpot has put in the work to claim the CRO crown.

And they’re still doing it with regular updates and changes.

Practically every aspect of HubSpot has been CRO-magicked, but some of our favorite — and the easiest to copy — is their use of call-to-action buttons.

Just check out how many there are above the fold on their homepage.

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With action-oriented microcopy on each button, they’re setting up clear paths for users to convert and dig into their software from the start.

And they don’t neglect those paths, even if you land on one of their blog pages instead.

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End up on their free CRM software page? The CTAs are still out in full force.

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No matter where you go on HubSpot, there’s always a clear and direct route to signing up for services, their email list, or downloading one of their lead magnets (with your email, of course).

And that’s what you need to do for your SaaS website, too.

Figure out where you want users to go, and then create as many pathways with as few barriers as possible.

Then, like HubSpot, iterate and iterate again.

Key Takeaway: All the incentives in the world won’t help your signups or sales if users can’t find them. Don’t neglect to map out where you want customers to go and making it easy for them to get there.

Conclusion

SaaS is a big, confusing field of terms that doesn’t have a clear start and end point.

Given the growth rate of SaaS companies, that probably isn’t going to get better.

So skip the latest crazes and head back to the basics.

For sustained growth, build a customer experience as detail-oriented as Help Scout.

For max visibility (and even more growth), make nuanced SEO a priority like Moz.

And for better conversions all around, build pathways for users to go where you want them to like HubSpot.

Trends and gimmicks come and go. But the basics? Those never fail you. You just need a little time, patience, and willingness to see it through.

Codeless - SaaS Content Creators

5 Most Popular Ways to Find Blog Writers for Hire [Pros vs. Cons]

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

Blog writers for hire are a dime a dozen.

Finding them isn’t the problem. They’re everywhere you look.

Discovering ones that are knowledgable, experienced, and easy to work with is the challenge.

Here are the five most popular ways to find blog writers for hire, with pros vs. cons for each.

1. Job Boards

✅ Pros

The most obvious starting point for most is a job board.

Spend a few bucks, throw up a generic listing, and new applicants start trickling in moments later.

A steady-stream of people for only $70 bucks? Can’t beat that.

find blog writers for hire on job boards

Job boards excel because they’re relatively passive. You can control and predict the inflow of talent. You can spend $X to get Y applicants within Z weeks.

It’s repeatable, systemizable, and predictable. And you can (more or less) dictate what you’re willing to pay.

All great hallmarks for successfully scaling content.

So what could possibly be wrong with job boards?

❌ Cons

Job boards are the easiest way to attract new people because the blog writing market is 90% filled with the least experienced, least talented, who don’t already have enough work to sustain themselves.

In other words, you’re going to get a TON of inexpensive ‘projects’ as opposed to the final, finished product that’ll give you perfection every time.

That may not be a bad thing necessarily. You might be looking for people you can train and grow. However, just know that’s going to take much longer than you initially realize. (If it even works at all.)

Otherwise, the best candidates aren’t scouring job boards for work. They’re already booked up. Employed somewhere else. Or simply just not looking.

And in a hyper-competitive space, you need the best of the best.

Job boards can provide a ton of volume. However, that also becomes part of the problem. You’re going to have to sift through A LOT of people. Many (or most) who’re unqualified.

We’ve personally reviewed over 2,000 freelance blog writers in the past year alone. So you better have a system for filtering and vetting and qualifying before reaching out.

Freelance blog writer applications

If not, you risk letting the few good ones slip through your fingers, while hiring managers waste time manually sorting through all the other junk.

2. Referrals

✅ Pros

The best leads for a service company often come through personal referrals. So, too, do new hires.

Think about it:

You ask pre-qualified people, who’s work and style you respect, for leads from peers just like them.

It’s no different than dating. You’ve got a much better shot closing the deal (metaphorically speaking, of course) with a friend of a friend than some random schlepper at the local dive bar.

Let’s also lump social into this, because it’s kinda, sorta, a form of personal referrals.

Find blog writers for hire on Twitter

❌ Cons

Referral results are directly related to the size of your network.

If it’s big, and you’re well known, dozens will flow in.

But if not? You’ll struggle to attract enough prospects to make it worth it.

Successfully scaling content with enough top-notch talent means you need to look at hundreds, not dozens, of people.

Referrals might point you in the right direction. They might shake through a few leads.

But the chances of the perfect diamond lying in a tiny rough are slim to none if you need more than one.

3. Cold Research

✅ Pros

‘Cold’ anything usually implies bad. Cold calls, cold email, cold bologna. (Gross.)

Not in this case, however.

Cold research is typically one of the best ways to find A-level talent.

It’s also surprisingly simple.

You run a Facebook marketing app. So you pull up the top ten blogs on Facebook marketing. Read a few of the recent posts, highlight the ones you like, and see who wrote them.

AdEspresso Brad Smith

Next, do a quick site search for that person’s name to (a) see more of their work, and (b) make sure they’re not an in-house employee of that company already.

AdEspresso Site Search

Then, start analyzing the content. Is it good? (What does “good” even mean to you?)

Ideally, you have a few blog KPIs in your back pocket. You need to know the target a blog writer should be aiming for.

That way, when you see that they can (a) describe the pain point your audience experiences and then (b) seamlessly move into the ‘product placement’ portion that features how to solve it with your app, you know you’ve got a winner who can drive leads.

AdEspresso Content Example

Now, start reaching out. This is a recent LinkedIn message we received. And that’s all it took to get the ball rolling.

Direct LinkedIn Connection

❌ Cons

Job boards are like casting a net behind the back of a boat and hoping for the best. Cold research, on the other hand, is like spear fishing. You’re down in the depths, hunting.

Your odds of finding awesome (read: not cheap) writers goes up tremendously. But it also requires a lot more manual work on your part.

Doing this to find a few options might take the better part of half a day. Probably more if you want to test a few.

It also assumes you know what you’re looking for. You can spot talent. And you have a legit strategy in place so that the mercenary can easily hit the ground running.

That, too, isn’t always the case.

4. Content Writing Services

✅ Pros

Content writing services are platforms.

They provide access to a pool of talent, and sometimes even help match you with individuals based on skillset or preference.

The other massive benefit is scale. These platforms can provide you with endless options, so going from 5/week to 50 isn’t such a big deal.

Plus, you (typically) get a well-oiled process.

Working directly with freelancers is good when (a) you know how to manage people and (b) they’re good at the business end of the equation. Which isn’t always the case. Especially, when they’re not pro-level freelancers who’ve been around the block a few times.

So content writing services introduce professional management to keep things like requirements, expectations, turnarounds, and payment terms nice and easy.

❌ Cons

Content writing services can help you scale content. However, the quality is often hit or miss.

These companies provide a platform to help manage the logistics. But at the end of the day, you’re still left on your own to deal directly with the writer for the end product.

This commonly backfires when (a) you’re not 100% clear on objectives, (b) you can’t quantifiably measure or ‘grade’ what they’re providing, and (c) if they’re not experienced enough.

These platforms don’t to any internal reviews and edits before you get content. They’re not fact-checking points or always checking for plagiarism.

For example, direct word-for-word plagiarism is easy to spot. But we’ve taken this a step further, testing a few content writing services ourselves, and finding instances of their writers basically just rewriting other popular content.

Check out the two major benefits highlighted in this piece we tested:

Blog writers for hire - blog writing service example

Now, compare it to one of the top-ranking sites on that SERP:

Blog writer for hire - blog writing service plagiarism

They basically just went to see what the big brands were already writing, an rewrote the same crap. Zero originality. So you can expect zero results, too.

All of this mean you’re still left to do more hand-holding, investing your own time to ‘shape’ the writer to produce exactly what you’re looking for.

Because there is no central oversight, successfully scaling quality content becomes a challenge, too. You’re working with a bunch of isolated individuals. They’re not cooperating. They’re not privy to what the others are doing (and finding success with).

Which means the buck, again, stops with you to figure it all out, manage it, and make sure the random team being stapled together is keeping up with your ever-evolving standards.

5. Agencies

✅ Pros

Agencies build upon what content writing services do well, while also raising quality with experienced blog writers.

(At least, that’s how it should work in theory. But it doesn’t always in reality. Read the Cons below to find out why.)

So on the one hand, you get scale. You can start small with a few articles a month, ramping up exponentially as results warrant.

A few months ago, we had a new client start with five articles. When that went well, we bumped up to 15/month. Month three? 50+ — all 2,500 words and up, with a dedicated team of three experienced writers and an editor.

Blog writers to hire - agency pricing

While on the other, you also get internal Quality Control to make sure all content you receive is consistent with your style guidelines and free of errors or plagiarism.

Plus, they can help with strategy. And are experience at working directly with other teams (SEO, sales, etc.), so you won’t have to oversee every little detail.

❌ Cons

Agencies sound like the dream for those seeking the best of the best (with a budget to match).

And that’s the first issue:

The good ones ain’t cheap.

Next to working directly with an expert freelancer, you’ll end up paying the most with a dedicated content agency.

If you get the quality to match? It’s an investment that’ll pan out.

But if not? You’ll overpay for stuff that won’t move the needle enough to make it a better bet than the other options listed here.

So… how can you tell good content agencies vs. bad ones?

First, make sure they specialize in content creation — not just distribution. (Preferably, the specific kind of content you’re interested in.)

Second, make sure they specialize (or at least can provide) vertical-specific samples. (At least, stuff that shows the same underlying principles that could be applied to your vertical.)

Otherwise? They won’t have the ability to scale, and the team won’t be experienced enough to justify the higher rates.

If you come across an agency that does content and SEO and website design and email marketing for the construction industry and accountants and retail and banking and mortgage brokers and personal finance…

Run and hide.

Conclusion

Blog writers for hire are everywhere.

The barriers to entry are low. Anyone, anywhere, can say they write for topic X and industry Y.

Unfortunately, the signal to noise is similarly low. Sifting through them all becomes the issue. Separating the excellent ones from all the other crap out there becomes problem numero uno.

Each of these five options are good for one reason or another. Which means they each have their own drawbacks, too.

Some are cheap. Some are expensive. Some are fast. Some are slow. Some are easy. Some are challenging.

The key to finding a blog writer for hire is to know exactly what you’re looking for, and then aligning expectations (budget, turnaround times, quality) proportionately.

Codeless - SaaS Content Creators

7 Agency Mistakes I Made Passing $70k MRR in One Year

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

I didn’t want to write this post.

Feel stupid for publishing it.

Would rather let the work speak for itself.

But these posts do have their place. Mostly to show you’re not shit. Even though your DIY website makes it seem like you are. (Guilty.)

So I’d thought we’d take a different route.

Instead of rambling for a few thousand words about how awesome, intelligent, and handsome I am (all true), let’s flip the script. We have done a lot of good things. You don’t grow that fast in a short amount of time if you don’t.

However, hopefully admitting some of the many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, mistakes I’ve made will make this sound slightly less douchey.

Especially, when we start dealing with the not-so P.C. issues that people typically like to sweep under the rug.

Oh. And if you need pictures? Go buy a Dr. Seuss book.

Because hopefully the takeaways here are the painful lessons you normally have to learn the hard way.

Continue reading “7 Agency Mistakes I Made Passing $70k MRR in One Year”

When (And When NOT) to Hire Freelance Blog Writers [Pros vs. Cons]

 Free Course: 20 Content Clues Start with lesson #1 right now →  

I’ve lived in both worlds.

I’ve been a six-figure freelancer, and am now on the other end, hiring writers to produce best-in-class, long-form content for our clients.

(Which is shorthand for sitting back with my feet up, cigar and cognac in hand, twirling my mustache, counting piles of c-notes.)

In the last year, we’ve reviewed over 2,500 applicants. And spoiler alert: We haven’t hired anywhere near that number.

Over 2,500 freelance blog writer applications

Freelance blog writers are the right choice in certain scenarios. There’s a time and a place they excel. It can work beautifully. Or it can backfire miserably.

That’s what this post is about.

Hiring freelance blog writers seems obvious when you need content. However, it’s not always the right move.

Here’s how to set yourself up for success and avoid common mistakes before they happen.

Contents

❶  Writer <> industry specialization

❷  Writer <> client specialization

❸  Rates vs. quality

❹  Ability to scale

❺  The Verdict: When (and when not) to hire freelance blog writers

Writer <> industry specialization

✅ Pro: Good freelance blog writers have deep industry knowledge.

What typically happens when marketers write stuff for sales teams?

The short answer is that sucks.

In theory, the two worlds are related. Adjacent even.

But are they any good at it? No.

Why? Because most marketers have never sold a damn thing in their life. They’ve never faced rejection daily. They’ve never cold-called prospects and had to get their point across in less than ten seconds before being hung up on.

Therefore, they don’t understand (or appreciate) the nuance salespeople seek.

Same holds true for freelance blog writers themselves.

Your goal should be marketing copy that reads like a marketer wrote it. Not a freelance writer.

Finding one person to fit this bill is doable. It’s tough, but possible if you look hard enough and have a decent budget to work with.

Simple: Go to the big blogs in your space, pull up the last few posts (or the ones you like for a particular reason), and Google the author’s name. Chances are they freelance. And work samples often trump all other hiring B.S.

❌ Con: A freelance blog writer’s specialization is usually limited.

If finding one person is doable, finding a few is excruciatingly difficult (see “Scale” below).

And that’s an issue, because someone who’s well versed in one area of your industry might not be in others.

Take SEO.

In just one subset of marketing, you have at least eight specialities including:

  1. Technical SEO
  2. Analytics
  3. Site Architecture
  4. Keyword research
  5. On-page
  6. Content
  7. PR and outreach
  8. Viral social

You wouldn’t hire one marketer to do all eight of those things, because what makes someone good at the technical side is usually a hinderance in another (like PR).

Even the best, T-Shaped Marketers still specialize in one or two areas, tops.

T-Shaped Marketers

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Which means you can’t hold a single writer to the same standard, either.

Which is an issue, because this is ultimately what you’re paying for when you hire a freelance blog writer.

You’re not just hiring for grammar or prose. Those are a dime a dozen on Fiverr or any other content writing service.

Instead, you’re hiring for people who know what they’re actually talking about in a technical, ever-changing landscape.

Of course, they won’t tell you this. They won’t admit their strong in one area while weak in another. The social one looks flawless. But the canonicalization one is way off.

That’s just something you need to find out the hard way after the first few posts.

Writer <> client specialization

✅ Pro: Good freelance writers get up to speed quickly.

This is where freelance blog writers can excel.

You DO want to consistently work with the same writer, because it gives them a chance to absorb your preferences, criteria, tone, style, examples, and even invoicing instructions.

Your workflow is specialized. Rightfully so.

And working with fewer people, longer, gives you that chance to overcome these issues ASAP so they become like an extension of your team.

The problem is that I can almost guarantee it’s going to take you longer (and require more effort) than you initially think to find and successfully onboard them. Here’s why.

❌ Con: A freelance writer puts all your eggs in one sketchy basket.

The higher-ups hand you ambitious growth goals.

You need X visits, Y leads, and Z conversions in the next quarter.

That means you’ll need a writer (or writers plural) up and running within the next two weeks.

What happens if they don’t work out? You’re screwed — wasting both time and money that you can’t afford.

Freelance writers get paid to write. However, they’re not always the best at all the other stuff. Like deadlines, for instance. Or plagiarism. Which ClearVoice found several instances of when studying ‘cheaper’ writers.

ClearVoice Tech Study on Cheap Writers

(image source)

They’re probably juggling multiple clients (probably more than they should), because they need to make a certain amount of money (and probably aren’t charging enough per piece). But the end result — for you — is no different.

So you’re going to need to test a few to hire one or two.

Sounds like a lot of work, because it is. Your strategy needs to change from finding that one special someone to assuming a few who look great on paper won’t work out in the end.

And then get through that period as quickly as possible so it doesn’t derail what the C-Suite is expecting in twelve weeks and counting.

Rates vs. quality

✅ Pro: Good freelance writers typically charge more.

ClearVoice also found that the best technology writers typically charge a lot, yet are still ‘less expensive’ in both hard and soft costs for brand marketers.

Generally speaking, I’ve found this to be true. You can easily make a few broad, generalizations:

  • Better writers charge more.
  • Writers that don’t charge much do so for a reason (they aren’t very good).

The trouble is that you need excellent writers when the SERPs (a proxy for how most people will find you) are winner-take-all markets with slim margins for error.

However, there is a giant caveat with this one.

Because while people at the top of the market are good, the middle is murky as hell.

❌ Con: There are lots and lots of bad freelance writers.

We’ve hired around five in-house writers in the last year.

But we’ve probably reviewed close to ~2,400 to date.

That’s not a typo. The conversion rate will make you weep. (Whiskey helps. 🥃)

There are many reasons why it’s so difficult to finding good writers. However, that’s a post for another day.

A big problem that we’ve seen is the odd relationship between rates and quality.

It’s “odd,” because there’s virtually none within a certain range. Super low rates are garbage, really high rates are solid, and everything in between? Inconsistent as hell.

Tell me:

What do you think is a fair rate for an article? Ten people will give you ten different answers. Just take a gander at the latest jobs on Contently for Exhibits A through J:

Rates from freelance blog writers on Contently(image source)

Here’s the question that can help you figure out what an ‘appropriate’ rate looks like.

What, exactly, are you paying for?

Words? Or results?

One issue is that your (the client’s) definition of quality vs. the writer’s definition of quality are two vastly different things. Worlds apart sometimes.

Yours might include visits, links, shares, conversions, revenue. Meanwhile, theirs includes word choice, flowing prose, and tactical accuracy.

Content is still subjective at the end of the day. Your goal is to make it a little less subjective.

Having solid blog KPIs is a good start to bridge the gap. It starts by getting you both on the same page, agreeing to the same strategy.

Some topics lend themselves well to social shares, others maximizing time on site, while others still for assisting conversions.

If a writer is tasked with pitching you these ideas, they should know the target they’re aiming at. Otherwise, they’ll put their head down and do ‘good work’ while your bottom line remains unchanged.

Ability to scale

✅ Pro: Freelancers are good if you’re looking for 1-4 pieces of content each month.

Top freelance blog writers can only crank out ~4-5 pieces of content each week. They could and should probably be able to do more. However, they’re often restricted to only ~50% utilization because of all the other freelancing-related ‘stuff’ to deal with, like:

✓ Self-promotion

✓ Sales

✓ Project management

✓ Edits on other pieces

✓ Social & email

✓ Phone calls to needy clients

✓ Invoicing

✓ Chasing overdue invoices from dead-beat clients

✓ And you know, possibly spending some time with loved ones

And if they’re not doing those things? They won’t be freelancing very long.

One of the better estimates I’ve seen is ~25,000 words a month as an accomplishment. Which breaks down to around 7,500/week, or the equivalent of six short and long-form articles.

Most in-house writers are no different in this respect. They’ll also cap out at a certain point around ~5/week, due to meetings, email, open office floor plans, etc. etc.

That means freelance blog writers are often better suited to lower volume (~1-4/month) work.

Otherwise, you’re forced to find and wrangle and manage a ton of different ones. Which brings us to the Con.

❌ Con: Freelance blog writers don’t scale well for high-volume work.

Four posts per month is respectable. But it’s often not enough to compete in hyper-competitive niches.

That’s even more exacerbated in content-driven spaces, like large affiliate sites, where we’ve done 50+ long-form pieces over the course of a month.

Yes, quality is important. But quantity still gets results, too.

HubSpot fueled their inbound marketing craze by publishing upwards of 10 posts per day. They’ve found (and published) results like this for the better part of a decade (this one’s from 2015):

HubSpot Monthly Blog Posts on Inbound Traffic

(image source)

They maintain that more content often leads to more leads. And it made them a public company.

HubSpot Monthly Blog Posts on Inbound Leads

(image source)

Now, is this always the case? Of course not. You can drive a lot of leads with less content.

However, I’d argue that it’s easier (read: higher probability of success) of doing it with more content than less.

The more content you produce, the more queries you can answer, and the more people you can reach. (Marketing’s not exactly rocket science at the end of the day.)

You can fuel this content-creation furnace with freelance blog writers. Personally, though? I wouldn’t.

Think about the numbers:

A freelance writer might top out around 5/week. Let’s say you take over every single one of their client slots (which is doubtful). You’d still have to recruit, and hire, and onboard, and train, and manage a team of freelance writers.

In other words, a bunch of different people with different styles and different voices.

It’s an inefficient process unless you’ve dedicated someone (or a few ‘someones’) solely to this project.

Unfortunately, most traditional agencies are often just as inefficient.

Plus, you get saddled with a bunch of ‘extras’ like consulting and research and analysis and reporting. Which means a few articles is going to set you back $10-20k/month if they’re good. (Which many aren’t.)

So once you start moving to a few posts each week, you’ll often need multiple people contributing.

The Verdict: When (and when not) to hire freelance blog writers

Let’s recap.

Hire freelance blog writers when:

✅ You expect relatively low-volume from each individual.

✅ Crave expertise for a few, specialized topics.

✅ Need them to adopt your workflow ASAP.

✅ And last but not least: You can afford to pay top-end rates.

Tick those four boxes and you’re as good as gold.

You’re setting them up for success from the start. Which means your odds off achieving success (as you’ve defined it) will be better.

Scaling content isn’t easy.

Sourcing, hiring, managing, and training a team of freelance blog writers is one way to do it. IF you know what you’re getting yourself into. And IF you have dedicated internal resources to devote. (Read: A ringmaster to manage the circus.)

Or you can just call us.

Codeless - SaaS Content Creators