Hiring blog writers appears easy. There are a ton of writing platforms (like Upwork and Fiverr) overflowing with freelance writers eager to work with you. But, in our experience, filtering through 1000+ writer applicants and testing hundreds of writers over five years of running our content agency, we’ve found that the quality of writer changes everything. It can make or break your entire content marketing operation.
No internal process or system is going to fix a bad writer. If you get a bad writer, you’ll end up frustrated with article quality and using a ton of your own or your editor’s time fixing their mistakes. Everyone will be frustrated and the content is not likely to rank, much less convert traffic into customers.
But how do you hire good writers? How do you even know what a good writer is for your company?
In our internal hiring criteria, we define a “good writer” as someone who can:
- Understand your subject matter at a deep level (including the pain points).
- Write high-quality content at a level that’s more advanced than your customer.
- Skillfully weave in your product as a solution for your target audience.
- Have the writing skills to produce compelling blog content that brings you conversions.
This article outlines our hiring, filtering, testing, and training process for finding these writers. Specifically, we cover the following:
- 5 common mistakes companies make when hiring writers
- The solution: our process for filtering the best blog writers
- FAQs on hiring writers
(Aside: If you’re actually looking for someone to manage the entire content marketing process — i.e., including picking keywords, tracking results, building links, etc. — rather than just write, you may actually be looking for a content marketing agency and not just a writer. If so, you can learn more about our agency here and reach out about working with us here.)
5 Common Mistakes We See Companies Make When Hiring Writers
Here are the five mistakes we see most often when business owners hire and manage writers. These mistakes result in writers that tend to produce “mirage content,” i.e., “fluff” content that the writer produces from Googling a topic and more or less regurgitating what they read into their own article.
Mistake 1: Not Having a Writer Filtering Process
Some companies just go on a popular writer platform and find someone who claims to have domain expertise in their space and plop them into a real piece (more on this below).
This method is, effectively, like having zero filter in hiring writers. It’s not going to work. You’ll only be frustrated.
The key challenge before you even get to trying out writers and making the next four mistakes, is not having an effective (or any) filtering process to weed out the bad writers when you’re hiring.
To a certain extent, a few of these platforms do a fraction of the work needed, in that there may be some criteria for writers being on the platform. For example, Upwork “assesses” writer profiles before accepting them, but this is rudimentary, and other platforms (such as Fiverr) have even lower barriers to entry.
While there may be some great writers hidden within these writer platforms, crucially, you still need to do the work to find them. If you just assume any writer that passes the platform’s filter is good, you’ll end up being sorely disappointed when reading their portfolio pieces (discussed below) or testing them for real (also discussed below).
For what it’s worth, at Grow and Convert, we don’t hire writers off of any platform, they apply on our writer job posting and we proceed with the filtering and training process outlined below.
Mistake 2: Expecting a Writer to Be a Content Marketing Strategist
This is a massive mistake we see all the time. Companies hire a “content writer” but in reality ask them to take on every role from SEO to data analysis:
Writers and content marketing strategists are not the same! A content strategist (common titles for this role include “Content Marketing Manager” and “SEO manager”) focuses on how to drive long term organic traffic to your business — they think about SEO optimization, keyword research, page rankings, analytics, and more. Writers focus on content creation — the actual article writing.
It’s unrealistic to expect your writer to produce your content strategy, yet many, many businesses do that. Most will not do a good job with both. If you do find someone who is skilled in both areas, don’t expect to pay them the same rates as you would someone who is exclusively a writer. Again, if this is what you’re looking for (full content marketing and SEO strategy), you need more than a professional writer. You can look to hire a content marketing manager or SEO consultant or even see if we may be a fit for what you want.
Mistake 3: Expecting a Writer to Be a Product Expert
Now let’s turn to the actual writing itself. Client after client has complained to us that what’s really frustrated them about writer quality is the content produced when they ask writers to write content about their product or service.
The company, of course, has very high standards about how it discusses its own products, competitive advantages, value propositions, benefits, features, and more. They have specific wording and ways they discuss that. They complain that they haven’t been able to find a writer that “gets it” and they keep having to rewrite most of their work.
This problem is one about process. Specifically, external writers aren’t experts in your product and its differentiators. Yet, companies expect to find writers that just “get it” by looking for “experienced writers” with “domain expertise” in their industry. But, that doesn’t work because general industry experience doesn’t mean they know your brand, product positioning, and nuances.
Your product expertise is in house, in your company. It’s in the brains of your sales team, your founder(s), your marketing team, your product team. There is no way to replace internal knowledge on the nuances of your company and product positioning in your market. None. Zero. No one knows more about this than your team.
So companies who try this (expecting writers to be “domain experts”) are often the ones that complain that most writers “just don’t get it”. But the problem is that this expectation was not fair to begin with.
To fix this you need a process for freelance writers to express your company’s expertise and uniqueness by using interviews with subject matter experts. (We explain this below).
Mistake 4: Giving a Writer a “Content Brief” and Expecting That to Be Enough
Another attempted solution to getting writers to produce what you want is to give them a “content brief”.
Typically, content briefs range from not giving much information at all and expecting the writer to research the topic themselves (see mistake 3), to giving excessive instructions on minute formatting details — number of paragraphs, word count, and header types, along with which keywords to insert where. These details may check SEO boxes but they don’t solve the fundamental problem of articles not teaching the customer anything new, not talking about your product in the way you want, not emphasizing the right topics, and more. Those are writing problems. Specifying the number of H2s is not going to fix that.
In contrast, as we’ll explain below, you need a writing process that helps talented writers get the substance of the piece correct. Our process helps them carefully consider what the arguments are, which to emphasize, and how to word the piece, not on how many words a paragraph is allowed to be. Yours should do the same.
Mistake 5: Not Giving a Writer Enough Feedback (or Any at All!)
Many of our writers say that it was common not to receive feedback from clients they worked with prior to joining Grow and Convert. In the past, they’ve handed over a draft and received a “thanks” or, “I don’t like it”, and that’s it. Yikes.
If you don’t give your writers feedback or share your editing process with them, how will they know if they’ve done a good job, and how can they improve? The answer is, they won’t.
We’ll talk more about why we place so much emphasis on continual feedback and coaching for our writers below.
The Solution: Our Process for Filtering the Best Blog Writers
Most writer hiring processes involve looking at a few portfolio pieces, and, if someone looks good, immediately putting them on a real piece that will be published on your or your client’s site.
Yes, we look at portfolio pieces too (discussed immediately below) but only using that doesn’t work because portfolio pieces aren’t enough. We’ve learned the hard way that you need multiple filters to find the best writers.
Here’s our process:
Filter #1: The Application
In the writer application, we…
Ask for Writing Samples (A Portfolio)
Yes, of course, we start with portfolio pieces. It’s obviously the first insight you have into whether this writer is a fit. This is where the vast majority (maybe 80%) of writer applicants are filtered out in our hiring process.
The key, though, is what you look for.
For us, as we’ve mentioned so many times on our blog, we focus on bottom-of-the-funnel, product related content — SEO content that ranks for keywords like, “best accounting software” or “Google Analytics alternatives.” This type of content writing needs to discuss products and features in a detailed and specific way. So for us, a good writer needs to be able to contrast value propositions clearly, to understand and communicate differentiators from one product to another clearly, and persuasively. So that’s what we look for.
For you, it may be that you’re looking to write more top of funnel pieces or thought leadership pieces (don’t mess those up, though). That’s fine. You’ll have different criteria.
It doesn’t mean an applicant needs to have a piece that is exactly what you, or we, would publish — most writers don’t. Instead we look for signs in the writing that they can write like this. For us, it’s questions like:
- Have they written about advanced, complex topics?
- Can they sell a product or feature well?
- Do they use a lot of filler, fluff sentences or words?
- Do they start pieces with needless quotes and stats?
We note the applicants with promising portfolio pieces with these characteristics. Then, we look at the next filter.
Ask Applicants to Write a “Mini Sample” on the Fly (Portfolio Pieces Can Sometimes Lie)
Years ago, we used to only use the portfolio piece as the gauge of whether to move a candidate to the test project (Filter #2), but we started to get frustrated at how many writers (some with years of experience) had awesome portfolio pieces but did terribly in the test project. We think this is probably due to the uncertainty of knowing how much of a portfolio piece was actually written by the writer versus edited by the client.
So, to help filter more out at the application stage, we added a final question to the application that acts as a mini test project. We call it the “mini sample”. It asks them to write a few sentences on the fly. Yes, of course they could stop and study it and take a long time, but if so great, that shows even more dedication. But the point is, no one can edit this. They submit it and we see how they think and write.
This has helped a lot.
Make this question as similar to the work you want them to do as possible — just a really short version of it (to respect their time). For example, our question asks applicants to look at a client’s SaaS website and write a short paragraph highlighting the software’s key selling points. Most writers should be able to do this in ~15 minutes.
For example, here is a short but good submission for this step from a writer who made it all the way to our team:
Video testimonials convert 25% more buyers, but traditional video production requires a lot of time and money. VocalVideo makes it seamless and easy to record video testimonials, all without a pro. Simply share a link and collect audio and video responses with expertly crafted templates. VocalVideo automatically generates a complete video with your brand’s logo and colors that you can easily embed and share. Sign up for VocalVideo today!
In contrast here is a submission that immediately told us this write isn’t a fit for us:
Vidyard’s study (https://www.vidyard.com/blog/case-study-videos/) exposed how 89% of marketers experienced video testimonials as the most result-oriented marketing approach.
Have you wondered why people google reviews or alternatives for software? Trust issues!
Will they trust your offer’s attractive promises? They won’t. Only testimonials solve trust issues better, and VIDEO TESTIMONIALS best endorse your offer.
VocalVideo is super easy to use – ZERO editing stress. Generate simple links they’ll only tap on to share your sweet wonders!
So here’s the real question: Are you still letting doubt stop you?
So, after this step you can filter applicants by those that have both (a) good portfolio pieces and (b) good mini samples.
But, as we’ve learned the hard way, these applicants still aren’t ready to be put on a “real” client piece. Next comes a more formal, paid test project.
Filter #2: The Paid Test Project
For writers who make it through the first filter, we have them go through a paid test project that is an exact replica of our actual client work, except it’s a shortened version and won’t actually be used for anything.
It’s important that this be as close to exactly what you need as possible. We use a past piece, one we’ve already published for a client, and give them the same inputs we had when writing it. Then at the end we can compare their work to what we produced. We try to use the same one for all applicants so we can benchmark their responses against other applicants as well.
For our test projects, we typically share the angle of the article and ask the writer to produce a list of pain points, a full introduction, and an outline. We don’t need them to write the entire piece because we just don’t need that much written to gauge if they’re a fit. These elements give us enough to evaluate:
- How do they position the client’s product?
- Is it specific?
- Is it in line with our style?
For example, if we asked for a piece on “best accounting software” (for a specific client), we’re looking for something along the lines of, “Most accounting software has X issues which fail to solve Y pain points. Our software solves those pain points in Z way.”
We’re not looking for, “Running a business is hard. After you’ve done HR and sold to customers, you sit down after a long day, and now you’ve got to do the books.”
The first response is specific. The second is general “fluff” content.
But don’t imitate our exact process, you’ll need to provide your writers with the exact same prompt and level of info you give to writers you are currently working with. Again, you want to see exactly how they’d perform “in real life”.
Next we see how they respond to feedback. We provide one round of revisions via comments or a recorded video, giving detailed explanations of what we’re looking for. We do this even if the applicant’s attempt is poor because, sometimes, they respond really well to our feedback (which is a key characteristic we’re looking for) and their revised version is solid.
The test project should be paid. If it’s not, most good writers will pass on working with you. Right now, we pay $200 per test project. We talk more about how we pay writers below.
Filter #3: Writing Real Pieces
Finally, if we’re happy with the test project, we’ll ask the writer to work on several real pieces. At this stage, only writers that are close to what we need are left, so it should go pretty well but the hit rate even at this stage is not 100%. Despite all the filters before this, there are still a decent number of writers who don’t work out after working on a real piece. From our experience, that’s just the reality of hiring writers. There is a level of “it’s a numbers game” here. But if you implement all of these filters, you should be in a lot better shape than the standard, “Portfolio pieces look good, here’s a real piece I need by this date” scenario.
Lastly, we should mention that ongoing training and coaching is critical to helping your writers produce great content consistently.
It’s possible to find writers who perfectly match your brand voice and content needs from the beginning, but it’s extremely rare. It’s more likely that you’ll find a talented writer who can ace your projects after some coaching.
At Grow and Convert, our requirements are specific. We’re looking for:
- Clarity of thought in structuring the piece and reasoning through arguments.
- Simple writing style without “fluff”.
- Compelling sales copywriting that’s direct but not over the top.
So, we provide detailed feedback and coaching to all our writers. An experienced content strategist works closely with the writer at every stage, reviewing the questionnaire, giving guidance and providing feedback to the writer. All our content strategists have been writers for Grow and Convert, so they know exactly what they’re looking for. This coaching is obviously heavier in the early stages and tapers down as they get more experience, but almost every writer on our team has been heavily coached by us. We don’t have this false belief that some folks online seem to have: that you can find writers who just happen to write exactly the way you want from day one.
As you’re going through this process, ask yourself whether the writer can:
- Respond well to feedback.
- Make sensible revisions.
- Hit deadlines.
- Write on multiple types of brands/topics (if that’s important to your business).
If they display these characteristics, they will likely work out long-term.
Learn more about our journey by watching our video on How to Hire Great Blog Writers.
FAQs on Hiring Writers
FAQ #1: How Much Should You Pay a Writer?
Over the last six years, we’ve tried different ways of paying writers. This is what we learned:
- Don’t pay writers by the hour — it may incentivize the writer to string out the project so you end up paying more.
- Don’t pay super-expensive rates — we thought writers charging high rates would be really good, but that hasn’t been the case. We’ve paid as much as $1,000 for a piece that we weren’t able to publish. Avoid this costly mistake!
- Don’t pay a writer less than $200 to produce a top blog post — you won’t get what you need. If you’re also expecting them to do content marketing strategy, keyword research, subject matter research, and interviews, you should pay significantly more. We pay $500 for every article.
Our writers are given:
- The keyword — writers don’t have to do content strategy. Our content strategists (who all started off as writers) do that.
- An interview, typically with the subject matter expert —writers aren’t asked to research and become experts themselves. We think that’s nonsensical. They base their pieces on what an actual expert tells us about the topic.
- A kick-off from the content strategist for guidance —writers aren’t left to “get on with it” on their own.
- Supportive coaching and editing expertise from their content strategist — writers can continue to develop their writing skills.
You can learn more about how we pay and motivate writers in this article.
P.S. Are you a writer? We’re hiring! Learn more on our ‘write for us’ page.
FAQ #2: Where Do You Find Writers?
We’ve tried every popular route to find writers over the years, with varying success.
Typically, people use one or more of the following:
Writer Marketplace Platforms
Writer platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, or Crowd Content are popular places for finding writers. While they may include a small number of high quality writers (who will be harder to find), they don’t have a strict filter for freelancers so you have to really implement a strict filter system (like we outlined above) to find quality writers from these pools.
Posting a job listing on jobs boards such as Remote OK, Craigslist, and Wellfound (previously AngelList), can yield some good freelance blog writers, but these are hit and miss. We’ve had more success from dedicated writing job boards (ProBlogger is one of the more established ones).
Reaching out on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter with a job posting can also work as you can get some useful referrals to good writers.
These platforms and routes vary considerably. You’ll certainly find writers but it depends on the dynamics of your particular network on these platforms. We are obviously in the content marketing space so those are the people who follow us and vice versa. Many of them are writers, many more work with writers, so it helps. If you don’t have a network of writers, it may not yield as much. But it’s definitely worth trying.
Writer Job Link on Your Site
Surprisingly, this has been the most effective method of finding good writers for us — more than job boards or marketplace sites. Most of our best team members came from hearing about us through something we wrote or a podcast we were on and saw our “Write for Us” link. Yes, of course, we are a content agency, so we’re more likely to even have writers browsing our site in the first place. But this can still be utilized by product companies or folks not in the marketing space. Writers are people, they check out companies they find interesting. If someone is already on your site for some other reason and happens to be a writer, that’s a pretty qualified candidate — they know, or even may like your company or what you do. Make it easy for those people to see that you’re hiring, in particular hiring writers.
Lots of people are writers so lots of people know writers. Referrals of new writers from existing members of our team have arguably been the #1 source of good writers for us. We offer a referral bonus to our team if they refer a candidate that works out as a long term writer for us and we suggest you do the same.
Just remember that whichever platform or sourcing method you use to find candidates, the most important thing is that you implement a good process to evaluate them before they write for your blog.
FAQ #3: What Type of Blog Writer Should You Hire?
Typically, there are three main ways of hiring writers or getting content or blog writing created. All have pros and cons, depending on your situation.
Having a full-time, in-house writer can work well for a larger company, if you have the resources. The advantage is that they can become a subject matter expert (although we use in-depth interviews with our clients to gain that knowledge), and are at your disposal whenever you need them.
The disadvantage of course is the salary + benefits + payroll taxes (and other employee overhead costs) which, depending on where your company is, can be as much as double the base salary of a freelance writer.
Hiring a freelance writer is the cheapest option and gives you the potential to flex and scale as you need. Obviously most companies do this and we suggest starting out with freelance writers if you haven’t hired writers before. The downside is that you will need someone on your team who can coordinate their freelance writing work and provide editing feedback, although that can often be done with other freelancers as well.
Content Marketing Agencies
As we’ve alluded to above, many companies that say they want to “hire writers” are actually looking for a lot more than just writing. They need content marketing or content-based SEO done. They want to open up content and SEO as a lead generating channel. Almost no “freelance writers” are going to single handedly unlock content as a channel for you.
If this is you, you’re not just looking for a writer, you’re looking to build an entire content marketing operation. As we’ve said above, the key role you need in addition to writing for this, is strategy. We call it ‘content strategy’. It could also be called ‘SEO strategy’. The point is someone needs to manage the process of:
- Picking keywords and topics.
- Coordinating subject matter expert interviews.
- Being a final pass on article quality, proofreading, and on-page SEO.
- Measuring results (leads ascribed to each piece).
Many companies hire an in-house “content marketing manager” or “SEO manager” for this, and that can work. Alternatively, you can hire an agency like ours for this as well. We discuss how we differentiate in this space here.
Working with Grow and Convert
We have an amazing team of content strategists, in-house writers, and freelance writers who all meet our rigorous standards. We can produce product-focused BOTF content that ranks for buying-intent keywords and is optimized to generate conversions and leads, not just traffic.
If you’re a freelance writer and our process and style of SEO, conversion-focused writing appeals to you, consider joining our content marketing team as a writer or content strategist. We have awesome clients. We’re a remote company. We pay well. And you won’t have to stress about getting your own clients.
If you’re a business looking for writing services, you can hire our agency to do SEO-focused content marketing for you. Learn more about our service and pricing here.
You can also learn more from our course which teaches you about our process in greater detail.
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