Whether you do content marketing for one company or you have a marketing agency that works on the behalf of several, one thing is clear: content creation is expensive. And with all the talented freelance writers in the world, the temptation might be to outsource to a third-party content company.
These companies are sometimes called content mills, yet as unattractive as the term may be, it’s kind of fitting. You provide instructions to a clever writer and receive an article back at a much lower cost than it would cost to produce it in-house.
As far as content marketing is concerned, the playing field is super saturated. The buzzword “content shock” makes the rounds as many marketers keep putting out the same kind of content and expecting results.
Third-party content companies make content easier to obtain, but they don’t make that content perform. While it’s not impossible to have a winning strategy using outsourced content in this way, it’s not the ideal. Here’s why:
Just the pay structure alone is a barrier to getting quality content. Since freelance writers are paid a flat-rate for their pieces, the faster they write, the more money they have the chance to make. This means research is not performed as thoroughly and the composition of the article itself is done as quickly as possible. This isn’t an insult to all the hard-working freelance writers out there, but it’s an unfortunate reality.
On a content provider’s platform, your article order gets sourced to an open “pool” of writers where anyone qualified can pick it up. Sometimes, you can get a dud of an article which could cost you time in editing or requesting revisions. Sometimes, you get an awesome writer who then disappears into the cloud never to be heard from again. And, you won’t know which is the case for a particular article until it comes back to you.
Some platforms actually allow you to select a smaller pool of writers to draw from, the ones you like so that the quality is much more consistent. However, the process of actually amassing such a team requires you to go through the above process and start weeding out the duds, which is time-consuming on its own.
Many of the people that sign up as freelance writers do so because they need extra work or they are self-employed; a good portion are not necessarily trained, professional writers. Content platforms typically don’t spend a lot of time recruiting writers—their platforms are free for anyone to sign up.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but when you do need a subject matter expert to provide higher quality content that cuts through the noise, it can be difficult to obtain one. A lot of content platforms actually do have subject matter experts, but you’ll likely pay a premium. Some even offer to recruit SMEs, but this can take time.
After dealing with a few different content mills, you may notice that the quality assurance process ranges from extremely thorough to no quality assurance process at all (or at least none that are transparent). The typical QA in these companies involves classifying writers on a scale based on how their articles have been rated by an editor. As a client, you pay a higher amount for the higher rated writers.
From a practical standpoint, it’s a challenge for the in-house QA staff to keep up with the tens of thousands of articles that are written weekly, and a simple 1-5 scale can be insanely arbitrary. After all, what exactly does a “4-star writer” mean in the context of your business?
While it’s not impossible to get winning content from a content mill, it’s still important to understand the pros and cons of that process as well as your potential alternatives.
This is a no-brainer if your company has a lower volume of content to produce. An in-house writer can work closely with your marketing team to produce articles and copy on a consistent basis. Someone like this would be a career writer whose skill can be easily vetted by looking at their portfolio. It might even be rewarding to get someone with content marketing and SEO experience to bring more value to the table.
The downside: This is often not a possibility for agencies, where the demand of content needed is much higher. For hundreds of pieces per month, you’d need to hire a few of these writers, which might not be cost-efficient.
As the saying goes, “You can’t squeeze water from a rock.” If getting an in-house writer is impossible due to money constraints, there are is another alternative: cultivating your own team of writers.
This creates a mutually beneficial relationship. One of the biggest challenges a freelance writer has is keeping a steady stream of work. By getting your own freelance team, you’re sending them articles to complete on an ongoing basis, and, in return, you develop a relationship with your writers and content quality stabilizes. Essentially, your writers know what to expect from you, and you know what to expect from them. This gets streamlined further the longer the working relationship is.
In addition, this method cuts out the middle-man fees that third-party providers typically charge.
The downside: It takes time to find, vet, and train these freelance writers, plus to coordinate payment through invoices. However, once the team is established, the time is comparable to the time needed to coordinate with a third-party provider anyway.
Third-party content providers are right for some organizations, but the ultimate thing to keep in mind is: you get what you pay for, and you get what you invest in.