In modern business, nine times out of ten, if you're hiring a writer, you're hiring them for digital marketing. Digital marketing – usually content marketing – requires a remarkably high volume of written work, and that written work needs to be well-produced and in line with the rest of your content. That's not an easy feat to accomplish.
One of the primary strengths of digital marketing is longevity. When done properly, content can last for years, bringing in value and boosting your reputation more and more as time goes on. It's also synergistic. The more content you have, the more it all works together to lift up the whole of your website.
Content isn't just limited to a blog, either. On your website, content can take the form of landing pages, product pages, service pages, and system pages too. Off your website, content can be guest posts, sponsored content, other forms of content like press releases or white papers, and social media posts.
Again, all of this needs to be part of one cohesive whole. Disconnect in voice, tone, presentation, and opinion can cause problems when users are deciding if they want to trust you or not.
How can you hire writers – good writers – for your blog and elsewhere, to power your digital marketing?
It's not quite as simple as tossing a job listing on Indeed and picking one of the people who apply.
The first thing you need to do is determine your needs for your writer. This helps you learn what kind of writer you'll want to hire and whether you only need one or want more than one to work on a team.
Start by asking yourself what kind of content you want to be written. Is it primarily blog posts? Ad copy, social media posts, and other short-form advertorial content? Product descriptions and more technical writing? Since this guide is about a blog writer, I'll assume you're trying to fill out a blog, primarily.
Second, determine how frequently you intend to publish content and what length you want that content to be. There's a pretty big difference between hiring someone to write one 1,500-word blog post per week and hiring a team to produce 2-3 2,000-word posts per day.
Note that you get diminishing returns with higher volumes in most cases. Sites like HuffPo or Forbes publish constantly because they're news aggregators. Individual business blogs often do best publishing 1-3 times per week.
For small and mid-sized businesses, your general best strategy is to focus more on quality, depth, and authority than on frequency. Publishing a ton of shallow content won't get you much clout in the industry; publishing high-quality 10x content on authoritative subjects will.
Know, as well, that this means you're looking for expert writers. The more complex and detailed your general subject and your niche, the more you may need to look for a subject matter expert as well.
There are two other choices you should make as well.
Alternatively, you can contract them as a freelancer. Freelancers work with multiple clients, and can always leave your contract if something better comes along and you're the worst client they have, but if you're good to your freelancers, they'll be good to you.
Once you have an idea of all of your needs, you can do things like write a job description and put together a style guide and general content brief. These will be useful regardless of what kind of writer you want to hire.
Once you've laid all the groundwork, it's time to find writers to interview.
You have a handful of options here, so let's go over each of them.
The first option is hardly an option at all: content marketplaces. Sites like Constant Content offer marketplaces where pre-written content is available for sale. You can read a preview of the writing, see a price for rights to the piece, and decide if you want to purchase it or not.
This can be a good option if you want to buy content as filler, but the inconsistency in voice, style, depth, tone, and quality will be very noticeable to anyone who reads through your blog. As such, it's usually best as filler and not as a primary strategy.
A second option is the content mills. Sites like Textbroker, Writer Access, and even Fiverr have large numbers of writers available to write anything you want. You post an assignment and any guidelines you have, a random writer from the pool picks up the assignment and writes it, and you either ask for revisions or buy it.
This option also has the issue of inconsistencies between writers. However, if you find a writer you like, you can often hire them directly if they're interested in more work from you. It's a relatively cheap option, but since you're going through a platform, you're paying for the site as well, including some additional editing you might not care about. You also have no real way to cope if your chosen writer leaves the platform, and the platforms usually prohibit contacting each other outside of the platform.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can contract with a content marketing agency. These agencies are typically full-service; they interview you about what you want for your blog, and they call you every few weeks or so to make sure everything looks good, but other than that, you offload the blog and don't have to think about it any further. The trade-off is that it's typically much more expensive than other options.
The middle ground is hiring freelancers directly. You can find freelancers through traditional job boards like Indeed, through remote work job boards like FlexJobs, or through freelance portals like Upwork or my own site. The process is somewhat different between the two, however.
For traditional job boards, you will create a job post, post it for public visibility, and wait to see who applies. You then vet the applicants, shortlist the ones most promising for your needs, and proceed to the next step.
For freelance portals, the process is a little different. Some allow you to post job listings, but many require you to find freelancers who look like they will meet your needs based on their profiles and approach them with a pitch. Your pitch will be similar to your job posting (and answer the questions from step 1), and from there, you will proceed to the next step.
So, what is the next step?
Content writing for digital marketing is an industry where the proof is very much "in the pudding," as they say. Writers can look good on paper, but if they can't actually produce well-written marketing content, they aren't going to be very good for your site.
Whether you're hiring a high-end agency or a budget writer from a content mill, you want to do a test post or two before you take them on for the full volume of work or work on a regular basis. If they can't handle what you throw at them, or they don't produce content in line with your expectations, politely decline continuing to work with them and move on.
What should a writer test include?
Generally, you just want something as close to a real assignment as possible. There's no reason to go through fancy grammar tests or tricky editing tests or any of that since 99% of the time, it won't matter, and you can always use a tool like Grammarly to double-check after the fact.
This is where things like your house style guide (or style guide of choice, typically AP Style for web writing) come into play. You want general site-wide and brand guidelines, along with specifications for things like POV, perspective, tone, and voice, all to be specified. You don't necessarily need 100% strict adherence, but at least a good faith attempt is necessary for a successful test post.
Secondly, you'll need a topic. Present a content brief the same way you will for real assignments. If that means a title, a keyword, and a target word count with little else, that's fine. If it means a detailed content brief with points to make, conclusions to lead towards, and an outline including subheadings, so be it. The point is to work within the general process you'll be using, at least until you and your writer get more comfortable with each other and don't need quite as much hand-holding.
You should also make sure you always pay for your test post. It doesn't necessarily need to be your full rate – especially if the expectations and process are lighter – but it should be something reasonable for the work involved. The best freelancers won't even bother to apply or test when the application isn't compensated because it's a common scam in freelance writing.
Once you've issued tests, you need to review the content you get back. Generally, you want to review it in three different ways.
The first is purely technical. Is the grammar correct? Are there spelling or formatting issues? Was it delivered on time? Does it use your keywords the way you requested that they be used? These are all important technical aspects of digital marketing, and they should all be second nature to a good digital marketing writer.
The second is in style. You gave the writer guidelines on things like tone, style, and POV; did they follow them? This is a relatively easy binary yes/no question and shows whether or not the writer is reading their briefs.
The third is in content. If the other two pass, this becomes your most important decision maker. Is the content accurate, factual, cited, and correct? Does it make the points you wanted it to make? Does it display mastery over the topic and authority in the writing? Would it be useful to a reader who finds it in a Google search and reads it?
If the content passes all of these, you can either hire the writer or proceed to another test to verify that they can keep it up.
Once you've found a writer or several writers you like, it's time to hire them according to your desired outcome. That likely means producing and signing a contract. Contracts are very important because they protect both you as the client and the writer from exploitation or issues. For more on why this is necessary for any good writing relationship, read this post.
If you need a contract, I have a guide on templates here. Alternatively, you may have a standard contract, or the writer may have one they typically customize and use. Either way, make sure you both go over and agree on each clause.
Once you've signed the contracts, you're good to go! You and your chosen writer or writers should have a good time moving forward so long as the rest of your blogging strategy is in place. Remember, even the best writer can't carry a business to success through digital marketing if there's no plan or direction in place.