Content Writing Services: Are They a Good Fit for Your Business?
As a content marketer who owns a content marketing agency, you'd think my opinion on this subject would be pretty obvious. Your business can gain a considerable advantage from content writing! Why wouldn't you create valuable website content to go after that sustainable long-term search engine traffic?
The truth is, there's a lot of nuance to the question. There's also a ton of variance within the writing industry. A wholesale "yes" or "no" here wouldn't do the subject justice.
So, I will take the time to break down the different types of content writing services and why they may or may not be a good fit for your business.
Let's get started!
What Are The Different Types of Content Writing Services?
It may surprise you to learn that five primary types of content writing services meet the definition. Businesses can all benefit from various writing services, and something that works for one company may not work for the other.
What are the options available, and how do they compare to one another?
1. Individual freelancers and contractors.
First of all, you have the individuals offering content writing services. Individual freelancers can be found via their websites (something like Kristi Hines' homepage) or through Upwork, Freelancer, or even Fiverr sites.
Some of them are more challenging to find, and you'll have to hunt down their email address or social media profiles.
Freelancers are probably the broadest category by far. You have cheap freelancers operating out of countries like Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines who pump out bare-minimum content for just a few dollars at the low end. Some of the web content may even be stolen or spun, with essentially zero attention paid to topic ideation, keyword optimization, images, or any of the assorted trappings of a successful blog.
On the flip side, freelancers can be some of the most well-rounded individuals you can hire. They may have impressive and nuanced attention to detail, tools for optimization and uniqueness, and a deep knowledge of SEO that allows them to manage a blog for you entirely. Most, of course, fall somewhere in the middle.
For example, suppose you're doing topic ideation, keyword research, metadata optimization, publishing, image creation, and blog management all on your own. In that case, you can easily hire a freelancer to do the bulk of the writing for relatively cheap. It's perfectly viable.
2. "Content mill" content production firms.
The next category of content services – I hesitate to call it a "step-up" – is the content mill.
Your business is a client. Content mills are agencies that build up a pool of clients and a pool of writers. You develop topic ideas and submit them to a public pool, a specific team pool, a "love list" of vetted writers, or to individual writers. A writer in the group claims the topic, writes it and submits it for your review. You order a piece of content, pay for it (paying a bit extra for the content mill to skim off), and can use it on your site.
Content mills have a few limitations. For one thing, you have to work through them. You don't have the option to pull a writer aside and hire them full-time; in fact, chances are you might not even know who the writer is or if you'll get the same one every time, depending on the platform. The platform handles things like a Copyscape plagiarism scan to ensure original content and keeping money in escrow to ensure that you get your blog content and the writer gets paid, so you have less to worry about contracts and scams. Some even offer managed services for an additional cost, handling topic ideation, list building, and more.
Content mills also tend to lack additional services. They don't do images, they don't do metadata, and they don't do publishing. Their bread and butter are small tasks like short blog posts and copywriting for landing pages or eCommerce product descriptions, though they can occasionally include other services such as press releases, "SEO content," social media content, and even eBooks.
Content mills include Textbroker, Writer Access, Constant Content, Words of Worth, and more. I put together a list a while back of the top 20 content mills, which you can read here.
There are a lot of them out there, with varying levels of features, quality, and review.
The main reason content mills are familiar in the blog writing world is the low cost and their marketing. Content mills promise quick and cheap online content for small businesses looking to take the easy way out. Larger blogging agencies attract larger clients with promises of higher-skill, bespoke content. Freelancers don't usually put as much effort into marketing themselves, so they're harder to find. You generally have a short window to request revisions, and you'll want to take advantage of those revisions - you'll require them.
In addition to having to do all of the legwork yourself to finalize your post, you'll also have to review and edit your content heavily. Many blog posts can look great at first glance, but they feel fluffy and drone on and on when you start to read them.
Just because your blog post doesn't have grammar or plagiarism errors doesn't mean it will perform - it has to satisfy the user's query to rank well on Google. That's the biggest issue with most content from content mills.
We create blog content that converts - not just for ourselves, but for our clients, too.
We pick blog topics like hedge funds pick stocks. Then, we create articles that are 10x better to earn the top spot.
Content marketing has two ingredients - content and marketing. We've earned our black belts in both.
3. Mid-level service content companies.
Mid-level content writing services come from content agencies like Verblio and Scripted. These are vaguely similar to content mills, but they've carved out a niche as a more "premium" alternative. They still have pools of writers like the content mills above, but they may vet them more to ensure relatively high-quality content. They may also assign specific writers to specific clients, so you're getting continuity and consistency in style. Some also offer additional services, like images, metadata, topic creativity, and more.
Those features come at a cost, and each blog post will generally cost around $250-500 for a full-sized article. Still, it's a little more hands-off.
The easiest way to understand these companies is that they're essentially a content mill with add-ons. An editor will review posts, somebody will be helping you come up with topics (though they may not be the best choices), and they'll include some basic stock photos. It's better than nothing.
4. Full-service content management agencies.
The top tier of content writing services is the Content Marketing Agency, where you'll find professional writers that often create the best content that competes at a high level. This group is where my company falls into, and the group is a bit smaller and less common, with varying levels of detail and with varying degrees of service.
Some of our competitors include GetCodeless and YesOptimist, both of whom have a very comparable service to ours.
For example, I provide everything from topic ideation to top-notch content writing to images to metadata to publishing, along with the occasional SEO audit, site optimization, and more. We master your target audience, have a predictable and reliable turnaround time, and handle every step of the process for you. We achieve a 99/100 on Grammarly or higher, optimize content in Clearscope, focus on user experience and page experience, and nail down the user's intent. We're also ruthless when it comes to topic research - if there's not enough potential, we keep looking until we find something that is worth the effort.
Some other agencies will provide the bare minimum. They help you develop blog topics, images, and relevant content, but they leave publishing, editing, and search engine optimization to you. I've seen plenty of agencies selling blogging packages for 800-word blog posts, and then the word count of their own articles is well over 2,000 words.
On the other hand, some such services are incredibly full-service. You give them the keys to your site, and they run it from top to bottom, helping your site grow every week.
Pricing also varies a lot. Some are relatively cost-effective, while others specialize in working for enterprises and charge tens of thousands of dollars per month, if not per week.
Nearly any business with a budget for content can find a full-service content management agency to handle it. It's not a great option if you're running on a shoestring budget, but if you have a bit of money to invest in good content, it has the greatest chances of success. You'll get a much more individualized experience, you'll rarely have to do proofreading passes for errors or fluff, and you'll have more than articles written for you - you'll have a complete content strategy with expert writers.
5. Blog management and in-house teams.
The final option is, of course, to hire a team of employees to do the work for you. The employee vs. freelancer choice is well-established, so I'm not going to review it here. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of considerations, like how much blog management services cost, how much a writer costs, and whether or not you even want to hire in-house, do it DIY, or hire an agency.
Are Content Writing Services Worthwhile?
The biggest issue with hiring a content writing service is determining what you can get for your budget.
- If your budget is tight, you'll generally need to do most of the legwork yourself. These tasks include (but are not limited to) image creation, monitoring analytics, topic ideation, performing optimization on content, adding and vetting links, competitive research, publishing, SEO, metadata, edits and maintenance, user experience improvements, CRO, and all the rest. Content creation is just one part of content marketing campaigns, so somebody has to be doing that work, or your content will be bare and will have trouble performing.
- If your budget is a little broader, you'll be able to outsource some (but not all) of the above. Writing is a given, but a larger budget will often allow you to include topic and competitive research, links, metadata, and other forms of content. You're still not handing over the keys to the site, but you're getting as much as someone on the outside can give.
- If your budget is higher and you value quality over quantity, you can afford full-service content writing. This group is the stage where you hand an agency an account to manage your site for you, and they can handle everything from topic ideation to publishing to image creation, and all you need to do is review it and approve it.
It's difficult to answer whether or not content writing services are worthwhile simply because there are so many different levels, scales, and needs for them. One business might find my service package exactly ideal, while another might find it takes too much control from them. Another company might find that they want more than even I provide.
Potential Problems with DIY Services
The more you DIY, the more potential issues you can run into.
- When you come up with a topic idea and title, how do you know whether or not it's any good? Are you just operating on a hunch? Are you taking a title from established content and want to create a competing version? Are you using tools to back up your topic idea with data? Tools like Ahrefs and Clearscope are great but potentially expensive.
- Are you accurately estimating competition and potential traffic? Running a blog, especially if you're not already a giant established site, usually relies on finding the right balance between high demand and low competition. Too far on either side of the scale, you get very little out of the posts you create.
- Are you putting effort into buffing up your content? Are you adding formatting, internal and external links with appropriate nofollowing, a table of contents, images and their alt/meta text, metadata, Schema markup, and all the other details?
- Are you using stock images or creating unique images for your site? Stock photos are easy but have a lot of drawbacks.
- Are you monitoring your analytics? You should routinely monitor Google Search Console, Google Analytics, or analytics platforms like Moz OSE, Ahrefs, or even heatmaps.
One of the biggest problems I see with companies outsourcing their writing is the disconnect between the purpose of the site and the purpose of the content. It's such a common issue that I wrote a whole blog post about it.
Should Your Business Hire a Content Writing Service?
I don't want to trickle out a lot of theory and end on a "maybe" here, so let's discuss whether or not a content writing service is a good fit for you.
- If you're a small business with a small budget or not convinced that a blog is worthwhile for your niche, you can potentially benefit from hiring a low-cost freelance writer. I wouldn't recommend working with a content mill – despite their promises of cheap content, the low-price content tends to be very bad and will do more harm than good to your site. We're talking ESL or robot-written content here.
- If you know that blogging is a good idea and have a small budget to invest in your website, a content writing service in that middle tier is probably the way to go. It would be best if you made your money count, learned how to DIY the SEO, created images as cheaply as possible, and dedicated your time and energy to developing, researching, and analyzing what works and what doesn't.
- If you have a larger budget, you can hire a full-service agency or hire talented employees to form an in-house team. Keep in mind that the in-house team will generally be the most expensive option since you don't just have to pay the employees; you also have to pay for their tools and resources. That can include high-profile tools like Clearscope and Ahrefs, as well as services like Photoshop, Grammarly, Copyscape, rank trackers, plugins, developers, and more. A content agency has all of those already and splits the cost across all their clients. In most cases, hiring the right agency can end up being far more effective and scalable.
I think that nearly every business can benefit from a content writing service. It's just a matter of what level of service you can afford and which is the best fit for your organization.