Suppose hiring an in-house writer is not an option. In this case, clients can hire a freelance writer or a content writing agency. But before deciding that one is better than the other, consider not only the upsides. Both also have downsides that have caused a significant number of clients grief.
Overview of Business Blogs
A website can be so much more than a means to promote a brand, products, and services. Companies can also use it to enhance customer support, relationship, and loyalty.
Consider these numbers:
- WordPress accounts for 64.4% of the world’s content management systems (W3Techs).
- As of February 2021, 409 million people visited more than 20 billion blog pages monthly. And each month, users publish 70 million new posts (WordPress).
If a company can only get 1% of the audience, that is 4 million people every month. Of course, that means more leads, conversions, and sales.
So, what did businesses and marketers do?
- 91% of B2B and 86% of B2C companies use content marketing (Demand Metric).
- 48% of companies have a content marketing strategy. Among them, 58% said blogging is effective. Meanwhile, 10% said it generated their highest ROI (Bump).
Business blogs, as shown by the numbers, are essential to digital marketing campaigns. But not all companies have an in-house content creation and marketing team. Many have also opted to outsource their content marketing activities in part or whole.
- 49% of small and 75% of large B2B organizations outsource content marketing (CMI).
- 50% of B2C organizations outsource content marketing (CMI).
Business blogging is one of the most important types of content marketing. It is also one of the most often outsourced core activities. And businesses can choose between hiring freelance writers or content writing agencies.
Freelance Writer vs. Content Writing Agency
There is a world of difference between freelance writers and content writing agencies. Which one clients choose comes down to costs and desired services and benefits.
Hiring a freelance writer is more affordable. In the Philippines, the average cost of regular articles is $0.02 per word. In comparison, content writing agencies charge at least $0.04 per word or 200% more.
Agency proponents would contend that they provide more comprehensive services. While that is true, not everyone can afford their fees. In fact, up to 48% of potential clients cite budget as one of their top challenges (CMI).
Budget constraint, being a limiting factor, is why there is a place for freelancers. Even digital marketing and content agencies hire freelancers.
Freelance writers work alone. Their typical clients may or may not provide them with a content brief. But there is more to creating content than writing. And that is why agencies have specialists working on every single piece of content.
To understand, the typical key processes involved in content creation are
- SEO Research
- On-page SEO
At the very least, the content creation team should have a manager, SEO specialist, and writers. Larger agencies would also have content strategists, editors, and others like graphic artists.
A small operation, unfortunately, may not have the means to hire a content writing agency. So, for starters, they can work with freelance writers. But they should hire those with knowledge of the other aspects of content creation.
Freelance writers use free keyword research and other tools. If there is one paid tool they use, then it must be a writing assistant. One of the most popular choices is Grammarly Premium, which costs $12.50/mo.
Content writing agencies, on the contrary, invest in cutting-edge tools. For SEO, Ahrefs is very popular but it costs up to $999/mo. Semrush is also a formidable SEO tool and is cheaper at $449.95/mo.
For on-page SEO optimization, more agencies are now using Surfer SEO. This cloud-based AI content optimization platform can cost up to $199/mo. Other tools used are writing assistants and plagiarism checkers.
There are different types of content. Some of the most popular ones are
- Blog posts or articles
- Email outreach and newsletters
- Case studies
- White papers
- Social media posts
It is almost impossible to find a single content writer who excels at all forms of writing. Most freelance writers also would prefer to focus on one or two types of writing.
Clients can, of course, hire generalists who can do a little bit of everything. But the lack of specialization may result in disappointments on their end.
Content writing agencies, in this regard, can provide most if not all content types. And that is because they have a team of specialists and cutting-edge tools. By working with many clients, they can take advantage of the economy of scale. For example, hiring specialist content writers to fill the needs of various niches.
Outsourcing Content Writing Issues and Concerns
By far, almost half of clients prefer hiring reputable writers referred to them. About 16% hire writers using platforms such as Upwork. A quarter of clients also prefer working with agencies. 27% of them chose digital marketing agencies, while 24% work with content providers.
Table 1. Preferred Outsourcing Solutions
|Freelancers writers with reputable brands and referrals|
|Digital and content marketing agencies|
|Content writing service providers|
|Content writers from freelancer platforms|
|AI writing tools|
Despite hiring reputable writers or working with agencies, many clients were not satisfied. In fact, 4 out of 10 said the quality of the content was not high enough. Furthermore, 3 to 4 out of 10 clients had to do extensive editing on their part.
Table 2. The Most Challenging Aspects of Outsourcing Content Writing
|Had to get writers with hands-on experience and knowledge of the subject matter|
|Content quality is not high enough|
|Content required a lot of editing on the client’s end|
|The content did not deliver the expected results|
|It takes time to explain the industry, business, product, and topic|
|Hard to scale content production and velocity|
|Not having content created in-house|
|Hard to book good writers who are busy with many customers|
|Content is not in line with the client’s brief and tone of voice|
1. Lack of Industry Knowledge
The best content writers combine two disciplines:
- A wordsmith or an expert writer
- Industry-specific experience or familiarity with subject matter
A company can hire writers with a degree in journalism or any course related to writing. But without industry knowledge or experience, can the writer create insightful content?
People who have expertise in specific industries, meanwhile, would focus on their profession. Hence, finding one from among their ranks who can and is willing to write is challenging.
As a result, half of the clients have difficulty finding writers who know the subject matter. Even if they did, almost a third did not get the desired results.
2. Lack of Business Acumen
Comprehending customer pains and journeys are critical to building positive brand equity. Hence, writers need to understand not only the business but also the entire industry. It is why clients take the time to explain their business, including
- Field or industry
- Goals and visions
- Products and services
- Target customers
But as it is, almost a third of clients think they spend too much time explaining these things. On the one hand, clients understand the need to go through this process, and they do with any new employee. But it gets tedious when discussing these things with people who have no business acumen.
In some cases, it may not matter. Educational or technical materials, essays, and many others are some examples. But if there are businesses and customers involved, it does. Content written by writers devoid of business insight is unlikely to meet expectations.
3. Lack of Direct Communication
Content writers need access to key people to do their job better. Most especially at the beginning, they need to familiarize themselves with the brand. Usually, this is not an issue with freelancers who have direct access to their clients.
Content writing agencies (and digital marketing agencies) are not the same. Usually, they do not allow clients to have direct access to their writers. Instead, any communication goes through their content team leader, project manager, or owner.
Limited communication, unfortunately, is one of the causes of delays and unsatisfactory content. Under such circumstances, content writers have to go through an intermediary. Often, the third party fails to convey the exact message or intent of the clients for various reasons. For example, a team lead may lack focus or get confused because he or she handles many accounts. This person may also not be familiar with the subject matter.
The time it takes to explain the industry, business, and products is an issue. Almost a third of clients think they spend too much time doing that. Thus, the lack of direct communication can only exacerbate that concern.
4. Inconsistent Tone and Style
Having different people write content can result in inconsistent tones and styles. For companies that have an in-house content creation team, this issue is easy to fix. Aside from discussing corrections on the spot, it does not take long for them to get immersed.
Outsourcing is another matter. Freelance writers, like regular employees, need time to learn about the company. They need to spend considerable time reading and analyzing published content. And because they are not a part of the company, immersing themselves takes a longer time.
Unfortunately, most freelancers do not do that. Time is of the essence as they get paid for output. And if they charge hourly rates, no client will pay for the time it takes for them to get fully immersed. As a result, they would read only a few articles and use that as a style guide – and that is not enough.
The same situation also occurs in content writing agencies. Even if writers want to spend more time reading, they cannot do that. Most of them, in fact, are under time pressure. They either have deadlines or need to write X number of words per hour.
Getting the tone and style right is not easy even if there is an outline provided. And when there is more than one writer, inconsistencies happen. And that is why 27% of clients say this is one of their top challenges in outsourcing content writing.
Open Communication Solves Many of the Issues
In traditional work models, employees follow the standards and rules of the company. But that is not the case with outsourcing. Clients, in this case, should view freelancers or agencies as partners. As such, they need to work with the providers toward achieving the desired results.
Freelance writers and agencies also need to be transparent. Clients want them to turn their ideas into valuable content for customers. Upfront, they need to let the clients know what they can or cannot do. Instead of empty promises, discuss what needs to happen for them to meet expectations.
For example, providers intent on creating high-quality articles need more time for research. They can factor this into their fees, and justify the costs to clients. While some clients may turn away, others will understand.
Throughout the relationship, providers need to keep learning, adapting, and improving. By doing so, they can keep creating content that delivers the desired results.
Clients and content providers can have a successful and meaningful partnership. The key to achieving that is to keep the lines of communication open. Be transparent and have a real discussion on achieving results, not promises.
Freelance Writers or Content Writing Agencies?
The decision to hire only freelance writers is easy. Clients who cannot afford agency fees, for example, do not have a choice. But others also have minimal requirements. So, instead of hiring a full-time employee, they can have jobs done as needed.
For companies with no issues on budget, a content writing agency is a viable option. Yes, they charge higher fees, but they can offer far better services.
At any rate, first-time outsourcers should consider the experiences of others. Regardless if it is freelancers or agencies, many have had issues. These are the things that clients should bring up while searching for a reliable partner.
And as for you, is it better to hire freelance writers or a content writing agency?
Sources and Further Reading
Bump, Pamela. “The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Trends in 2019.” HubSpot, 2019. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
CMI. “12th Annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2022.” Content Marketing Institute. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
CMI. “12th Annual B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2022.” Content Marketing Institute. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
Demand Metric. “A Guide to Marketing Genius: Content Marketing Infographic.” Demand Metric, 2019. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
Semrush. “State of Content Ops & Outsourcing Writing Report – Research by Semrush Marketplace.” Semrush. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
W3Techs. “Usage Statistics and Market Share of Content Management Systems, May 2020.” W3Techs. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.
WordPress. “A Live Look at Activity across WordPress.com.” WordPress. Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.