Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Mama said there’d be days like this, and she probably also warned you get what you pay for. In the world of writing – especially freelance writing – truer words have never been spoken. As the business or brand ordering content, you get what you pay for. And as the writer, well, sometimes – okay, most times – you don’t get paid what you’re worth.
A vicious storm is brewing atop the waves of the Internet. It’s been bubbling and brewing for some time like the witch’s brew of Macbeth. It’s an ugly and monstrous storm; a squall directly linked to the SEO-driven monsoon of mediocre material audiences around the globe are currently drowning in. Let’s face it; so many people want written content for practically free that quality has grown atrocious!
The Problem with Cheap Content
Here’s the thing; even if you find the most epic wordsmith capable of pumping out high-quality written content like a machine, cheap is still cheap. Google the term cheap content writing, and you’ll see results like these:
With some 54.3 million results, there’s no shortage of services offering cheap content. But are they the best choice? Before you respond, answer me this: do you eat major meals at McDonald’s three to five times a week?
McDonald’s and Content
McDonald’s is one of the largest fast food chains in the world. It doesn’t matter what country you visit, from the good ole USA to Japan; you can find a McDonald’s anywhere. In fact, according to AboutMcDonalds.com, the fast food chain serves more than 69 million people in over 100 countries every day. But the brand’s popularity has seen a massive drop.
In June of 2014, The Huffington Post reported that McDonald’s had become “America’s least favorite major fast food chain.” The drop in popularity came due to a tempest of reasons from low employee wages to menu revamps.
Later, in September of 2014, Forbes reported that Americans were losing their appetite for the fast food giant among other big names like Taco Bell and Burger King. The distaste spread across demographic groups as Americans began discovering the benefits of fresh, healthy food.
Finally, at the start of 2015, The Washington Post reported a Big Mac-sized problem as McDonald’s tried to become “all things to all people” and failed, miserably. In an attempt to become a one-stop shop, the chain attempted to keep their old menu while freshening it up with healthier, on-the-go choices. But internal issues and an overall lack of response from the country’s growing number of health and fitness nuts caused the fast food giant to see a 21 percent drop in profits.
Let’s be honest; no one hits the McDonald’s drive-thru with expectations of quality. You know the food isn’t going to be fresh, and the so-called healthy choices pale in comparison to fresher foods from healthier sources. You’re just hitting that window for something fast, affordable, and capable of temporarily satisfying your hunger.
In much the same way, cheap written content is the fast food of the copywriting industry. Sure, you can pull up to a virtual one-stop content shop and order up from the dollar menu, but you’re getting the service and quality equivalent of McDonald’s, which you are then posting to your blog, website, or other online media outlet to share with the masses. Exactly what do you expect the outcome to be?
Dollar Menu Writing
Content creation is two-fold. It has to fit your business and target audience while also being optimized for search engines. Google is the current pace-setter in SEO, and what Google says goes in the realm of optimization. The good news is Google listens intently to the end user, which includes your audience.
In recent years, SEO has evolved. No longer are writers optimizing written content based on mechanical demands, like exact keyword usage and placement. Today, SEO has morphed into the need for great content. High-quality, excellent content comes with specific elements and these focus on writing for humans. In other words, give the people what they want.
Today’s population want fresh, evergreen content. They’re looking for engaging and entertaining material packed with value. It needs to educate or solve a problem, and it also needs to show brands and businesses aren’t stuck on themselves; it needs relevant links to additional material from other industry authorities.
Quality content is also well written, which means it adheres to the grammatical rules of whatever language it is written in. But the best content comes from skilled writers who aren’t afraid to bend—even break—those rules to grab attention or drive home a point. This type of writing does not come from dollar menu content, and that includes the content shops and agencies pricing at the equivalent of a $1.15 menu.
Remember when McDonald’s revamped their Dollar Menu? For 15 to 20 cents more you could buy a sandwich offering a little something more than the $1 version. Really? Who fell for that?
Copywriting services pricing just above the cheapest rates may play up their services as so much better, but it’s the equivalent of McDonald’s revamped menu. And we all know how that turned out.
Invest in Quality
Skilled wordsmiths are much like the chefs of fine dining restaurants. They don’t produce fast food. Instead, they master their craft to produce stunning dishes of impressive quality. The result is a fine dining experience complete with fresh, healthy options; the kind of experience you don’t mind paying $40 a plate for.
Fast food may temporarily satisfy hunger for a cheap price, but the long-term repercussions of a steady fast food diet are dire. The fat content, high-calorie count, and oversized portions lead to hundreds of health issues from obesity to irreversible organ damage. In fact, according to Everyday Health, a burger for lunch can shave as much as 30 minutes a day off your lifespan.
Similarly, cheap content may satisfy your need for affordable, on-demand copy. But the long-term repercussions could severely impact your business’ livelihood. For example, cheap content is cheap because it is mass produced. Time matters because the quicker a writer churns out copy, the better the pay rate.
Writers want to make money, just like you as a business owner. When faced with pay rates of $2 to $5 per 500 to 1,000 words, quality is automatically sacrificed to write as many of those dollar deals in as short a time period as possible. As a result, you receive subpar copy. Chances are it’s sparingly researched (if at all), it lacks authority, it’s not backed by anything concrete, and it’s filled with errors – some easy to spot and some not.
Fast food style content is rarely evergreen. Instead, it expires as readers quickly lose interest and fail to see any lasting value. They don’t share it. They don’t engage with it. And they eventually swap it for a higher caliber replacement from a competitor.
The Best Solution
The best solution lies in investing in quality. Excellent copy from skilled writers does not come cheap, but the investment is well worth the price. You might compare it to hiring the famous Chef Gordon Ramsay over a McDonald’s line cook. If you’re going to pay for impressive, eye-catching quality, who would you employ?
Finding the Gordon Ramsays of the content industry is the tough part. With so many pop-up service providers, one-stop content shops, factory-like setups, and freelancers, how do you find the best writers? How do you get what you’re paying for without making an unwise investment?
In A Guide to Selecting a Content Creator, we outline how to not only spot but also interview a prospective writer or service provider. Vetting a content service is one of the most crucial things you’ll ever do, so learn to do it well and you may only have to do it once!