Jesse Neubert 🎓
I'VE BEEN SEEING A LOT OF POSTS/QUESTIONS AROUND FINDING WRITERS…
So here's some tips from 4 years of hiring and over 600+ applications reviewed at my content writing and PR agency.
A lot of this is basic, but towards the bottom, you'll find a few GEMS on not getting scammed that a LOT of SEO users miss.
1. Your Business Model Matters
You have three options here:
A. Hire Native English writers from overseas (usually Nigeria or the Philippines) at a value rate. Good writers can often be found for around $2-$2.50/100 words.
Price in editing from a US/CA/UK/AU/NZ editor. Your editor (or you) will undoubtedly want to slam your literal heads through a pane of glass after editing a handful of these.
Don't get me wrong, there are exceptions. And honestly, many of these writers, had they been raised in the US, UK, etc., would have been EXCEPTIONAL in their craft. But I can spot these pieces a mile away, and its downright embarrassing when these mistakes are found on say a doctor's or attorney's website.
B. Hire a US/CA/UK/AU/NZ writer. Requires little editing, but will require additional SEO optimization (likely). This is the middle of the road option and is what we use at my agency.
C. Hire a US/CA/UK/AU/NZ writer also proficient in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and use of optimization tools (essentially a unicorn that most agencies and brands aren't prepared to pay a competitive rate for).
2. The Application – your best friend for screening candidates
A. Use open-ended questions. The actual questions don't matter as much as how they answer them. The goal here is to force applicants to use their brain, and to write out something more than a ‘yes' or a ‘no' answer. I judge the writing on the application as much as I do their sample work (more on that later).
B. Make it just tedious/long enough to weed out the tire-kickers, but not so long as to weed out strong applicants. Focus on your value proposition and ‘what's in it for them' in order to get a good turnout.
Apart from the basic pedigree information (name, location, education, etc.), our application is 15 questions long, 13 of which require them to type out multiple sentences to answer.
As for value, we pay a highly competitive rate for a ‘content agency', and we offer a range of perks including access to software, performance incentives, flexibility/autonomy, heck even Netflix subscriptions. Take care of your people.
3. Sample Work – don't get fooled
This is where you can really get tripped up.
A. Some writers will have immaculate applications but poor samples. We've absolutely seen writers PAY someone to write their applications for them.
B. Some writers will have poor/average applications, but great samples. Be mindful that live samples on websites that the writer does not own may have been EDITED by the website owner prior to publication, giving you a false representation of the applicant's actual writing acumen.
C. Always, always, check sample work with CopyScape AND Google
D. Fiction writers almost NEVER work out. No matter how talented, they have always had a tough time converting to writing non-fiction web content.
4. Probationary Period – a must
Always use a probationary period with paid ‘test tasks'. I usually stick with between 2-4 depending on the writer and what types of content I want to see them tackle.
During this time don't waste admin on integrating them into your project management systems. I use Slack for fast onboarding with canned messages to get the ball rolling.
Once they pass this period THEN and only then do I migrate them into our actual system and onboarding process.
Given the ‘flakiness' in the industry, you'll waste a LOT of time and energy on this if you're not careful. Trust me.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR DURING THIS PROBATIONARY PERIOD:
A. Ability to follow directions
B. Ability to take charge without a lot of handholding
C. Clear, consistent, respectful and even gracious communication
D. Ability to hit prescribed deadlines WITHOUT reminders
5. Fast, Hassle-Free and Low Fee Payments
I offer once weekly for anything turned in during that week. PayPal works fine but is horrendous on fees. Offer Wise (formerly transferwise) to eliminate virtually all fees and any conversion rate costs. Your writers will love you for it.
Always pay PROMPTLY. I pay before the pieces even hit editorial.
6. Ongoing Spot Checks – don't get punked
What we've seen…
A. Good writers submit quality work, then get sneaky and decide to ‘sub-contract' out to lower quality writers and collect the difference in pay
B. Good writers submit all original work and then try to slip in a plagiarized article here or there
C. Good writers submit all original work and then try to slip in either entirely Artificial Intelligence (AI) written content or stuff it into the middle so its less noticeable (i.e. good intro and beginning paragraphs and good closing summation but the middle is AArtificial Intelligence (AI)I).
D. An oldie but a goodie…occasionally you'll get someone to use UTF-8 encoding. You will know this because SPELL CHECK is turned OFF in Word. Turn spell check on and the words will be flagged as 'misspelt even though they are not.
This is because UTF encoding can be used to make an article 100% unique in copyscape, even though it is a 100% duplicate.
84 👍🏽11 💟95 41 💬🗨
I love Brand Booster! Jesse's service is incredible and the whole experience is seamless and easy!! Highly recommend!! He knows his stuff when it comes to writers so listen to him!
Thank you Courtney, that means a lot 🙂
Courtney Marie 🎓 » Jesse Neubert
I mean every word! You are a rockstar 🤘🙌
How do you catch the UTF trick?
Two of the easiest ways.
1. Make sure 'spell check' in Word is TURNED ON AND VISIBLE – people using encoded articles have to turn this off because while visually the words appear to be spelled correctly, Word sees the encoding and will flag it as misspelt.
2. Copy paste the article from Google doc or Word into Notepad to strip it of any encoding and paste back into CopyScape. Encoded articles are almost always 100% copied.
How do you catch AI written content?
I'm curious, why would you want to catch this? Assuming the quality is good enough, why would you care?
Castillo » Colin
Yeah, that's fair. He mentioned to watch out for it, so I was just curious about how you would even go about flagging it.
Jesse Neubert 🎓 » Colin
I'll write a longer reply when I'm back from dinner, but GPT-2 and 3 out of the box CAN be fingerprinted.
I've wrote about the potential implications of this in the past.
Perhaps that warrants a separate post.
For reference, we spent five figures training up custom models in the past (well BEFORE the emergence of all these AI tools flooded the market).
Colin » Jesse Neubert
I'll be interested to read that. I'm 100% sure OOTB GPT-2 & GPT-3 can be caught. 1 sensible operator assembling & polishing GPT-3 output can certainly beat many TextBroker 4* writers though, and I don't see how you could fingerprint that. I doubt it's a big problem for your particular agency but if I were running a 2c/word content agency I'd be very concerned.
Jesse Neubert 🎓 » Colin
Correct, with manual intervention 'cleaning it up', it would probably be quite difficult to identify.
Apart from the obvious potential fingerprint when using it 'as is', we don't use it because:
1. The editor will kill you or themselves eventually…it really is a brain bleed for a talented writer/editor to 'fix' sub-par output (be it from AI or a non-native writer) when they could have spent time producing something 'real' that they could have pride in.
2. The quality output is 'eh' for long-form. Honestly, our clients expect better. I'm pro-AI, I think its neat. I spent five figures training up a custom model well before any of the new apps came out (I was on GPT-2 back then).
While it does a rockstar job on short-form and even ads, its not close to being 'there' for longform.
It's also largely useless for product reviews, and niches were correct information is paramount: medical, legal, etc.
Colin » Jesse Neubert
I agree with most of what you say, but GPT-3 can write surprisingly good product reviews if you phrase the prompts a particular way & include the facts (specs) in the prompt. 99% of the people I see asking Jarvis or Shortly to "write a product review of x" then complaining about the output in the products' FB groups are not doing anything like this.
One of the fallacies of AI content is that it will only ever be the sum of the information that is already available and learned from. It's where long-form will fall short in pairing common knowledge with thought leadership expertise that makes for a good read. The information in contrast to the opinion is often what makes long-form a good read. Just my 2 cents, being an avid AI fan
Jesse Neubert 🎓
Hey Chris, this comes down to experience and just seeing so much of it that I can tell.
Once you've read enough AI content you'll notice quirks and nuances that are dead giveaways.
I spent five figures training up a custom model well before any of the new apps came out (I was on GPT-2 back then) so I have quite a bit more experience on this front than others, but I'd say anyone who works with AI content frequently could spot it (or at least have their spidey sense tingle a bit).
Thanks for the Amazing post. Quick question, what is the typical cost per word for a local US/UK etc writer?
It can vary quite a bit depending on what you need, experience/quality, type of content, topic, etc. all play a role.
For example, our two closest competitors charge $13/100 words on up for SurferSEO optimized content (we're cheaper than that).
Something like a local service page take more time and requires someone that can blend sales copy with an value-driven informational approach. Time costs money.
Whereas a basic blog post can be banged out fairly quickly and won't run you nearly as much.
It also depends on if you're hiring through an agency (which handles management of the writer, editing, optimization, payments etc etc), vs hiring direct.
Direct is obviously cheaper, but requires you to find and vet your own writers.
All that said, prices really can range a LOT.
I'd say anywhere from $4/100 words on the very low end, up to $15+/100 words on the higher end.
Of course this excludes 'sales copy' for landing pages which can cost you hundreds or thousands per page and is a different beast entirely.
One tip to add: Quora can be an absolute goldmine for finding subject matter experts who love to write in their spare time or retirement.
Never thought of that. Excellent tip! 🙌
This is really helpful, thanks for sharing.
My question: Where/how do you find writers?
You are very welcome Brian. Glad you found some value in there.
As for 'where', I'll probably write a separate post, but for now, a couple places to get you started…
1. Quora – Credit to Ammon above
2. Colleges and Universities – job boards, get in touch with professors, etc.
My company has hosted several paid internships and two that students received college credit for. The process isn't that difficult to comply with.
3. Sub-reddits for writers
4. Local writing clubs – sometimes they will be kind enough to do an email blast for free for you if you present a good offer for employment.
5. Oddly, in this economy, some of the more traditional job/career sites can generate a decent amount of applicants looking to work from home
Ammon » Jesse Neubert
It used to be that I'd trawl specific types of writing hobby sites, and even more especially, sites where people can share reviews.
Sites dedicated to hobby writing, poetry, even erotica for certain clients (I spent several years specializing in the ultra competitive adult markets) were often good for finding people with a passion for writing, but the downside to them is that these were people writing about stuff they liked and were passionate about. Anyone can wax lyrical about love and passion, but try getting the same inspiration from them in writing about a toothpaste, or a laminate flooring tile…
That's why review sites could be particularly useful, though many of them make it far more difficult to find a particularly prolific reviewer. At least you were finding people writing about ordinary, real-world stuff in everyday contexts.
Quora is an absolute godsend in making it extremely easy to find people with specialist knowledge, the skill to write about it well, and who do so often enough to show they have a definite interest and could be offered at the very least some work-from-home pocket money.
I help clients build in-house content teams fairly often, or at the very least build out their own list of part-time bloggers. I have always found it particularly useful to seek out full-time students for whom being paid to produce articles is a lot like being paid to do their homework, mothers on maternity leave who could really use a little extra pocket money and an intellectual distraction, and above all, the retired, who often have a wealth of personal experience and expertise to bring to bear.