The 10 Content Commandments
Content writing is important for businesses. This discusses two types of content: blog posts / articles and the content placed on each page of a website (page content). It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner who handles your own content creation, a business owner who wants to hire a writer to create content, or a writer who writes or wants to write this sort of content. You need to read this. And you’re welcome.
1 – Thou Shalt Understand the Scope of Thine Project
Business website owners, this means that you understand what it is that you need. Do you need web content? Do you need blog posts / articles? How long do you want the content to be? What tone do you want to set for your readers? Do you want posts that are search engine optimized?
If you’re hiring a writer, are you on the same page with the writer? Are you sure they understand what it is that you want? If you don’t understand what you want, you can’t necessarily leave it up to the writer that you hire. Otherwise, there’s a damn good chance you will be extremely unhappy with the results.
Writers, for the love of fountain pens, ask clarifying questions. Make absolutely sure that you know what it is that your client wants and that you are capable of giving it to them. Review their current website (if they have one). Ask questions about what they do. Do some research on competitor site. And, FFS, be friendly. Don’t act like a know it all because that client can choose someone else (like me) who is considered an expert, who won’t treat them like a child, and who will make an effort to truly understand their needs.
2 – Thou Shalt Know Thine Audience
I know my audience for this site. You either have a morbid fascination about me (and should probably get professional help) or you enjoy snark. Could be both.
Business website owners, think about your target audience. Take some time to put together a profile. It doesn’t have to be long…or look fancy. If you have clients or customers now, use your best customer / client to create this profile. You would love to have more people just like that person, right? Answer in generals: age, education, profession, income, and ask yourself the magic question: what is it that keeps your best customer or client awake at night? This will help you here to know your audience and further down in the Content Commandments.
If you’re hiring a writer, make sure that you still know your audience. You cannot expect a writer to cater to your audience and their wants / needs if you have no idea what those things are. We aren’t magicians. I can give you a good idea of who your audience may be after I review your existing site or learn more about your business, but it is up to you to tell me about your audience. You are my audience. I know plenty about your wants and needs.
Writers, again, ask questions. Learn about your potential client’s industry. What age group usually take advantage of those types of services? Have you looked around at competitor pages to learn more about how they address their audience? Make sure you know YOUR audience (potential client) so that you can help them. Happy clients are repeat clients.
3 – Thou Shalt Have Realistic Expectations
Business website owners, some of you already know what I am about to say. For the rest who don’t know…content writing isn’t magic. Yes, great content is essential to your web presence. However, one or two pages of good web content or one or two posts / articles isn’t going to skyrocket you to better SERP overnight. Building and improving your web presence takes time. Anyone who tells you that their content (or even SEO) will give you number one results overnight is smoking some bad devil’s lettuce.
If you’re hiring a writer, see the paragraph above. Also, have realistic expectations regarding the person that you hire. Look at their profile. Read their sample work. Talk to them and get to know them. Know what time zone they are located in. The best writers are often the busiest because people know that we are the best. Unless you’re willing to pay a premium, you likely won’t get bumped to the top of the list. With that said, though, for web page content, you can expect to have it within two or three weeks after the writer starts on it. If you’re hiring for a blogger, you and the writer should be on the same page for deliverables.
Writers, be realistic about the amount of work you can produce during any given period of time. Do not overbook yourself or your brain and your happiness will pay the price. Make sure that you understand what you will be paid, when you should deliver the content, when you will receive payment, and how that payment will be made. Do not be afraid to ask for a retainer. Also, don’t be afraid to say no if a potential client seems overly demanding.
4 – Thou Shalt Prepare an Appropriate Budget
Business owners, if you’re writing your own content, keep in mind that you’re taking time away from your business activities. That is not to say that you shouldn’t write your own content, though. However, if you find that you’re actually losing money because you’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time creating content, you might want to reconsider hiring out.
If you’re hiring a writer, pay attention. Look, I know writing seems easy…but if it was so damn easy, you’d do it yourself. Most people don’t do it themselves and it isn’t because they don’t have time. It’s because they don’t have the skill, talent, or desire to do it. You need to have an appropriate budget. Saying you’ll pay $2 for 500 words is not an appropriate budget. And looking for a budget writer in a third world country? Sure, they’re out there, but you will get what you pay for.
I get a lot of messages on Upwork inquiring about what I do and my rates. Even if I don’t get hired then, I always hear back from them. Always. They found a cheaper writer. And…now they’re really screwed and could I please please please help them?
I know budgets are important. Yet, hiring someone for $1 for 2k words and they’re in another country…well, now you’re going to pay more than if you would have just hired a writer in your own country who speaks your language and with whom you can discuss your needs and target audience concerns.
Also, if you want an expert, you’re going to pay more. If you want great content, you’re going to pay more. Once, a potential client inquired about my rates and went on to hire someone in Pakistan because it was cheaper. They contacted me two weeks later and had to pay more to get to the top of my schedule because the money they spent on web content…well, the Pakistani writer had written it in his or her native language and just translated it to English through Google Translate. I probably don’t have to tell you this…but language’s do not translate straight across.
As writers, we have families. We have bills. We have to put food on the table and pay our electricity and Internet and gas and insurance…just like you. We have to pay taxes. We have to pay other business expenses. Writing isn’t magic. We don’t just spin out 12 pages of web content in an hour. It’s not that simple even for the best of us. You wouldn’t want someone low-balling you for your service or product. Don’t low-ball us.
Writers, do not work for slave wages. You became a writer because you are good at writing or because you love it or both. Taking far less money than you need to survive will suck the joy straight out of your life. I understand taking one or two projects at the low end of the budget to have some samples and get your name out there. However, if your schedule is full of cheapskates, how will you ever be able to put better paying clients on your schedule? If you’re new to freelancing, do not quit your job until you have established a savings account and have some clients.
5 – Thou Shalt Understand SEO Basics
Regardless of whether you’re a business owner, hiring a writer, or are a writer, you need to understand the basics of SEO. Here’s why:
Business owners, it keeps you from being taken advantage of when you hire someone to focus solely on your SEO. It also helps you hold educated conversations so that you can make better decisions.
If you are hiring a writer and you want someone to write SEO posts, you still need to understand the basics. You need to know how to choose the right keywords even if you leave that to the writer. You need to rank for the right keywords.
Writers, the more skills you develop, the more you are worth. If you’re just now thinking about starting a writing business, you need to understand that many potential clients will want someone who can write SEO posts. It’s not that hard. Seriously, I know I keep linking to it…but only because it is so important.
6 – Thou Shalt Not Include Technical Terms in Thine Posts
Business owners, I know that you want to showcase your knowledge. However, this goes back to an earlier Content Commandment about knowing your audience. If your target audience is a regular member of society (read: not an engineer, an architect, a doctor, a lawyer, etc.) then you should limit the use of technical terms in your writing. I have a BS in Paralegal Studies. A lot of my clients are lawyers. While there are some terms we just don’t have a ‘plain English’ equivalent for, we still can’t write with legal jargon. We either have to find a way to say it in a more comprehensive way or we have to explain the term. Writing in technical terms, regardless of whether they are legal terms or other industry specific terms, is bad because it has the potential to make your target audience feel uneducated. They will look for someone who talks to them on their terms.
On the flip side, if your target market happens to be made up of professionals in another industry, you can use some terms that they will be familiar with. This is because those are likely terms that draw them to your website. They may even be keywords. However, you still don’t want to overdo it.
If you are hiring a writer, look for someone who understands the importance of plain English writing. You may want to showcase your expertise as a business, but writing in industry jargon can leave your readers confused and looking at other websites. Only hire writers whose deliverables to you are clear and concise.
If your target market is a group of professionals, you may want to use industry terms that they would know. However, it is important that the writing is personable and professional.
Writers, I shouldn’t even have to tell you this. Don’t use a $10 word where a .10 cent word will suffice. I know you want to showcase your abilities as a writer. I understand that. However, your writing doesn’t mean shit if people don’t read it (or can’t understand it).
If you must use technical terms, make sure that you give a definition or explain the term. As a legal writer, I know this can happen. It is imperative that your writing style is clear and easy for readers to understand. Learn Bloom’s Taxonomy because it is important regardless of the type of writing that you do. Understand where the majority of adults are in reading and comprehension. Always keep in mind that just because someone may not know certain industry terms does NOT make them unintelligent. If someone doesn’t understand what you’ve said, that’s not their problem. That is YOUR problem.
7 – Thou Shalt Not Plagiarize
Business owners, I know you’re busy. Going and visiting competing sites to get ideas is good. Outright stealing their content is bad. If you plagiarize from another site, there are some bad things that can happen to you. First, the search engines may elect to penalize your site. You’ll go down in SERP. They may totally take you out of the search results. Second, the owner of the content, should they find out, could send you a notice to remove the content and they may even have the option to sue you.
If you’re hiring a writer, first read the paragraph above. Because it still applies to you and your site. Plagiarism is bad. You do not want to pay money to get content that hurts your site. Obviously, you need to take some time to talk with potential writers and get to know them. Read their reviews if they’re on Upwork. Next, invest in some sort of plagiarism detecting program. Copyscape is extremely popular. However, if English is not your native language there is something you should know about it (and other programs). Certain phrases in English like “on the other hand” or “the flip side of the coin” may come back marked as plagiarism. Those are common phrases. Make sure that you know and understand common English phrases. Figure out what will count as plagiarized work in your book. I’ve worked with companies (and use Copyscape) that consider anything over 10 – 15% as plagiarized (with the exception of obvious quotes from other material). Also, if you plan on developing round-up posts (posts that summarize various stories from different websites) you should know that using something like Copyscape will likely be a hindrance to you. Your writer is restating work from other sources. It may come back as plagiarized.
Writers, just stop it. You know how you’d feel if it happened to you. It is not flattering. If you want to be a writer, do not steal the work of others. Review what counts as plagiarism and always keep it in mind. Clients can and will fire you for doing it.
8 – Thou Shalt Be Professional with Thine Contacts
Business owners, I’ve had so many people reach out to me as a contact to get advice…for free. And that’s cool (overall). Do you know what’s not cool? When people begin to feel like I somehow owe them my time (that they aren’t paying for). Be nice. That’s all I have to say. Be nice. No one owes you an immediate answer especially if you’re paying them.
If you’re hiring a writer, be professional. Be nice. And, please, for the love of grapes, respond in a reasonable time frame. If your writer has questions, they may not be able to move forward without your answers. This puts your project behind. If you’re not going to be available or if you have certain hours that you’re available, you need to let the writer know. Keep in mind that although you are paying a writer to do a project that there is a chance that you are not their only client. If you’ve given them instructions and a deadline, let them work. Don’t constantly email and message them to find out how it is going (and then get upset if you don’t hear back immediately).
Writers, I’ve seen a lot of people lose clients because of their attitude toward them. Be professional. You can be friendly and still be professional. If you’re not going to be available during the time that you are usually available, make sure that your clients know. Also, if someone seems overly pushy from the beginning, decline the project in a respectful manner. You do not owe anyone a reason. If they insist, you can choose to not answer or you can just say that your schedule won’t allow for another project at this time. However, that reason works best only if you understand the scope of the project.
9 – Thou Shalt Communicate Clearly and Often
Business owners, if you’re writing your own content, this really won’t apply to you. The next one will apply to you.
If you’re hiring a writer, you need to pick someone who has a good history of working with clients like you and who keeps open lines of communication. Look for someone who is friendly and professional in the way that they talk to you. Also, look for someone who asks questions about your project and who summarizes what they believe you want. Even if they don’t understand the project at first, it shows you that they are listening and you can try again to get on the same page with them. As mentioned above, you need to be available to answer questions. If a project will be long term, make sure that you and the writer plan times to get together via email or messenger to update and discuss the project.
Writers, respond to emails and messages from your clients. When you have questions, ask. This is the only way that you can ensure that you deliver what your client wants. If someone doesn’t seem to want to communicate with you on a regular basis, you may want to find a different client. Communication breakdown is the number one reason why writers and clients end up unhappy….someone drops the ball.
10 – Thou Shalt Produce Regular Content
Business owners, create a content schedule and stick to it. You don’t have to produce new content every day of the week, but you do need to produce content on a regular basis. It could be once a week. It could be twice a week. Whatever you decide, stick to it. Regular content (that is unique) helps your site get better SERP.
If you are hiring a writer, know how often you want content. Make sure that you know whether the writer you’re hiring can deliver as much regular content as you need.
Writers, even for your own blog or website, you need regular content. I shouldn’t even have to say that.