Search engines and web users are getting smarter and more sophisticated. With Google search algorithm updates like Penguin penalizing spammy websites, it’s more important than ever to create interesting and compelling content that people will naturally want to share and link to.
Great content leads to links, leads to shares, and makes other companies and websites want to work with you.
However, great content is not enough to dominate search.
You also need to promote your content and proactively build links. One of the most reliable link building strategies is guest blogging, where each guest article contains contextual links back to your own content.
But, if you are not a professional writer or have a small budget and team, how can you possibly scale these guest writing opportunities? Even if you have great opportunities to write guest articles on other sites, how can you produce interesting content fast enough?
That’s exactly what I am going to show you in this article. I am going to go over how we scaled our content efforts without hiring a single additional full time employee by leveraging freelance writers.
But first, a little background…
I am the founder of Proven, a small business job board, which in the fall of 2015, laid off its’ entire sales team to bet the future of the company on content marketing.
At that time, our blog was receiving about 50 organic visitors a month.
So, it was a bold move to say the least, but my business partner and I knew that the only way to make the economics of our business work was to dramatically lower our cost of customer acquisition by driving customers through SEO and content marketing.
Further, we couldn’t afford to hire an expensive SEO firm to help us or hire new employees with the right experience. We had to rely on learning how to grow traffic and convert that traffic into customers so we could do the work ourselves.
A big part of our strategy was to write long form content for our blog that was hopefully better than anything else on the particular topic we were tackling (i.e. Skyscraper Technique).
Once we produced the content, we would go through an intense phase of promotion, eventually designing an approach called The Mission Week. A big part of our Mission Weeks is link building and a component of that is guest blogging.
For each piece of blog content, we would want to produce 2-4 support articles that we could place on other websites. They would contain links back to the original blog article. Ideally, we would want these support pieces ready as soon as our blog content went live.
With only a single full time dedicated employee to marketing, as amazing as our director of marketing is, it was not reasonable for her to be able to handle this entire workload.
This is when we started building out a freelance team to help us write these support pieces.
Through 2016, we grew this team to 10 writers, grew our blog’s organic traffic 1500% and crossed the important milestone of our company becoming cash flow positive.
Now, I’m going to show you how we did it.
Sourcing Freelance Writers
The first step to working with freelance writers is figuring out where to find them.
Luckily, there are a lot of people available with various writing backgrounds (e.g. journalism degrees), but a limited number of full time writing jobs. This has created a great situation for those looking to hire freelance writers since there happens to be on oversaturation in the market.
For us, we used a variety of sources to find writers, some approaches worked better than others.
There are a several websites like Upwork and Elance that specialize in freelance jobs. There are a ton of writers available and you can see their performance history, reviews and market rates.
The great thing about these sites is that it’s very easy to get up and going. You can create a job, say that you are willing to pay a certain amount and writers will come to you with bids for the job.
The downside here is that the quality level can vary drastically. We had some success with Upwork when creating very simple support articles, and it’s a good option for those that really hate writing and want to get up and running. However, you may need to try out a bunch of people before you find someone really reliable.
Sourcing Through Articles
Another approach that takes more time, but has worked really well for us is finding a potential freelancer through an article they already wrote. If you know of a related blog or news outlet to the niche you are working in, you can go through their articles and look up the authors. Some of those authors will be professional writers or content marketers that work on a freelance basis.
You can reach out to them and see if they have time to work with you.
The really nice thing is you already like their writing style, so the vetting process is easy.
Referral From Your Pool
As you start to build your writing team, you can ask the best writers for recommendations to other freelancers that they may know. For any type of job, referrals are one of the best sources, so you should make sure to leverage them for your freelance team.
Word of Mouth
Finally, as you start to grow your traffic and presence on other blogs through these articles, you’ll start to have people reach out to you asking to write content.
A lot of these will not be worth your time, but since they are coming to you, it’s easy to put the burden back on them asking for a sample article written on a topic of your choosing. Most will never respond to you at this point, but the serious ones will send you something.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Now that you know where to get your writers, let’s dive into a strategy for working with the freelancers.
When working with freelancers, since they are essentially mercenaries, you want to give them as much guidance about your expectations as possible. They are generally not going to do much more beyond what you are explicitly paying them for. The more guidance you can provide, the more likely you will be happy about the outcome.
If you simply say, I need 600 words on topic A, you are setting yourself and the freelancer up for failure. They will give you 600 words on that topic, but the style, approach to the topic, and so forth could be wildly off from your expectations.
Below are the two items we send a writer for each piece of content. It took us a while to develop this discipline, but it is definitely worth it.
Writing and Style Guide
Based on Arielle Jackson’s approach to brand building as outlined in this article, we created a voice guide that helps writers understand how we speak to our audience.
The voice guide consists of example sentences, where each sample shows a boring version of a sentence, an over the top version and a version that is just right.
Below shows two examples taken from this guide.
|Boring Sentence||Over the Top||Just Right|
|We answer your calls and emails about hiring.||We are at your beck and call and go to the ends of the earth to make their hiring experience an unforgettable one.||We love answering your questions about hiring so that you have an amazing experience.|
|We take your job and put it on lots of job boards.||We are a job distribution engine that takes your job req and distributes it to hundreds of job boards and career sites.||We help you post your job to the appropriate job boards to reach your ideal audience.|
This is a great way for your freelance writers to stay on brand and sound like someone that works for you.
Article Specific Guidelines
For each article we ask a writer to produce, we send an email explaining the topic, content style suggestions, length and what URL to link to along with a possible keyword set to be the context for the link.
Below is an example email that we might send.
|Subject Matter: X Steps to Writing A Compelling Job Advertisement
Target Length: 750-1000 words
We want an article outlining some ways to make a job advertisement stand out above all the others. You can find some tips to draw from in a recent article we published ( http://blog.proven.com/job-advertisements ) and get creative.
Example categories (TOTALLY optional) :
We are using this piece to support an article we are producing about the Google job search engine. It will be published on September 6th, so we want to have these pieces ready to roll when it goes live 🙂
Guest Blogging Strategy
I won’t get into the specific strategies around building guest post opportunities with different sites as that is covered already by a lot different of folks. I will say that we started small and built our reputation up that eventually led to guest writing opportunities at sites like the Daily Muse, Business Insider and Hubspot.
As mentioned, we try to produce 2 to 4 guest support articles for each piece of content we release. Typically, we give our freelance writers 2 weeks notice prior to our content going live so that we can have their contribution back in time.
Besides the strategy around the timing of these articles, one of the other big things we do is own the relationship for placing each article.
Our freelance writers simply produce the content and then send the articles back to us. Once we get the article, our director of marketing submits the articles for publication to different blogs and websites.
The big advantage here is that we maintain the relationship between the blog or website and our contributions. This way if a writer stops working with us, we still have that relationship. That’s the truly valuable component in the equation and why SEO firms charge so much for link building.
Tips For Building Your Freelance Team
We have learned a lot over the last year and a half and have paid the price for a number of mistakes along the way.
Besides being very explicit with your instructions, a couple of other valuable tips are:
- Our best freelance writers were vetted over video chat. We were able to spend more time making them understand what we required from them and also put a face to the name.
- A lot of freelancers will not work out for various reasons, so it’s important to have more possible writers to work with than you think is necessary. You want a pool of already vetted people to draw from.
- Eventually, your best freelancers may start asking for more money. If you are really happy with their work it might be worth it, but make sure you are raising pay on merit. If your budget is really strict, you can be clear about this from the very beginning.
If you are creating great content, but struggling to rank well or drive eyeballs to your articles, then scaling guest blogging is a great approach. One dedicated employee can build and maintain many relationships with different blogs and sites to submit articles to and leveraging freelancers help you quickly provide great support pieces for these different sites.
Remember, be clear with your expectations and do not get discouraged when some writers do not work out. Once you find a great writer, you can even have them produce content for your own site and potentially offer them a full-time job down the road.
Working with freelance writers allowed us to massively scale our marketing efforts without drastically increasing our month to month costs.