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There’s an interesting article that I came across earlier today here on the value of web content. Those who are familiar with RevBuilders know that I’m the “content guy” here, so I’m sure it seems more than fitting that I’m going to crusade for spending more on writers. In fact, I’m sure plenty of you have already decided that I’m too biased to make a valid claim here. However, I’m going to try anyway, because that’s what I do: I write words and I try to make them good.

The “sweet spot” the infographic creator suggests is about $50 for 400-600 words of content. This is pretty good, especially when compared to where the industry always seems to want to go: $5 for 500 words. The difference in those two prices works out to about $0.10/word vs. $0.01/word. You’ll also notice that for “the best” articles of 600+ words, you’re going to pay $150 at minimum, or $0.25/word, according to the infographic.

Basically, the more you are willing to pay a writer, the more time they are willing to spend serving your needs. If you don’t want “off-the-rack” writing, but rather bespoke content to fit your needs, you’re going to need to compensate the author for their time. If they’re any good, an hour of their time is worth way more than what they are probably charging.

That’s where the value is for your business: You pay them enough, and they spend the time it takes to take your business angle and making it seem fresh and exciting. This in turn provides your business with the sort of energy that sells, when maybe you are too close to the business to fully portray that excitement yourself. Conversely, if you pay the writer very little for their work, they will give you just enough to get paid.

Based on this paradigm, the infographic and my 10 months or so of experience managing writers, I think I may have figured out a rough idea of what you get at different pay levels: The penny, the dime, the quarter, and (an estimate of) the dollar.

What a Penny per Word ($5 per 500 words) Gets You

The infographic sums this one up in a very humorous way, but I can tell you from experience, $5 per article is rarely if ever worth it. I would absolutely love it if I never had to use such a writer, as their content is invariably thin, keyword-stuffed garbage. Of course, I don’t blame a writer one bit for being sloppy at that rate: I wouldn’t spend more than 10 minutes on something I was only getting paid $5.00 to do. Would you?

Some people think that these people are just in a position where $5/hour is fine by them, but the truth is that you’re far more likely getting a half hour or less of their time for that rate. I can say this from experience: I wrote much differently when I wrote for pennies.

I believe, whole-heartedly, that in the case of a penny writer, you get what you pay for, and what you pay for is a rushed, non-researched ramble of ideas that will inevitably have to be edited at least once before it is even remotely readable. It may be completely innocuous nonsense, or it may state outright falsehoods. The latter can get your company in legal trouble if you don’t catch it and correct it.

When you pay somebody $5 for an article, in other words, you have to expect to spend at least a couple of hours fixing and rewriting it just to make it competent. If you’re going to have to do that (or pay somebody some good money to do it for you), why pay the hack writer in the first place?

In all fairness, there was a time when a penny per word made sense from an SEO standpoint, but this is becoming less true as Google’s search engine ranking algorithms become more sophisticated.

What a Nickel per Word ($25 per 500 words) Gets You

This is an intermediate price that I see a lot (I mean a lot) in my dealings with writers. The infographic doesn’t mention this as an option, but it is worth a passing mention. Usually, somebody asking for this price is what you might refer to as an apprentice: Still learning the copywriting craft, but interested in writing professionally.

These people, consequently, make good generalists. If you don’t need something in-depth, or aren’t looking to make a sale directly off the content, this is probably what you should be paying. Yes, I’m biased, but I truly believe that quality costs this at minimum, as you can legitimately expect that they will spend a full hour on your content before sending it to you. Still not a lot of attention, but it should be good enough to just need some basic editing. So you get a harmless but not particularly stellar article or webpage out of $25. Not a bad investment if you’re just looking to make yourself known.

What a Dime per Word ($50 per 500 words) Gets You

You’re probably still not getting much more than an hour of a contractor’s time for this price, but this is somebody who has been writing for quite a while, and knows what needs to be done and what needs to be avoided in order for a content piece to be successful.

Chances are, this is somebody who has had something published at some point in their career. These are dangerous writers, and they know it, but they might still be seeking out that one research interest that they want to call a specialty. If you’re on a budget, I’d still recommend trying to invest $50/page in order to get this writer, because he or she has skin in the game: They see themselves as a career writer, so they would be embarrassed to give you poor content and will work hard to satisfy your needs.

What a Quarter per Word ($125 per 500 words) Gets You

If you can afford it, I recommend hiring someone at this rate for any part of your website which has a conversion goal on it. This person may be a specialist in your field, or may be a generalist, but you’re probably going to have a hard time guessing which is which, because the generalist will put quite a bit of research into their work. These are professionals who will not bid on a project if it sounds too complex for their knowledge, because they are most concerned with helping you make the sale.

These aren’t just career writers: These are career copywriters. They’ve learned the trade inside and out, and probably know a thing or two about SEO as well as the art of selling. These writers are good for landing pages on PPC campaigns, as well as anywhere else on your site where a conversion is the goal. If information is the primary goal of a webpage, you can probably get away with cheaper, but a quarter per word will get you someone who can really make that information as interesting as it can be. This is big-time, professional content that will make you look like a big-time, professional firm. And isn’t that what any business really wants? To be taken that seriously?

What a Dollar per Word ($500 per 500 words) Gets You

Honestly, I have no idea. I would love to pay someone this and see what happens. My hope is that they would at least spend a full day working on those 500 words, or several sessions adding up to at least 8 hours of work, and that the article would be 500 words of some of the most concise, well-researched and well-written content on the subject around. But I can’t say for sure what you’d actually get with this budget, because I’ve never seen it. Maybe someday I’ll meet a client that wants us to seek someone like this out. Then I can say whether or not it is worth the jump from a quarter to a dollar. I’d like to hope so, but I honestly couldn’t say with confidence that it’s true.

At RevBuilders, we’re looking to move away from a fixed-cost model for content that we have used in the past. In the past, we would charge hours to clients in a fixed relationship to the quality of content we perceived as necessary, and would then adjust our copywriting budget to reflect that.

We’re doing this because we want to be able to provide our clients with more options. Right now, for example, we couldn’t hire a quarter per word for a writer under any circumstances. So, we’re looking to shift to a model that will simultaneously offer more transparency and more control to our clients. Trust me when I say that high-quality writing is an investment on the image of your site. Therefore, I encourage you to consider writing as an integral part of your marketing budget rather than an “additional fee.” Your business will thank you.

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