Content outsourcing from a writer’s perspective

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I recently came across Semrush Marketplace’s State of Content Ops & Outsourcing report. It tells us who outsources content (and who doesn’t). Why people outsource (and why they don’t). Who people outsource to and why. And so on and so on.

Whichever side of the outsourcing fence you’re on, I’d recommend taking a look at the report. You’ll find things that will support your point of view — and challenge them.

As a freelancer writer, the insights it contains are gold. But there were a few things that particularly stuck out for me.

Now is the time for freelance writers — or is it?

On the face of it, the opportunities for freelance writers have never been better. Organisations now know that remote working can — and does — work, so there should be less concern around using an external resource. Then there’s the fact that everyone’s time is more stretched than ever, so having a freelancer writer take some of the load can only be a good thing.

This is certainly a point of view I’d understand. Many of my copywriting colleagues and I have all had an extremely busy couple of years. David McGuire, co-owner of B2B tech copywriting agency Radix Communications, shared similar experiences in a recent podcast conversation.

Yet according to the survey, it’s a very mixed bag. For 56% of respondents, the pandemic didn’t change their outsourcing routines. Just over a quarter of people (26%) did start outsourcing content more. But 18% of people outsourced less. So go figure!

The reasons for outsourcing writing and the reasons for not outsourcing writing are the same

Fifty-one percent of people don’t outsource their content writing. Thirty-seven percent of people have a hybrid model — a mix of internal and outsourced writing. Twelve percent of people outsource all their content writing.

The people who don’t outsource content writing don’t for three main reasons: it’s more manageable to create content internally, nobody understands the product or service better than the in-house team and nobody apart from the in-house team can do the storytelling.

What’s interesting is that what the people who don’t outsource content writing say are the weaknesses of outsourcing are seen as the strengths amongst the people who do.

We all know the amount of time it takes to get a new member of the in-house team up-to-speed — it’s no different with a freelancer. So however you choose to approach it, showing people the ropes is a fact of life. Freelancers needn’t be transitory people who aren’t worth the effort either. If you build up a good relationship with a freelancer they’ll be very happy to stay with you for the long-term (possibly even longer than a member of an in-house team would. I’m still working with some clients I started working with when I started freelancing in 2004.).

Having said that, I completely understand the issue. I remember very well the feeling of being an overworked marketer and thinking it would be quicker and easier to do something myself than get someone else to do it.

I find it harder to get on board with the idea that only the in-house team can understand the product or service well enough to write about it. This is only true if you’ve worked with an organisation for a while — if you’re new to the team you’ve got lots to learn.

More important is that the external viewpoint is so valuable. As Faruk Aydin, Head of Growth at iAge Technologies, said in the report: “Professional copywriters have their point of view and how they see the market, and they see more from the clients’ side than us. Because we have our eyes closed sometimes, we only think that our product is the best, our solutions are at the top. Well, not really. Copywriters, especially when you work with some freelancers, can tell you something different.”

Being a reputable freelance writer is the best position to be in

When it came to the question of who people outsource content writing to, there was one clear winner: freelance writers with reputable brands coming from referrals took 47% of the votes.

The rest were:

  • Digital marketing and content marketing agencies: 27%
  • Content writing service providers: 24%
  • Writers from freelance gig sites: 17%
  • AI writing tools: 12%

This sends freelance writers one very clear message. Firstly, it pays to get yourself out there and get yourself known. I’d also add that it pays to network with the copywriting community. When I look at where my business comes from, it’s a fairly even split between referrals from clients and referrals from other copywriters.

Partly because the best ones offer an agency-style service at a lower cost?

It surprised me that reputable freelance writers came top of the list — I’d have expected agencies to be higher up.

I think it’s understandable when you look a bit deeper. One of the big drawbacks people highlighted of working with agencies was that content quality was variable. And the top reasons for working with a reputable freelance writer are given as:

  • high quality content: 44%
  • price: 40%
  • original, fresh content ideas: 23%
  • the ability to create great content and a variety of content formats: 17%.

It seems to me that an unspoken benefit of working with reputable freelance writers is that you get the best of all worlds. You get high quality content every time. You also get the benefits of working with an agency (such as breadth of offering) without the associated higher costs.

If this sounds snarky, it isn’t meant to. Personally, I love writing in different formats and offering input: they’re some of the things that make my job so interesting.

Metrics, what metrics?

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that content’s success can only be measured by its performance. I try to check in with clients after a project goes live to ask for metrics so I can see how successful it’s been, although I’m not as good at asking for this information as I should be.

Worryingly, this might not be the problem I think it is.

A third of respondents said they don’t check the ROI of outsourced content but they plan to. A quarter said they didn’t track the ROI of outsourced writing 9and presumably have no plans to start.)

If this is true, shall we all make a pledge to get better at looking at our results?

What are the takeaways for me?

There were lots of interesting insights in this report for me but I think there was one big takeaway.

I’ve long targeted my services at people who know what copywriting is and why it’s so valuable.

I’m now going to adopt a similar approach to outsourcing. People either outsource or they don’t. Both have good reasons for their approach and both are equally valid.

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