6 questions to ask before you hire a professional content writer

January 21, 2019

High-quality content is rocket fuel for today’s marketing strategies. But the difficult task of finding great writers who can create that content often stalls the marketing rocket before it ever takes off.

Great writers help you effectively communicate your message, drive sales leads and save you the time and frustration that comes with a writer who doesn’t understand your business, strategic goals, voice and tone.

Beyond looking at writing samples, how can you assess whether a professional writer has what it takes to produce engaging, clear and effective content? Ask these six questions to see if a potential writer can deliver the goods:

1) How do you conduct research?

In my experience, extensive rewrites often occur due to failures in the information-gathering and research phase — not the writing phase. If a writer doesn’t have digital research savvy or the skills to ask the right questions and probe for the details they need, the result will be bad content.

Great writers know how to mine the internet for information they need, such as:

  • Credible, independent resources
  • Clients’ interests and pain points
  • Your competitors, their brand positioning (and how yours differs) and their content strategy, including any gaps that you can exploit
  • Your company’s or firm’s services and their value
  • Your industry’s unique language (every industry has one)
  • Your target audience’s sophistication level and familiarity with the subject matter

In addition to digital research, great writers know how to effectively interview your subject-matter experts to find and showcase the expertise, ideas and insights buried deep inside your company.

2) What’s your editing and project management process?

Doesn’t having to make extensive edits negate the whole point of paying a writer in the first place?

Great writers pride themselves on writing content that requires minimal edits. While there’s always a ramp-up phase where the writer is learning your preferences and style, once you get into a groove with your writer, the edits should be minimal.

By asking what their editing process is, you’ll get a sense of whether they:

  • Are used to getting extensive edits or not
  • Learn from the edits they receive
  • Are receptive to constructive feedback

If your content needs are significant, then you’ll also need a content writer with organizational skills and a defined project management process. How will they manage multiple content requests and deadlines, build in enough time for research and client reviews, and incorporate your preferences and style guidelines in each piece they deliver?

If your writer is a scatterbrained creative who’s never juggled multiple content pieces, run the other way.

3) How would you get to know our business and industry?

As B2B marketer Doug Kessler said, “B2B copywriting isn’t pituitary gland surgery — but sometimes it’s about pituitary gland surgery. That means the writer is going to have to learn things. Technical things.”

Great content writers are voracious learners. They love digging deep to truly understand concepts. They don’t skim the surface and write pretty, shallow copy. They make sure they “get it” before they ever put pen to paper.

While finding a writer who already knows your industry is ideal, it’s not critical. As I said before, great copywriters are also expert researchers. To learn your industry they should do things like:

  • Sign up for industry newsletters
  • Read industry trade magazines
  • Scour your website and your competitors’ websites
  • Follow your industry thought leaders on social media

4) What search engine optimization (SEO) best practices do you use?

While SEO best practices have evolved, keywords still form the foundation of a solid SEO strategy.

A good writer will have a go-to tool (or tools) to research SEO keyword phrases. Once those keywords are identified, a good writer will know how to implement them into copy naturally and effectively.

SEO-savvy writers will also implement internal links throughout the copy and spend time crafting headlines and subheads that incorporate important keywords while also engaging the reader.

5) What makes great content?

Great writers are opinionated about writing. They can’t read for fun without their critical, professional eye getting in the way. They also:

  • Know that simple is always better. They never make the reader work to understand the information.
  • Understand the power of examples, metaphors and imagery to convey complex information.
  • Can effectively weed out needless jargon and get to the heart of the message so that today’s busy readers don’t have to wade through obtuse language and unnecessary details to get the information they seek.
  • Have a strong, confident writing voice, but can also write in your brand voice.
  • Understand that the internet has changed the way people read. They know, for example, that online readers don’t read from top to bottom and instead engage in a behavior called “information foraging,” following an “information scent” as they hunt for information. Writers who understand this create content that guides readers with information cues like subheads, bullet points and lists.

6) What do your clients say?

Our clients tell us that they highly value our writers and are happy to tell other people about our work. I’ve heard over and over again how surprised and delighted they were to finally work with a B2B marketing agency that they didn’t have to micromanage.

Ask to speak to your potential writer’s clients to see whether they are editing their copy to death, or just checking for accuracy, making a few tweaks and approving the copy.

 

Looking for a professional content writer? Have questions about working with a content marketing agency? Contact me at michelle@rep-ink.com or 904-374-5733.

 
 
 

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About the Author
Michelle Calcote King

Michelle Calcote King is an award-winning marketer with nearly 20 years of expertise in all things marketing, content, media and public relations. Specializing in highly complex industries, she leverages superior writing skills, media savvy and a love of all things digital to move her clients’ businesses forward.

Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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