We requested over 200,000 words of content last week. This ranged from buyer guides (affiliate articles), information posts for the aforementioned affiliate sites, press release articles, and website content.
A lot of people struggle with content creation. It is the bottleneck of a lot of agencies. People struggle finding the right vendors or the most cost effective solutions for different pieces of their strategy.
I expect this to be an ever evolving and fairly definitive post covering how we created a scalable content creation solution using a hybrid model of our own team and a few different vendors.
What you can expect from this post
I am going to show you the “Hire 100 writers in 100 days” challenge we performed. Although we failed miserably, we set up a killer process to manage writers and content, and walked away with a 25+ person writing team that can be scaled as we are ready.
NOTE: I will give all of this away to you guys 🙂
I will share a few vendors and platforms that we use with great success. No affiliate links and I have no financial interest in recommending them aside from wanting to help you guys out.
I will show you some sneaky stuff. Do not skip straight to the sneaky stuff. Ill know if you did and that is against the rules.
Without further ado we will get started.
Hiring 100 Writers within 100 Days – Build your Writing Infrastructure
Let me say right upfront that we failed at this. We actually under delivered by like 75%. Having said that, we added over twenty writers to our team and put together one of the most badass writing systems that I have come across.
Let me start by saying…anyone can do this. A large amount of these writers are remote. The team we do have in our one office is two editors and one higher quality writer. I will explain the purpose of this in the meat and potatoes of this section, but for now, just know you can build a stellar writing team.
If you are not interested in building out and managing a large writing system and would rather have something small and more controllable, then you will want to use this section as a tool to hire an editor or editors.
You can use them to clean up and edit articles from a few of the sources in the other section of this post and still do really well for yourselves.
The first thing you should do before you posting any job ads or setting up infrastructure is to understand this is not going to be an overnight success. A writer hiring process is complex and you need a multi faceted qualification approach.
Yes, I will be giving away the entire writing system to you guys from the scripts we used to hire, where we hired from, the hierarchy of the writing team, and of course the management system we put together to manage orders and handle the writers.
Firstly, we are going to set up a management system. That way when you actually get writers coming onto your team, everything operates extremely well.
The first piece of that is a master sheet that will help organize and access writers and teams. When you open this sheet, make a copy for yourself. Before you modify anything on the sheet, make sure you check out the quick guide on using it so you do not mess anything up.
Let’s explore this sheet.
Writers Name – Pretty obvious what goes here. Either the individual or the team manager.
City & Country– This is important so you can assess time differences for communication and for establishing the exchange rate if needed. Some countries cannot legally own a PayPal account as well, so it is nice to keep this information handy.
This allows you to track if the person is an individual writer or represents a team.
Rate Per 500 Words – This allows you and your manager to keep up with the varying rates that you will undoubtedly pay depending on the writer and the writing projects they perform.
PayPal email – This allows your manager to easily handle open invoices for you from one central hub, instead of digging through messages and emails looking for billing details.
This allows you to keep up with the quality of each writer and helps your manager or editor with assigning tasks to most appropriate team member.
Average Turnaround Time –
This is important so you or your manager can keep track of turnaround times for your team. This will also grant someone the ability to cross reference the master sheet with your Trello board to keep this updated and essentially drop writers that are taking too long.
The next section is going to need a quick walk-through…
Competency – This tracks which writer or teams are proficient with what type of content. As you can see we have multiple different competencies within one cell.
I have this sheet setup so you guys can modify this to suit your businesses. Notice you cannot just select multiple choices in the drop down so just follow these steps and you will be well on your way to completing your master sheet.
First, jump over to this column
Notice this lonely list? This is actually the column from which the competency column pulls its options. You can change this until it reflects the content you will be ordering from your team. This will allow you to monitor all of the content competencies of your team.
To actually record these strengths, follow these steps…
Make sure he data validated competency cell you want to fill in is selected and click the “show dialog” option under the “Custom Menu” tab. This will require you to allow the script to run and approve it running through Google Drive. That will bring up this menu
Notice all of your defined content types in the menu that you can tick and it will add to your master sheet. It is that simple to enable your competency cells to house more than one of the writer’s proficient areas.
Last but not least..
Weekly Capabilities – This is how many pieces of content your writer or their team can handle per week. Very important to track that so you are not over assigning pieces of content.
Next step is to set up a content ordering system so that you or your managers can easily request content to be completed. We use Gravity Forms for this and just host it as an internal form on one of our websites.
How much and what kind of information you add is up to you but here is a snippet of ours.
I love Gravity Forms because of the conditional logic that allows you to get super granular with your content requests. Once this is setup we now have a way to manage our writers and to request content.
Now it is time to actually setup a system to oversee the process of the article from request to finish product. We use(d) a plethora of different project management platforms over the years, but Trello seems to work best for this system. I know Asana added cards, and I love Asana, but I have not bothered to migrate away from something that is working great.
First thing we do with this process management Trello board is to wire our Gravity Forms up with the board that we will be using to manage the process. Now every time we request content it automatically creates a card on your board that the writers can then claim and start working on.
Our Trello board looks like this…
It is a simple process that has new cards feeding into the board and then being claimed by an available writer. Once finished the editor performs a quality check and makes any necessary modifications to ensure it meets our expectations.
Once complete it gets sent out and moved to “sent to client”. This is basic but essential for monitoring the entire writing process. If at any point in the process someone is slacking or a piece of it gets broken you will be able to quickly identify the issue and fix it.
The final thing I would recommend is setting up a child account for your PayPal business account if you do not already have one. This will allow your editor or manager to parse through all of your writing invoices, double check everything was delivered and acceptable, and then make all of those micropayments that you do not want to spend all day doing, especially as your team grows.
Getting this stuff setup right away will save you a lot of headaches as you scale your team and start churning out content.
Next step is the platforms we use for hiring. I used three platforms and each one will probably come as somewhat of a surprise. We used Craigslist in a few cities in the Philippines, OnlineJobs.ph, and Upwork. I know these platforms have become synonymous with shoddy work, but you can mine gems if you have the qualification system in place that we discussed in the beginning of this section.
Here is what we posted…
There is nothing special about the copy. We do demand that they include samples. If they do not we disqualify them. We have found this to be a vital component to the qualification process. If they cannot follow directions we don’t want them.
~20% of the applicants make it through to the next round of interviews. This means they followed the directions in the post and their samples were proper. Someone’s sample is going to be what they consider their best work. If that sucks then take a pass.
Once you eliminate ~80% of the initial flood of applicants then it’s time to qualify further. You actually want to send them a job to do and quality check the article you get back. This is where you are going to eliminate another 40-60%.
So after around 200 some applicants we came out with 26 writers.
Here is just one of the results from OnlineJobs.ph. I think the biggest mistake people make is assuming if you want to build a team of quality writers then you need to hire people that speak English as their first language, and realistically that is just not true.
The majority of the solid writers we found on OnlineJobs.ph were either English tutors, actual English teachers, or university students that displayed proficient writing abilities.
100% of the writers we hired are remote and in a foreign country, and the quality of content would suggest differently, comparatively with what we as an industry are used to when purchasing content from foreign sources.
Part II: Vendors (Updated 9/22/17)
I am going to hit you guys with a few vendors that we use(d) with success. If we no longer use the vendor I will give you a reason why. Vendors can be a wonderful way to get a ton of content done without the worry of employees, editors, SOPs, etc.
Keep in mind there will be no affiliate links in this section. I am getting nothing in return for recommending these vendors. Just want to be transparent that they are getting mentioned because I have had great experiences using them.
First up must be one of the newest sources I have been using. Serp-Focus’ done for you content solution. This is, of course, ran by Michael Milas. I jumped in at the beta rates but for the amount of work that goes into these, it’s still not a bad deal to get on board.
Milas offers content obviously, but the real USP is the hands-off side of the service.This is what the spreadsheets look like once you jump in. Notice we add the login for the sites.
Their team prepares the content, uploads it to the site, optimizes it for the keyword you provide, add media, interlink, and shoots you the link for you to check out. All of this happens from the sheet posted above.
I ordered the 100 articles per month package. It really is nice to be able to populate a sheet and walk away while the content gets knocked out for you. Also, you can place orders for custom amounts of content per article and they will just deduct one article credit per 500 words.
Jedediah Hunt founder of The Content Center offers a high-quality article creation service. This is not for those on a bootstrapping budget but rather for those that want a superior service. I have noticed varying turnaround times, but again, the point of this service is to get top-notch content. I have ordered Jed’s content mainly for my personal websites and higher-end client websites.
Great for when you want to impress a client or make a statement with your own site.
I have used two more vendors successfully since writing this post and I added them to this post as well. First up is Joe Grasibery from SEO Content Hero. I have known Joe for quite some time and can speak to the quality of his character. The content was great as well. We used it for an interview style guest post on a large niche publication. I definitely recommend this service.
The next vendor is Shalev with Cohseo. We used this service for a large article on an affiliate site. It was researched with what can only be explained as obsession, and was extremely well written. This service made my list as a viable vendor for your money site needs. Shalev is also a great, trustworthy young entrepreneur that cares about his craft. Great quality.
I wanted to add a bit about PBN style content or filler content for inner pages or blog posts on your lead gen site. Some people use automated content for this stuff but for the low prices of having this team perform the writing for you, it makes sense to just go a few levels better and use Marto.
I always had managers work with him directly so I am not sure if he has a website dedicated to his writing service but we had him do inner pages for lead gen sites, PBN stuff, lower quality press releases, etc. Great guy and the pricing is on point. If you become a regular customer and do decent volume, it gets even better
Let me know if you guys know of a content service you would like me to check out. This portion of the article will grow as more vendors come and go. I had to hold a few out from you guys as I am completely monopolizing their efforts and i do not want my content schedules to suffer. If they scale I will add those as well.
Sales Pages, Emails, Marketing Materials, etc.
These buggers can be the bane of our existence, for sure. We know the content has to be high quality but we also know they need to be written and structured to convert. I have used a few people for this type of content and the results have been night and day. Some are really great, and others use the cheesiest templates from the 90’s that you will ever lay eyes upon.
You will find the Cult of Copy job board a great place to connect with copywriters. Placing posts in there with details about what you need will garner you a lot of applicants with a wide range of experience and pricing.
Keep in mind these are not $10-20 writing jobs. Emails can be $50-150 each and beyond depending on the writer. I have been quoted $5,000 for landing pages from people I have never heard of before in my life. Copy can even be a lot more expensive than that.
The key is making sure the samples from the writers are something that you could see resonating with your brand’s messaging. Also, hiring anyone means there is a split responsibility. They must deliver a product, sure, but it’s your job to communicate properly and make sure they understand what you want.
I personally do not use writing platforms for a few reasons. One of the most important things to me when using a vendor is the ability to communicate with them directly. I push a lot of volume through to my content vendor and I want the ability to put out fires or make suggestions at the drop of a dime.
Another issue I have with platforms is the varying degrees of consistency, even when using the same writers. This can happen for two reasons. Now, before I give these reasons please understand this does not mean they are the case every time. I just know it happens so I avoid the platforms.
Reason one is that writers start accounts and increase their reputation, and once they have enough recurring orders they build an extremely cheap team and the quality takes a dive. Overnight your content expectations are no longer being met and your projects will be behind schedule until you quickly find another writer to test and then get to fulfill
The second reason is because of one of the hustles that go on at a lot of the larger content platforms. This one is like number one but the proof is a bit more in the pudding…
Writers create accounts and generate excellent quality content to age their account and build trust. Once this is accomplished the account gets sold to someone with a large low-quality writing team and once again you are back to square one.
Since that one was like the first reason let me tell you guys some dastardly deeds that some writers perform for a quick buck. Maybe rather than tell you I will show you.
So, I am going to Google “weight loss articles”. Something saturated with lots of duplicate content.
I am going to fish an article right out of that number one organic result.
Here is the URL and the 270 some odd words we are going to blatantly copy off of that page. This is obviously going to never pass Copyscape but I am going to throw it in there just so you guys know I am not up to any funny business here and playing tricks on you.
Yep, thirty-two results and the site we swiped from is right here…
Okay, so we knew the result. Let’s get into the fun stuff. So, I am going to take that snippet of text that is triggering duplicate content alerts all over Copyscape and throw it into a little tool…
There is that article. Duplicate and worthless. We could not sell that on a writing platform or we would be shunned. But wait!!!
We just rewrote it. As you can see that article is the exact same as its supposed doppelganger on the left. Let’s throw this one into Copyscape and see what happens… Drum roll please?
No results. That is a well written piece. If that entire article would have been ripped instead of just the snippet we grabbed, we could be sitting on a $30-50 article. Easily. That, my friends, is a semi widespread practice in the world of cheap content.
Basically, what you are not seeing is hidden Unicode formatting that the tool injects into your text. The fix is simple I just wanted to elaborate on the scheme so you understood the importance of removing formatting from your text before you run it through Copyscape.
All you must do is drop the entire text into your Notepad.
Now go to “Save As” and save the file. You will get a handy dandy notification like this one.
Uh oh. We caught them. Sneaky. I am going to select okay and then reopen the file right after it saves. This is what we are left with…
Yea, so make sure you guys are double checking your articles after they come back from the writers. I have seen this happen to quite a few people over the years. Another clear giveaway of this hidden Unicode formatting is the fact that no matter where you put it, the red squiggly lines show up like the words are spelled incorrectly.
If you see a large amount of those in your text then that should raise suspicions.
The ordering and delivery experience for content on these platforms is a selling point but we are much happier creating delivery systems ourselves and avoiding the noise that we feel writing platforms have become.
Content Acquisition, The Ninja Way
For me there are various tiers of content. Some needs to be of a higher quality than others. The following strategies might not be ideal for your actual money site, but then again, a lot of our content investment is for inner pages and blog posts to grow the site.
Especially in the cases of lead generation sites, you might not want to spend the money on 10’s of thousands of words of content written by some of the vendors in this post that charge $15 per 500 words.
For you guys here are some neat tips and tricks. Yes, we use(d) these strategies at one point in time. No theory here, this stuff works.
First thing I want to introduce you guys to is this neat little gadget I bought to test the viability of content creation using scanning tech, ScanMarker.
Like its name suggests this nifty little tool allows you to essentially scan content and it writes it into your word processor as you move the tool along the words. Once you get the feel for gliding this tool across a page in a manner in which a large percentage of the words are articulated into your document correctly, it becomes a handy content creation tool.
Best Ways to Use the Tool
Keep in mind you are essentially scanning someone else’s work. You may very well be infringing upon copyrights by using the ScanMarker. Therefore the ideal use is for island content or inner pages of a lead gen/affiliate site you own.
Also keep in mind what you are scanning. Popular books will most likely already be uploaded to the web causing you to perform a lot of work for what you find out to be is duplicate content.
Newspapers and Magazines can be great because a lot of times their premium content is behind paywalls and the pages request Google not to index their site in the serps. This doesn’t meant Google does not crawl the pages so be sure to always double check before investing a lot of time scanning a publication.
For around $100 you can grab one of these and outfit a worker with a stack of papers and procure a ton of super cheap content.
Voice to Text
This is often overlooked. The reason might be that the technology used to kind of suck so everyone might have discarded the strategy and moved on. I am here to show you that nothing can be further from the truth.
Someone, even without the gift of gab, can create a ton of unique content really fast with this method. The even better news is that you do not have to shell out money for something like Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
Google’s voice to text capabilities work great for us. Inside of Google docs if you click on the tools tab, the drop-down menu contains an option for Voice Typing…
Once selected you hit record…
And you are off to the races.
How to Use the Tool
If your team members are knowledgeable about the topic at hand maybe they can rattle off an article or two relatively easy. For those who are not comfortable with that then I suggest grabbing a few pieces of content on your topic and throwing it into a document.
After doing that you can read line by line in your head and speak your translation of the text. It is basically rewriting the article with speech rather than manually.
Keep in mind that the article will need light formatting and editing. If you have someone that practices and consistently does voice typing for you they should be able to produce a ton of content.
Free YouTube Content
This is an incredibly effortless way to get a massive amount of content. The coolest part is that with the way I do it you won’t even anger the content creators. Boring niches kicking your butt and you cannot figure out how to populate a site without creating redundant or boring articles?
Check this out.
Go to YouTube and type in something topically relevant to your niche. Like so…
There is a 99.9999988997% chance that you can most certainly find the content you are looking for on YouTube. You can trust that number because I am a marketer. Seriously, if you cannot find something that fits onto your site then you might not be looking hard enough.
I am going for that channel with over 200 videos. That is quite a bit of free content that I can…curate.
I am going to click “more” below the subscribe button.
Then I will click “transcript”
That gives me a transcription. What do you know?
I am going to copy all of that and drop it in Copyscape, just to make sure no one was here before me.
Looks great. Over 3,800 free words of content. Let’s try another.
This smaller video provides over 900 unique words.
How to Use these Articles
You will notice I leave the time-stamps inside of the text. I am not going to pay an editor to remove them specifically because we use them as you will find out below.. It is not a bad idea, however, to have someone skim over the content and make sure there aren’t any glaring mistakes, but for the most part you will be extracting good articles.
Here is my entire SOP (standard operating procedure) for content acquisition and application using this strategy.
- Have team member extract content using the YouTube transcript strategy outline above
- Check content for uniqueness in Copyscape
- Add content to page. Format to look like a line item transcript
- Embed the original video at the top of the page
It is as simple as that. This cites the original content creator and makes your pages media rich. A lot of people have their team members are already grabbing videos to add to pages so adding another step in the beginning should be an easy addition for them.
This is not a brand-new strategy but still highly underutilized. This tactic is simple enough. You find domains that are expired, use archive.org to find different historic versions of the site, grab the content, check for uniqueness, and voila!
I am sure most of you are familiar with archive.org but we are going to use a third-party tool to gather the content. I personally do not use this tool, but some people on my team do so you are not going to get an inside peek from my machine, but I do know it can work well.
The tool is called Expired Article Hunter…
Here are some videos of it being used though so you can get the gist of how the entire process works.
They also include an expired domain tool.
As I said the one guy I work with on my auction sites uses this tool and we do a decent bit of archive work. It does well and for the price you do not really need to acquire a ton of content for it to pay for itself several times over.
Using the Content
No matter the integrations that check for duplicate content on ANY tool, always be sure to double check using your own tool. As you guys have already seen from the above snippets, I use Copyscape.
Plenty of domains that become expired were sites that got moved to a new domain but were not 301’d long term. This means that the content might have been moved over to the new site and not just thrown away for us to pick up.
Images and brand names are the most patented items on websites for the most part so you should not run into issues with DMCA takedown requests or things or that like, but a savvy ex owner might know to report sites with the stolen content to Google for removal.
No reason to be a tin foil hat level of paranoid, but it’s always responsible to be aware of the risk.
Sometimes you may not want to sift through YouTube, or maybe you really cannot find the proper video containing the content that conveys the proper message. Maybe you need something a lot more personalized and topically relevant to the page it’s going on.
With this section I will show you a platform I like using and then some hacks to getting super relevant content that are great for your lead gen and clients alike.
I like using GoTranscript. I understand there are many to choose from but I like this platform because of the price and the level of granularity available to me when ordering. There might be much better platforms. I only used a few and this is the one I ended up sticking with.
The ordering process is easy.
Select your desired content service, in this case Audio/Video transcriptions. This will prompt you to enter a URL or upload a file. You can use your imagination to gather some content sources that will produce really good articles. We will cover that right after a quick platform walkthrough.
For this demonstration, we will use the “home repair” example from earlier in the article.
I am going to throw that URL into the dash and continue.
This is where the power of this service starts to shine. The next step allows you to get super specific with how you want your transcript article to turn out.
Always go with clean verbatim as it removes pause words and errors of speech. This is one of the major reasons you need to have an editor when you pull raw transcriptions from YouTube and such. I am not saying you should not have a layer of quality control before these articles get uploaded, but as cheap as these transcriptions are, it doesn’t make sense not to take some of the workload off your editor.
The context in which I wrote this post, and the audience it reaches, means most of you will not need your transcription time-stamped. Neglecting it keeps the price down and the article clean.
Unless you desperately need the article fast, then it does not make sense to pay more for a quicker turnaround time. The entire mindset behind this post is to get decent quality content for as cheap as possible. Plus, five days is not too hateful of a time to wait for content.
The number of speakers is pretty well self-explanatory. Captions are not needed. Language is obvious. The last option is also self-explanatory. Make sure you are uploading decent quality audio/video files so you are not taxed an extra few dollars on your order.
Before we move to the next section i want to give you three quick sources for the transcription content strategy.
First of course is popular video and audio sites. Some of them will allow you to pull a transcription directly, so make sure to check it is not already being used. Heck, maybe you just a better quality than what you pull direct, like from YouTube.
Second, is to find niche podcasts to transcribe. These are everywhere and in most niches as well, even those that you would not think would have them.
For example, National Roofing Partners have a podcast called “Up on the Roof”. This was not the only results when I searched for “roofing podcasts” in Google. The content is out there for you to swipe.
The third, and most “white hat”, is to have a quick interview with your client or a professional and gather content that way. Something simple like a Skype recorder will be effective enough to record a conversation. Upload the file and you have content to use that is essentially made by your content.
You can get creative with a free tool like this and gather a lot of audio content from people. It is low barrier of entry to get someone on a call to record for content purposes. With the price to transcribe (~$.72 per minute) so inexpensive, making this a part of your content strategy can be very rewarding.
Black Hat Translated Content
This strategy can be extremely volatile for a few reasons. Having said that it is essentially free content + the price of paying someone to run through this SOP for you and the price of an editor to make sure the produced result is not a complete monstrosity.
This strategy, in its most simplistic form, is grabbing an article in another language from which you need content, translating it to the language you need, running it through quality control, and enjoying your wildly inexpensive content.
Before I show you some examples consider the lexical distance of the language you are translating to the language you need.
In this example we are using Spanish to English. If you are uncomfortable with other languages to even input keywords, you can still use this strategy.
Let’s start with roofing services. I am going to take the “servicios de techado” keyword and throw it right into Google. I am not even going to use a different Google tld. Going to just throw it right into Google.com
The first result for me is a roofing contractor in Arizona.
I am going to grab the text off this page and throw it into Google Translate. I am going to pull the text out of there and drop it directly into Copyscape.
Now, this is pulling duplicate results for the content we dropped in but i already knew it was going to do that. The duplicate content, as little of it that exists, is from the actual roofing systems talked about on the page.
Investigating further we can see that the dupe content is completely cool and more of a false negative on the Copyscape platform part. You will find this from time to time, especially when dealing with local centric searches.
Always dig a bit deeper instead of just throwing the content away as soon as you see this.
This is the content that is coming up duplicate and triggering an issue in Copyscape.
Checking out pieces of that query leaves us with tons of results in Google. It is a general descriptor of concrete tile. No big deal.
Let’s jump outside of local for another quick example.
Skin cream it is.
Start throwing the collected content from the search results into Google Translate and double checking it in Copyscape.
A few of the results from the serps give us a fair amount of content to sift through.
We will run this results through Copyscape as well.
Darn near 500 words extracted in under 10 minutes. If you can train a VA to pull four to six 500 word articles per hour with paying that VA $4 per hour, and another $1-2 per article to edit, you can essentially get decent unique article for $1.66-3.00 each. Not too shabby.
I hope you guys enjoyed some of these sneaky little tricks to gather decent quality content on a shoestring budget.
This post was a monster. I have no energy to write a fancy conclusion. Try this stuff. It really works. Let me know if you have any questions and I will be happy to help. If you want to suggest some awesome vendors you can do that as well. Take care LCT. See you in the group.