As a freelance article writer, I’m asked to produce a very diverse range of content every week. From in-depth technical reviews to editorial feature articles, Mathew and I both love the variety that comes from freelancing and working with different clients.

We are occasionally asked to come up with ideas for content, and some clients give us carte blanche. Obviously this is a big responsibility for us, and it involves a certain amount of trust between the freelance article writer and the client.

Over time, we’ve come to understand what makes good content and what doesn’t. Here are three types of content I would strongly suggest that no business relies on. Mix it up a bit, yes, but don’t be tempted to pay a freelance article writer to churn this stuff out: not only is it a waste of money, it’s also a waste of time and effort.

1. Content that tries to capture the zeitgeist.

‘Link bait’ is content which freelance article writers (and their clients) use to artificially generate traffic. You’ll see this kind of content flood Twitter whenever a famous person passes away, for example.

Eager marketers are all too quick to jump on the bandwagon and quickly knock out a 250-word blog on whatever subject is trending. For example, when Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys sadly died, I lost count of the number of poor-quality articles that were simply riding on the back of a very sad story.

Publishing this kind of content may attract short term traffic, but it’s not going to really benefit your business. Think about it: people who click those links are just being nosey. The traffic almost certainly isn’t going to be relevant.

In fact, the only reason link bait is ever beneficial is if the website in question serves ads. That is why I refuse to retweet controversial press articles published on some of our less scrupulous newspaper sites.

If you’re paying a freelance article writer to toss out short-notice link bait, your money is being wasted. You’d be far better off investing four times the amount in a long tutorial or thought-provoking editorial piece. That draws traffic for months, or even years, rather than a few hours.

2. Content that emulates competitors’ blogs too closely.

Social media is a fast-moving torrent of links, hashtags and background noise. Companies hire freelance article writers to cut through the chatter and produce content that will attract clicks and shares.

That doesn’t mean you have to blog about the same things. In fact, it’s definitely better not to.

In my experience, the best articles we write are articles that (a) have some genuine preparation in the bag, either on the client side or ours, and/or (b) are commissioned well in advance.

In the run up to the Olympics, I was asked to write one or two feature pieces for the Huffington Post well in advance of the opening ceremony. The Huffington Post team know what they’re doing: they want content that has a broad appeal, and they want that appeal to last over the longer term. All the sites covering the Olympics were covering roughly the same events as the Huffington Post, but by planning ahead, the Huffington Post was able to publish additional interesting content which attracted clicks before, during and after the Games.

Most importantly of all, this content had a wider appeal than sports news.

It really does pay to think about upcoming events, software releases, technology conferences and other newsworthy events. Don’t be tempted to produce cookie-cutter content that simply emulates the content that your competitors are producing. Put a little bit of thought into it and prep your freelance article writer ahead of time.

3. Content that’s of such poor quality that it damages your brand.

You might think that this final recommendation is a little picky, but trust me: it matters.

All too often I see discussions on blogs about this. Clients hire article writers for as little as $1 per 500 words, then wonder why the content is slapdash. In truth, if you pay someone so little that they can’t even make the basic minimum wage, one of two things will happen.

1. They’ll make lots of errors as they rush to make enough money to pay the bills.

2. They’ll mercilessly rip off other peoples’ content (or, more likely, Wikipedia). This is known as ‘spinning’.

There’s a useful website which can help you check work submitted by your freelance article writer. It’s called Copyscape. Simply paste in the URL of your blog post and Copyscape scans the web for likely duplicates.

The less you paid your freelance article writer, the more likely it is that Copyscape will cough up some nasty surprises.

Penalties for duplicate content come in two forms. There are the legal ramifications of a DMCA, for starters (UK businesses aren’t immune to DMCAs if their server is US-based; the host has to take the content down and ask questions later). In addition, there’s the effect that duplicate content will have on your SEO.

Either way, rubbish copy from a ‘cheap’ freelance article writer could cost you a lot of money in the long run.


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Claire Broadley

Technical writer, blogger, and editor at Red Robot Media
Claire Broadley has been a technical author and web content writer at Red Robot since 2010. She contributes to dozens of websites, focusing on consumer technology, online privacy, digital marketing, and small business topics.
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