How to Brief Your Blogger For the Best ROI

How to Brief Your Blogger For the Best ROI

My colleague Paul recently wrote about outsourcing your blog to the perfect writer. In his post, he briefly touches upon the concept of writer briefing, and how different businesses order blogs. We work with dozens of clients on a weekly basis, and they all have their own approach to choosing the themes that we write about.

No two companies are the same in the way they approach this. But getting the strategy right is key to getting ROI from your content, as well as ensuring that the relationship between client and blogger is productive long-term.

3 Types of Brief

In his article, Paul mentioned at the three types of brief that we usually work from when we’re blogging for businesses. I’ll quote the details here for ease of reference:

  • Full, detailed brief: The client provides clear instructions on the topic and the angle for the blog, with a title and links to relevant material to research.
  • Title only: The client has a title or topic in mind for the blog, but the detail and the research are left to the writer.
  • Open brief: This amounts to not really providing a brief at all. The writer is left to come up with any topic they deem relevant, within guidelines agreed at the start of the service.

As with most content writing strategies, there is no hard and fast rule about which is ‘better’. But there are certainly pros and cons to each approach.

1. The Detailed Brief

Writing on paperFull briefs are precise guides with very little wiggle room for the blogger. Often, the client will do a fair amount of research to develop a full brief. They’re looking for the writer to pull everything together, rather than setting out to create their own narrative.

They’re looking for the writer to pull everything together, rather than setting out to create their own narrative.

Pros: The client generally gets what they want at the end, with very few change requests. That’s because the content writer doesn’t have that much space to deviate from the brief. This cuts down on the number of changes and can result in a faster turnaround for everyone, so better ROI on the project as a whole. It’s a good way to work if you have a very precise content strategy in mind.

Cons: The client can spend a lot of time duplicating the blogger’s work. That’s because the blogger will generally have to go out and retrace the client’s steps. Also, it’s not unusual for a full, detailed brief to be longer than the resulting blog; I have personally seen briefs of 1,200 words for a 500-word article. While there’s nothing wrong with being very clear about requirements, it can be inefficient to over-work the brief to that extent.

When should you supply a full, detailed brief? If you’re working as an intermediary for another company, and the content will be passed on to someone else, a full, detailed, brief can save you a lot of time processing changes. So detailed briefs work well for agencies that are under strict instructions. But avoid this approach if you’re trying to create a large amount of content. Writing a brief that’s double the length of the resulting blog simply isn’t a sustainable approach.

2. Title Only

ChecklistIf you have a pretty good idea about what you want to cover on your business blog, you can supply a list of titles or themes for your writer to follow.

You want to keep your writer on-topic while allowing them a certain amount of freedom to explore the subject for themselves.

Pros: Coming up with titles, or topics, is a quick and easy process. It gives the blogger an idea of what’s important to you, without pinning them down to a precise narrative, and it lets you have a say in the creative process.

Cons: Even though you’ve supplied a title, the writer doesn’t have anything else to go on. So you might get something back that wasn’t exactly what you had in mind. This can cause tension between client and writer. Perhaps the title didn’t provide enough guidance or wasn’t clear enough about the direction of the piece.

When should you supply a title? Title-only briefs are great for hands-off clients that still want to steer the topics on their blog. They also work well in the early days of the relationship when clients have lots of ideas. But as a client, you need to work with a blogger that you can trust. Put an agreement in place that specifies what happens if the content isn’t quite right. For example, maybe you could agree that minor changes are free, but major rewrites are billable.

3. Open Brief

Blank paperThe open brief is essentially a free pass for the blogger. You let them write what they want, within your niche, and you don’t steer the topics in advance.

They know your niche, and they know what you don’t want. But you don’t provide daily or weekly direction.

Pros: The open brief method is the fastest way to get a new blog started. As long as the blogger is working within pre-defined topic boundaries, you’ll get relevant content with the minimum of fuss. If you’re working with a lot of clients and ordering white label content, this approach lets you process a huge amount of blogs with barely any effort, therefore increasing ROI.

Cons: If you don’t provide a brief, you have little recourse if you receive a blog that you don’t like. You’ll have to work with the writer to fix the content, and you might have to pay for it. If you don’t trust your writer, or they don’t have full understanding of what you do, this is a risky way to work.

When should you supply an open brief? We recommend open briefs if a business doesn’t have the resources to constantly come up with content ideas. It’s also good for agencies whose clients are happy to let the content writer choose topics. But it’s critical that there is a relationship of trust. If the blogger goes wildly off-topic, you have the right to ask for the content to be changed. But if you just don’t like the topic that’s been chosen, it’s more of a grey area.

Research Doesn’t Always Cost Extra

The approach you take to briefing a blogger depends on your own resources, as well as your attitude towards your blog generally, and the relationship you have with your blogger.

But there’s an important point to remember.

Many clients approach us thinking that they’ll pay less if they develop a full brief. That isn’t necessarily true.

For example, we offer idea generation and research to the majority of our regular customers. The only time we charge for research is if the client specifically wants pre-sight of the entire piece before it’s written, or they want to comb through the data we’ve found for themselves. Typically, that would mean that we produce complete breakdown of the article, with links and sources. It’s extra work, so we charge for it. But it’s usually not required.

If you are providing full briefs every time, and it’s eating into your day, you might want to slacken the leash. When research time is part of the package price, you may as well let your blogger do it for you. And sometimes they can find data and facts that you may not have found elsewhere.

It all helps with improving your ROI on content.

3 Things You Should Always Control

ContractThere’s certainly an argument for trusting your content writer when coming up with ideas for blogs. But there are a few things we recommend keeping a close eye on, even if you’re relaxed about the article content:

  1. Pricing. You should have a pre-agreed rate based on the approach you want to take. For example, we bill the same rate regardless of the briefing method (unless we’re asked to do an exceptional amount of additional research or drafting, and in that case, we get pre-approval). But not all companies work this way, and you need to be sure that you’re aware of what something will cost you. If an article is going over-budget, you should work with your blogger to pull it back.
  2. Word count. The length of your blogs will usually be pre-agreed, and that will determine the usual pricing. If a topic warrants a longer word count, your writer should ask you for permission before they start the work. Of course, they may choose to supply a little extra content free of charge, from time to time. In that case, most clients wouldn’t complain.
  3. Deadlines. It’s important that your business blog is updated with fresh content regularly. If something needs more research, it’s going to take more time. Be clear about your deadlines and make sure your writer is on board with those deadlines.

How Do You Brief Your Writer?

I’ve been a professional content writer for 7 years. I’ve worked with thousands of clients, all with different approaches to briefing. There is no correct way to brief a blogger. But I’ve learned that trust is a big factor in productive relationships.

How do you brief your writer? Could you benefit from changing your approach? You might want to gradually move from a detailed brief to a more open style of working. It’s a very safe way to set out your requirements without exposing yourself to risk.

Briefing is a tough topic to draw a conclusion on. It’s really about what works for you and the company that you’ve chosen. But as a general rule, the less work you duplicate, the more productive everyone will be.

 

Red Robot Media Forms EU Company to Guard Against Brexit

Red Robot Media Forms EU Company to Guard Against Brexit

UK copywriting company launches EU company to maintain EU links

On the day the UK government triggers Article 50 to exit the EU, Red Robot Media has today formally applied for registration of a new Estonian sister company.

The new Estonian company will allow Red Robot to retain a presence in the EU after Brexit. For EU clients, the move will also guard against Brexit uncertainty and give the company more flexibility post-Brexit.

Red Robot’s director and technical writer Claire Broadley is a member of the Estonian e-residency program. The program allows individuals from anywhere in the world to set up an Estonian company and maintain close links with the EU after Brexit. There are currently approximately 1,000 UK citizens registered as Estonian e-residents.

Claire’s new company, Red Robot OÜ, will operate out of Tallinn, Estonia. It will offer the same services that the UK company Red Robot Media offers now, including technical blogging, business blogging, system documentation, and video production.

We produce content for clients worldwide. Estonian e-residency offers a simple way to maintain strong EU links after Brexit. 

ID card

UK Estonian e-residents are creating companies to guard against Brexit uncertainty and ensure they can access valuable benefits of EU membership. Red Robot OÜ will also be able to access all of the benefits of the Digital Single Market, a program which the UK intends to exit over the course of the next two years.

Red Robot OÜ hopes to accept payments in euro from June, direct to its Estonian bank account, which will help it to protect against any further devaluation of the pound. Customers of the UK company can still pay in pounds sterling.

All of Red Robot Media’s clients will have the open of transferring their business to Red Robot OÜ in Estonia if they wish. This will allow them to enjoy the same service that they currently enjoy, provisioned within the EU legal and data protection framework.

For micro businesses like Red Robot Media, Brexit presents challenges in terms of costs and legal compliance. In particular, it is difficult for a very small business to attract significant EU business in an unclear post-Brexit environment. The Estonian e-residency program allows micro businesses to put contingency plans in place.

Red Robot OÜ is being registered with the Estonian Business Registry by LeapIn.eu. LeapIn provides management services for Estonian companies that are administered by Estonian e-residents overseas.

For more information about Estonian e-residency after Brexit, please see our e-residency blog post.

About Red Robot Media

Red Robot Media is a UK company specialising in technical writing and business copywriting. It is located in Horsforth, close to Leeds Bradford Airport. The company was founded in 2010.

Claire Broadley started the company formation with the Estonian Business Registry in March 2017, on the day Article 50 was triggered by the UK government.

All media enquiries can be sent to [email protected]

Could Your Blog Be Flagged as Fake News?

Could Your Blog Be Flagged as Fake News?

We’re only a few months into 2017, but already, it seems that ‘fake news’ could be the phrase of the year. It started out as a catchphrase on Trump’s campaign trail, but it’s now morphed into a snap criticism of pretty much any kind of content. If someone finds your business blog to be lacking in authenticity, it could be flagged as fake news, along with some of the web’s least ethical publishers.

Fake newsFake news outperformed real news during the US presidential election. And we’re all potentially susceptible. Researchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education found that young people are surprisingly bad at picking out truth from lies.

That’s why Facebook is introducing tools that allow content to be flagged as ‘fake’ by users. This content is then passed on to humans for review, and content that is deemed inaccurate will be marked prominently with a banner in users’ timelines. There are also browser plugins that do the same thing. But fake news spreads because of the kneejerk reaction to share it, and it’s going to take time before social media users change their habits.

For bloggers, this means accuracy and authenticity will be more important than ever, lest they be caught up in the fake news debacle. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to elevate the quality of your content and make it distinct from fake news websites.

How is Fake News Defined?

Fake news articles are defined as ‘non-satirical news stories’, or good, old-fashioned hoaxes. Websites publish fake stories to generate large amounts of traffic, then earn money from the adverts embedded around them.

Fake news publishers are not alone in publishing stories for clicks. But during a time of heightened political tensions — such as a presidential election — fake news can also influence public opinion. One prominent example is Underground News Report, which has a long disclaimer paragraph in its footer. But to read the crucial part about its ‘satirical’ content, you’ll need to scroll past dozens of fake news stories about the Clintons, Trumps, and Obamas.

Worryingly, the longer the phrase ‘fake news’ is in use, the broader the definition seems to get. Trump has been quoted as saying that any poll that isn’t in his favour is fake news, and the phrase also been used as a badge of shame when journalists make a mistake in an otherwise factual report. It’s a messy situation, and one that businesses would do well to steer clear of.

Authenticity is Key in Blogging

Thankfully, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of content on the web over the last 5 years. In our experience, businesses are prepared to pay more for content than they used to, and they engage professional writers rather than paying for cheap content spinners that wreck your rankings.

But if journalists are struggling with credibility, this should be a warning sign to bloggers as well. There is another step change coming. And businesses that think that a blog is ‘just a blog’ are going to fall foul of it.

There’s nothing wrong with posting 500 words a week to market your products or services, but you need to invest some effort into those articles and really hammer out an authentic narrative. In an age of increased scrutiny and a need for better accuracy, this is an area that businesses need to work on urgently.

If you don’t have the resources to produce this kind of content in-house, you must outsource blog writing duties to an experienced writer; someone that is committed to fact-checking and producing high-quality content. This frees up your internal staff to do the jobs they really want to be doing.

Readers are increasingly demanding better blog posts anyway, so it’s a win-win for everyone when this happens.

5 Simple Ways to Improve Accuracy and Authenticity

Fake news can be amusing, but it can also cause genuine harm. In some cases, fake news is actually propaganda. Now, more than ever, it’s important to put a little more effort into your content.

1. Increase the length of your blog posts

It’s quite easy to waffle for 500 words and throw the result up as a blog post. This is what many fake news websites do. They know that it’s easy to fabricate breaking news stories, because people who read them want to be the first to share the post with their friends. These posts are also very short and easy to skim-read. As such, those fake posts go viral very quickly, which is why they are so profitable for the writers.

But it’s incredibly difficult to write 1,000+ words of fake content fast. And most fake news websites aren’t interested in producing anything like that kind of length. They just fire out short blogs as quickly as possible. This is a really key way to set yourself apart.

From today, aim to double the word count of the blogs you’re publishing so that you can explore topics in greater depth, and make your content look distinct from a typical fake news blog site. Yes: that means doubling your investment in blogging. But read on to find out how you can easily double its value, too.

2. Choose the Right Content Types

Do you know the difference between news posts and pillar content? Is your blog evergreen, or going stale within hours?

Choosing the right content types can help you to get more from your investment in blogging. A mixture of pillar and evergreen content, with some news and reviews, helps to cover all bases.

Additionally, we find that a thorough, data-driven blog post or ebook might cost two or three times the amount of a throwaway blog post. But it will far more traffic over time than a cheap, basic post, and is a much better use of your budget. For example, a post that I wrote here in 2011 is still the most popular post on the Red Robot website, and it draws at least twice the amount of traffic of the next most popular piece.

3. Keep Popular Posts Current and Accurate

If you want your old blog posts to pay dividends for years, you need to spend time revising them. A highly successful evergreen post can be thwarted by broken links, outdated research, or new strategies that supersede old advice.

Optimise your old blog posts to maintain their accuracy and give your whole blog added credibility.

This can also help you to squeeze longevity out of posts that would otherwise wither and die.

4. Back Up Claims With Real Sources

It’s important to back up claims in a blog with recognised, credible sources. Ideally, every claim should be linked. Look for research within the last year, and link to the primary source.

This is journalism 101, but bloggers are different animals. They sometimes link to sources that are disreputable, and this can contribute towards your site being included in a bad virtual neighbourhood.

So whenever your writer makes a claim, there should be a source, along with a natural link to that source. Hopefully, it goes without saying that the link should not go to a fake news website.

5. Always Name the Author

Clients still ask us whether blogs should be posted under a real name, a pen name, or the name of someone at their company.

Without exception, we recommend using someone’s real name (and you can use our writer’s name if they produced the content for you). Naming a real person helps to create authenticity and create a narrative. It also gives you the opportunity to add a byline for the author, which is one of the best ways to fend off accusations of hoax news.

Avoid posting blogs under your generic WordPress username (such as ‘admin’ or ‘xyzseocompany’). Not only does this look unprofessional, but exposing an admin username on a blog can increase the risk of a brute force hack.

Is Trust the New Click?

We live in an age of unprecedented access to information. In 2015, around 2 million blog posts were being uploaded to the internet every day. As long as there is money to be made from fake news, it will be published and consumed, because posts that go viral quickly tend to rise to the top of the pile.

Michael Kuntz, writing for NiemebLab, says that “trust is the new click”. Authenticity is important, and as Facebook and other platforms start to fish for fake news, you need to avoid being caught up in the net. The better your content, and the better your authority on a subject, the better chance you have of building trust with your readers.

7 Ways to Cash In Your PAYG SIM Credit

7 Ways to Cash In Your PAYG SIM Credit

CIPSC

If you often switch phones, you’ll probably have ended up with a drawer full of old SIM cards. Some of these may have credit on them. We recently conducted a SIM card audit in our Leeds office and found more than £30 of unused credit on various cards.

Mobile phone networks often bundle pay as you go phones with a compulsory credit purchase. The networks know that people buy PAYG handsets with the intention of unlocking them and using them on another network; naturally, the networks want to ensure they make something from the transaction before that happens.

So how do you make the best use of that credit? Simple: reclaim it, spend it or donate it. Here are 5 ways to do that.

1. o2 Charge Your Mobile: Google Play, iTunes, and More

Charge Your Mobile allows o2 customers to pay for music, apps, and ebooks using their PAYG balance. This also works if you have an o2 Pay Monthly account.

The Charge Your Mobile service works with an impressive array of services. You can use o2 credit to buy content from Google Play, iTunes, the Microsoft Store, and other digital content providers.

You’ll find usage instructions on the Charge Your Mobile homepage.

2. Transfer Your Credit

No UK mobile operator offers cash refunds for credit that’s already been purchased. But you may be able to transfer your credit to another account with the same operator.

We’ve done this with EE when we accidentally topped up a SIM that was lost. EE customer service will also transfer credit if you purchase a new PAYG SIM card from them, but you have credit on an old card that you will no longer need. This transfer may be conditional on deactivating the old SIM once the transfer is done.

Some networks will add your PAYG balance as a credit on your first contract bill. Three advertises this service on its website.

Policies change all the time, so it’s best to call your provider directly and ask them. Remember: if you want to transfer PAYG credit to a contract, they may require that you buy the contract directly from them, so ask before making the purchase.

3. Spend Credit On Games

Facebook allows O2, EE, Three, Vodafone, and Virgin Mobile customers to pay for in-game items using mobile credit. When you pay for an item, add a new payment method, and select Mobile Phone. This option isn’t available for all games, and Facebook doesn’t accept mobile phone credit for other services yet.

You can also use mobile credit to pay for Riot Points in League of Legends, or purchase games for PlayStation 4. Note that SEN wallet purchases are limited to £30 a day, or the limit set by your mobile provider, if it’s lower.

4. Load a gambling account

If you’re over 18, you can sign up for a betting or gaming account, and then load your phone credit onto that. AndroidSlots has put together a list of betting and gaming websites that accept deposits by phone.

5. Look for a Payforit Vendor

Payforit is a service run by major UK mobile networks, and it allows users to pay for premium content on their phones. This includes adult content, gambling sites (including MobileWins), and recurring subscriptions.

This option is best used with caution. Some users have reported mysterious recurring charges from Payforit, which are usually caused by premium rate texts, so be sure that you want to sign up before you click any subscription links.

6. Donate to Charity by Text

You can donate to many UK charities by sending a simple text message. The JustGiving website explains how this works.

You don’t have to pay for the text, and you can choose an amount between £1 and £10 each time you donate.

To donate, you need the VIC code for the charity, and the number. The Cancer Research UK Text to Donate page explains the donation process in more detail. Most major charities have a text donation number.

7. Pay for Spotify Premium or Family

Spotify allows you to purchase a monthly Premium subscription using the balance on a PAYG account. If you’re on a contract, the money will be added to your monthly bill.

Payment by mobile is available on EE, Vodafone, O2, and 3. The monthly subscription is £9.99, or you can opt for the Family subscription for £14.99. The service will continue to bill you monthly until you cancel, or your SIM card runs out of credit.

If you already pay for Spotify, you’ll need to revert to a Free plan, and then set up your subscription again.

Any More Ideas?

Short of selling your SIM card on an auction site, these are the five best solutions we found if you need to use up your PAYG SIM credit. Our favourite option is charity donation: it’s hassle-free and far better than letting your unused PAYG credit go to waste.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2013. It was completely rewritten in February 2017 to bring it up to date.

After Brexit, What Are the Benefits of Estonian E-Residency?

After Brexit, What Are the Benefits of Estonian E-Residency?

One week ago, I applied to for e-residency of Estonia, in the wake of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Even if you feel positive or optimistic, you’d have to agree that UK businesses are heading into a prolonged period of uncertainty. Depending on the way you run your business, e-residency may be an option worth exploring.

E-residency ID cardEstonia launched its e-residency programme in 2014. It may help you to retain some of the important benefits we may lose when the UK finally exits the EU. You may want to register now; equally, it may be sensible to wait. We’ve already registered, just in case.

Before You Apply for E-Residency

If you’re unsure about the impact of a political decision on your business, ask your accountant for their advice. Ours was quick to point out that we are in a state of uncertainty, so we cannot plan for anything while we don’t have the facts.

I would caution against registering as an e-citizen of Estonia if:

  • You don’t have the cash for the application.
  • You’re not reliant on strong connections to the EU to do business.
  • You want to ensure your residency in the EU (this programme doesn’t offer that).

But even if we just take e-residency as an experiment in virtual business, it is definitely interesting.

What is Estonian E-Residency?

Estonia’s e-residency scheme is designed to increase the number of businesses operating out of the country. The e-residency card gives you the right to set up a business in Estonia, which is important for UK residents for two reasons.

  1. You can have a virtual business address in Estonia, which then opens up the possibility of signing up for services with EU providers under EU law. This could be a benefit if you want to store data in the cloud, for example, since we don’t yet know whether existing EU information security or data protection law will apply to the UK. (Yes, this could be a horrendous mess for companies operating in the cloud.) It could also let you lock in EU discounts when we exit.
  2. You could potentially open a euro bank account. The pound has recovered against the euro since its initial crash, but we’re in the early stages of a very long withdrawal process. If you work for clients that pay you in euros, having a bank account may not be a bad idea. (You will need to go to Estonia to open the account, but you can manage it online.)

Estonia’s e-residency programme does not give you citizenship in Estonia, and it does not give you the right to travel in the Schengen area. If you’re concerned about citizenship, it might be better to look into your options for obtaining a passport within an EU country first.

Applying for E-Residency

The application process is all done online, and there’s just one form to fill in. You will need a photo of yourself that complies with the requirements, so it’s best to get that ready before you start. Additionally, you’ll need a photo of your UK passport.

When the form’s done, you pay a registration fee of €101.99.

The application process takes anything from two to eight weeks; mine was accepted within a month.

You’ll pick up your Estonian card from one of the designated pick-up points, which are Estonian embassies or similar. There’s only one pick-up location in the UK — the embassy in Knightsbridge — so factor in the cost of getting there. You don’t need to attend an interview, but you will have to give your fingerprints before your card is handed over. If you don’t attend within 6 months, your card will be returned to Estonia.

Naturally, there is a chance your application will be declined. In that event, we’d have to assume that you won’t get a refund.

Other Reasons to Apply for E-Residency

Estonia is very keen to project itself as a forward-thinking, digitally engaged country, and e-residency is one way that it’s promoting a digitally transformed approach to business and life. Estonians enjoy access to voting, healthcare records, law, policing and education through one portal. This, to me, seems like an initiative modern digitally-minded people should support.

E-residency will give you a means to sign contracts legally in Estonia, which could be handy for freelancers employed by EU clients. You get your own digital encryption key that can be used for e-signing online.

Here’s an important downside. The system does not change your tax residency. You need professional advice to avoid being taxed twice. In any case, any change to your business circumstances or structure should be run by an accountant, before you go ahead.

Summary

The fallout from Brexit has been alarming for us as a micro-business, soon to be ripped out of our core market. We are certainly not the only people who are worried, as the massive viral response to my Brexit blog has proven.

Estonian e-residency is not going to fix anything for you immediately. We don’t know if it’s necessary or not, because we don’t know what we’re losing or gaining yet. But people who do business with the EU may want to look into it as an option, just in case.

Update, 29 April 2017: We’ve now started the process of setting up a business in Estonia using my e-residency card. For more information, see our press release here.

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