Who’s really writing your Web content?

Is this your SEO copywriter?Yesterday, I received a voice mail that disturbed me.

The caller represented an SEO outsourcing service based in India. He wanted to know if I wanted to save money on writing costs and outsource my SEO copywriting projects to his firm. He then named three high-profile SEO firms that had (supposedly) done just that, indicating that I would not be alone in this outsourced copywriting world.

And it got me to thinking: Assuming the SEO companies mentioned really did outsource their writing to India, I wonder what their clients would think if they knew the real scoop.

This is actually an extreme example of a widespread issue. SEO companies, agencies and design firms know that their clients need SEO copywriting services. At the same time, SEO copywriting may not be the firm’s core competency. When that happens, sometimes, they outsource it to a firm (my firm, SuccessWorks, works with a few SEO companies.) Sometimes, they work with interns (really!) Other times, they’ll outsource to India. The client rarely (if ever) knows about this arrangement.

On the flip side, some companies that do keep their SEO copywriting in-house assign the content to low-level personnel with absolutely no direct response or copywriting experience. These folks are then promoted as “experienced writers” — when their main gig may actually be design, programming or answering the phones (true story — one company called their receptionist their “expert copywriter!”).

I think that transparency is exceptionally important. If a client is paying hard-earned money for expertly-written pages, they should know the copywriter’s background. They should know that the work is being outsourced to India, written by an in-house intern or (hopefully) penned by an experienced wordsmith.

So, what can clients do for SEO copywriting due-diligence?

  • Get to know the writer who will actually write your copy. You may have a great relationship with the salesperson or the CEO. However, the person you need to “click” with really well is your writer — the person actually controlling your online brand. There’s no reason why the writer can’t spend 15 minutes during a sales call explaining what she’s done and her experience. If the agency won’t put the writer on the phone, find another agency.
  • Outsourcing is not always a bad thing. If you hear “we outsource our SEO copywriting to freelancers” – don’t panic. That can actually be a good thing. I would still insist on chatting with the freelancer before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Review clips written by your writer. If his writing doesn’t turn you on — whether it be too “mechanical,” somewhat unclear, benefit statement-free or not very good, don’t figure that your copy will be different. It won’t.
  • Ask about the writing process. Good writing shops will insist on a kickoff meeting before the first word is penned. This is so the writer can learn about your business, ask about your preferred tone and feel, find out more about your competition and brainstorm possible approaches. This foundational step is so crucial that I would distrust any firm that skipped it. Yes, it’s really that big of a deal.
  • Remember that you get what you pay for. I have no tolerance for companies that pay low-dollar for writing services and then whine that their copy “isn’t converting,” “horribly written” or “is keyphrase-stuffed.” Would you trust a discount attorney or doctor? No. So why would you expect that paying super-cheap writing fees would provide you a good return. Sure, $10 a page sounds good”¦but I guarantee that the final result will look like, well, you spent $10 on a page. If this sounds like your company, reevaluate your budget and adjust your expectations. You’ll be much happier as a result (and see better returns from your SEO copywriting efforts.)