How to Pay a Fair Price for Content Writing
The world of SEO is a mighty hungry beast. Realistically, to keep those search engine spiders happy, you need to be feeding them fresh SEO content continually. They are never blinkin’ satisfied. However, as I’ve explained before, you should always prioritise quality over quantity. This gives you a little bit of a problem when it comes to knowing the cost of content and copywriting prices. Are you comparing like for like? And what do you actually need?
Copywriting costs: the nature of the beast
There’s a huge difference in quality of copywriting content. There. Statement of the obvious.
We can’t stress this enough. There can be a monumental difference between two different copywriters. Factors which contribute to quality are:
· Their use of English: Yes, the basics – spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax - it’s a funny old hodgepodge language and incredibly easy to get ‘wrong’. Do not assume a copywriter can actually write exceptional English without seeing some evidence first.
This is a huge problem when businesses try to hunt down copywriters on freelance platforms. Without very thorough scouring you can think you’re comparing like for like. In reality you may have a proposal of £25 for a 1000 word blog post but the individual is using English as a second language, doesn’t know SEO from ABC and doesn’t have a full portfolio. This can make the genuine UK copywriter with proven expertise and glowing reviews bidding £60 for the same piece look greedy. Not true.
· Their knowledge of SEO: If you’re looking for a copywriter for web content (things like blogs, your website, social media and such), then SEO really matters. Check out our article here which explains it more. SEO is both a skill and an art form. It takes years and practice to nail.
Part of this is because there’s no such thing as SEO school. Yes, you can learn the basics from reading and learning, but much of it comes from experience: what works and what doesn’t.
A copywriter who is skilled at SEO will know everything from keyword densities to the importance of sub-titles. Furthermore, they use it seamlessly, without detracting from the readability of the content.
· Their experience writing in your niche: A good copywriter won’t be fazed by writing for a new niche because they will recognise the importance of research. However, research skills can actually be very hard to assess when all you have for evidence is a finished portfolio piece. Therefore, if your niche is particularly technical (yes cryptocurrency I’m looking at you), then try to hunt down a copywriter with a portfolio bursting with proven experience and knowledge in your area.
· Their research capabilities: Closely related, but a distinct area, is that skilled writers are actually avid researchers. They are capable of using search engines like a machete in the jungle. They read and assimilate information with lightning speed. In reality the best copywriters are the school geeks. They absorb information and recognise that it’s in their understanding of that information that they can portray it well, through your voice.
· Their skill at different writing styles and formats: Someone reading my blog will notice that my natural writing style is quite informal, slightly humorous, playful and sometimes tongue in cheek. It’s also informative. However, take a dive in to my portfolio and you’ll see I can also turn my hand to snappy and punchy, formal and educative, or business and authoritative. A skilled copywriter knows they are writing for your brand and your audience and therefore must reflect the appropriate tone and style.
· Web writing is different: It’s very important for a copywriter to understand the difference between writing an academic essay (most of our experience of writing pre-copywriting days) and writing for the web. Indeed, writing for the web breaks many of the rules of traditional formal essay writing. Not least when it comes to things such as paragraph lengths and sections.
So, as a punter looking for copywriting services and wanting to know what is a fair rate to pay, your first hurdle is to compare like with like.
The baselines of copywriting prices
You could be forgiven for thinking (as you would with many other services or industries) that you could just go to a copywriting professional body and see what they say. Great idea, except this is still going to leave you firing arrows at a target in the dark. Most will give you a ballpark figure between £40 and £400 per hour. I don’t call that much of a ballpark.
A better ballpark is available from ProCopywriters who reveal survey data showing the average day rate for a copywriter is £342. This is really beginning to be helpful. Yet it’s lumping a newbie with the most experienced.
However, this still needs to be considered within the framework of what you can expect for your money. This is where you can see the value of the service you are getting. What should you consider?
Elements of copywriting prices
The following elements are considered by a copywriter when they work out their prices:
· Experience: Copywriting is a service. It’s also a particularly skilled one. Expect to pay more for an experienced copywriter but this should also be reflected in the value added.
· The clarity of the brief: It is always in your interests to use a clear brief when seeking a price for a copywriting project. Not only does a clear brief ensure you get what you actually want, it streamlines the pricing policy. A copywriter can then price the work accurately, without needing to build in contingency because their spidey-senses of the project overrunning are tingling.
· Creativity: There is a huge difference in the creativity needed between a business slogan and a run of the mill blog post. The same applies when you consider website content. A home page may have minimal content but it needs to really sing. This may take longer to craft than a landing page hidden away in the depths of your site.
· Your competitor’s content: As I’ve said before, your copy should always be measured against your competitor. Therefore, if they’ve not done very much and have messy content which isn’t SEO friendly then that’s a quick and simple task. If your competitors are multinationals known names who’ve clearly got a marketing team on the case then it’s a taller order and will take more work.
· Complexity: Generally you should expect to pay more for highly technical pieces which require more research.
· Edits and revisions: The need for editing doesn’t spell a poor job (unless it’s correcting the basics of course!). It can be a time for refinement. Generally speaking you should expect one round of revisions to be included in the original price. However, be prepared that a copywriter usually limits the number of revisions. This is because they’ve likely had plenty of experience of a poor brief, lack of clarity within the client themselves, and ever-changing goalposts.
· Meetings and administration time: Many copywriters necessarily have to put up their prices because of the amount of time spent meeting with the client to discuss their brief and goals. To me this is daft. The process of developing a written brief if immensely valuable to you as a client. It helps you to think about what you really want. It’s valuable to you to invest this time. Then you just pay for the copywriter’s unique skills – their time is predominantly spent actually writing! For this reason, remote-working copywriters like myself, are able to charge considerably less for an expert service. The same applies if you really want to waste your copywriter’s time getting them to liaise with your SEO-whizz, or your web team. The costs will simply be passed on to you.
· The fundamentals of the content: A 500 word blog post comprising of words only takes considerably less time and skill to produce than a 500 word post with 10 images all with alt tags, as well as graphs, a table and a meta description. Again, make sure you are comparing like for like. Similarly, it is rarely in your interests to pay the copywriter to upload the content. Yes, they can probably do it, but it’s not their reason for being and they will have to charge you their hourly rate to do it. It’d cost you less to get an administrator up to speed on the process.
· Regularity and/or bulk: Some copywriters will give you a discount for ongoing work, or for particularly large projects. However, bear in mind that you want your copywriter to treat each piece of copy with the same care and skill as they would an individual piece. Therefore, be realistic about what they can actually offer. They aren’t a machine where you benefit from economies of scale.
· SEO skills: Expect to pay more for a copywriter with exceptional SEO skills. It is possible for a copywriter to be a skilled writer but lack the skills in SEO. You likely need both and this is a surprisingly rare blend to get absolutely spot on.
Copywriting pricing by project, by hour or by word
Typically a copywriting project will be priced in one of these three ways. It’s fair to say that if you are receiving a price for a project it will likely include elements of a copywriter’s hourly rate and price per word even if you don’t realise it. Similarly, a copywriter’s price per word likely reflects their hourly rate. For example, as a remote-worker I know that I can produce 600-800 words of outstanding SEO content in 1 hour depending on the topic.
This is where there’s a slight difference between what is best for client and what is best for copywriter. A client will, generally, do best when the price is calculated ‘per word’. This is because there is a very clear expectation of what you will receive at what price. It’s why, despite the argument from within the industry that it deskills us, I often use a per word pricing model, particularly within the content shop.
However, as you can imagine, 1000 words on something highly technical will take considerably longer to research and write than 1000 words on something more generic.
Therefore, copywriters generally prefer an hourly rate which translates in to a project rate (including things like travelling for meetings).
I do things a little differently. I only use an hourly rate when I think it is in the client’s interests, or when it really would be unrealistic to work per word because of the style of writing (e.g. PPC ads or video scripts, and even emails). The most obvious example of this is rewriting policies to avoid plagiarism. Here, it’s in the client’s interests to be charged by the hour, rather than by word, as I can zoom through them without any research. The information is there, it just needs my language skill to reword it whilst retaining its meaning.
Of course, an hourly or day rate always works best in relationships where there is already a foundation of trust and you, as the client, can clearly see the value of work produced in the time.
As a client, you should seek clarity in a copywriter’s prices so that you understand what you are paying for.
Problems with pricing per word
Whilst I am a little different from many in the industry – being a skilled and experienced copywriter who often chooses to work ‘per word’ in many cases – it’s vital that clients understand the potential problems with this method.
Freelance platforms will often work on a price per word basis. This enables the ‘deskilling’ and horrendously low wage culture to breed. Often these jobs end up realistically being expected at well below minimum wage. If you choose this option you must realise that you will be getting poor quality.
Per word is also a little limiting. It can only mean per word, quite literally, and it won’t include any of the other elements which make your content awesome. So expect to pay extra for images, meta tags and the like.
Lastly, it simply doesn’t work if you really want snappy and punchy copy. Such copy can suit a brand and be considerably more powerful than a wordy tome. Yet those 10 words may take as much time, effort and skill to produce as 250.
Always consider added value
At the end of the day, consider the value of the content to you. If my regular blog writing for you, using my SEO skill and enjoyable content which increases your audience, boosts your SEO and moves you from page 15 to page 1 of search rankings, then that’s adding enormous value. Consider the potential value that great copy could bring, and consider copywriting prices within that context.
As a copywriter, remember this too. You add value. That’s what a client is really paying for – even when paying per word.
Chrissie Brown is an experienced copywriter who slightly bucks the trend. I believe in good value for money for clients, in a way they can trust and comprehend. This means being flexible to work ‘per word’ and explain pricing whenever needed.