Copify: What copywriting clients won’t get from content mills

by Tom Albrighton 9 February 2010 Popular, SEO

Yesterday, I was approached by startup content mill Copify and invited to register as a copywriter. I decided not to, since the rates being offered (2p–4p per word) didn’t really stack up for someone with my experience (15 years).

Out of interest, I sought the opinions of my copywriter friends on Twitter, including @Mr603, @turnerink, @NoSloppyCopy, @shelovestowrite, @PenHire, @sarahcopywriter and others. Turned out a heated debate was already raging, with copywriters’ opinions ranging from the doubtful to the derisive, and many focusing on the fees.

Of course, we can’t really argue that any price agreed in a free market is ‘too low’ or ‘too high’. If both parties agree to make a deal, a deal is made. However, we can question whether the transaction represents good value – for buyer as well as seller.

I have no axe to grind with Copify or the other (mainly US) content mills out there, such as Examiner, Suite101, Associated Content, eHow, and DemandStudio. They’ve seen a gap in the market and they’re filling it. Good luck to them. However, I feel I should point out exactly what copywriting clients won’t be getting when they go down this road…

1.    Ability. Sounds painfully obvious, but there’s such a thing as writing skill, and people have varying levels of it. If you’re a UK white-collar professional using a content mill, you could be delegating your copywriting to someone with abilities only as good as (or worse than) your own. So what have you really gained?

2.    Experience. 2p a word does not stretch to a seasoned copywriter. But why should you pay for experience? All I can say is that the ‘broad but shallow’ knowledge picked up during my career has served my clients very well. Ideas from clients in other industries. Print techniques that work online, and vice versa. Ideas on ecommerce, SEO, social media and more. Ideas on improving value propositions. Ways to save time – and money. It all adds up – and you get a professional manner, calm demeanour and sense of humour thrown in.

3.    The right price. If you need to spend more, you should spend it. If my plasterer discovers rising damp, I want him to tell me, not just cover it up. Let’s say I’m working on a fixed-price job for a content mill. The client has directed me towards out-of-date sources. Halfway through, I realise this, but have no incentive to raise it since there’s no way to renegotiate the fee. So I just cut and run, having fulfilled the letter of the contract. The content is inaccurate, and some valuable learning is lost.

4.    Enough time. Closely allied to cost is the need for adequate time. Many copywriting projects throw up unforeseen issues. ‘The subject is more complicated than we thought.’ ‘There’s more to say.’ ‘Our structure needs work.’ ‘We need to rethink terminology.’ ‘Our industry jargon won’t work for SEO.’ ‘We’ve identified a new market segment.’ The professional copywriter works with the client to address these problems – with a time implication, yes, but what’s the point in rushing to the wrong destination?

5.    Reassurance. So you’ve chosen to use a content mill. Presumably you’re completely confident about factual accuracy, grammar and spelling, copyright and fair use, trade marks, US/UK language conventions, Google penalties, duplicate content and the legal implications of publication. If not, why not work with a professional whose reputation is on the line with every single job?

6.    Flexibility. Inspired by The E-Myth Revisited, I once dreamt of creating a one-size-fits-all ‘system’ for handling writing and design projects. I soon gave up. No one needed it, or wanted it. Marketing should be a bespoke suit, not a T-shirt from Asda. Savvy clients appreciate that service and expertise pay for themselves.

7.    Rapport. Clients who tender copywriting job by job never realise the benefits of working long-term with a copywriter who truly understands them. For them, every step is the first – every piece slightly off the mark, lacking sparkle, bringing nothing extra. They’ll never feel the thrill of receiving text from their regular copywriter that absolutely nails everything they wanted to say, and more – first time. (For a regular client, I recently wrote the president’s introduction to a brochure with no brief. He approved it without change.)

8.    Creativity. The fixed-price deal actively discourages discussion, consideration and indeed active thought. The copywriter’s only hope is to bang that copy out quickly and pray she doesn’t get RSI. She certainly has absolutely no incentive to put forward anything creative, inventive or alternative, even if it could help the client. The risk is just too great that it will be rejected – leading to a rewrite, obliterated profits and aching wrists.

9.    Intelligent SEO. Even basic SEO copywriting is an art – hitting keyword density targets for multiple terms without grammar and sense collapsing completely. But competent SEO copywriters take it to the next level, offering content that actually appeals to humans too. In other words, a landing page that isn’t a bouncing page.

10. Motivation. When prospects ask what I’d charge for ‘an hour’s graft writing fresh copy’ (a genuine quote), they are perhaps puzzled as to why their enquiry fails to excite my interest. The reason is that I prefer to strike a civilised, mutually beneficial deal in an atmosphere of respect, friendship and dignity. With that in place, I’m motivated to give my very best to the project. Without it, you’ll get ‘good enough’, but no more.  


Now, the most likely objection to all this is that it’s completely irrelevant to article marketing, or the creation of banks of SEO pages. I beg to differ. For articles posted at Ezine Articles and similar sites, your best chances of republication (propagating backlinks across multiple domains) come with a compelling, high-quality article. Better to have one killer piece than five embarrassing duds. And for SEO, as I’ve argued, you need your landing pages to convert the reader, not just attract traffic.

I also feel there’s a big cloud hanging over the in-vogue strategy of gaming the search engines by posting huge amounts of nominally relevant content, hoping to boost link velocity and backlink numbers. Google’s business model depends on search results that are relevant and deliver genuine value to users. Historically, it’s never failed to weed out any attempt to reduce quality to a formula, or mere gruntwork. Would you bet against it now?

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