The 3 Questions You Must Ask Before Outsourcing Content

Outsourcing

You have a digital marketing firm handling search, social and analytics, and you’re happy with the work they’re doing so far. The design agency you hired is producing fabulous creative for the website and ancillary materials. And, the conversion-rate optimiization outfit the CMO reluctantly gave you budget for is working out nicely, helping you put insight to analysis, an area that had been woefully missing in painting the holistic picture you desire.

But what about content? Should outsourcing content be next on the list?

The answer is “it depends.”

It depends on…

  • The outfit you choose to handle the task
  • Who’ll actually be writing the content
  • Your willingness to ensure the content meets your needs
  • The goals of the content (e.g. quality? quantity? both?)
  • The bandwidth of your staff to create content

Proceed Cautiously When Outsourcing Content, The Lifeblood Of Your Business

The “who-should-we-trust-to-handle-our-content” question comes up often. Unfortunately there is no easy answer.

  • Go in one direction, and you loose an element of control
  • Go in another direction, and you saddle your staff with additional responsibility they might be ill-equipped to handle

In the ideal situation, your company should produce its own content. That should be the long-term goal.

Those words come from someone who gets paid to write and provide content strategy, but who also sees far too often that the quality of content being added to most websites ranks somewhere between a “C-minus” and a “F.”

Those words are not meant as a knock against agencies providing content. Those words are born of having spent hundreds of days looking at millions of words of copy on thousands of websites, many of which had entrusted agencies to create the content posted online. It’s not that agencies can’t produce quality content; it’s that outsourcing content is a big deal, one that requires proper safeguards be established to get the information you need.

So how do you ensure the content being created for your site makes the grade when you must outsource it?

By asking any agency following three questions:

Do you have a team of content writers on staff? Contrary to popular belief, many (likely most) digital marketing agencies don’t have a team of writers on staff to handle your content needs. They’re outsourcing the work to freelancers and, most often, “content mills,” who can work fast and are cheap. Problem is, fast and cheap aren’t often synonymous with quality. Your website could be left holding the bag for thin content, which Google, as we know, frowns upon.

How do you protect yourself? Ask your agency contact who’ll be producing the content, what experience they have in your vertical and what quality control measures are in place. If you sense any apprehension at these questions, run. Also, make the agency aware that you’ll be keeping a close eye on the content being added to the site; any decline in quality will be met with an immediate phone call. Better yet, apprise them that you’ll have someone evaluating content on a week-to-week basis, and you’ll have a member of your staff go over that report with your agency contact via Skype or Google Hangout bi-weekly.

How are you planning to measure the performance of the content, and at what intervals will it be measured? Everyone is hooked on the shareability of content—content worthy of being shared. But what you really care about is content that gets shared and that’s worthy of being linked to. No, not all content created for your website will be link-worthy, but some of it absolutely should be. Don’t fall for the “social signals is the new links” B.S., which many agencies are selling. “We’ll make sure the social sharing buttons are prominently placed on every blog, so you get social signals/links when folks share it.” Really?

How do you protect yourself? Ask about the overall strategy for producing content; their keyword strategy; how they plan to cater to semantic search queries; the process for outlining a plan to create linkable content. Every piece of content created for your website should be a part of a larger content plan. For example, blogs should highlight your main products and services, with links to one from the former to the latter, in addition to links to related FAQs. What’s more, those blogs should be linked to similar blogs, providing a trail for readers to follow, whereby they gain more comfort with the brand as they easily access information related to their needs.

Some of these blogs should be meatier, long-form pieces worthy of links, too.

Also, there should be benchmarks in place to measure your content against on a month-to-month basis. Ask how often content campaigns will be measured for effectiveness. Anything longer than 90 days is unacceptable.

What’s the objective with regard to the content you produce for our business? Peruse enough websites, and you start to wonder “What’s the purpose here?” or, worse, “Was there ever any purpose here?” Your business cannot afford to fall into either camp. To many agencies your content needs are far down on the list of priorities, owing to SEO being their main offering. And when you ask “What’s your goal for our content?” you’ll likely hear “To help your business get found by the search engines.” If you hear this, sprint, don’t walk or jog, away. That is a goal, but not the goal. The goal of any content created for your website must be to help drive conversions.

How do you protect yourself?  Make your contact aware that the work they do for your company does not exist in a silo. It has an important role just like finance, HR, sales and all of the other departments. Just like those other departments, there are objectives the content is expected to meet, and when those goals are not met, you’ll expect answers. Additionally, be very wary of any agency that handles your content but does not take the time to really get to know your business inside and out. They should commit to a twice-yearly visit, whereby they meet and interact with your staff, and ask questions about problems you face, who your main competitors are, what they can do better to nudge you toward your goals, etc.

As you can see, outsourcing content is not a task to be taken lightly. Any agency or individual assisting with these efforts should be looked at as a partner helping move your business forward. That’s a level of responsibility all parties must comprehend.

What are your thoughts on going outside the company for content? Any experiences you care to share?

About Ronell Smith

I'm digital strategist and content geek who's passionate about helping businesses wade through the B.S. and get the results they desire. I rant often about user experience, PR, SEO, branding, product innovation or content marketing. Otherwise, I'm just a boring nerd who dreams about disruptive innovation, long-form feature writing, nuclear physics, entomology and sniper rifles.

Filed under: Strategy

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