The Write Stuff – Blog

Jan 27 2014 Why cheap website copy is like a beat up jalopy
Why cheap copy is like an old jalopy

“So how much to write a 300 word blog?” “What about my website copy? How much to write that?”

Well… it’s kinda like asking “how long is a piece of string?” The truth is, you can pay anywhere from $5 to $500 (or more) for a short blog – and website copy can be much the same; you could pay a couple of hundred dollars, or a couple of thousand for a similar amount of content.

So why the hell would you pay up to 100 times more for the same amount of copy? Good question.

Well think of it like buying a car.

Sure you could pick up a cheap car for a few hundred bucks… but it could be full of rust, have squeaky brakes, no CD player (let alone iPod compatibility) – and what the hell is that weird clunking sound that keeps coming from under the bonnet? (If only we could turn up the stereo to drown it out!)

It’s unlikely you’ll get anything with an anti-lock braking system, front and side airbags, electronic stability control, or flawless paintwork that gleams seductively from sleek, sophisticated lines. That’s gonna cost you (obviously) but it’s easy to see where you get your value.

Website copy is much the same. There are going to be some inherent issues with the cheap copy, whereas the copy with the higher price tag will deliver much better value for you and your business.

How is it that some companies can offer such cheap website copy?

You see it all the time… offers of 500 word articles for a mere $20. Surely someone has to be making money from this, so how do they do it?

There are a few ways businesses can offer bargain basement prices on their copy.

Article Spinning

Some companies will use a method called article spinning. This is where so called content writers will use special software which “spins” articles. There are two main ways to spin an article:

The first is where software takes an existing article (sometimes original – sometimes stolen from someone else’s site) and swaps out various words with synonyms and rearranges the layout a bit.

Where content is stolen, the aim is to change the copy enough so it won’t be penalised by the search engines as duplicate copy (although some very dubious operators just don’t care. They’ll blatantly plagiarise someone else’s work in the blink of an eye).

The second method is creating new articles on a certain subject using bits & pieces from generic, pre-written articles. There may be dozens of these articles on any one topic and the software takes random sentences and paragraphs and “stitches” them together to create something “new” and “original”.

POTENTIAL DEFECTS: aside from lacking any originality or personalisation, these articles often read very badly. Some agencies may spend a little time tweaking out the obvious issues, but don’t expect them to be given too much attention.

Outsourcing

There are a couple of ways articles can be outsourced. Some agencies will advertise through various job sites asking for copywriters to write 500 word articles for a measly $5 (this is a real advertisement).

When you consider the minimum wage in Australia is a little over $16 an hour, they’re expecting people to either produce a “quality” blog – for minimum wage – in less than 20 minutes, or (assuming it will take 3 hours to research, write and edit the blog) to work for about $1.66 an hour.

It’s the equivalent of a sweatshop.

Others won’t even offer any payment at all! They ask people to submit “quality” articles for nothing more than potential “experience and exposure”. Apparently this is a deal too good to refuse for aspiring copywriters.

POTENTIAL DEFECTS: skilled professionals do not work for $1.66 an hour – or even $16 an hour. People responding to these ads are most likely trying to break into the industry and may lack the skills and experience to write the same quality of article as an established copywriter. Nor will the article be tailored to your business or your target market.

I suspect that most of these articles end up as fodder for spinning.

Bidding Sites

Go to Elance, Fiverr or Odesk and you’ll find plenty of people offering to write blogs or website content for next to nothing. Some of these may be native-English speakers looking to build their portfolio – and you might stumble across someone good.

But there is also a portion who come from non-English speaking countries where the average hourly rate can be as low as 54c. If you can find someone with good English skills, then you have found a bargain indeed, however this is an excerpt taken from one site:

Even though my specialty is health i can also write tech related article that related to computer, cells phones and news Since February 2009, i have been writing articles for different websites.

I kid you not!

POTENTIAL DEFECTS: because many of these writers come from other countries, and those with much lower hourly rates tend not to speak English as their first language, there may be grammar and context issues. You also risk your writer having little to no knowledge of local markets or local culture.

The benefits of paying more for your copywriting

Just like saving up for a shiny new Mercedes or BMW, you’ll usually get what you pay for with a more expensive copywriter.

Copywriters at the higher end of the spectrum will take the time to get to know you, your business AND your target market.

They’ll craft copy to fit your website design.

They’ll research keywords based on whether you’re reaching a local, national or global market – and work those into the copy for maximum effectiveness.

They’ll research your competition, reviewing their strongest and weakest points to understand how your business can best stand out from them.

They’ll ask lots of questions, and offer a review process to make sure your website copy delivers everything it should:

  • targeted messages
  • clear calls-to-action
  • best SEO practices
  • audience relevance, and
  • originality.

All these extras may cost more – but they make for a much smoother, more enjoyable ride.

The final word

Look – the reality is that for many small business owners, money is tight and they may not be able to afford a great deal for their copy. I get that. Sometimes having the rusted-out jalopy that gets you from A to B is better than having no car at all.

This article isn’t about saying “don’t go the cheaper option”, but to explain what you may – or may not – be getting with cheap website copy.

More of a “buyer beware” caveat, so you can be a little more savvy about the value of your marketing dollar the next time you go to your copy dealership.

And with any model you’ll sometimes get a lemon, so do your research, take a few test drives (that’s not asking for a free sample – that’s checking portfolios to see if the copywriter’s style fits your own) and weigh up the actual value you’re getting for your money.

Got questions about this article, or copywriting in general? Feel free to post them here, or pop across to my Facebook page for a chat.

Posted in Blogging, Copywriting Tips, SEO, Websites by 12 comments

12 Responses to “Why cheap website copy is like a beat up jalopy”

  • Reply Rachel January 30, 2014at 8:06 am

    Fantastic article and so true. You really do get what you pay for.

    We all need to educate our clients about the importance of good content – I’m unapologetic about my rates and more often than not, clients I work with see the value in investing in decent content as opposed to hitting up a 500-words-for-$5 content mill.

    • Reply Anna Butler January 30, 2014at 9:09 am

      Thanks Rachel. I think education is definitely the key.

      It’s not to say “don’t do it”, but “hey, there are reasons it’s so cheap, so make sure you know what you’re getting and why”.

  • Reply Shauna March 20, 2014at 4:03 pm

    I think part of the job for a copywriter is showing your potential client that paying higher rates is an investment in their business. Good copy draws people in, stimulates a particular emotion and encourages them to take action – all of which leads to more client leads and, in time, more lead conversions and more money. And after all, that’s what every business wants!

    • Reply Anna Butler March 23, 2014at 12:03 pm

      You’re absolutely right Shauna, but sometimes it’s hard to demonstrate that value when people see these amazing offers from various places – especially when their budgets are tight.

  • Reply Paul March 22, 2014at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for your article Anna. Its always great to see people writing about the true value of copywriting and why its important to use a copywriter that knows the how to research the industry and create a copywriting strategy.

    Without an effective strategy focused on the business objectives, a business owner is not only wasting their money but they are also wasting precious time. Once they realise the copywriting strategy has failed its back to the drawing board with more money and more precious time.

    • Reply Anna Butler March 23, 2014at 12:09 pm

      Thanks for your comments Paul. And you make a very valid point about it not just being a waste of money, but a waste of time as well.

      If business owners factor in THEIR own time and what it’s costing in terms of lost productivity to redo the same thing over, it might make more financial sense to get it done right the first time.

  • Reply Ido Schacham March 23, 2014at 8:16 pm

    Excellent post. I used to work as a web developer where the price and quality also varies greatly, so I also used to explain the variations with the car analogy. Now I’m in the writing business which seems even tougher…

    • Reply Anna Butler March 24, 2014at 10:35 am

      Thanks Ido. And web developers definitely face similar issues, but I think the reason copywriting is harder is because EVERYONE learnt to write in school.

      Not all of us learnt how to code websites, so it’s easier for people to justify spending money for a specialist service like web development, whereas “anyone can write”, right?

  • Reply John Keyser May 14, 2014at 10:49 am

    Nice article. Reinforces my decision to stay away from Elance and fiverr. You’ve taught me something new tonight as well! I did not know there were folks actually using software to “article spin”. Now that I think about it, I’ve probably read a couple wondering “who thought this was good”?

    • Reply Anna Butler May 14, 2014at 2:29 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, John.

      Again, there are writers for all budgets (which is a wonderful thing), but I hope this article helps people understand why there can be such differences in what copywriting costs and, more importantly, WHY!

      Funnily enough, a fellow copywriter posted a link to a “New-Age Bullshit Generator” today, which spins meaningless articles together. It’s kinda funny and you can check it out here: http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/

      • Reply Richa Varma (SEO Copywriter) August 25, 2014at 6:55 am

        Know what Anna?

        You’ve just simultaneously ruined and made my day with that ‘Bullshit Generator’ link!!! 🙂

        I mean, it was way past 2 am here in India when I stumbled upon your blog post, couldn’t resist reading through all of it, including all the comments and replies (you could say I’m a borderline OCD case but I guess we best leave that for the shrinks to decide), was telling myself ’tis way past the time to hit the bed, girl, when you had to go and drop a bombshell on me by way of that link!!!

        I’m laughing so hard, I literraly have tears streaming down my face even as I type this, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep for at least some time yet.

        The reason why I find this especially funny is that in my former career as a web programmer, I had written a text spinner of my own (in my spare time, just for kicks) and used to have a good laugh generating stupid sounding variations of text using it.

        This is a bit like MT (machine translation). I wonder if you’ve ever tried this: go to Google Translate. Paste (or write) a small paragraph of (English) text there and translate it in to French or German or some other language. Then ask it to translate the resulting text back to English, and have a good laugh!

        Anyway, thanks a lot for the link (and the resultant hysteria); you have actually made my day. Good morning from India. 🙂

        • Reply Anna Butler August 25, 2014at 9:36 am

          Hi Richa – glad my post was able to induce such mirth 🙂

          And there was a music show in Australia a couple of years ago that used to translate song lyrics into Japanese then back into English for rather hilarious results, so I know exactly what you mean!

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