What I’d really like from content providers

21st October 2014 | Posted in Blogging

I’m a bit perplexed.

That’s perplexed as content director of When They Get Older and equally perplexed as a copywriter who’s often hired to write content.

Here’s why. I’m puzzled by the huge range of attitudes out there to guest blogging.

(At this point I want to move my final paragraph up in case not everyone reads to the end.)

There are some clearly really clever, thoughtful content providers out there, but it would be great to see everyone aiming high.

(As you were – back to the initial whinge.)

What we aim to do

Let me give you some background. At When They Get Older our main raison d’etre is to provide genuine, useful information. We talk to people trying to juggle work, life and the care of their ageing parents. It’s a niche audience but at the rate the population is ageing, it’s a growing one.

The quality of our content is really important to us. We want it to be targeted and valuable.

We write a lot inhouse. We also approach experts to write for us in return for a link and name check.

So far, so great.

As the site grows in popularity, commercial companies have caught on. They’ve been sending content providers to find out if we’d like some articles from them. We take each suggestion on a case by case basis, and that’s just as well, because there doesn’t seem to be any standard approach.

And that’s what’s perplexing.

We get all sorts of offers coming at us.

  • Those who have an article to place and think we might like it.
  • Those who see us as a target blog and are willing to write what we want.
  • Those who have access to experts – but far more of those who will use a general writer to do research on the web.
  • Those who are willing to do contra deals to publicise each other’s sites.
  • Those who are willing to pay our rates for publishing their content
  • Those who expect free publicity in return for a pretty random article.

And so on.

Rarely two offers the same

A few of our more interesting offers that had us scratching our collective heads.

  • A content provider who thought they were a buyer at the car boot sale. We weren’t asking the earth to place a commercial piece but they wanted to haggle the price down anyway. Not to mention trying to lay down the law about how we would write the article, that there should be no mention of their client at all, and that we should not flag it up as a sponsored post. Hmm.
  • A content provider who offered to pay to have an article posted on their client’s behalf and asked what we’d like them to cover. Their client has great expertise in an area we cover so we were delighted and sent over a brief. The content company said that was great but could we write it ourselves? (They did offer to pay.) Moreover, they sent us Ts&Cs that specifically said we were not to contact their client in any circumstances. So much for their client’s expertise.
  • And a law company based in the USA that was certain it could write a specialised article for our UK market – and then gave it to a Canadian non-lawyer to create. She put her hand up and said she probably couldn’t. We’ve got her writing something completely different that plays to her strengths.

The plain lazy

It doesn’t happen often but we do get emails from PRs who want us to cover their client’s product or service. And then they follow it up if we don’t reply instantly. Two rules broken here – study your audience to see what they need and then don’t harass them. We don’t have news pages so we’re really not sure where they think we might cover this. I don’t need to say any more on this one. There have been many before me who have sought to advise PRs on how not to annoy editors.

What I’d like instead

At last, I’m getting to the point where I offer some positive and useful advice to content companies. Some of it is incredibly obvious to me but hey ho.

  1. Study your target web site or blog. Understand what they’re trying to do. Think about how you can help them.
  2. Think about level of knowledge as well. We need in-depth rather than general or – heaven forbid – clichéd.
  3. Don’t offer us articles that you’ve published elsewhere. With a few exceptions we really only want unique. And definitely don’t, as someone did, offer us an article that we’d already published a year before.
  4. Make suggestions. Many companies ask us what we’d like them to write about from any subject in the world. Please put some of the effort in. If you can come up with a great idea we’ll be more willing to listen.
  5. Don’t expect something for nothing. If you’re giving us real expertise that we haven’t yet accessed you’ll make us very happy. If you want to just get your client’s name on our site, then you should expect to pay something and potentially have it bylined as sponsored. Our editorial independence is important to us so we’re not going to endorse something we don’t know enough about.
  6. Tap into your client’s expertise. When someone asks me to blog as a copywriter I make a fuss about getting access to the corporate experts. We as writers cannot position clients as thought leaders if we’re not allowed to hear their thoughts. (This is me on my copywriting soapbox and I’ll probably blog about it more another time.)
  7. Use good writers. Quality of writing is important to us. If you haven’t got good writers, we have. You can buy our writing services.
  8. Now I’m getting really picky. Don’t start your article with “As people get older they face more challenges”. You’d be surprised how many people start their articles that way. I just hate clichés.

As I said above, there are clearly some really thoughtful and effective content providers out there, and they’re setting the bar for everyone else to follow.

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