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For me, it simply comes down to the fact that agencies overcharge and under deliver. 

Maybe I’m too fussy, but I’ve proved from experience that having someone in-house producing editorial content produces better quality results.

If you are an advocate of content or have at least bought into the idea that you need it to succeed online, then you have two big decisions to make on content.

The first is what type of content you are going to produce and the second is who will produce it. I’d always argue that you should mostly produce content in-house as much as possible and this is why.

Quality control

When you hire someone in-house to produce content for you, you have way more control over the process, and personally, I think when someone is part of your company, they just care more.

So many times, I’ve worked with supposed ‘quality’ content providers who have the cheek to send through copy with typos, not what you expect when you’re paying for content.

This is failing at the basics if you ask me. Having someone working in-house should also mean they care more about the work they produce as they know they are directly accountable.

This aside, having an in-house content writer also means they should know the business inside out and as such are more likely to deliver content the way you want it, opposed to someone who has been given a brief and may never have stepped foot inside your company and may never even have heard of it. 

At a basic level, writers are good company stock and when it comes to the bottom line. It’s simply cheaper than outsourcing writing work sporadically, as if a time comes when you urgently need a piece of content, you may find you have to pay over the odds to get it in time.

When to outsource 

With the best will in the world, it’s hard to have all the necessary skills in-house to produce the content you want, but if you want to have more control over the content you have on-site, I’d start by taking on a content writer in-house. 

Next, I’d build up a bank of freelancers that you can call on to pitch article ideas to you on a regular basis.

By doing this, you build a relationship with freelancers who can produce articles for you when you need them, preventing you from getting caught out and paying over the odds if you need something in a hurry, if the need can’t be fulfilled in-house due to say, time constraints. 

For specific content needs such as infographics, it can pay to outsource. There are some great companies in the states that have been producing them for a lot longer than we have in the UK, and having a monthly contract will save you money.

They’ll also likely seed the content for you as well, meaning you get good content and spend less time involved in the production process.

A word of caution: When it does come to outsourcing and for copy specifically; I would personally avoid agencies.

Now it’s purely my opinion, and based on my own experience, but I’ve yet to use an agency that has produced copy that met my expectations.  

From my experience, having someone in-house producing editorial content produces better quality results.

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Published 8 August, 2011 by Sharon Flaherty

Sharon Flaherty is Editor at Confused.com and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

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Alexandra Gaiger, Digital Marketing Architect at ThoughtShift Ltd

I totally agree in regards to written content, I have had similar bad experiences and the time it takes to check outsourced copy is longer than just writing it yourself! For on-site copy, writing it in-house should also ensure CAP code compliance where outsourcers will not know/care if they are making unfounded claims.

However, I think it is important to note that 'Content' includes a lot of other mediums such as video, imagery (I know you touched on infographics), podcasts and so on where outsourcing is actually more cost effective than attempting to get all the necessary tools and resources to create good quality content, of this nature, in-house.

about 5 years ago

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Prachi Deshpande

Good post Sharon, agree. I do think that the in house content is much better, because they know the business better, they know their products and their industry better. Most importantly in house people will have good understanding of what their user wants/ looks for and hopefully they will create the matter that will appeal to their users/ customers most.

I prefer working with in house content generators when creating content as a SEO.

about 5 years ago

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Hannah Lane

I think it really depends on your agency. I have worked in-house and have had occasional bad experiences with agencies - but no because they don't care (as you say, beacuse there's a lack of understanding or explaination about what's needed.

This is often outweighed with fresh and lively content that you don't always get in-house. In-house, people often get stuck in a rutt with their writing style and could use a bit of vibrance that an agency can offer.

The agency I work for has an extremely detailed understanding of its clients, and everything goes through our own proofreading process before it reaches the client, ensuring complete quaity control.

about 5 years ago

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Rob Older

Great post. We're currently looking at how to make our content more relevant and insightful for the print community, and have been debating whether to have someone in-house or not.

We've currently got several bloggers out side of the company who post regular content on industry topics but we're thinking it could be better to rename these as writers. Is this wise?

about 5 years ago

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Rene

Interesting, dare I say provocative, post Sharon and interesting comments.

To bat for the other side of the argument, perhaps you've not been using the right agencies and not been setting measurable objectives and goals for your content? Are you talking PR only? Alexandra makes a good point about the wide variety of content over and above 'the written'.

It also seems a little contrived to try and 'control' your content and not let it evolve, to not let it drink in outside influence and perspective.

I do think disregarding agencies wholesale is a little blunt. Outsourcing has taken place for hundreds of years and the major downsides of doing everything yourself are, at least, four-fold. It takes time. It takes resource (people) and expertise (skills). It requires creativity in order to be relevant and engaging. It lacks the benefit of outside influence and perspective.

Certainly thought provoking, but accurate? Maybe it’s in the brief and in managing expectation.

about 5 years ago

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Martin Harrison

There can be no disputing the fact that having copy written in-house will always be more effective and efficient than outsourcing. Post Panda, this is becoming more and more apparent and we're seeing a real shift away from the 'content for contents sake' approach taken by many, especially for the supposed benefit of SEO. It's not by accident that the likes of ASOS and Moneysupermarket, who have invested heavily in strong, in-house editorial teams, are leading the pack in their respective verticals.

However, I don't necessarily agree that outsourcing can't be effective, as long as you have in place a definitive TOV document and a water-tight brief.

about 5 years ago

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Tom Albrighton, Digital and SEO copywriter at ABC Copywriting

First up, I am a freelance writer so it's clear which side of the argument I am on.

The problem of inaccurate copy is not a problem with outsourcing per se, it's a problem with particular providers. Any writer worth their salt should proofread their work to the best of their abilities before submission. If they can't spot errors, whether through ignorance or carelessness, you should choose another provider. Alternatively, use a proofreader - so you can work with writers who may have great ideas but perhaps aren't all that accurate.

I don't accept that an employee always cares more. An established freelance writer who cares about their reputation is highly motivated to care about your business as much as they possibly can, because they want to do good work and obtain your recommendation and your referral. Conversely, I have known many employees who care very little for the place where they work.

Having said all that, it is hard for an outsider to really get to know a business - but not impossible. Allowing the writer to interview key personnel lets them build up a solid understanding of a firm's offering and culture, so they can write authentically with its 'voice'.

Outsiders also have the benefit of a broader view on content generation, blogging etc, which can allow them to propose more interesting ideas for content. Employees who have 'gone native' inside the organisation sometimes find it hard to discern what is truly of interest to readers and/or customers.

You will notice that I'm talking about working with a writer rather than an agency. The problem with using an agency is that your needs may be filtered through many layers of account management/briefing before they reach the writer. Whatever dealshape you use, it's direct contact between writer and businessperson that results in high-quality content.

about 5 years ago

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jda

Ye, Martin echo's my sentiments entirely. Net-a-porter and Mr. Porter are also prime examples of in-house copy... in fact the majority of high performing online retailers are investing more heavily with in-house copy material. Not just copy, but also video, film and imagery, vitally important to support sales and branding. Ironically, retailers are now becoming more and more like media companies... and long may it continue.

about 5 years ago

Jason Ball

Jason Ball, Persuasion Architect at Twelfth Day Ltd

For the kind of content you describe, the critical issue is whether you can employ a writer who has the skills you need.

If you simply want to fill space with run-of-the-mill copy, in-house is probably the way to go. However, for copy that will help define your brand, connect to your audience at a deeper level and sell more products, I'd think twice.

The best writers will generally stay away from working as a dedicated in-house writer. They tend to prefer more varied challenges and can earn more as freelancers. However, I would expect you to see a tangible difference in quality. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule.

Agencies, for their part, carry a level of overhead that means they cost more. However, they should be able to demonstrate value that clearly outweighs the cost. (If not, they shouldn't be in business.)

In my experience (and I've been doing this a while), clients do not have a monopoly on quality (far from it). Their systems are generally not terribly efficient (the cost of inefficiencies is often high). And an external perspective is sometimes exactly what's required for them to move forward.

For me, ultimately, it comes down to investing where it matters.

about 5 years ago

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sharon flaherty

Hi Rob, Sharon here. Want to answer your question but not sure what you mean - rename them as writers?

Cheers

about 5 years ago

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sharon flaherty

Sorry- one more comment to Rene and Jason. Thank you so much for taking the time to post. I just wanted to add that from my experience, I believe that you have a strong in-house editorial team as the crux of what you do.

I really don't believe that in-house writers mean run of the mill copy and I can prove it..

I took on a reporter nearly a year ago, she was naturally talented but after training and being given the freedom to create good content, she has become award winning.

First last month she won the BIBA award for journalism (content awards are quite rare really for comparison sites, in fact I don't know of any of the others have won any? Don't quote me on that as I am not 100%.

She has also just been nominated for a second award for her content this month by headlinemoney.

The proof is there; if you dedicate a little bit of time to developing an editorial team, you'll have most of what you need in-house and can fill in the gaps elsewhere where you don't have the skills.

Eg, you can top up an in-house editorial team with freelancers on the books who you constantly monitor and refresh if they are not hitting the mark and for content like animated video, infographics etc, agree it is highly likely you may be better outsourcing.

But on another note, most journalists these days are multi-media too.. so worth bearing that in mind in the selection process when recruiting in-house.

about 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Sharon,

I think I understand the point you are trying to make here but I don't agree with what you say. There is a difference between control and quality. Just because you can control in-house resource more effectively (only if you employ the right person though), doesn't mean the output is to the quality required to meet the goals of the content marketing program.

In regards to the written word, I'm with Jason on this because I know some very good copywriters/journalists who are freelance after many years Client side. They have huge amounts of experience and know their markets inside out. They also have an intuitive understanding of what makes copy engaging and rewarding. That's not to say you can't get a high quality person in-house, just that there are more out there, in my experience, who are self-employed.

For example, I did some copywriting for Profusion (email marketing tech company) when they relaunched their website because I have years of experience in email marketing - I knew the product, what it did, why it did it and what the commercial context was. I knew what customers needed to know. I'm not arrogant to presume that there isn't someone out there better than me, but outsourcing enabled a tight deadline to be met.

It is possible to get good quality content by outsourcing and one way is to tie in the financial model to KPIs. This means paying somebody a basic day rate + commission based on results. Often you'll find a freelancer work harder than someone in-house because payment is dependent upon quality and results. In-house the pressure is off because you get your monthly pay cheque regardless of outcomes, unless you employ people on a salary + commission basis - rare.

As others point out, content is more than the written word. What about videos? Can you cost justify the investment in a multimedia specialist? If this isn't a full time role, then will their output be as good as an external specialist who does this day in day out? What about detailed reports like white papers? For white papers, especially in B2B, companies often work with industry specialists to produce content. Take a look at Econsultancy - freelancers and consultants contribute a large % of their industry best practice reports. It's an efficient arrangement to cope with a huge variety of projects. Would you argue that all this could be better handled in-house? I'd say the resource burden would be cost prohibitive.

The other potential problem in-house is politics/inertia - 'we do it this way'. I've seen this in places I've worked where content becomes compromised to fit in with the status quo. And yes that isn't always the case but it is a common theme. A bold and confident employee could indeed challenge this way of thinking but I've found it to be much harder to do as an employee than as an external consultant/freelancer. For some strange reason, some companies pay more attention to external suggestions - must be some weird reaction to perception of cost/value.

I think Jason is bang on the money - there is no right answer; whether or not to go in-house or external depends on matching the best possible skills with the desired outcomes. Invest your money where it will deliver the best results.

thanks
james

about 5 years ago

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Karen Webber

Hi Sharon

An interesting post, but I think your broad-brush approach misses a few important things.

I work for a content provider and we have hundreds of very happy customers. We deliver content that matches their briefs and serves their objectives.

I won't deny that sometimes mistakes are made and typos slip through from time to time despite rigorous in-house checks. However, that has nothing to do with "cheek" or lack of care for our customers, but instead the result of genuine human error.

I'd be very surprised if your in-house writers, who you seem to be very happy with, never make typos. For example, did you have this blog post subbed before it was posted? Because even you have published a sentence that doesn't make grammatical sense:
"At a basic level, writers are good company stock and when it comes to the bottom line."

But as one of the other commentators said, content is about more than bashing out words that are grammatically correct. A good content provider should offer a holistic content solution, including SEO, social media, blogs, features, landing pages and even video.

As a content provider, we invest a great deal of time in recruiting and training writers not only to produce quality content, but also to truly understand clients' commercial objectives and bring the copy in line with those.

Outsourcing content isn't suitable for each business (and I think Confused.com is probably big enough to afford to employ someone to write for the site full-time, but this isn't the case for many UK businesses), but I believe - and our many satisfied customers are testament to this - that it is a great solution for some companies.

All the best,
Karen

about 5 years ago

Tim McKane

Tim McKane, Owner at navajotalk

I couldn't agree less with the view that in-house is necessarily better, and if you look at the content of most corporate web sites, even before you get to social media, you will see why.
The overall fault with in-house is the very thing that people think gives it strength, that people know their business better.
Being close to a business is like having a child. You don't notice the changes as they grow up, get taller, etc and then a friend arrives and points all the changes out. You get used to their personality, and so are not as amazed as you were with the first word, first day at school etc.
Also the idea that someone in the employ of a business cares more is a misnomer as well. A good agency will work their socks off to keep the client, as that is where they earn their money.
Social media now needs more than content written about a company. Let's be honest, it was not interesting on the web site, so it is even less likely to be interesting on social media. Brands and companies need someone to challenge the idea that talking about yourself is engaging. It isn't. It is boring.
What a good agency should bring is creativity. Ideas. Innovation. And a fresh eye about what to talk about. So many brands, big and small are disregarding the other person in the conversation and not making any effort to entertain, involve, ask, listen and learn. It is too often monologue.
The inside thing is simply an extension of the idea that everyone could write a good advertisement, or a book, or an article. They can't. There is skill and talent involved in creating great content.
The experience we bring is an ability to listen to the marketing expert, the MD, the people on the shop floor and the sales team and help then realise that they each have a contribution to make to the conversation, not that they should write it all themselves.
At Navajo Talk we have created a system called Social Sources. We make sure that we get the information from in-house, but that we then turn it into interesting content that will engage and is set against the interest triggers of our audience - our customers - and so through engagement we generate sales...and that is what it is all about!!

about 5 years ago

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FOXY Steph

A few years ago I was sold a news writing service for what seemed to be compelling SEO reasons. But it never did the business and I was forever briefing the individuals concerned. Despite a clear strategy it was never worth the money. Imho much better to either DIY (time permitting) or develop relationships with potential role models/partners with mutual self interest. Well worth reading Michael Stelzner's new book about compelling content; called 'Launch - how to quickly propel your business beyond the competition.'

about 5 years ago

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Ken Munn

Permit me to disagree, in principle if not in your particular practice.

First point. I've free-lanced as a writer for a long while, and it's a common experience to find clients who talk (and write) a language that's not that used by their prospective customers. I'm not talking about Serbo-Croat, but about industry jargon. Jargon needs to be translated into language the customer speaks. A writer will keep asking what the client means, until there's an answer that can be clearly communicated to the prospect. I was once congratulated by a director at a stockbroking client, for producing copy that "the man in the street" could understand. I refrained from telling him that it was because half the time I hadn't a clue what the jargon used by those who briefed me meant. I had to keep probing to find out what was actually meant, and why it mattered to the customer (often it didn't). A danger with in-house writers is that they begin to lose discrimination between jargon and plain english and then write for their peers, not for their prospects.

Second point. There's a difference between product - or service - features, and customer benefits. Within a business it's easy to get trapped into thinking and talking about features, and not about the benefits those features bring to the customer. But customers don't buy features, they buy benefits. A good writer (and if you continue to earn your living by writing, you've got to be pretty good) knows that. He or she will probe to uncover the benefits, and bring them to the fore in the narrative.

Third point. Work in a business and you get stale; you think "I can do this with one hand behind my back." An outsider can't afford that attitude, or assignments will dry up. For those like me, every piece of work we submit has to be the best we can do. There's another aspect too - cross-fertilisation. Because we work with different clients we're exposed to different writing styles, different markets, different propositions. Often, what's learned from one situation can be beneficially applied in another. An in-house resource is not exposed in the same way to outside influences and won't develop as quickly.

Lastly, you rightly say that grammar matters. I won't be blunt and point out the grammatical errors in your post, but we should all be clear that bad grammar, unclear constructions, misspellings and waffle in customer communication actually costs sales. If a piece of writing prevents sales, what does it matter if the writing was cheap? Better to pay more and sell more!

about 5 years ago

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Barry Thorn, Magento Sales Manager at Crimsonwing

I like this post alot and from my current company's standpoint would come down in favour of in-house generated content - although I guess it's "horses for courses" to a certain extent....

Quality Control needs to be managed whatever means are used to generate content and Marketing departments can't abdicate responsibility for this whether going in-house or outsourcing.

Certainly for smaller companies, delegating responsibility for content generation among the wider team can help draw on individual specialisms and interests which can help deliver a unique and authentic voice for one's business.

Just make sure that content is being generated in pursuit of a clear overall strategy...

about 5 years ago

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J-P De Clerck

Many good thoughts and comments. However, often missing the key points and not looking at the global content marketing context. Started to write a reaction but it became a 10,000 word post. Thanks for the inspiration for producing content. Name links to the URL. Thoughts welcome.

about 5 years ago

Jean De Clerck

Jean De Clerck, Manager at Conversionation

Many good thoughts and comments. However, often missing the key points and not looking at the global content marketing context. Started to write a reaction but it became a 10,000 word post. Thanks for the inspiration for producing content. http://www.conversionation.net/2011/08/content-marketing-should-content-be-created-in-house-or-outsourced/

about 5 years ago

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Christina Papppas

I have produced content and outsourced content and have to agree. Even though the copywriters were excellent, they just didnt have that 'oomph' for writing for the brand and to the brand's audience. We hardly ever received comments on these blog posts and these were the least shared. It was very interesting to me. But I had committed to writing a post every day of every week and sometimes I just need some extra help I could not find interally. Looking back, I would make a strong suggestion to anyone building a content strategy to think realistically about what you can accomplish with what you have. You dont need to post a blog every day or write a 10 page whitepaper every week/month. Set a strategy and a plan using what you have and get the best results from that. Afterall, your brand reputation is on the line everytime you published a piece of content.

about 5 years ago

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Brendan Staunton

I think your article is misleading because of the title. It probably should have been written: 'If you want great content hire a content expert'.

A lot of companies do their own content and the results are not good. Pick a city, pick a profession and look at the top 10 websites.

Generally you'll see the same tired sentiments and lots of stuff about 'quality', 'expertise' and 'passion'.

Even where these companies hired writers they probably told them what to write.

I agree with you about agencies though. Many can't afford a full-time content copywriter. Mostly they just hire sloganeers.

about 5 years ago

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