The Real Cost of Cheap Content

By Rachel Parker

A few months ago, I published a post titled “Why You Can’t Afford $25 Blog Posts,” and it was one of our most popular of all time. As I was writing it, I remember wishing that someone would do a study on what you really get when you buy bargain-basement content.

As a certain book says, ask and you shall receive.

Last week my friend Lisa Alexander was kind enough to tag me in a post sharing some, yes, actual research on whether you get what you pay for when it comes to content writers. Let’s take a look …

The Study

The good folks at ClearVoice know a thing or two about freelance writers, as they work with them on a daily basis to create content for clients. They’re well aware of the huge range of price points — and of quality — that brands encounter when they look to bring in a content writer. And so often do they hear the question “Do you really get what you pay for when you hire a real expert?” that they decided to put their hypothesis (“Yes, you do”) to the test.

In a post titled “The Power of Pay for Travel Writers: Are Freelance Rates and Quality Correlated?” the ClearVoice team describes an informal study in which they assigned a single travel article to seven freelance writers, whose submissions were judged anonymously by 30 editorial experts.

The writers represented three categories according to their levels of experience and per-word pay rates: Beginner ($0.10 per word), Pro ($0.25 per word), and Expert ($1.00 per word). To avoid any bias, no writers from ClearVoice’s network of contributors were used.

Once the writers were selected, the ClearVoice team presented each with an identical assignment: an article of 150 words or more on the topic “Amazing Island Vacations for 2017,” with some additional specifications (see the ClearVoice post for details). The writers were not informed that they were participating in a study.

The Results

Six submissions were received (yes, one writer failed to turn in the assignment; guess which category he/she was in?) and judged on a scale from zero (“horrible”) to 10 (“stellar”) by 30 editorial experts. Criteria for judging included factual accuracy, grammar, ability to meet the deadline, readability, ability to follow assignment directions, and other factors.

An automatic score of zero resulted if the writer failed to meet the deadline with no advance communication (as was the case with one writer) or if the editors found evidence of significant plagiarism (as was the case with another writer).

And the final scores out of a possible 10 were …

  • For the three Beginners: zero (did not turn in), 5.1, and 3.6
  • For the two Pros: zero (flagged for significant plagiarism) and 5.1
  • For the two Experts: 7.5 and 7.3

(See the ClearVoice infographic for more details)

A few observations: