What will you take away from this report?
To outsource or not to outsource content writing?
There are three main ways to create content: producing it entirely in-house, outsourcing its creation to the max, and choosing a hybrid approach, using a mix of internal and external creative forces. Is there a winner here?
The most popular content providers out there
When companies decide to outsource their content writing, who do they go to and why? Dive into this report and find out the market share for reputable freelancers, digital and content agencies, content writing services, freelance gig sites, or AI writing tools.
The real budgets for outsourcing content
We asked, businesses answered. We know how much they spend monthly on having their content written externally, and from now on, you will know it too! Keep on reading to see which budget option is taking the lead.
Challenges and content performance metrics
There are several points of friction you can stumble upon in the content creation process, and, surprisingly, missed deadlines are NOT at the top of the list. And when it comes to measuring content results - four metrics scored nearly the same number of votes.
Get inspired by seasoned marketing experts
Customer Success Manager, Content Bird
I think there are many people out there who don’t outsource their content production, because they fear sharing responsibilities. But let’s face it, you can’t do everything yourself. You can’t be a video producer, a copywriter and a content strategist in one person.
VP of Growth, CMO, GrowSurf
Every step of content production and improving content velocity is a bottleneck. So you really need processes in place for each step of the way. Whether that's your content brief, first draft submission, publishing. So, really, if you want to scale a content team, you have to look at, do you have recipes in place for each step of the process? And can you hire someone to handle those recipes?
VP of Growth, Piktochart
We had an ambitious plan to create all of our content in-house. Why? Because internally, we know our product best. Good storytelling is also part of our DNA. Unfortunately, reality hit us. It's difficult to write that much content if you have a small marketing team
I want my copy of the State of Content Ops & Outsourcing report 2021
92.8K - this is how many times per month people worldwide are entering the keyword “content writing” in Google (according to Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool.) And when it comes to the keyword “content marketing” that monthly figure goes up to 113.2K globally.
As you can see, the overlap is enormous. And not only from the semantic perspective. To play the content marketing game, you need to write content - it’s a simple equation. Even if you focus on creating more video and visuals, those formats won’t exist without digital ink.
Even though increasing business results with captivating content may seem like pure gold lying on the ground for you to pick up, the reality is much more complicated.
To regularly create high-quality content, you need to have time, resources, and budget. While in some cases brands can entirely rely on their internal creative workforce, in others, businesses need to look at outsourcing content writing services.
What does the content writing landscape look like in the wild? This was the core goal for creating this report.
Apart from finding out the percentage of companies that do or don’t outsource content, we wanted to give you a broad perspective of needs, expectations, challenges, and performance metrics related to created content.
To deliver you an in-depth understanding of content ops and writing, we conducted over twenty video interviews with reputable marketers from companies such as Userpilot, Piktochart, LiveChat, Netguru, GetResponse, Remote, Malishake, Sales Hacker, and more!
After drilling into the interview recordings, analyzing and comparing answers, and spotting patterns, we were ready to roll out comprehensive research at scale. Today, having over 700 completed surveys, we’re excited to present you with our findings!
Are you ready? Let’s dive in!
To outsource or not to outsource - How businesses create their content
Tuning into conversations with seasoned marketers helped us to distill three main ways of creating content:
- Writing every piece of content internally with no help from the outside world
- Outsourcing 100% of content
- Practicing a mix of internal and external content writing
In this chapter, we will zoom into those options, finding out how companies from different industries and sizes (including the headcount of marketing and - when possible - content teams) answered our questions.
No for outsourcing - they create content in-house
Let’s start with analyzing the non-outsourcing camp. As you can see from the visual above, creating content entirely in-house slightly wins against the combined options of outsourcing content (100% outsourcing and a hybrid solution).
Let’s take a closer look at that 51% of surveyees to see where they come from and their reasons for writing a whole lot of content internally.
Among people who chose “No, we don’t outsource content at all,” there are no industries that pull away from the pack in the peloton. However, we can point out several industries that are in the lead.
The information technology/software engineering industry wears the yellow leader’s jersey with 9% of the answers. Right after, we can see Marketing & Sales and Retail companies with 8% of votes each. Both Healthcare and Education came in third with 7%.
And here’s the rest of the non-outsourcing peloton:
- Manufacturing / production - 6%
- SaaS 5%
- Technology/hardware 5%
- Travel 4%
- Media/publishing 4%
- Ecommerce 4%
- Food 3%
- Finance 3%
- Real estate - 2%
At the bottom of this industry list, we recognized transport & logistics and government institutions (both around 1%) and a plethora of various industries that scored less than 1% of the answers.
Knowing their business field, it’s time to determine whether there is a correlation in headcounts of companies that do not outsource content writing.
Unlike with industries, we can identify a clear leader here - 52% of people who took our survey declared they work in companies with less than 50 employees.
On the other hand, large enterprises with more than 1000 employees are the second-largest group that said “no” to content outsourcing, with 21% of the answers.
Third place on the podium (13%) goes to companies with a headcount between 101 and 500 people. Finally, we see firms with 501-1000 and firms with 51-100 people on a payroll in last, with 7% for each.
How many people in marketing teams
Since small companies with no more than 50 employees were the majority of answers above, does that translate into small-size marketing teams?
One marketing person in a company - that option won with 36% of answers. Teams of 2-5 marketers are the second meaningful option with a result of 30%. It may strike as a surprising outcome because you might assume that a limited marketing workforce equates to the need to outsource content writing.
None of the other team sizes managed to get above 10% of answers:
- From 11 to 20 people in the marketing team: 9%
- From 6 to 10 people in the marketing team: 8%
- More than 100 people in the marketing team: 7%
- Between 21 and 50 people in the marketing team: 6%
- Between 51 and 100 people in the marketing team: 4%
How many people in content teams
Let’s take a look at the content teams. How many people per company are solely dedicated to content marketing?
As many as 40% of survey respondents who said their company does not outsource content writing also stated that there is only one content marketer in their company.
Between two and five content people in a team - this marketing department structure applies to 28% of our surveyees.
It’s worth highlighting that 13% don’t have in-house content people at all. On the other hand, among companies with a higher content headcount - 10% stated that they have more than 11 content experts on board, whereas 9% confirmed their content teams are between 6 and 10 specialists.
The reasons behind not outsourcing
Since you know the “who,” it’s time to discover the “why.” What are the reasons behind their decisions to reject outsourced content writing?
There is no single dominant opinion that would explain choosing this path. However, a statement that it’s more manageable to create content internally appealed to our surveyees the most - 24% of them are in favor of this viewpoint.
Nobody understands the product or service better than the people who work with it every day and know it by heart. Explaining its dynamics - especially when a product or service is pretty complex - is not an easy task. That’s why 22% of professionals who participated in our research agreed that this is the reason they don’t hire external writers to create their content.
The third-most popular answer is related to the one above. If people strongly feel that they know their offerings inside out, it’s more likely to tell a story around the product. This is where the 20% of votes for the “only we can do the storytelling” come from.
Quoting Agata Krzysztofik, VP of Growth at Piktochart:
“In 2020, we had an ambitious plan to create all of our content in-house. Why? Because internally, we know our product best. Good storytelling is also part of our DNA.”
As for the rest of the reasons, it’s worth pointing out that 14% of people declared that they don’t do content at all, which could partially explain why companies with one or up to five marketers on board don’t outsource content.
Last, 11% of surveyed professionals confirmed that they don’t have good experiences with external writers, so they decided to discontinue outsourcing.
Yes for outsourcing - they hire external creative forces
After describing the “nay,” it’s time to focus on the “yea.” Coming back to our initial pie chart - if you take a look at the 12% of survey respondents who confirmed that they entirely outsource their content writing and 37% who admitted practicing a hybrid model (internal AND external content creation), you will notice that nearly half of the respondents (49%) DO outsource content.
Let’s put this group of outsourcing supporters under a microscope!
Remember which industries voted for no outsourcing? There was IT/software engineering at the top, followed by Marketing & Sales, Retail, Healthcare, Education, Manufacturing/production, SaaS, Technology/hardware, Travel, Media/publishing, Ecommerce, Food, and Finance. In this order.
It gets interesting if we shed some light on the industries that declared they do outsource (entirely or in a hybrid model):
- Software as a Service (SaaS) scored 12% of votes (5% of respondents from those who don’t outsource declared that they come from the SaaS sector).
- SaaS shares its place on the podium with Marketing & Sales - an industry that also received 12% of responses. Interestingly, among those who don’t outsource, Marketing & Sales had 8% of share.
- Both Healthcare and Retail are not far behind, with 10% of responses each. In both cases, those industries were also among the “no, we don’t outsource” side of the coin - 8% of respondents were coming from Retail, and 7% from Healthcare.
- The Finance industry - 8% of our “yes, we do outsource” camp say they come from the financial world. Comparing the results again - it was only 3% of the non-outsourcing crowd.
- IT / software engineering strikes as an intriguing industry. It was at the leading position in the anti-outsourcing audience (9% of votes). Analyzing the pro-outsourcing respondents, 7% confirm they work in the software development industry.
- Manufacturing/production - here, the percentage of responses is the same (6%) as in the opposite case.
- The same story is with the Ecommerce and Travel sectors - 4% each in both scenarios.
- The technology/hardware industry has got 4% among the pro-outsourcing cohort, whereas it has got 5% on the other side of the equation.
- Media & publishing also needs some external content supply. The score here is 3%, which is 1% less than in the case of the non-outsourcing crowd.
- Interestingly, Real Estate received 2% of the answers, which is the same result if we look back at businesses who admitted not outsourcing writing.
- Also, 2% of people who confirmed outsourcing said they come from the Food industry, and the other 2% from Transport & Logistics.
- The last place goes to Insurance - which received 1% of the answers.
OK, so now you know the industry landscape. How about pulling back the curtain and checking headcounts of companies that decided to say "yes" to content outsourcing?
Just like in the case of the non-outsourcing cohort, companies with less than 50 employees are in the lead, with 39% of responses. Thus, those small firms dominate over the rest, but not to the same extent as in the previous case - as you may recall, companies with under 50 people on board had a share of 52% of that audience.
Second place (18%) on the "we outsource content" podium goes to companies with a headcount between 101 and 500 folks. Businesses of this size got the third position in the previous scenario (with 13% of votes).
Right behind them, with 17%, you can find large enterprises with over 1000 employees. Interestingly, 21% of respondents who took the "no, we don't outsource" track confirmed that they come from enterprises this size.
Companies with employee counts between 51 and 100 represented 14% of answers. Such firms were on the bottom of the previous analysis with the result of 7% of votes.
And last - 12% of professionals who admitted they outsource content come from companies with between 501 and 1000 people on a payroll. This category of companies accounted for 7% of the group that opted not to outsource.
How many people in marketing teams
Great! Let's take a deep dive into the marketing teams that decided to go for outsourcing content. Will it be different from the opponent side, where the one-man-armies and small (from 2 to 5 folks) marketing teams rocked the scene?
The crown goes to small teams with between 2 and 5 marketers - 37% of businesses that outsource content. Marketing teams of this shape and size are robust on both sides of the fence - they were 30% of those who don't outsource writing.
The one-man-show scenario got dethroned, but the percentage of companies with only one marketer on board is still significantly high - 15% of respondents who confirmed content outsourcing come from firms with marketing teams of one. While it's easy to understand why having such a limited marketing workforce correlates with having content written outside the company, it's harder to figure out why as many as 36% of respondents who don't outsource come from companies with just one marketing specialist in-house.
Marketing departments with 6 to 10 team members - this option represents 14% of the group who declared themselves on the side of outsourcing content. That's 6% more than in the case of not outsourcing.
You can notice another change when it comes to marketing teams of 11 to 20 specialists. Such marketing departments have a share of 14% in the pro-outsourcing group. This exceeds the rate in the opponents' cohort by 5%.
What about larger teams gathering from 21 to 50 marketers? Those are 11% of our survey respondents, which is nearly twice as much as in the case of saying "no thanks" to outsourcing.
Those companies that have the luxury of having massive marketing departments are in the minority: between 51 and 100 headcount represents 5%, and those with more than 100 marketers comprise 4% of this group of respondents (which is 3% less than in the non-outsourcing audience).
How many people in content teams
And what about content people in those companies? Among respondents that don’t outsource, there was a profoundly high percentage of one-man-content-armies (40%) and a vast group of small content teams (28%). Those limited resources didn’t trigger the necessity of having external writers.
Time to discover an interesting shift on the pro-outsourcing side. It is small content teams of 2 to 5 folks with the top 40% of the share. And one-man-content-shows are in second place with 25% of answers.
Teams that gather from 6 to 10 content experts represent 14% of our respondents, which is 5% higher compared to the non-outsourcing crowd.
Respondents that confirmed not having an in-house content team have a score of 11%, which is 2% less than in the other approach.
Larger content departments with at least 11 team members are slightly behind with a 10% result, which is pretty much the same as in the opponent cohort.
The reasons for outsourcing
OK, you already had a chance to discover the reasons behind not outsourcing. Now it's time to reveal the dynamics of outsourcing content.
Our survey question, "Why do you outsource content writing?" was multiple choice.
So, let's have a look at the answers' popularity!
This answer collected as many as 52% of the responses. It turns out that the number one reason for outsourcing comes down to the need to scale up content production. This result doesn't surprise us because the scalability kept bouncing back to us during our research interviews.
In the previous chapter, we quoted Agata Krzysztofik, VP of Growth at Piktochart, who said they wanted to produce their content internally because only they can know their product and create compelling storytelling about it. Now it's time to present the rest of the quote:
“Unfortunately, reality hit us. It's difficult to write that much content if you have a small marketing team. You cannot scale it because everyone has other tasks. So, we decided to go back to outsourcing.”
Natalia Chrzanowska, Content Team Lead at Netguru, also supports this stance:
“We do outsource most of the content writing. It's more sustainable and easier to scale. Over a month, you can commission a certain number of articles, and when budget or demand drops, you can downscale it and upscale it again the following month. If you wanted to produce that amount of content in-house, you would need to have many writers on board.”
As for the other reasons, those three answers collected the same percentage of votes - 37% for each one of them:
- Not enough writers in-house
- In-house content marketers have other tasks besides writing
- Costs of hiring (and onboarding) writers in-house is too high
When it comes to hiring and onboarding in-house writers, Emilia Korczyńska, Head of Marketing at Userpilot, decided to follow this path. First of all, it wasn't easy to find good quality writers that would be natural in the SaaS industry and want to get hired at the same time. Those who got the job had to go through a dedicated training process about the product. And as Emilia admits:
“It took two weeks to get them up and running, then there was a learning curve, and then they would leave. The hiring costs were enormous. So, on the one hand, there are agencies and freelancers that don't have a clue, and on the other hand, we have an unscalable system of in-house writers that change frequently and cost us an arm and a leg. It also costs a lot more to produce content in-house.”
Another reason for outsourcing content writing received 20% of votes, and it boils down to the statement that it's hard to hire good writers to have them in-house.
Aazar Shad, Growth Marketing Lead has a say on that aspect:
“The number one challenge comes down to this - it's so hard to find a good writer. Everybody can say they can write, but very few actually know how to write. Nobody knows how to tell a story. The other thing is expertise - everyone can say they have SaaS or e-commerce expertise, but they don't know that.”
Growth Marketing Lead aazarshad.com
Deep understanding of a SaaS, tech, or any other specific niche, as an unskippable aspect of being a good content writer, is a pattern that brands and content writing providers cannot ignore.
Mikita Cherkasau, Co-founder of Your Extra Marketer, provided us with a bold statement about finding writers with hands-on experience in the tech industry:
“What we are looking for in content providers is an excellent language and writing skills, a deep understanding of the tech industry, and the ability to come up with problem-solving content that answers the audiences' needs. And even with all that, it is still important that they show several years of experience writing for tech. Most people need this 'mileage,' a history of successful and screwed-up projects, the 10,000 hours; you name it before they have picked up some very crucial skills, which no junior can get from the outset.”
Co-founder Your Extra Marketer
Let's go back to the reasons for outsourcing. The last one, with 19% of votes, is about getting more input from external writers.
How can you interpret that? Faruk Aydin, Head of Growth at iAge Technologies, reveals insights coming from his experience in working with freelance writers:
“Professional copywriters have their point of view and how they see the market, and they see more from the clients' side than us. Because we have our eyes closed sometimes, we only think that our product is the best, our solutions are at the top. Well, not really. Copywriters, especially when you work with some freelancers, can tell you something different.”
The ABC of Content Outsourcing
In this chapter, we’re going to analyze the mechanics of content outsourcing. You will discover types of content writing providers, their share of the market, and reasons why brands decided to go for specific vendors.
And there’s more to it! Let’s go!
Who do companies outsource to
There are five main categories of content writing providers out there:
- Reputable freelance writers with strong personal brands and high-end experience
- Freelance writers available on gig sites, such as Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer
- Content writing services/marketplaces operating as on-demand content shops, with examples of Semrush Content Marketplace, Verblio, or Scripted
- Digital and content marketing agencies
- AI writing tools
We asked our survey respondents this multiple-answer question - who do you outsource content writing to?
The winner is indisputable - freelance writers with reputable brands coming from referrals are the champion in this category with 47% of votes.
Digital marketing and content marketing agencies are in second place, with the result of 27%.
Content writing service providers came in third with a share of 24%.
Freelancers that provide their writing services on popular gig sites are the choice of 17% of respondents, and AI writing tools are in last place, but with a noteworthy result of 12% of votes.
Last, 4% of respondents took the liberty of leaving their own answers under the “other” option - among very random answers, we noticed guest bloggers, expert writers in the field, or PR agencies.
The main reasons for choosing those content providers
What aspects played the most vital role in selecting particular content providers? This question in our survey was multiple choice.
In-depth, high-quality content appeals to the highest percentage (44%) of respondents. They don’t want mediocre writing, and they select their vendor through the prism of quality. Period.
“Finding good writers that can understand what we want to say and turn it into a nice piece that includes all of the important elements such as SEO and the conversational tone of voice, and basically meet all our expectations, is way more difficult. As for writers writing specifically for IT, we need to make them understand what our experts want to say and transform it into a language that would resonate with our audience.”
Another deciding factor is reasonable prices - this answer ended up with a 40% score on the results board. Those professionals are unwilling to overpay for their content.
Experience in a particular industry is also a rock-solid (37%) part of a “is this the right content provide” checklist.
Mikita Cherkasau from Your Extra Marketer thinks that it’s utterly hard to find freelance writers truly experienced in tech:
“Mind you, having a ‘Top 10 productivity apps’ article in your portfolio doesn’t count. We’ve talked to dozens of top-notch, very expensive so-called ‘tech writers.’ Most of them wouldn’t go beyond some banal listicles that have nothing ‘tech’ to them. The writer must know how the tech business works, what stakeholders want, what end-users want, how different types of solutions work, and how businesses can benefit from them. If you can write an analytical, problem-solving piece on why many US doctors still don’t use EMR’s and what to do about it, or how to strike a balance between personalization and data privacy in e-commerce — we are looking for you.”
Co-founder Your Extra Marketer
Next, having previous relationships with writers - a 29% score indicates that for many companies knowing the writer can trigger a favorable verdict.
Interestingly, 27% - this is the result of each of those answers received:
- Content providers have to be good at the SEO game.
- Their writing needs to match our brand’s tone of voice.
- Timely delivery - content has to be right on schedule.
A fresh approach to content is another factor that content providers need to pay attention to. Out-of-the-box writing got 23% of all the answers.
A variety of content types has found its place in this ranking, with 17% of votes. What hides behind that factor is how diverse a particular content provider offers - is it just about blog posts and articles? Or perhaps a vendor also delivers website copy, product descriptions, email newsletters, video scripts, ebooks and white papers, press releases, and infographics copy?
The answer with the lowest percentage of votes (11%) is that companies don’t have to provide a detailed brief to a writer.
Even though some of our interviewees confirmed that they only send a topic with a keyword to their writers, Emilia Korczyńska from Userpilot is not one of them:
“The less you leave the writers to figure out, the better. We use a set of tools to facilitate the process, but we also have a content checklist. We have brief templates right now with certain checkboxes and instructions and all the structure with H2, H3, and places for internal links. Also, writers get the internal document that they need to read through, and that includes SEO guidelines, writing guidelines, and videos of the whole workflow.”
For how long companies have been outsourcing
Is outsourcing content a new kid on the block? Or perhaps it has been there in the market for quite a while?
According to the results of our survey:
- The top 35% of professionals have been hiring external writers for more than three years.
- 24% of respondents declare that content outsourcing has been with them for a year now.
- Closely behind, with 23% of votes, are folks who have been outsourcing writing for between one and two years.
- Last, 18% of respondents are pretty new to this matter and have been practicing that for less than a year.
Has the pandemic affected outsourcing content?
As you know, the pandemic outbreak caused a tectonic shift in many business areas, including remote work and accelerated digitization processes.
Was it also the case with outsourcing content?
Not necessarily. For the majority of respondents (56%), the pandemic didn’t affect their outsourcing routines.
However, 26% of people who took our survey confirmed that due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they started to outsource their content to a greater extent than in the pre-coronavirus era.
On the flip side, 18% decided to write more content in-house than they used to.
This chapter is dedicated to the operational side of content production. Keep going and learn about the most popular content formats created in the wild - are blog posts still a thing?
Next, find out what is the usual approval chain when it comes to content creation.
Compare yourself with other marketers regarding content frequency - how many brands release up to five content pieces a month, and how many over forty?
Last but not least, let’s talk about money. Get to know the budget sizes allocated to outsourcing content monthly!
Are you ready? Let’s go!
What content formats / types have been the most popular so far?
If you're a content ops person, you understand the need to juggle many content formats. Have you visited a website where, besides blog articles, you can find ebooks and white papers, online courses and webinars, infographics, and case studies? It not only looks impressive, but also means someone has put a lot of heart into creating such a powerful content hub.
Let's zoom into the answers to our multiple choice survey question and see what kind of content formats folks have been producing so far.
So, here's the heavyweight champion! Blog posts collected a smashing 68% of votes!
A silver medal goes to website copy. Writing content for home pages, landing pages, feature pages (you name it) scored as many as 59% of responses.
Email marketing is certainly not dead either, because it turns out that 49% of answers went to having email/newsletter copywriting done.
In the golden age of e-commerce, the popularity of writing product descriptions (44% of answers) makes total sense.
Even though social media platforms can't keep themselves from changing their algorithms all the time, publishing organic posts on social media is still one of the main content distribution channels. And to have something to post, you need copy - and this is where the 40% popularity of social media copy comes from.
Next, there is copy for ads with 34% of the responses, which clearly shows that businesses actively promote their offerings in paid social, display, and paid search. And for those ads, they need someone to create a compelling text.
Press releases and product releases prove to be significant content formats brands use in their marketing action plans. This type of content collected 32% of the votes.
Despite their challenging aspects, such as successful outreach, guest posts are still one of the top ways to get backlinks. Our survey responses back it up with the result of 30% for creating content for guest posting.
Premium, long-form content in the shape of ebooks, reports, or white papers is still in the game of capturing leads and building thought-leadership. The result of 28% of responses is decent, considering that these are more expensive and resource-consuming to create and promote.
Infographics copy and video scripts - those two categories collected 25% each. Even though they do a great job in delivering a marketing message, both of those formats might still need some more love from marketers to climb closer to the top of the ranking.
Not far behind, you can find case studies. This efficient bottom-of-the-funnel content type got 24% of the answers.
Next, you will come across presentations with a score of 21%, and last - webinar and podcast scripts collected 14% of responses.
Who are the stakeholders that need to approve the delivered content
Unless you are an individual blogger or an independent business owner, other stakeholders usually need to lay their eyes on a piece of content before it gets out.
For a digital marketing agency, there will be customers. In other types of businesses, it can be a matter of a content manager, CMO, sometimes even CEO.
Here's how it looks by the numbers. Let's analyze the result of our next multiple-choice question.
It turns out that we have two equally important positions in terms of accepting content. Both content managers (aka heads of content, aka content specialists, aka content leads) and CMOs (aka heads of marketing, aka marketing directors) scored 47% of the answers.
If one of the reasons for content creation is conquering the search engine results, then it's a wise move to consult an SEO expert for every blog article or website content. This is happening, and 26% votes for the "SEO Manager/specialist" prove that point.
Next, does the big boss have to accept content before it gets published? 19% of respondents confirmed that a CEO is one of the stakeholders that need to approve the writing.
Not far behind, there is a role of a project manager/product manager with a score of 17%.
How many content pieces do businesses outsource per month
There is talk among marketers on focusing on content quality instead of quantity, and on the flipside - whether you have to sacrifice quality if you produce content at scale.
In other words, let’s find out the approaches for content frequency every month.
- Between one and five content pieces a month - this option is the most popular (44% of votes).
- From six to ten - 23% of our respondents confirm that’s their monthly number.
- 15% of businesses jump to a higher level of content creation, and they produce between 11 and 20 pieces per month.
- That’s not enough for another 9% of respondents, who admit they churn out from 21 to 30 content pieces monthly.
- 6% of our respondents are incredibly productive and create over 40 pieces of content.
- 3% admit that their monthly norm comes to the range of 31-40.
How much do companies spend on outsourcing content writing
Now, let’s talk about budgets and see how much money companies allocate for outsourcing content writing every month:
- The most popular option is spending less than $1K - this is real life for 37% of businesses.
- Slightly behind, with 34%, was people declaring that they have content outsourcing budgets at the level of $1K-$5K.
- More determined to outsource content at scale are 16% of marketers, who admit spending between $6K and $10K on getting stuff written outside the company.
- Another 8% are solid enough to allocate between $11K and $30K.
- Last but not least, we have 5% of outsourcing superheroes who confirm spending more than $30K on content written by external creative forces.
This chapter will switch our focus to aspects of writing quality that content ops people pay attention to.
So, if you’re planning to start outsourcing your content creation, or you’re already in that field, it’s an excellent opportunity to find out the number behind those dynamics and opinions coming from experts we had the pleasure to interview!
What do marketers usually include in their content briefs
Creating content should always start with a content strategy. Once you have topic ideation and SEO research behind you, it’s time to prepare a creative brief and send it to a writer (internal or external).
What do marketers tend to provide writers with? Let’s take a look at the answers to this multiple-choice question:
As you can see, topics and keywords rule the game as absolutely fundamental aspects content creators couldn't even start without.
50% for each - information about a target audience and content objectives is a good sign that content ops people don't skip those crucial elements of a good content brief.
SEO writing instructions - this answer scored fewer answers, but still - 37% share of responses clearly show that businesses treat search engines seriously.
Right after the SEO point of view, there is something everyone in brand marketing would care about. Providing writers with details about the tone of voice and marketing messaging scored 36% of the votes.
Our respondents also found aspects like content structure (34%), references to other content (31%), and company/product information appealing (17%).
As Anja Mutschler, founder of 20blue agency, states:
“80% of writers need really detailed descriptions in terms of briefing. I try to be as specific as possible. When it comes to text, we also advise on some keywords, but here we're open because I think it's part of the writer's job to research it and come back to us and give us some suggestions. The 20% are people we know very well, and briefing is not needed.”
Founder 20blue agency
Which are the most essential qualities of well-written content
Let's focus on the expectations. What are the dynamics behind high-quality content? If people say they're looking for well-written articles or other content formats, what do they mean by that?
We asked, they answered.
- Writers have to cover a topic in-depth, in the most comprehensive way possible - as many as 61% of responses support this stance.
How can you check how in-depth a content piece is? As Michał Leszczyński, Head of Content and Partnerships at GetResponse, explains:
“The easiest and quickest way is to plug the article into an SEO optimization tool to see an initial score. That gives us a first glimpse into how they understand how SEO optimization works. And then, we look at the actual writing itself and how in-depth it is. You can see whether someone understands the topic or just writes for the sake of writing.”
Head of Content and Partnerships GetResponse
The depth of content is also essential for Dasha Nazarova, Head of Marketing at RedTrack:
“What is crucial is how complete the text is and how in-depth it is. It's also about the emotional quality of the content - if I read it and it resonates with me, then it's good quality.”
- Grammar - the second quality aspect collected 54% of answers, and it's hard to question that - each type of content would look unprofessional if packed with language mistakes.
Quoting Agata Krzysztofik from Piktochart:
“We pay attention to grammar, style, and the way writers approach the topic. We do not want something that is a standard piece of content that can be found anywhere else. If there is something else on this topic online, we try to make a better version of it. It does require specific skills and experience from a writer. On top of that, they need to have some knowledge of SEO and how content marketing works.”
- Writers' language command at the native level - this aspect came in third with 52% of responses.
As Andrew Klubnikin, Content Lead at ITRex Group, says:
“The content writers we work with are usually native speakers or demonstrate a near-native language competency (C2). Since our target market is the USA, we stick to American English. When it comes to writing style, it all depends on the intended platform: third-party websites that accept guest posts usually have their own editorial guidelines. The rule of thumb is to write easy-to-understand texts whose readability compares to the BBC and the New York Times. Yet again, we need to thoroughly analyze the platform's audience before writing a piece of content to figure out what they expect language and message-wise.”
Content Lead ITRex Group
- The tone of voice is another writing quality factor. 48% of responses confirm that outsourced content has to align with brands' personality and style guide.
- Practical value for readers comes next with 46% of votes. It makes absolute sense because the whole point of creating content is to help people solve their problems in the most pragmatic way.
Faruk Aydin from iAge Technologies makes a good point about it:
“I believe a writer is kind of a translation machine between me and the audience. I think a content writer is a kind of magic box. There is me, a hard block, a content writer, and then people who are looking for information.”
- The writing style is also among the top content quality factors. This answer collected the same percentage of responses as the practical value.
It's the best place to leave this comment from Anja Mutschler (20blue agency):
“The first criteria is - do I read this piece to the end? Do I like it? And if I stop, that means there's something wrong. Does this content include some story? Because I believe you need to attract people by telling a story, which is difficult for infotainment, but still you need to catch people. Also, for online texts, you need to have a really good structure - listicles, bullet points, clear headlines. As for the writing style, is the grammar good, does it have short sentences, does it have a good rhythm?”
Founder 20blue agency
- Next, we have the SEO side of content. Has the writer properly optimized the text for the target keyword? Does the content include semantically related phrases? This ingredient is essential enough to gather 44% of the responses.
- Structure and paragraph length (38%) and storytelling (37%) - elements mentioned above by Anja Mutschler - are also considerably high on the content ops' priority list.
- Conducting proper research before starting writing and packing content with relevant and up-to-date data - this aspect collected 35% of the responses.
- Content uniqueness - something Agata Krzysztofik already brought up - is another crucial factor. Respondents who picked that answer (30% of votes) are not looking for copycat and vanilla content.
- Industry expertise (28%) - this aspect comes back to us like a boomerang. Knowing the niche inside out is a writer’s vital asset.
- Following the brief - the 27% share of the responses indicates an issue of writing something diverse from what's included in the content brief and going down the rabbit hole.
- Last, we have the internal and external linking aspect, which despite being at the bottom of the list, is still a noteworthy SEO writing point with a solid 22% share of the answers.
Let's end this section with insight from Brooklin Nash, Head of Content at Sales Hacker, who described his top five quality metrics:
“Number one would be engagement or entertainment. By that, I mean writing an engaging intro, having a clever or a funny hook. Another is the comprehension of the topic - it shows if the writer understands what he's writing about. Related to that is comprehensiveness - did they cover everything that they needed to cover. Organization and flow are also very important - making sure that it's covering all those pieces and not jumping from one to the other, but it's one logical flow. And five would probably be research - if they point to pretty old stats like 2014 or using a quote from a competitor or competing content. I'd like to see a decent researcher pull that into an original piece. That always stands out.”
Head of Content Sales Hacker
Knowing the writer and having direct communication - does it matter
There are two ways of collaborating with external writers:
- Knowing them in-person, their portfolio, and communicating with them directly
- Not knowing who the writers are and communicating via a middle man
Which of the options appeal to our surveyed marketers the most?
A smashing 71% of the respondents confirm that option number one is better. They want to know who the writers are, have a direct relationship, and send feedback directly to a writer.
The other 29% of professionals who participated in our research admitted that it’s OK for them NOT to know the writer and collaborate on content through an agency or a content writing service platform.
This is how Faruk Aydin from iAge Technologies regards the personality of writers and knowing who they are:
“Regarding the personality of writers, it definitely spices up content, so I think it's interesting to have people from different backgrounds and fields to write things for you. However, for us, keeping the tone and getting the job done is the most important thing, and anything coming with the personality of the writer is a cherry on top.”
And this is his take on the direct communication aspect:
“Direct communication with a writer is important because we want to explain things in a better way and avoid misunderstandings. Personal communication somehow brings more value - it's not like you put the task on a task manager and send it over - you can't expect a writer to catch things, especially when we're talking about content, because content writing is not a mechanical task, it is a task for creativity.”
Finally, Iryna Kandrashova, Head of Marketing at UXPressia, believes that:
“I can definitely say that personal communication matters, and it exists at the moment. But if I can hire Artificial Intelligence and it's good enough for me, the lack of personal communication would be OK because personal communication takes up my time and resources. I can say that I like this part of my work - communicating with people, but if it's gone, maybe I will have some spare time.”
Head of Marketing UXPressia
Content marketing requires investments. As you may remember from the previous chapter, outsourcing content itself means spending up to even more than $30K every month. And there are also other aspects that are crucial to spread the word about content, and are not costless: SEO, PPC, social media, etc. Not to mention SaaS products you need as a content ops person.
So, how can you know your content was worth investing? By measuring its performance. And this is what this chapter is about.
What are the most popular content performance metrics?
There are several content performance metrics out there. Let’s see which ones resonated with our research audience.
- Even though traffic has been stigmatized as a vanity metric, it is usually one of the main goals of creating SEO content. The results of our survey leave no doubt that organic traffic is the number one performance metric with 69% of votes.
Quoting after Alessandra Colaci, VP of Marketing at Mailshake:
“We mostly focus on organic traffic. We are starting to do a bit more in terms of converting to opt-ins, and seeing if we can move that more. But, especially in the past years, our focus was on how we can become dominant in our space for traffic, and now we're working more on how to bring a down funnel to conversions, opt-ins, demos and sales.”
- Social traffic and engagement in social media is the second-most popular performance metric. Checking whether or not a content piece triggered reactions and comments in social collected 47% of the responses.
- Average time spent on a page is vital enough to receive 38% of the answers. From the writing point of view, content has to be engaging enough to keep people reading as long as possible.
Quoting after Brooklin Nash from Sales Hacker:
“High numbers of traffic are less important to me than how many people are engaging with our content once it's there. Especially because we're tied to a community, so if people are spending some time on the article, and then converting to a community and engaging in the community because of that original article, that's a success.”
Head of Content Sales Hacker
- The number of leads generated through content is right behind with the result of 37%. This is where all gated types of content (ebooks, reports, white papers, webinars, online courses) come in handy.
- Conversions - a performance metric close to the above one, collected 36% of the answers.
Emilia Korczyńska from Userpilot, admitted during our interview that they used to track time on page, bounce rate, and sessions, but it was a bit over the top. As she said:
“At the end of the day, we focused on two metrics that really moved the needle - number of conversions (CR also) and positions.”
- Number of backlinks and referring domains obtained thanks to compelling content - this performance metric is also strong (35%) among our surveyed audience.
- SERP positions - the aspect that Emilia Korczyńska mentioned as one of the most meaningful - received 30% of answers.
- Bounce rate - the Google Analytics metric marketers got used to in the Universal Analytics, which is replaced with Engaged Sessions in Google Analytics 4, is still fairly popular with the 26% of votes.
- Also 26% is the share of the responses for returning visits to a blog.
- At the bottom of the list of performance metrics you can also find such positions as branded search (23%), business relationships and partnerships earned through content (21%), and revenue / finalized sales deals (17%).
Quoting after Michał Leszczyński from GetResponse:
“We understand that not everything can be easily tracked, and we're not sending people right away to sign up for a free trial and plug in their credit cards. In many cases, we just want to build brand awareness - part of our campaigns are for brand awareness, some for retention. We can always remarket those readers with ads and attract them with our offering at some other point and get them to try our tool.”
Head of Content and Partnerships GetResponse
On the other hand, there are also marketers that don’t track their outsourced content. As Kseniya Dobrava, Content Leat at Gurtam, claims:
“We don't track metrics for content specifically written by freelancers, because mainly we hire freelancers to get a job done and get it done fast. If it lets us take the strain off, we will pay for it, because there's so much work to do that we need help. So, it's more important for us right now than the number of visits.”
Content Leat Gurtam
Measuring Content Outsourcing’s ROI
In this section, you’ll see how businesses approach measuring the return on investment when it comes to outsourced content creation.
It turns out that 37% of our respondents do measure ROI for content writing delivered by external providers.
On the other hand, you can see a significantly high share of people (33%) who admit they don’t check the ROI, but they plan to start doing it.
For another 25% of marketers, it’s a “NO” for tracking outsourced content writing’s ROI, and the remaining 4% of our research participants confirm that they used to measure this ROI, but they don’t do it anymore.
Challenges of Content Outsourcing
There is always “good, bad, and the ugly,” and content operations and outsourcing writing is no exception. In this chapter, we will highlight the challenges of working with external writers and point out some areas that content writing providers should improve to make brands happier.
The most challenging aspects when it comes to outsourcing content writing
Were you expecting missed deadlines as a primary issue? Not even close! This multiple-answer question powered us up with compelling insights:
- It’s hard to find writers with hands-on experience and knowledge of the subject - this statement has been shining through the interviews we ran and finds confirmation in numbers - its 49% popularity speaks for itself.
As Alessandra Colaci from Mailshake admits:
“We'd like to have more different voices and personalities, so we need to find people for certain types of content - long-form, data-driven, or editorial. Those are the formats outsourced teams can do, but ideally, we can find someone who is really great at one of those things and have a person for each of those. It's been a struggle because we need industry knowledge as well, and usually, they are people who are very good writers or very reliable, but they don't have industry knowledge or they are not really in tune with the day-to-day of the people who are in our market.”
- The second-strongest opinion comes down to writing quality. Content in which quality wasn’t high enough - this statement received 41% of votes, giving all content providers something to think about.
Let’s circle back to Agata Krzysztofik from Piktochart, who has experience with working with several types of content services:
“The biggest challenge that we noticed is that in many cases agencies work with a lot of clients, and they tend to get lost. Also, you cannot request from the agency that you only want experienced writers or someone who is at least experienced in your topic area. This makes it challenging because you don't know if they will assign your next piece to someone who has just started. And that would require a lot of editing on your end as the company.”
This last point finds its reflection in our survey results, because:
- 36% is the score of this statement: “content required a lot of editing on our end.”
Apart from the additional work internal teams have to allocate to smoothen the edges of delivered content, there is another issue:
- Content hasn’t delivered expected results - that’s the challenge content ops people voted for (29% of the answers).
- Right behind, you can see an aspect that was at the top of the reason for not outsourcing content writing. 28% of votes confirm the issue of spending too much time explaining to a writer the specifics of the industry, product, or topic.
- Having multiple writers creating content can trigger another challenge - a lack of consistency - which means content pieces differ in style and quality. This drawback earned 27% of the votes.
- Despite the fact that a need of scaling up content production was among the reasons for outsourcing content in the first place, a considerably high rate (17%) of our respondents see it as a challenge.
- Closely behind, there is an in-house content nostalgia. Not having content created internally is a disadvantage that collected 16% of the answers.
As Marcos Bravo C., Brand Ambassador at LiveChat, admits:
“The most satisfying aspect of not having content in-house is that you can delegate your content effectively if you choose the right partners. The biggest challenge is not having your own team discuss the subject, analyze it, and brainstorm around articles. You're missing the flow of creating stuff together. Even though outsourcing is easy, we also wanted to bring content creation back to the team.”
Brand Ambassador LiveChat
- Missed deadlines - yes, there they are! With 14% of the answers. Not delivering content on time is still an issue, but it’s not on the top of the list.
Dasha Nazarova from RedTrack represents marketers who experience this drawback:
“The biggest challenges come down to scaling and timing. Sometimes it requires a lot of time to see the final result of content, and because of this it's hard to scale the number of content pieces to be ordered and published.”
- It’s hard to book high-end writers because they are busy with other customers - this challenge collected 13% of the answers.
- The same percentage of votes goes to the fact that writers tend to write something that doesn’t match the content brief.
Iryna Kandrashova from UXPressia points out more problems with external writers:
“In summer, freelancers don't feel they are part of a team, and they don't feel they need to inform the team that they're going on vacation. Also, external copywriters sometimes decide not to do something, saying, "Sorry I didn't have enough time." In-house writers are usually more responsible and careful about deadlines. Sometimes external writers can send you something that is not well-written because it's not their main job and they don't care about the quality nor their professional development.”
Head of Marketing UXPressia
What do content writing providers need to improve in the future
Judging by the experiences businesses have been facing so far, and the challenges they had to cope with, what are the areas that content providers need to work on?
- Writers have to learn how to translate ideas and instructions into content that’s valuable for customers. This hint is an absolute winner with an impressive 76% of the responses.
An IT industry perspective shared by Natalia Chrzanowska from Netguru aligns with that leading opinion:
“The most important aspect is how to translate ideas and technical knowledge - input from developers, designers, and other domain experts - into information that’s valuable to our customers.”
- Writers have to progress, acquire new skills and knowledge, and adapt to a fast-changing environment. And they need to treat that hint seriously, because this opinion collected as many as 66% of the answers.
Marcos Bravo C. from LiveChat supports this and addresses his message to all the writers out there:
“Keep learning and understanding the target, adapting to the target together with us. Do not wait for instructions. Be more proactive.”
Brand Ambassador LiveChat
Alessandra Colaci from Mailshake also believes that:
“Writers should also be eager to learn about the company itself, and learn about the industry. If a writer becomes a subject matter expert, then it helps a company more - they could really understand a perspective, they could add tailored content pieces to that.”
- Attention, writers’ world! You need to pay attention to the research stage more before starting writing. This point of view was confirmed in 51% of the answers.
Dasha Nazarova from RedTrack couldn’t agree more:
“They should improve the first and most important stage in content creation - the investigation. I think that a lot of people just skip this - for me it’s the most important point. There's so much content written already, and you need to put those unique points in your text and not be similar to hundreds of others. And this is only possible through prior investigation, so I'd love it if content writers paid more attention to this step.”
- Hone your communication skills - 45% of the responses stand behind that request.
Agata Krzysztofik from Piktochart backs it up:
“Communication skills are crucial, especially when you are an outsourced content writer; You're not part of the company, so you need to keep the client up to date on what is happening. The client has no way of guessing it.”
- Delivering ordered content right on schedule comes next with a score of 24%.
- And last - you have 9% of votes for the aspect mentioned above by Marcos Bravo - dear writers, please don’t wait for instructions. Show a proactive approach to prove that you care.
The Future of Content Outsourcing
The last question in our research comes down to knowing the plans regarding outsourcing content writing.
Will marketers continue creating their content outside their companies?
- The majority of 53% of our respondents confirm that they will continue outsourcing their content writing the way they have organized it so far.
- The second force (22% of the respondents) is also for keeping outsourcing, but with a tendency to reduce it and increase the scope of content created internally.
James Dillon, Senior Content Production Manager at Remote, admitted that:
“We wanna build a team of internal contributors. We really wanna get high-quality hires for those positions. Until that point we will use external folks. We will have internal writers, most likely dedicated to personas. We will outsource content that is less strategically important as these projects don't require as much internal expertise.”
Senior Content Production Manager Remote
- Only one percent behind, there is a cohort of marketers who are sure they will not only continue outsourcing their content, but they will do it to a greater extent.
As Natalia Chrzanowska from Netguru says:
“It's efficient. We want to produce more and more content, and I don't see hiring that many content writers in-house, so outsourcing is the only way to go. From a market perspective, a lot of really good writers prefer to be freelance and work with different companies, and hiring them in-house is not possible.”
- Last, there are 5% of professionals who are certain they will not outsource their content anymore, and they will switch to a 100% in-house writing model.
Great! You reached the end of our State of Content Ops & Outsourcing report! We hope that you discovered data and insight that will help you optimize your content marketing operations.
The content marketing world is divided nearly in half - 51% of marketers declare that they don’t outsource at all, whereas 49% admit that they do.
There are two approaches to outsourcing among those who practice it:
- The majority (37%) use a hybrid model which is a mix of internal and external content writing.
- The other 12% produce their content entirely outside their companies.
Within the same industries, there are those that outsource content and those that don’t, but with different shares in the market. We can conclude that those are the industries that decided to create content (in alphabetical order):
- Information Technology / Software Engineering
- Manufacturing / Production
- Marketing / Sales
- Media / Publishing
- SaaS (Software as a Service)
- Technology / Hardware
The top three reasons for not outsourcing content are:
- It’s more manageable to create content in-house
- It’s hard to explain a product or service to external writers
- Only in-house teams are good at storytelling
The top three reasons for outsourcing content are:
- A need to scale up content production
- Not enough content writers in the company
- High costs of hiring writers in-house
The three most popular content writing providers are:
- High-end freelance writers with reputable brands - 47%
- Digital and content marketing agencies - 27%
- Content writing service providers - 24%
The five leading reasons for choosing a particular content provider are:
- In-depth, high-quality content
- Reasonable prices
- Experience in writing for specific industry
- Writing’s tone of voice
- Timely delivery of content
The top five types of content are:
- Blog posts
- Website copy
- Email / newsletters
- Product descriptions
- Social media copy
What frequencies in creating content are out there? Here are the three most common options:
- Between one and five content pieces per month
- Between six and ten content pieces per month
- Between 11 and 20 content pieces per month
How much do businesses spend on outsourcing content every month? The three most popular preferences are:
- Below $1K
- Between $1K and $5K
- Between $6K and $10K
What elements do content ops people include in creative content briefs? We discovered the top five:
- Description about target audience
- Content objectives
- SEO writing instructions
What does it mean to get well-written content? Here are the top five aspects of content that content ops professionals voted for:
- In-depth topic coverage / comprehensiveness
- Spotless grammar
- Native-level language command
- Writing’s tone of voice
- Practical value for readers
Here’s a take from Faruk Aydin regarding writing skills:
“Content writing is like an art. I do believe if a writer can visualize things in people’s brains with the words that he or she is using, then it’s a good writer. For me, the quality of the writer comes from the ability to make things visual in readers' minds.”
When it comes to evaluating content’s worth, our respondents indicated top five performance metrics:
- Organic traffic
- Social traffic and social media engagement
- Average time spent on page
- Number of generated leads
- Number of conversions
Interestingly, 37% of our respondents admit they measure ROI for outsourcing content, whereas 33% said they don’t, but they plan to start tracking that, and the other 25% of research participants voted a definite “no” to checking return on investment.
As for the challenges content operations specialists need to cope with, the five most common drawbacks of outsourcing content come down to:
- It’s difficult to find writers with hands-on experience in the niche
- Content quality was not high enough
- Content required a lot of editing in-house
- Content hasn’t delivered expected results
- It takes too long to explain a product or a service to external writers
When it comes to the first challenge, Aazar Shad shares his thought:
“Writers are creative people. And if they are creative people, they work like movie actors, who move from project to project. They never stick to one place.”
Growth Marketing Lead aazarshad.com
Content writing providers need to seriously consider the list of the most important hints coming from their customers. And the top three are:
- Writers should learn how to translate ideas and instructions into content that's valuable for customers
- Writers need to keep learning and adapting
- Writers need to focus on the research stage more
Finally, the future of content outsourcing in the marketers’ eyes looks like this:
- 53% of respondents claim that they will continue outsourcing content with the current setup
- 22% said they will reduce outsourcing and create more content in-house
- 21% confirm they will outsource content to a greater extent
- 5% stand firm that they will stop outsourcing and create all their content internally
Vitaly Gonkov, Head of Marketing at Semrush Content Marketplace:
“Content outsourcing. On the one hand, it may sound like a smart business decision. You don’t have to secure funds for hiring in-house copywriters that feels more like a “marketing cost” rather than a “revenue-driver.” On the other, can freelancers, content marketplaces, and gig sites like Fiverr deliver the content that fully satisfies all your business needs? Can they capture the voice and vibe of your business? Is content outsourcing predictable, scalable and easy to manage? There’re lots of questions that solopreneurs, big and small companies, or agencies have when it comes to hiring external creative talent. While working on this report, we tried to address most of those questions, as well as debunk some myths associated with content outsourcing. Hope you’ll find this information useful!”
Head of Marketing Semrush Content Marketplace
Nicholas Menelaou, Campaign Lead at Semrush Content Marketplace:
“Despite a lot of companies not outsourcing, the ones that do are seeing a unique benefit towards scaling their content operations. They are using outsourcing to remain agile and to grow their content velocity. They achieve that in parallel to headcount by taking more control of their content with processes in place to help them keep efficiencies.”
Campaign Lead Semrush Content Marketplace
Jakub Zieliński, Content Lead at Semrush Content Marketplace:
“There are slightly more businesses who deliberately do not outsource their content, and we need to take into account 5% of professionals who do outsource, but they want to quit doing that. Despite those numbers, outsourcing content writing is here to stay. It will keep evolving, but it won’t disappear because the urge for scalability enforces that. High-end freelancers, agencies, and content writing services providers who are the beneficiaries of this demand need to carefully listen to what content ops people are saying. Because the situation is not always flowers and sunshine for those who order content. On the flip side, marketers do realize that finding writers who have a deep understanding of their niche and product and at the same time those who know how to tell a story and captivate readers is utterly difficult.”
Content Lead Semrush Content Marketplace