I recently posted a poll in an 'Affiliate Marketing'-related Facebook group and asked what people are struggling the most with. The #1 option was finding quality writers (or writing services) for their affiliate sites.
Having run countless authority sites thus far, I've had my own share of experiences (both good and bad) while hiring or trying to hire content writers. In this post, I'll share my experiences in short, so that you get a head start if you're looking for a writer now.
Individual Writer vs. Agency vs. Content Mill
Agencies are more expensive, but save your time by taking a lot of the management work (assigning topics, editing content and training, explaining to, and chasing writers).
Individual writers often bring better quality, but are usually cheaper to work with (you're playing the role of the manager). But bad experiences are more common with individual writers. Things like missed deadlines (even by weeks, if not months), false promises about their skills or knowledge, and sometimes even more serious stuff like plagiarism.
Of course, there are many great individual freelance writers with great ethics, writing skills and knowledge about various niches. So it's not appropriate to generalize in any way. Even agencies can fail you at times.
Content mills like iWriter, HireWriters and TextBroker can be a hit or miss, as the quality varies wildly from one writer to another. You get some additional security (i.e. no one will run away with your money successfully), different levels of writers (at different price points) and quicker output at times, on the plus side.
Native English vs. Non-Native Writers
This is a never-ending debate. But of course, native English writers in general will drive the point home much more easily through their writing than their non-native counterparts.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and this case is no different. There are fantastic non-native writers around the world, too. Some of them might be bilingual, they might learn English along with their mother tongue from childhood, etc.
I've had superb writers from the Netherlands and Eastern Europe in particular. They're very clear and fluid with their writing, and you won't be able to tell that they don't speak the language regularly everyday outside of their work.
I've also had a great writer from the UK who used to be superb. I've worked with him for a long time.
I've particularly had a bad luck with writers from the Indian sub-continent. Even people with Masters degrees in English Literature performed horribly (and made me realize having a degree in 'literature' does not indicate having great writing skills).
I've heard a lot about Filipino writers, but haven't had the chance (or need) to try them so far, so I can't really comment on them.
Topical Expert vs. Generic Writer
This is a much bigger deal compared to the Native/Non-Native consideration, in my opinion.
Before you assume that a topical expert is always better, know that there are two sides to this coin. The issue with most true topical experts is that they don't possess amazing writing skills. Their writing may seem dull and unimpressive, even though they might be sharing some of the best knowledge on any topic of their expertise.
On the flip side, generic content writers that have a natural flair for writing may perform incredibly well in some mainstream niches (where a little common sense is all you need to do some basic research before writing), but may not do well in more challenging niches.
The reason behind this is simple. Some niches just demand more expertise than others. Especially technical niches or ones that need a lot of first-hand experience to understand them well.
An example of this is the web hosting niche. It's a highly technical niche, and even though I'm not a native English speaker, I've been hosting websites since I was 10 years old, so I'll likely do a better job than a native English writer who has never used a web host in their life. No amount of juggling with vocabulary or sugarcoating would hide their lack of actual knowledge in such niches.
But there are endless popular niches that many writers will be familiar with on a basic level, at least. An example would be the bicycling niche. Many kids grow up riding bikes and are usually enthusiastic about those, so they can tap into their personal experience from the past (if they don't ride one anymore) to write significantly better, more engaging content.
In summary, even though actual real-world experience is helpful in almost every imaginable niche, you particularly need a topical expert author if your niche is not very common, is highly technical, or needs specialized education to interpret and write about properly (health & nutrition, for example).
How to Find Writers / Agencies
There are tons of places that you could search for writers and content writing agencies. UpWork is still my favorite place. Some people find success in Facebook groups, ProBlogger job board, full-time Filipino writers from OnlineJobs.ph, and other freelancing platforms like Freelancer.com
What I prefer doing is to just 'test the waters' with new writers and agencies on UpWork. Once I'm confident about their abilities and ethics, I often proceed to work directly with them (and save some precious money in the process).
You need to remember that you have to put up a really detailed yet clear job post any platform where you're looking for writers. It should clearly mention your exact requirements, budget, preferences and everything else.
You should also prepare detailed guidelines regarding the exact style/tone of writing you're looking for, as well as the exact format/structure of the articles that you prefer, and provide it to the writers or agencies that you hire this way. Remember, the more detailed and clear you are about your objectives, the more satisfaction the end product would provide you.
Budget for Affiliate Site Content
These days, I personally prefer to spend at least $30-40 per 1,000 words of content, unless it's highly technical and requires huge amount of research (need to spend more then).
You can't keep paying $15 per 1K words like it's still 2013, and expect excellent quality. The reason being, there are some politicians in the US trying to make $15/hour the minimum wage in the US. So, if someone can earn that (roughly) by working at McDonalds, why would they take the hassle of doing such a brain-intensive task like content writing for the same money?
And even if they do, you can be sure that they won't spend more than an hour per 1K words to justify the price they're being paid. As they have to write on random topics, be it some Roomba vacuum cleaner that they've never used in their lives, or the latest chef knife that Japanese chefs use, can they really do adequate research AND type out a 1K words article all in under 1 hour? I doubt it.
In fact, most people would even struggle to write a short autobiography of 1K words in under an hour (where they have to do no research as they're writing about themselves). So, if you want great quality, you have to invest well in content.
Assessing Content Quality
Apart from the usual quality checks like plagiarism checking using Copyscape and grammar/spelling checks using tools like Grammarly, you need to actually go through the whole articles yourself and be the judge yourself.
If you lack the ability to judge the quality of writing, you may need to hire a native English speaking editor to help you in this area. Trust me, this will save you a lot of frustration down the line.
One of the best ways to improve the quality of writing that a writer delivers is to provide them with constant, useful feedback. Tell them what they could've done differently, what changes you want to see in future content, and stuff like that.
The Importance of Quality Content
For affiliate sites, it comes down to conversion rates, apart from secondary things like engagement (time on page, bounce rate, etc.). The bigger the site, the higher the difference will be between ordinary/sub-par content and true high-quality content.
Consider a hypothetical case. If you have an Amazon affiliate site which currently earns $5K/mo while converting at 5% (of the Amazon clicks), then if more useful and better overall content would bump that number to just 8%, then we're talking about a revenue increase of 60% ($3K)! If we keep this % constant, then the bigger your site, the more absolute difference in revenue you'll see between low and high-quality content.
Content is one area which you should not cheap out on as a site owner. It makes not only a big difference directly on the revenue of your affiliate site by improving conversions, but also impacts things like the natural link acquisition rate of your site (higher quality content leads to more natural links).