Lessons Learned

Content Marketing Costs: What You Need to Know

by | Dec 3, 2019

Why Content Costs Vary Across the Market

The Value of Content

If you’ve shopped for quotes on a 500-word blog article before, you’ve probably gotten a wide range of pricing:

  • Some freelance writers from Fiverr or Upwork may quote you around $20.
  • The better and more experienced writers may quote $150-200.
  • Expert writers with subject-matter knowledge may charge up to $400.
  • High-end content agencies may quote at least $500, if not much more.

But why is it that some charge $500 for a 500-word post, when there are writers who offer to write the same thing for just $20?

Is there some kind of pricing arbitrage going on here?

While we see this kind of stuff all the time, it actually isn’t arbitrage.

Let me explain.

If you pay a freelancer $20 to write a blog post, the quality and effort put into such a post would much, much lower than the one created by a subject-matter expert who backs the post with several hours of in-depth research.

When you value content and treat it as an integral part of your marketing strategy — as you should — you would not use writers on Fiverr or Upwork or any other content mill that churn out junk article after junk article without so much an iota of care towards quality (including correct spelling and grammar).

A well-researched article that exudes authority and expertise is exceedingly difficult to write.

The harsh truth is that most writers cannot pull it off. Only writers with background experience and knowledge within your own industry would be able to create articles that actually move the needle in your marketing strategy. This is especially the case in technical areas such as IT, cybersecurity, software development, etc.

A content writer with background knowledge and expertise in your industry naturally commands a higher price. But in return, you get authority-building content that enhances your credibility and brand reputation.

But what if you are looking for a content writer or agency, and they don’t show pricing on their website? How can you tell whether they write great content?

Why Content Providers Don’t Usually Show Pricing Upfront

do not show rate upfront

Content marketers have reasons not to show rates upfront — some of which are valid, and some of which are completely nonsensical.

Here are a few:

1. The usual answer: “it varies!”

As much I hate this answer — and you probably do, too — this is true. Different clients have different needs.

Some clients only need a couple of blog posts a month… others need 3 blog posts per week. And we haven’t even talked about how long or short each blog post can be. Some articles can be less than 400 words. Some others can be over 4,000 words.

A sales page can be very short, less than a page… or it can be 20 pages long. Asking “how much does content marketing cost?” is just like asking “how long is a piece of string?

Still, as providers that value transparency, we shouldn’t give prospective clients a flippant “it varies” answer when they ask. We should nurture our leads by answering their questions and gaining their trust.

If you ask a car salesman how much a car costs, and he says “it depends!” Would that inspire trust in you as a customer?

No! Of course not.

But if the car salesman asks about your brand preferences, what features you must have, which ones are “nice to have”, whether you have kids, whether you intend to pay in cash or borrow from the bank, then you’re going to zero in on a few specific options that would be a great fit for you. The car salesman would then be better able to answer on the pricing question with specific options in mind.

Because the car salesman actually takes the time to understand your needs and preferences, more trust gets built, thereby increasing the chance that both sides agree on a sale and walk away happy. Not that we’re comparing ourselves to car salesmen, but the crucial thing to understand is this:

We take the time to really understand your business, what you really need (which may be different from what you THINK you need), and explore whether content marketing can really help grow your business.

2. “We do value-based pricing, so we can’t show this upfront.”

Sure, value-based pricing is a valid pricing strategy. It sounds great in theory, but in reality, it is quite difficult to apply in practice.

Value-based pricing simply means that we charge a portion of the additional revenue you get through working with us. But that means this additional revenue needs to be accurately measured, and this responsibility usually falls on you — the client. Plus, even if you had an excellent system of measuring that additional revenue through certain marketing metrics and KPIs, the executives at your company might not be comfortable with sharing such sensitive information — which is completely understandable.

Another reason why value-based pricing is so difficult to apply in practice with respect to content marketing is that it is so difficult to measure. Just because one piece of content gets a lot of likes and engagement does not mean it is driving more sales and revenue for your company. Conversely, content that gets relatively little engagement may be generating highly-qualified leads for a particularly niche solution.

But let’s assume we do value-based pricing. Therein lies the problem: we can’t just say this when asked about our rates without providing the full context around this question.

Imagine this:

“What are your rates?”

“Oh, it depends, because we do value-based pricing.”

“…”

You can guess how that goes.

Think of it from a customer’s point of view — it sounds just like an excuse. Do prospective customers go to a website, not see pricing, and say:

“Oh, that just means they do value-based pricing. That’s great! So I’ll go ahead and request a quote and wait to hear back.”

No. It doesn’t work like that. That’s not how people think. And that’s not how you (and I) think, either.

3. “If competitors know our prices, they’ll undercut us and we’ll lose business!”

To that, I say:

Baloney!

Okay… if we were competing on price alone, this would be true. Content writers who compete on price tend to flock to sites like Upwork and content mills, and take orders from clients who don’t fully understand the marketing value of such deliverables.

But here, we don’t compete on price. We don’t work with clients looking to pay the minimum possible. We don’t work with clients who don’t appreciate the value of quality content.

We are a content marketing service that provides substantial, sustainable, and long-lasting value to clients. In short, we want our clients to benefit not only while engaging with us, but also long after they engage with us.

To use some numbers and put things in perspective, we do not take on projects if we don’t believe that our clients will get an ROI at least 3 times of what they pay us. And that 3 times ROI is just the minimum. We prefer our clients to get more than 5 to 10 times of what they would pay us. Of course that requires our clients to have a measuring system in place, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic that we will talk about soon.

To make such returns possible, we provide our clients with both strategic and tactical consultation as well as the content deliverables.

What Are You Really Paying For?

When you pay for content, how much you pay comes down to what you are really paying for. It’s worthwhile to examine why you want to create content.

In our five years of being in the content marketing sphere and listening to what our clients say, we’ve learned that strategy is where the value is. The best content marketing agencies not only create content, but also work with their clients to come up with the best overall content strategy for each. In other words, when you pay for a set of blog posts, you aren’t buying a set of blog posts. This is why pricing by the word is so utterly misguided.

When you pay for content, you aren’t just paying for words. You are really buying the following:

  • More subject-matter authority
  • More brand recognition
  • More trust from your customers
  • Higher search engine rankings
  • Better qualified leads

All of these ultimately lead to higher revenue and more business.

Sadly, many content providers don’t get it. They think all they need to do is crank out a set of blog posts, get paid for it, and they’re done. No. It doesn’t work that way. We are not order-takers. Instead, we are your partners in creating and executing the best marketing strategy for your business, and using content creation to deliver on it.

What goes into our pricing?

To put all flat project fees and hourly rates in context, the following are included where relevant:

  • Formation of a creative brief (if applicable) based on answers to our project discovery questionnaire
  • Research time spent on background info used to create original high-quality content
  • SEO keyword tools for SEO landing pages, blog posts, and thought leadership articles
  • Two rounds of edits free of charge on all written pieces
  • Guarantees that all written content is 100% original and high quality
  • Upon delivery and full payment, client retains all IP rights and ownership of all written content

We charge the same rates for everyone.

Unlike some agencies or freelancers, we do not charge different rates for businesses with different revenue amounts or employee counts.

Whether you are a solopreneur looking to build a new business or you are a 1,000-employee company with a global footprint, we charge the same rates for the same deliverables across the board.

Depth of research is one factor that affects pricing.

We price content not by the word count, but by the depth of research required to write such content. We believe that per-word pricing incentivizes writers to inflate their word counts by adding fluff or useless content. We also believe that, by eliminating such perverse incentives, pricing based on depth of research is in the best interests of all of our clients. Below is an explanation of the three levels of research:

Light research: Little or no research is required if the topic is not heavily technical or does not require specialized knowledge. Less than one hour of research is spent for every hour of writing.

Normal research: Many articles we write involve technical topics and/or require pre-existing subject-matter knowledge. Between 1 and 2 hours of research is usually needed for every hour of writing. Citations are included as links within the content.

Deep research: We rarely charge extra for in-depth research. In cases we do so, we get full permission and agreement from our client and/or editor. Typically, deep research is used for magazine pieces where interviews are conducted with reputable sources, customers, scholars, or other businesses. More than 2 hours of research is needed for every hour of writing. Deep research is also priced in for most resource content, including case studies and white papers.

Strategy and quality are both priced in.

We include upfront project discovery and in-depth research into your business, your competitors, your target market, and your buyer persona.

It is this process that allows us to deliver value to your business that is an order of magnitude higher than what we charge you.

Unfortunately, not all business owners value this. Or they don’t really believe that content will help them achieve the ROI they want. So they try to pay as little as possible to get content — for the sake of having content. Why? Probably just because everyone else is doing it. These clients tend to flock to sites like Upwork, one of the largest global sweatshops full of freelancers competing to cobble together 3,000-word clumsy walls of text for pennies on the dollar.

On the other hand, for clients who want high-quality content written by subject-matter experts that actually earns brand equity, consumer trust, increased rankings and traffic, the steps involving project discovery and strategic research are crucial to the success of the project and therefore cannot be skipped.

If clients want to do the strategy themselves and just hire us to write content, we can still take that on and not charge for strategy.

However, for best results, an external set of eyes that take strategy into account, and the expertise to provide actionable feedback to decision makers, will add a ton of value to the entire undertaking that goes beyond mere content… and that’s why we charge more for it.

Our Pricing Is Transparent and Customizable

ecommerce

 While our pricing does vary, we also want to be transparent. So we provide both of the following:

  1. Content packages with flexible and budget-friendly pricing
  2. A la Carte pricing for one-off projects

Since there’s no real way to predict how much ROI a business will get from my content marketing services (one reason value-based pricing is flawed), I use medium- to high-end market rates a starting point. However, even with such market rates, if my client does not get at least a return double of what I got paid, then I’m not happy. Conversely, if they get an ROI of more than 5-10 times of what they paid me, then I would be overjoyed about how I helped their business.

However, even market rates depend on strategy, how much research is needed, and the volume of deliverables.

For example, in our pricing, we offer a done-for-you content creation service that starts at $1,500 per month.

At that price point, would create 4 blog articles while doing a small amount of strategic work. This would be a good fit if you already have your strategy down and don’t need that much additional content.

However, if you need us to do some extensive strategic and SEO keyword work along with creating up to 12 blog articles each month, then we would charge up to around $4,200 per month.

Requesting a Quote

Our pricing all comes down to your specific needs and budget. Plus we keep it reasonable.

We encourage you to request a quote for what you specifically need, and we will quote you on just that — no more and no less.