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Producing writing at scale (featuring Vincent D’Eletto)

Recruiting writers and managing the content creation process

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On this episode of Chats with Chip, Vin D’Eletto of Word Agents joins the show to discuss his experience building an agency focused on providing writing that drives SEO. The pair discuss lessons for how agencies of all types can better manage the ongoing need for content, including recruiting writers and managing the process to deliver quality results for clients.

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Transcript

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Chip Griffin
Hello, and welcome to the Chats with Chip podcast. I’m your host Chip Griffin. And my guest today is Vin D’Eletto. He is the founder of Word Agents. Welcome to the show, Vin.

Vin D’Eletto
Thanks, Chip. Glad to be here.

Chip Griffin
It is great to have you here. And before we jump into the topics at hand, why don’t you share a little bit about yourself?

Vin D’Eletto
Sure. My name is Vin D’Eletto. I’m the owner and operator founder of WordAgents.com. We’re a content creation agency that specializes in SEO optimized articles. So basically, we take your keywords that you want to rank on Google, and we create really good content around them, that gives it the best chance possible to rank on Google. And that’s what we do. We’ve got about 200 American writers on stuff and we’re growing every day.

Chip Griffin
Fantastic. And what drew you to this Why did you decide to start this agency,

Vin D’Eletto
um, I really got into the SEO affiliate world, building content, revenue generating content websites, and that was back in like 2008 2009 and to fund that generation of those websites, I was freelance, a freelance writer. And I quickly just realized how much demand there was for good content. And it just kind of grew organically from there. I started hiring my buddies, and everybody was helping me out writing. And eventually we just formed word agents in 2014. And it’s really hasn’t stopped.

Chip Griffin
That’s great. And writing is one of those things that just about every kind of agency, you can think of whether you’re PR marketing, advertising, digital, everybody needs it these days, and writers are often good writers, at least, are very hard to find. So I’d like to start there. I mean, how do you obviously you started with yourself, but how did you expand that network? How did you recruit people? And how do you make sure that you’ve got the highest quality writers possible?

Vin D’Eletto
Sure. So you know, there’s a delineation between types of content. So you know, old school PR agencies, they know all about branded content. That’s not what we do. We specialize in SEO Content writing for the internet. So there’s a very special way to do that. And we look for very special character traits for those types of writers. In the beginning, it was a lot of trial and error. Right? You know, I had I on boarded a bunch of writers that were just not the right fit. But through refinement of our process. We have a down to a science now. And basically what we do is we have all sorts of different outlets where we can obtain freelance writers from whether they’d be classified job boards, we have relationships with universities, and we get honor students from from English departments. Sometimes we actually just see a good blogger that wrote a great article, I might just email them and ask if they’re looking for more work. So it’s from a slew of resources that would that we obtain, I would say the applications themselves and then they enter our hiring system, where we have several levels of hoops to jump through to see how interested they are are actually working for us. And once they get passed through that vetting phase, then they’re in a 90 day probation period to show that they can be consistent in providing the quality that we expect. So it’s really just a giant funnel that we’re putting everybody into. And the ones that come at the bottom are the ones that stay on our team for the long term.

Chip Griffin
I’m sure some of the more of the old timers like me who are listening, you know, when they hear something like, you know, writing for SEO, they think of the old days where it was, you know, content Mills churning out low quality rubbish on low traffic sites that were just there purely to feed links to the search engine. So obviously, that is not what SEO writing is today. So but why don’t why don’t you Why don’t you explain a little bit more clearly what the what SEO writing is and the service that you’re providing where that content goes? Sure.

Vin D’Eletto
Everything you just explained is exactly what I experienced when I joined the digital marketing world back in 2008. You could really just put up anything and you could possibly see success and make lots of money, right? But what what agents does and what SEO content really is, and in today’s environment, you got to write, both for the search engines and for people. So what we say we do is we create human friendly SEO content. Seo content itself has that bad stigma. And we’re trying to get away from that. It’s not going to be as in depth as a branded piece of content where the writer like really knows your company, your voice or style, and it’s going to write in that vein. What we’re doing for SEO content is we’re looking at the keyword you want to rank for. And then we’re going to learn the intent that the searcher that’s using the keyword to find your article has and then we’re going to create the article around that intent. So whether that’s the intent being on what stage they are in the in the sales funnel, or the just the intent of their search are they just learned starting to understand this topic, or do they have some knowledge and are looking to further their education on the topic? So these are questions that we ask ourselves when we’re preparing to write an article. So we can answer the intent of the reader while also optimizing it. So it still ranks well for that for the target keyword.

Chip Griffin
Right. Yeah, that makes sense. And obviously, in the old days, you know, when Google relied, you know, more on, you know, keyword density and things like that. That was sort of what gave birth to these content Mills. And now, as you’ve talked about with intent, I think that’s sort of the key piece, right? Because the Google algorithm and other search engines now focus on are you providing the searcher with the information that they were looking for? Exactly. So yes, you have to think about keywords, but it’s really the quality, right?

Vin D’Eletto
Yeah, it’s all about relevance. Like if you’re not hyper targeting that your article and the information within your article, so it’s 100% relevant to the keyword itself, then you’re doing yourself a disservice and you’re no You’re gonna spend all this money promoting this article, and you’re not really going to get that much traction, because he didn’t do the work ahead of time to address intent and relevance. And that’s good. That’s Google’s whole business model, they need to provide the searcher with the most relevant answer to their question. And as publishers, we need to keep that in mind from from step one.

Chip Griffin
And you mentioned publishing it, you know, is this content that’s generally going on the organization’s website itself? Or is it going on a third party site? Where’s the content that you guys create typically appearing?

Vin D’Eletto
Sure. So basically, branded content is anything that would be news related to the business. Anything else that’s like static content, or content around a keyword is something that an SEO content creator can do for you? Typically, this is your blog. It’s your knowledge base on your website. If you’re an e commerce company, it’ll be your product descriptions and category descriptions. If you’re an SEO affiliate or use affiliate marketing as an income stream, it’ll be those affiliate articles meant to drive revenue through affiliate marketing as well.

Chip Griffin
Now, how do you maintain quality? Right? I’ve managed teams of writers before, and it is challenging because everybody kind of has their strengths and weaknesses and, and every writer has their idiosyncrasies, you know, how do you make sure that you are maintaining the content? What kind of editing do you have? And how, what kind of feedback you’re giving your writers because this is a very complicated process in most cases.

Vin D’Eletto
Sure. Yeah, you’re spot on there. So we have a really kind of it’s pretty tedious quality assurance process, our actual production team, there’s three sets of management eyes on every article after the writer turns in their first draft, and their direct will may return it to them for an initial revision before we deliver it to the client. Just in case if their direct, you know, caught something that was incorrect. After that, it goes through up proofreading phase where we use Grammarly comm to kind of create a baseline for spelling and grammar, because Grammarly comm is is the leading toolset for for grammar, optimization, proofreading on the market right now. So we always guarantee that will score at least 90% or better and Grammarly. We also use a plagiarism tool called copyscape to ensure that our writing is 100% unique, but we will never plagiarize anything or copy paste anything that’s already on the internet. And then after that, we just have standard review periods for writers where we’re constantly reorganizing our weightings of writers. And every time we go through a new hiring session, we typically fire the bottom 10% of our team. And that way, we’re always kind of getting rid of the guys that are no longer up to our expectations. So our team is like this Amoeba that’s always moving and living and changing all The time and and it really requires like 24 seven maintenance.

Chip Griffin
Now, you’ve mentioned a couple of different tools that you use there. But as far as managing the workflow, have you found off the shelf tools that help you manage that workflow? Or have you had to create your own or

Vin D’Eletto
Yeah, we use a tool really slick tool for service providers. It’s called service provider Pro. It’s just a project management slash Help Desk, slash CRM platform that’s built for productize services like word agents, so that those customers customizable project management flow, that we create all the stages in our in our in our pipeline, and it’s pretty much custom to us. So we have that down to a science right now. And we launched on that in April and it’s been very valuable to us and quality a shout out that as a result as well.

Chip Griffin
Well, that’s great. I’m sure that that other folks will want to check that out as well because that is sort of the the the challenge For many agencies is managing these workflows. And yeah, making sure that it took

Vin D’Eletto
me five years to find them and really get it. I went through so many iterations of building my own and using other off the shelf options. This was the closest to my needs, not perfect, but it really propelled us forward once it was implemented.

Chip Griffin
Now, you mentioned the also the writers and the quality checks and all that do you do this? Do you typically have the same writers serve the same client over and over again? Or is it just who’s available at the moment or, you know, other industry specialties? How do you manage that piece of the process?

Vin D’Eletto
For our use case, it’s it’s just the next available writer. We’ve spent a whole year testing out teams of subject matter experts in different verticals. And what we found is, you know, somebody that has a great deal of knowledge on a topic may not be the best writer as well. So you know, we beat our head against the wall trying to build these teams and what we found Going back, you know, generalist writers that are really good at writing for the internet, no SEO, SEO optimization are just as effective as expert level writers.

Chip Griffin
And you what kind of pricing model do you use? Is it per piece is it is a deadline driven how long you have I mean, you talk about your your models that you use,

Vin D’Eletto
it’s actually credit based now, we used to be project based where we would, quote, buy the project, and I just couldn’t scale that way. So now we just have four defined packages at four different price points. The bigger the package, the bigger the volume discount you get, but you’re just purchasing credits. And then you use those credits to order articles. Got your

Chip Griffin
intro, the credits, are they word based? I assume word based.

Vin D’Eletto
Yeah. So basically, you know, our smallest package is for 1000 words and our largest packages for 20,000 words.

Chip Griffin
Gotcha. Okay. And one of the things I do know is that you work with agencies and obviously a lot of listeners most of the listeners of this show Are agency owners or executives? And so, you know, how do you work with agencies? What kind of model do you have? Do they they come to you and say we’ve got a bunch of clients? Is it more on a per project basis? How do you typically work with other agencies?

Vin D’Eletto
most agencies just load up on credits in our system? You know, we don’t provide bilanz for writers or anything like that everything we do is ghost writing. So we don’t really need to launch a white label service, because it’s going to be the same for everybody. But yeah, we have I think something over 20 agencies that are recurring at this point, and all they do is they just buy credits and they place their orders for their clients. And they have all the their content fulfillment done for for a month, each month, every month.

Chip Griffin
And how do you find agencies to work with obviously, you’re an agency yourself, but, you know, typically, there’s a difference in working with agencies versus companies directly. What you know, what have you experienced there, if any differences?

Vin D’Eletto
Yeah, we have a few different marketing vehicles. I think came up in the SEO world a lot in the online forums in the Facebook groups. So I have a little bit of a following in that world. So a lot of the SEO agencies just know about us already. And they just come to come to us as a referral. But for agencies outside of the SEO world, we’re doing a lot of LinkedIn prospecting. We’re doing Facebook advertising. And we’ve got a nice email marketing, funnel setup, target targeting agencies directly. And that’s been successful so far.

Chip Griffin
Now, how has your business evolved over the years that you’ve been in business? You obviously Google is constantly changing its algorithm? I assume you have to be responsive to some degree to that at least. But you know, what, what what other shifts Have you seen in the business over the last few years other than Of course, what’s going on right now around us, which is especially animal Yes.

Vin D’Eletto
So I also own another company. It’s a publishing company where I maintain a bunch of these rights Generating websites. So I walk the talk, I don’t just just sell you this stuff, I actually do this stuff as well. So I’m always personally updating our internal best practices for SEO optimization, just because I know what works right now. But other than that, it’s really just been my growth individually, understanding the business world and really how to operate an agency. I started as a sole Prop, and then I had some buddies helping me out, then we were, you know, a bespoke boutique agency offering project based, and now we’ve kind of reached the next level where we’re a productized service. That’s, that’s very streamlined. And we really know where we exist in the ecosystem. And we really target everybody,

you know, within our environment.

Chip Griffin
And, you know, I jokingly referred to our current environment because if you don’t laugh, your cry How has that impacted the space that you’re in? I mean, Have you seen an increasing demand for content has it? You had the kinds of clients that have been coming to you shifted? You know, what, what kind of insights can I offer, there

Vin D’Eletto
are larger agencies and mid market and enterprise clients, it got a little scary, just because they didn’t know how to address their budget with the pandemic. But as things kind of got less scary, they just they opened up again. So we didn’t take too much of a hit. But we definitely saw an increase in like service phone calls and, and shifts and budgets and plans for 2020. But it kind of seems like everything is starting to normalize again.

Chip Griffin
And as you know, we looked in the rearview mirror, but now let’s look ahead, you know, what, what do you see on the horizon? You know, how do you see your business evolving or the overall SEO content industry evolving? Ah,

Vin D’Eletto
well, fortunately for us, I think a lot of businesses realized that they were deficient in digital marketing. So now as a result of the pandemic, all these Bigger agencies that weren’t doing a whole lot of SEO or content marketing. They’re implementing that because they don’t know how long this pandemic is going on. And some of the real world marketing vehicles may not be as effective, where digital marketing is going to be effective during a pandemic like this. So that’s the biggest change that I saw. As far as the SEO landscape. You know, if Google is just being Google, I don’t think there’s any effects to SEO as a result of the pandemic. It’s just, you know, we’re always fighting with Google. And that’s just something we do every day anyway. So it’s no change that

Chip Griffin
right right. Now, you’ve mentioned that you are you you started out as a freelancer, and it sort of has mushroomed from there. I think that’s an experience that a lot of agency owners have. Most agency owners didn’t come into it saying, Hey, I’m gonna build this great, you know, big enterprise with, you know, 200 team members and all that kind of stuff. You know, what do you wish you had known when got started that you know, today? I mean, what would you go back and tell yourself at the beginning,

Vin D’Eletto
I mean, I had a pretty wild youth growing up and and I didn’t have the best education. So I certainly would have enjoyed a nice MBA in my pocket before I started any business. But I think a lot of people would have wished the same thing. I think the biggest thing is that I learned is that you know, a single deal, whether it’s success, success or failure is not the biggest thing in the world, you’re going to have lots of deals on your plate and whether one one great, you shouldn’t let that you know, grow your head too much and no one was a big failure. You shouldn’t let that discourage you too much. Just Just keep chipping away and you know, the more you chip away, the bigger your book of business will grow. And then you can, you know, rely less on single deals at that point.

Chip Griffin
Now, I like that you had mentioned that you have some publishing site already. Some content sites as well as your agency, because, you know, one of the things that I’m a big advocate of as someone who has started many companies myself is having, you know, places where you can experiment with some of your core services and, and really, as you say, you know, walk the walk. So, you know, what advice would you have for folks who are thinking about, you know, starting a an additional business alongside their agency or, you know, experimenting with some of their services in a different place?

Vin D’Eletto
Sure, I would say, first and foremost, in today’s Google and SEO world, starting something from scratch and boots, and bootstrapping, it is not as easy as it was in 2010. So what I would suggest is if you’re gonna start a side business to kind of test things or to supply your business model to make sure that you’re walking the talk, is trying to buy an existing business and and let them kind of deal with all the headaches of bootstrapping, from scratch. Even if it’s just a small business, you don’t get to spend You know, six figures on it, maybe if it’s been 30 to 50 grand, just so you got over that initial hump, because it really takes a long time to get over those initial stages. And if you want to just use this as a side business to kind of test out your theories and your services, you’re going to do yourself a disservice by kind of just spending a little bit of money to get a semi established business, so you can really just get down to business right away.

Chip Griffin
I think that makes a lot of sense. Well, then this has been really helpful. You’ve offered a lot of practical suggestions for folks, if they want to learn more about you or word agents, where can they go online? Sure.

Vin D’Eletto
You can always reach me at [email protected] by email. You can visit our website, wordagents.com, and I’m also on Twitter @WordAgents.

Chip Griffin
Fantastic and we’ll include links to all of those in the show notes that go along with this episode. I really appreciate your time. here with us Vin again, my guest today has been Vin D’Eletto, the founder of Word Agents.