The Optimal Number of Writers for a Blog

Hiring people to write for your blog is a great way to greatly reduce your own writing responsibilities and increase the posting frequency of your blog. If you have decided to bring in some extra writers, you need to decide how many people should write for you. That is, do you want one or two people writing many articles for you, or do you want many people writing a few articles each?

This is an issue I revisited recently with my website Martial Arts Videos. Shortly after the relaunch of the website, I advertised for some writers on the Problogger job board. I got around 65 applications directly through this job advertisement.

As you know, I have run many blogs in the past. On BloggingTips.com, I had around a dozen or so people writing one or two articles every week. On WPMods.com (now part of WP Hub), I worked closely with Nathan B Weller, who contributed many articles to the website. I therefore have experience working with many authors and working more closely with one or two.

Martial Arts Videos
Martial Arts Videos was relaunched in mid June 2013.

Today I would like to do a small case study on the author situation for Martial Arts Videos. Specifically, I will be looking at the number of people who are contributing to the website and looking at whether this number can be reduced.

* Before reading this article, I encourage you to read the preceding article “The Relaunch of Martial Arts Videos“.

Hiring Writers

Whenever you place an advertisement for people to write for your blog, you always receive applications from a wide range of people; some good, some not so good. In this instance, I was fairly pleased with the overall response to the job advertisement.

I was not too tough on those who applied for the position. In the past, I have been more discriminating during the hiring process as I was looking for something very specific that only a small percentage of bloggers could do. For Martial Arts Videos, the main prerequisite was a good grasp of English and a love and knowledge of martial arts.

For reference, this is the job advertisement I posted on ProBlogger:

Martial Arts Videos is an established website that focuses on martial arts related topics. It has a focus on publishing videos on martial arts techniques and movies.

We are looking to increase our posting frequency to around 3 posts per day. We therefore need two or three bloggers who can contribute 5-10 articles every week. Topics will be given to authors to cover though we appreciate those that suggest new topic ideas too.

Applicants must be have a good grasp in English and be able to deliver articles consistently every week. They must also have an interest in martial arts films and preferable train in martial arts too (though this is not essential).

This position pays $0.02 per word. Most articles will be around 500-1,000 words long therefore you should make around $10-$20 per article. We will be focusing on list articles that list 10, 15, or 25 items etc. You can see an example of the type of thing we are looking for at http://www.martialartsvideos.com/amazing-taekwondo-knockouts/. Experienced bloggers should be able to complete a post like this in under an hour, therefore they should be able to complete several articles in one day.

Prior blogging experience is preferred though we will accept submissions from those who have never blogged before.

I kept the screening process relatively simple. Those with poor pitches were automatically rejected. To me, there is no excuse for making spelling and grammatical mistakes in a job application. If they cannot take two seconds to ensure their application is properly written, they will certainly not take the time to ensure their articles are of a good standard. Applicants also had to have knowledge of martial arts. I rejected every applicant where it was clear they did not.

Two or three of those who were rejected pleaded to be considered for the position regardless and promised that they could learn to write about martial arts. Another even argued that knowing martial arts or being familiar with martial arts films was not important as he could write about any subject. This is something I disagree with as I believe it is vital that everyone who writes for Martial Arts Videos to have a love of the subject matter.

A few applicants were rejected because they had never written for any blog in the past. I did accept one or two who had not because their pitches were great and they displayed an enthusiasm to learn. For everyone else, I decided to give them a chance and write for the site.

In hindsight, I should have been a little tougher on some issues. Specifically, I should have asked every single applicant if they had experience with WordPress. I wrongly assumed that those who claimed to have previous blogging experience were familiar with the WordPress platform. Unfortunately, many were not. This meant that I had to answer a lot of basic questions about WordPress from some authors; which proved to be very time-consuming. With one author, it took dozens of emails for me to explain how the post editor worked, before finally advising him that he was not suitable for the job. I always try to help authors where and when I can, however it is clear that I should have parted ways with that particular author long before I did as he was draining a lot of my time. It really is not my responsibility for me to walk any author through basic blogging functionality.

Contributor Posting Frequency

You will find that a large percentage of writers you hire will never contribute an article. You may be surprised to hear this, however this is something I have seen time and time again. People go to the hassle of applying for a writing position, agreeing rates and declaring their enthusiasm for their new job; only to proceed to never write any articles for you. To date, I have set up 40 contributor accounts on Martial Arts Videos. Each account was created for someone who applied to write for the website and advised that they could start writing right away. Close to half of all contributors never submitted any article

Interestingly, as I write this article today, exactly 100 articles have been submitted by contributors. These articles have been submitted over the last six weeks and this total figure includes published articles, scheduled articles and drafts. This is a good sample size for me to review my author situation and see what is best for me and the website moving forward.

Bear in mind that I have not held back the speed of which contributors have submitted articles. Initially, most contributors asked to write several articles. I asked them to submit one article initially so that I could review their article and ensure that formatting and grammar were correct. Once their first article has been approved, I allow authors to submit three to six articles at a time. Therefore, the frequency at which contributors have submitted articles to Martial Arts Videos is largely down to them, not me. This makes it even more surprising to see that around half of all articles have been submitted by only two people.

Here is a complete breakdown of the articles that have been submitted by authors:

  • 1 contributor has submitted 31 articles.
  • 1 contributor has submitted 19 articles.
  • 1 contributor has submitted 7 articles.
  • 2 contributors have submitted 6 articles.
  • 2 contributors have submitted 5 articles.
  • 1 contributor has submitted 3 articles.
  • 4 contributors have submitted 2 articles.
  • 10 contributors have submitted 1 article.
  • 18 contributors have not submitted any articles.

Despite seeing it time and time again, it still surprises me to see that a whopping 45% of contributors never submitted one article. It is a stark reminder that most people who are applying for blogging jobs do not have a good work ethic. I believe this to be a good thing for all would-be bloggers out there as it means that you can stand out from the crowd by simply doing what you should be doing.

Quality of Articles

The quality of articles submitted by authors has been a mixed bag. Some have been very close to being rejected due to their poor quality and many authors continue to make basic formatting mistakes in their articles. Between half and three-quarters of all articles that have been submitted have had to be corrected in some way, whether it be resizing an image correctly or adding unnecessary styling to the article (that overrides the styling of the website design).

Grammar Police

Over the last few weeks, I have also started being more tough on the quality of articles. For example, one author submitted an article that had many basic grammatical mistakes and spelling errors. I asked him to correct these issues and he then speedily replied that they had been corrected and suggested more article topics. I checked the article and found that the errors were still there. I gave him the benefit of doubt in this instance in case the article had simply not been saved. Unfortunately, the article was submitted four times with basic errors before I advised him that it was best that we parted ways.

Moving ahead, it is important that all authors submit high quality articles. Authors that submit poor articles take up a lot of time as you are constantly asking them to correct simple mistakes. I do not mind the odd error here and there; that is to be expected. If, however, an author continually submits articles with the same problems time and time again, it is time to move on.

One thing to bear in mind is that when you work with a lot of bloggers, you get a little more variety in the articles that are submitted to you. This may not be a concern to you if you determine what topics authors should focus on. If, however, you leave it to authors to suggest topics, you may find that suggestions may be limited if you are only working with one person. This is not always the case, particularly if that person is very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter.

How Many People Should You Hire to Write for Your Blog?

It is important to get the right balance of writers for your blog as things do not always go to plan. For example, your best writer may only be able to contribute one article per week, despite you needing a dozen articles to be published every week. You need to weigh up issues like this and ensure that you are never get caught short.

  • Working with Few Bloggers – There are benefits to working with only a few bloggers. Perhaps the greatest benefit is the total time you spend emailing bloggers is greatly reduced. The time you save allows you to work closer with bloggers and ensure a higher standard of quality.
  • Working with Many Bloggers – Due to the nature of freelancing, bloggers do not always submit articles on schedule. Occasionally, this is due to sickness, however more often than not, it will be because the bloggers do not place any priority on getting your article completed. This may be because they have other writing commitments, a full-time job…or just because they would sit around and watch television. By working with many bloggers, you can allow them to complete articles when they are ready. This greatly reduces the chance of you falling behind with your posting schedule.

The increase in administration time, that working with many bloggers causes, should not be underestimated. On some days I was receiving emails from around a dozen contributors. Most emails were in regards to a new article submission; which meant that I had to login to Martial Arts Videos, read the article, check the article for errors and then email the contributor back asking for something to be corrected. This back and forth meant that I would exchange three or four emails with each contributor in a given day. It was not uncommon for me to spend two hours checking articles and exchanging emails with contributing authors. This is a huge amount of time to spend reviewing article submissions.

If there was no way to avoid this amount of administration, I would be inclined to look for a blog editor to help manage bloggers for me. That is not the right solution at the moment.

Managing People
Managing many people can be very time-consuming.

I knew from experience that there were downsides to managing many bloggers, however I feel like taking on so many people for Martial Arts Videos was the right thing to do in the short-term as it allowed me to review many authors. Moving forward, I need to actively reduce the time I am spending managing authors. This does not necessarily mean parting ways with those who have only contributed one or two articles.

There are two main factors for me to consider:

  • The quality and experience of each writer.
  • The availability of each writer (i.e. how often can they contribute posts).

Time is a big issue in this process. An extra 30 minutes here and there dealing with a writer quickly adds up. This is time I could be spent working on other things; therefore, authors who contribute articles that need revised are costing me money.

Rather than spending time reviewing all previous submissions (which would be very time-consuming), what I am going to do is review each new submission closely. If an author contributes an article that was low quality or required a lot of corrections, I will review previous submissions and then make a decision on whether they continue to write for Martial Arts Videos. Likewise, if an author submits a high quality article, I will ask if they can contribute articles more frequently.

Or to put it more simply: I need to part ways with authors that are submitting sub-standard articles and encourage those who submit great articles to write more. Within a short space of time, this process will greatly increase the overall standard of authors and articles.

Overview

Finding the optimal number of writers for a blog is not an exact science. It may take some trial and error for you to find what the best setup is for you. It is clear that working with more bloggers increases administration time, however this is a price you may be willing to pay to reduce the chance of your posting schedule being affected (i.e. sickness, late submission etc).

I think the key is to be happy with every writer you work with. Being disappointed with what a writer is doing for you is a sure sign that they are not the right person. Take into consideration other factors such as rates and availability and look at who is best for you and your blog.

Good luck,
Kevin