Building a new community: Creating content before you launch

by Martin Reed on 15 December 2007 in Articles

Creating content for a website

This is the third article in what I hope will be an indefinite series about the processes involved in developing a brand new community from scratch. I am currently developing a brand new online community and will detail its development on this blog. As I have said before, I think it is far easier to learn by example rather than simply reading another person’s theories and ideas.

Your community needs content

You can’t have a community without members. You can’t have a community without interaction. You can’t have a community without content. Therefore, when your site launches you need to ensure you have a good amount of fresh, unique, quality content to encourage people to become members and interact on your site.

It’s always a good idea to have great content on your site from day one so that you are well and truly up and running from the day you launch. I want to ensure that the community I am currently developing has a good amount of quality content right from the start. My community will not solely be a forum – it will also offer articles as a means of adding depth and value to the site as well as attention from the search engines.

DIY or outsource?

I don’t have a great amount of knowledge about the subject my new community will be based around. Sure, I could still write some good articles but right now I just do not have the time to invest in creating content to the high standard I want. Therefore, I have decided to outsource the article writing.

If you have the time and dedication needed to create all your own content, then go right ahead and get creating. Unfortunately I don’t have the time for this right now – I already have a number of other things to concentrate on such as creating a logo and working on site design and functions. Because I want the site full of content right from the launch, I want to get writers on board who can be hard at work creating articles whilst I concentrate on these other areas.

How to outsource your content writing

I am determined to only have unique, quality articles on my new community website. As a result, I was unwilling to order any ‘packages’ from content syndicators who merely sell the same articles over and over again. Similarly, I don’t want articles that are full of spelling or grammatical errors. I want this new community to be one of quality, and if this isn’t reflected in the site’s content, I will not achieve such a reputation.

It is extremely hard to build a respectable reputation, but extremely easy to lose one. I will only ever publish high quality content on my new site, and therefore need to find the best writers possible to create the content. These are the steps I am taking:

1 – Determine what I want my writers to actually do

This sounds obvious, but it is extremely easy not to have a clear plan for your writers. If you want to get the best work from them, you need to tell them exactly what you want. What subjects do you want your writers to write about? How many words do you want each article to contain? How many articles do you want to be written each week/month?

2 – Advertise for writers

I placed an advert in the SitePoint Marketplace for writers, with a clear brief detailing exactly what I wanted. I also asked for applicants to include samples of their work so I could evaluate their skills as writers.

3 – Check their samples and references

I soon started to receive applications from interested parties. Those who had failed to include the information I requested in my advert were immediately discounted – if they were unable to read my job posting correctly, then I doubt they will be able to read any brief or job description properly, either.

I then read the sample articles each writer included in their application. I judged the articles not only by the quality of the spelling and grammar, but also by the writing style. You can have articles that are written with perfect spelling and grammar but at the same time they can be as boring as hell if the writing style is poor.

4 – Discuss the role with successful applicants

Once I have a shortlist of writers I am interested in working with (I told writers in my ad that they would not be recruited until January), I will contact them and offer them a trial run. I will give them a few subjects to write about and put them on a short-term contract of two weeks or a month. After this time, I will be able to decide whether I want to keep the relationship with each running indefinitely.

Before I even begin the trials though, I will need to draw up and have the writer sign a transfer of rights agreement.

5 – Sign a transfer of rights agreement

Without any agreement in place, the author of the articles could at any time claim additional compensation for the work or ask for them to be removed. By ensuring that a written agreement is in place before the writer is engaged, I am protecting myself against such an eventuality.

Having a signed agreement in place also benefits the writer as it should contain details about what is expected of them, along with information on their remuneration. Whenever you have someone else design or work on part of your site, make sure you have a written agreement with that person confirming that once payment is made, you own all the rights to that work.

Your thoughts

Have you ever outsourced content writing for your website? How did it go? Were you satisfied with the results? Feel free to name companies or individuals you had good experiences with, and also shame those that didn’t deliver. Have you any additional advice for people looking to outsource content writing? Please share your thoughts and ideas regarding this article by leaving a comment below.

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Vumpost December 15, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Believe it or not, finding a good writer/programmer is the hardest thing to do. English is my second language, I hate writing and I am not good at it. So outsourcing is crucial. It took me 2 years to find a good AND affordable writer. Sure, you can find some good writers, but their prices are way too high ($25-$30 per 500 words article). I currently pay $10 for a 700-800 words article. That is when I buy in bulk – 100 of them.
One piece of advice: stay away from sites like and and if you don’t, make sure not to let the ratings affect your decision. I’ve worked with writers that had 100% positive ratings with over 50 completed projects, and they were not able to properly write an article; they did not speak English properly.

Vyoma December 15, 2007 at 9:31 pm

Well, I used some help from friends to seed content in my forum. :)

Smiley December 16, 2007 at 1:07 am

Thankfully, my forum is getting hundreds of posts a day without me doing anything now. But one or twice a week I still create a dozen or so new threads at once to keep things going as a lot of the members don’t create new threads, and it gets boring for me reading the same thread with 6+pages of the same stuff.

Content is king! I’ve never used writers myself, but when the forum first started I did use 2 different names, including my staff one, to create a few hundred fresh threads, my poor fingers ached like mad but the forums took off pretty well.

My advice to someone who may not beable to afford to pay people to post and who has ‘writers block’ and not sure where to start with creating new threads is…….. go around and read the threads in competition sites for ideas. Copy them if need be.

Sue @ TameBay December 16, 2007 at 5:00 pm

If Vumpost is only prepared to pay $10 for an 800 word article, I’m not surprised s/he is finding it difficult to find a decent writer!

Mike December 17, 2007 at 1:01 am

I try to build relationships with people I come across through forums. Advertising for people has never worked out, as I have no idea if the person will actually deliver. At least if you know them from a forum you know their writing style, a little of their personality and how reliable they are. If I find someone good, I try to keep giving them work that is interesting if they want it to maintain the relationship.

Amish Made Furniture December 17, 2007 at 2:19 pm

If your community will be focussed on one subject, if you use more than one writer, it is best that they be identified as different writers. Each writer has a unique style which comes through for regular readers. If the style is not consistent, readers are likely to guess that more than one writer is involved and that would defeat the very purpose of the community. If from the beginning, it is made clear that more than one writer are involved with their own bylines, you will be open and honest about it.

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 18, 2007 at 9:52 pm

Vumpost – I wouldn’t work with anyone until I have seen samples of their work. Then they would be employed on a trial basis. Only once they provide me with consistent, quality content will I then take them on under a long-term agreement.

I don’t think $30 for a 500 word article is expensive at all, by the way. I think quality is far more important than price.

Vyoma – Many of us forget about our ‘real’ world friends when we are working online. If you are happy to share your online world with your offline one, then by all means you should drag in your friends and get them to help you create content!

Smiley – Your forum is a perfect example of hard work paying off. If you take the time to create content and dedicate yourself to your community, it can succeed and it will succeed.

Sue – I couldn’t agree more!

Mike – Again, the reason why I detailed the process I undertook in this article was to demonstrate how you can evaluate the quality and commitment of the people you are after. I agree though, that if possible it is always beneficial to bring on board people you already know and are familiar with.

Ramana – I don’t think there is anything wrong with having varied writing styles; indeed I think it is an advantage. Different people prefer different writing styles so by bringing on a number of writers you are able to please and engage with a larger proportion of your visitors.

Chris December 18, 2007 at 11:02 pm

We are currently in the process of trying to outsource our writing and finding it difficult to find a company that has decent prices. I did find helpful though in my search.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 2, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Chris – I would be interested in hearing more about your experience with; I have posted in the SitePoint marketplace for writers for a new community website I am developing and received a decent number of responses.

Portable Dog Crates March 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm

How much content do you feel is needed before launching a community site?

Martin Reed - Blog Author March 15, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Portable – How long is a piece of string? Just make sure you have a decent amount of content ready to go before you launch. ‘Enough’ is whatever you feel is necessary to attract the attention of visitors and keep them on your site.

Masoud October 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

Hi Martin

I’m new to online communities and i dont know too much about them but i was going to build an affiliate business, considering online communities could benefit us making some revenue i decided build a community. I’m gonna build a community for avid book readers but i dont know what kind of content should i put on my website to make the best. i would appreciate if you give me some advice.


becky October 20, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Well if you’re not an expert in your site niche topic, then I suppose outsourcing is definitely the way to go. I would truly struggle with motivation if I didn’t know much about my topic or my target audience! As they say, you really should choose a topic that you know really well or are good at, or something.

Alternatively, if you’re an expert in your own field, then I would only count on yourself to write the content! This is the case for me and yes, it takes a long time and yes, it’s hard, hard work and yes, you struggle but if you keep doing a bit each day, you see the progress.

There are distinct advantages to writing your own content:

1. You learn how to write by writing! I don’t consider myself a writer, but it’s my passion to get my message across to my readers that keeps me highly motivated. Believe me, you get better at it.

2. Your content is always going to be fresh, interesting and unique (that’s if you really know your topic!). Again, it’s so important to have some knowledge about what you’re writing – this way when an article subject is competitive, I can write an article from a new perspective – even give advice that I know no-one else has covered. This makes your site content unique and highly competitive.

3. You’ll need to be able to write your own work at some point! You can’t hide away from writing for long – you’ll have to write an article or two shortly and if you don’t know your subject, believe me, it shows! (Sorry, I’m not putting you down, just highlighting when I see many sites discuss my topic, I can see they lack experience).

I agree that you should have articles ready before launching your site. I’m now 4 months into just the article writing – I have to close myself away and get on with it – it’s the only way I think it can get done. Otherwise we have a part empty site ‘under construction’ – which I hate…lol!

Ta, Becky

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