Did you know that Liz is our resident linguistics expert? In the new #linguisticsliz series she’ll be demystifying some common grammar and punctuation rules that people (including copywriters!) often get wrong in their marketing copy. Today it’s all about the humble comma.

At my daughter’s assembly recently, the class dressed up as pop stars and sang a song called “AAAWWUBBIS”:

“Two clauses in one sentence yeah

You combine never asking why

A comma here

A comma there

It’s a mess no-one can deny”

Tears rolled down my cheeks at the sheer hilarious genius of it. The song is designed to help them remember when to use a comma in a complex sentence. The parent next to me whispered, “I thought you just chucked a comma in whenever you needed to pause for breath?” “No, no, no, there are RULES”, I replied in despair through my tears.

Get rid of that comma!

I am often called on to proofread copy for a website or blog before it is sent to clients. My mother was a professional proofreader and I have BSc in Language Technology so I feel at home finding typos and grammatical errors. My most frequent complaint to our writers [Rin’s note: Including me!] is the number of erroneous commas that appear before conjunctions which I must unceremoniously delete.

It is a common misconception that a comma can be thrown in whenever the reader might need to breathe. But actually there are specific points in English syntax where they are required and they cannot be thrown in on a whim.

Introducing clauses

Back to “AAAWWUBBIS”… AAAWWUBBIS is an acronym for the most common subordinating conjunctions in the English language…

“Stop, stop! What on earth is a subordinating conjunction and why do I need to know?”

You use them all the time to join up two clauses in a sentence.

“Wait. What? What’s a clause?”

OK, let’s rewind a few pages of the textbook: a clause is a mini sentence containing a verb.

For example:

I have written a blog post.

I will set off to pick my children up from school.

If I want to join these two ideas together and make one of them dependent (or subordinate) to the other I need a subordinating conjunction:

  1. After
  2. Although
  3. As
  4. When
  5. While
  6. Until
  7. Because
  8. Before
  9. If
  10. Since

See what those initials spell?

Complex sentences

Using a subordinating conjunction I can then write a complex sentence containing two clauses instead of one. There are two ways I could do this:

I will set off to pick up my children from school after I have written this blog post.

After I have written this blog post, I will set off to pick my children from school.

If I choose to use a subordinating conjunction at the start of the sentence then I need a comma between the clauses. If I use the subordinating conjunction in the middle of the sentence then I must not use a comma.

That is the rule – nothing to do with breathing or pausing!

P.S. There are lots of other sentence types that require a comma. For example, when using an adverbial phrase. I will save that for next time!

Every business needs written content. Website copy, blog posts, onboarding materials, ebooks, pitch decks – the list goes on. In a startup or micro business, this copy is often written by the founder or another member of the team. But eventually the need for either quality or quantity – or both – means it’s time to hire in a freelance copywriter or copywriting agency.

The question is, which one is right for your business?

In this article, we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of freelance copywriters and copywriting agencies. This won’t help you select an individual writer or agency – you can read more about that in this post on how to hire a copywriter. Instead, we’ll go through some of the factors you should be considering in order to decide what will suit you best.

Why use a freelance copywriter?

A good freelance copywriter is absolute gold. As well as our in-house writers and editors, we have a small but brilliant team of freelancers who are an integral part of the agency.

So we’re not here to suggest that copywriting agencies are in any way better than freelancers. In fact, there are many situations in which we would advise that you go down the freelance route.

Here are some factors that make freelancers appealing.

Cost

In many cases, a freelancer is likely to be less expensive than an agency simply because they don’t have the same overheads. They’re also unlikely to be earning over the VAT threshold, saving you a chunk of money if you yourself aren’t VAT registered.

Freelance rates vary widely depending on experience and even location (London prices tend to be higher than Bristol prices, for example). A junior might start out charging as little as £120 a day, whereas someone more specialist or experienced might charge four or five times that.

There is likely to be some crossover between the highest freelance rates and the rates charged by the smaller agencies though, so don’t be afraid to get a range of quotes. Just make sure you’re comparing like-for-like in terms of what’s being delivered.

Specialism

There are many types of copywriting – advertising, content, website copy, SEO, conversion. Each requires a slightly different skillset. While most copywriters will be able to turn their hand to more than one, many will eventually specialise and become experts in one or other.

Or they’ll dedicate themselves to a particular subject, industry or organisational type – tech or FMCG, SaaS or fashion, startup or nonprofit. By doing this, they’ll develop a base of information that means they’ll find it easy to get up to speed when it comes to understanding your business.

Flexibility

Where agencies will have their processes in place, a freelancer may well have more flexibility. For example, they might be happy to come and work in-house at your offices for a period of time. They are also unlikely to have minimum fee or retainer terms.

Retainer relationships make sense on a number of levels. First, there is a degree of work to be done upfront in getting to know the client and understanding their industry, establishing tone of voice, messaging and more. Also, in the case of content marketing, it takes time to see results.

But you might not want a long-term relationship. Perhaps you only need someone to do a small, one-off piece of work, or perhaps your budget is too uncertain to commit to a monthly outgoing. Or you might just be testing the water. In which case, a freelancer is a good bet.

Dedication

We’re not saying that agencies aren’t passionate about doing a good job – we certainly are! But when you’re self-employed, you need a degree of extra dedication that will help you stand out from the crowd and ensure you can invoice enough to survive at the end of the month.

If a freelancer doesn’t do a good job, there’s nowhere to hide. So they’re going to go that extra mile to ensure that they keep their clients happy. The good news is that if they don’t, it’s not that difficult to move on to the next one.

Just remember not to take advantage of that dedication. As easy as it is to ditch a freelancer, it’s equally easy for them to ditch you – unless you’ve put contracts in place as you would in an agency relationship.

If your business is growing and your copy requirements are likely to grow with it, then you need to be sure that your provision will be able to expand to meet that.

Why use a copywriting agency?

This is not where we do a big old sales pitch. As we’ve demonstrated above, there are many reasons why you might need a freelance copywriter. And if you find a good one, hold onto them!

But there will be times when getting an agency on board is going to suit your needs better.

Capacity

One key issue is capacity. An agency will not only have internal resources but access to a pool of tried and tested freelancers, plus processes in place for managing availability. As a result, you shouldn’t have to wait weeks before they can fit you in and you’ll never have to worry about what happens if your writer gets sick or wants to take a holiday.

Likewise, if your business is growing and your copy requirements are likely to grow with it, then you need to be sure that your provision will be able to expand to meet that. One person can only do so much work, whereas a team has infinite capacity.

Scope

Earlier in this article we mentioned the benefit of using a specialist freelance copywriter who has developed a niche of some sort. On the flipside, you might have a range of different needs that can’t necessarily be met by one person.

With an agency, you’re effectively getting access to a range of specialists without the hassle of project managing numerous freelancers’ schedules and workloads. Instead, that job falls to your account manager.

Team

Speaking of which, that’s another reason to use a copywriting agency – the team you’ll be bringing in. Each member of the team will have expertise in handling different aspects of more complex or longer term copywriting projects.

An agency will provide a fully managed service, handling everything from brief creation through copy drafting, editing and proofing, as well as managing the writers and even liaising with other professionals like designers or developers. That’s a lot less for you to sort out at your end.

Quality

We’re not suggesting that agencies produce better work than freelancers. But the reality is that there are plenty of bad copywriters out there. Choosing an agency should give you at least a minimum standard of quality.

A not-so-great freelancer might be able to get by on good luck, but a substandard copywriting agency won’t last long. It’s just too competitive out there and running a business – with employees to pay, office space to rent, insurance, accountancy fees and a million other expenses besides – means there’s no room for slackers.

Is RH&Co right for your business?

Everything we’ve written so far has been designed to give you a broad brush and unbiased view of the copywriting market. Of course, not every freelance copywriter or copywriting agency is the same. So what about us?

Cost

We don’t work on a day rate, instead quoting on a project basis that takes into account such things as the scope of the project, the complexity of the subject matter and so on. As an indication, most of our website clients spend between £1,500+VAT and £4,500+VAT with us, while blogging clients usually pay from £750+VAT per month.

Specialism

Our specialism as an agency is in working with expert-led businesses to help them clarify and communicate their message and establish their expertise through content.

This includes:

We haven’t developed one particular industry niche. Our writing team pulls together experience across a wide range of both B2B and B2C industries, from sports to SaaS, fashion to finance. We are particularly experienced in working with complex subject matter to draw out the elements that readers will find engaging.

Flexibility

As a relatively small copywriting agency, we like to think of ourselves as being pretty agile in the way we work with our clients. However we aren’t able to provide writers to work in-house on your premises.

We do work on both a project and a retainer basis, with retainer SLAs being set for a minimum of six months to ensure that we can provide the most value. In reality, most of our clients stay with us for much longer!

Team & Capacity

With both in-house copywriting resources and a team of handpicked freelancers on our books, we always have capacity to work with new clients. We also have processes in place to cover sickness and holiday absence.

We can usually book in an onboarding or briefing session within a week of you making the decision to work with us. First draft blog copy is usually delivered within 7-10 working days from briefing and website copy within 3 weeks.

Every project, whether one-off or ongoing, has – at the very least – a dedicated project manager, a writer and a separate editor to ensure that the quality of the copy we produce meets RH&Co standards. You can find out more about the in-house team on our About page here.

Conclusion

Hopefully by now you’re feeling a lot more confident about whether or not you should be aiming to work with a freelance copywriter or a copywriting agency – and whether we might be a good fit. Let’s sum up the main points.

You should choose a copywriting agency if:

Whether or not you should work with us is something you won’t fully be able to decide until you’ve had a chat with us. After all you want to know that whoever you choose, you’re actually going to get on with them, right?

If you want to get to know us a bit better, drop us a line to arrange a call. In the meantime, feel free to have a look around the site, and why not connect with us on LinkedIn?

Whatever business you’re in, a blog can be an incredibly useful tool for engaging with your target audience. It’s a chance to add real value for your customers and clients while showing off your expertise and driving traffic to your website.

But if you’re just starting out with your blog, it can be hard to know, well, how to start. There are just so many things to think about. Here are a few questions our clients ask us all the time and the answers we usually give them.

How long should my blog posts be?

We always hate it when people respond with, “How long’s a piece of string?” That’s no help at all. But the truth is that the length of your blog post will depend on several things, such as what type of content you’re sharing (e.g. are you tackling a complex issue or showing off images of your latest products) and who you’re targeting.

There are some general rules. For example, a post should be a minimum of 300 words to satisfy search engines that you’ve actually got enough valuable content in there to make it worth directing people. On the other end of the scale, there’s a lot of evidence that long form content – up to several thousand words – is really effective for lead generation.

The trouble with long form content is that it’s harder to write. Keeping someone engaged for that length of time takes skill and practice. As a result, we usually recommend aiming for 800-1,000 words unless you’re getting a professional involved.

Top tip: Use your site’s analytic tools and experiment with different post lengths to see which ones get the best engagement. Remember, you need to set goals for your blog so you know exactly what to track!

How often should I blog?

As often as you can! Numerous studies have found that the more a business blogs, the better the effect on their inbound traffic. Which makes sense. Except not everyone has the time or budget to put posts out on a daily basis. And that’s ok.

Posting less than once a month is pretty much pointless. The impact of such infrequent blogging will be so minimal that you’re likely to give up well before you see positive results. Fortnightly is better, weekly is great and if you can get a good, relevant post out twice a week, you’re onto a winner.

The key is to be realistic and make sure you have a plan in place. Spending a day or two writing lots of blog posts in advance is a really efficient way of doing things. You can also get people to write guest posts for you, to save time.

Top tip: If you know you won’t be able to blog consistently, why not create a ‘resources’ page of evergreen* content with no date attached to each article. That way you can add to it when you’re able to but it never feels out of date. (*This just means it’s always relevant rather than linked to a particular current event).

How often should I mention my keyword phrase?

First, a question: are you writing for Google or for your target audience? Here’s a hint: Google isn’t buying your products or services. Yes, of course you want your posts to rank well if you want to drive search engine traffic. But if you’re doing your content marketing right, that’s not the only way people will find your blog.

Hopefully you’ll be pushing links out on social media, and through an email newsletter. Plus you’ll have regular readers who enjoy your blog so much they come back again and again to see if there’s anything new out.

Stuffing a post full of keyword phrases will make it sound false, and if you lose your readers’ trust it’s very hard to get it back. This is one reason why longer posts are more successful – it’s easier to fit your keyword phrase in often without ruining the style and flow of the piece.

Google will also penalise you for “keyword stuffing” so make sure you’re striking the right balance and always keep your audience front of mind.

It’s worth noting that Google considers synonyms and synonym phrases when looking at how genuine and helpful a post is. So if you’re writing about nutrition, you can – and should – also be writing about healthy eating, diet, nourishment and so on.

Top tip: Google has produced a really handy download explaining the basics of SEO, including how to optimise your content and lots of other useful tips.

Do I need to use lots of images in my blog?

You don’t have to but they help. Images break up a page in the same way as formatting tools such as subheads, bullet points and pull quotes. They make the text more accessible and easy to read, which will reduce the amount of people who give up after a paragraph or two.

For some businesses this is easy. If you’re selling jewellery or luxury holidays or interior design services, there are plenty of options to choose from. But what about service based businesses, or those whose products are less visually appealing?

Well, take a look through this blog post. We’ve created ‘further reading’ panels using our brand colours, fonts and photography to make the page more interesting while also adding value for you, our reader. In other posts we’ve used screen shots to illustrate points we’re making about website copy, for example. Or you might find graphs and charts helpful.

Remember that images should always be high quality, and you’ll need to ensure you’re not breaking any copyright laws by stealing them from elsewhere on the internet. If you don’t have your own, you can buy stock images from sites like Shutterstock and iStock, or get them from the likes of Unsplash and Pexels.

Top tip: Make sure your images are contributing to your SEO efforts by adding keywords to the image file name, title, alt and description text – check that Google download for more information.


What other questions do you have about blogging? Email them to us and we’ll do our best to answer them in a future post.

PS In case you’re interested, this post runs to just over 1,000 words. How did it feel to you? About right? Too long? Too short? Let us know!