How to Hire a Conversion Copywriter
by Joel K

This past week Tim Soulo (the incredibly smart CMO at Ahrefs) sent me an email about a potential project (huzzah!)

In it, he asked if I’d share a bit about how a typical fee structure looks and what rates look like. I wound up writing him quite the hefty email back all about hiring CRO copywriters and thought I’d paste it here to help others.

As you are about to discover, hiring a conversion copywriter is very different from hiring someone to write content like ebooks, blogs, and so on.

I’ve added some notes in italics that give you some more detail and context—don’t skip ’em! 

BEFORE WE GET TOO FAR…

  1. These numbers/processes are just my personal take on conversion copywriting, not hard and fast rules.
    I’m talking about the numbers I typically hear about from writers working in B2B/SaaS on things like website copy, landing pages, email series, audits, and so on, but these aren’t anywhere close to absolutes. YMMV.

    This particular email to Tim was about website copy.

  2. I know people will object to what I put down here. I’m completely OK with that.
    Hiring a conversion copywriter comes with a lot of variation. That’s how any industry goes. I’m not going to apologize for it or pretend it’s not the reality. Costs will range based on geography, experience, scope, industry, how busy that writer is, which way the wind is blowing…

    But I will say that if you think you can hire a great conversion copywriter for $100/page, you’re in for a world of hurt.

How to structure a conversion copywriting engagement:

Conversion copywriting projects are virtually always billed by the project unless you put someone on retainer. Even if you hire a conversion copywriter on a retainer, they’re still going to turn those hours into project-based deliverables to keep things clean and predictable.

(The reason for this is pretty simple: hourly pricing benefits literally nobody. The copywriter is incentivized to take as long as possible to maximize their payout; the client is incentivized to micromanage the writer’s time to keep costs down. The focus on TIME means there’s no emphasis on VALUE or expertise. Lose/lose.

Also: why would someone who is AMAZING at what they do (and thus takes a shorter time) charge less than a junior who takes twice as long? Talented conversion copywriters know that they stand to earn you a multiple of their fee back in ROI, so they’ll bill you a value-based price instead of per hour. Science!)

 

In terms of costs, it’s important you understand what a good conversion copywriter is going to want to do (and why) so that you understand how they’re going to want to charge.

It’s also important to remember that when these people get a win for you, they’re a force multiplier for conversions. 

(Unlike a blog writer, for example, the work a conversion copywriter does can be directly and easily tied to a change in sales, sign-ups, lead quality, etc.)

As always, what you get quoted will depend on who is doing the work, how experienced they are, how much they want your logo, and the scope of the project.

(Juniors can be very hungry to get a big established client in their portfolio or more nervous about what to charge. More established writers typically know their value and don’t have any reason to give you a break. If they’re good, odds are that they’re busy enough to say “no.”)


Generally, conversion copywriters will work in at least two, sometimes three phases depending on the scope of the engagement:

Phase 1: Analysis and Strategy

In this phase, the copywriter does the research and analysis necessary to write persuasive copy.
You cannot sell a product you don’t understand to an audience you don’t know.

And in the same way that YOU can’t lift the weights for someone else and have them get ripped, YOU can’t just tell a writer “oh, these are the things to worry about” — they need to get in the thick of this data internalize it for themselves. 

This is why a brief is generally not sufficient for a conversion copywriter to work off of, and why internally created personas won’t get you what you’re after.

(This is also why it’s important to bring in a conversion copywriter as early as possible in the process—not once the design and structure of everything have already been set in stone. A great conversion copywriter should be helping inform those things—not just jamming copy into a frame it wasn’t built for.)

 

Depending on the project and what is feasible/beneficial, this phase might include…

  • Demoing the product/service
  • Running and analyzing customer interviews
  • Running and analyzing customer surveys
  • Researching competitors 
  • Conducting internal interviews with your team (especially across departments)
  • Reviewing chat logs
  • Running and reviewing user tests
  • Reviewing testimonials/reviews
  • Analyzing recorded user sessions/heatmaps
  • Reviewing Google analytics, keyword data, etc.
  • Reviewing any existing CRO/split-testing data 

The goal of this phase is to understand your audience’s pain points, anxieties, objections, desired outcomes in their own words as well as their current behavior on your site and within your sales cycle.

This phase is where copywriters learn not only what to write, but how to write it and why. Don’t skip it.

(Aside: most companies THINK they know their audience inside and out. It’s virtually never true.

If you’re not regularly speaking with leads, collecting feedback from customers, collating intel across departments and analyzing it, you’re missing serious insights. Most companies are operating on more assumptions than they’re aware of—or comfortable admitting. The above battery of research has NEVER failed to surface new and meaningful insights for a client, and I’ve worked with hundreds.)

Outputs from this phase generally include video teardowns, written reports of findings (which can be quite long and comprehensive), and the raw data from surveys, etc. 

 

This should explain why your first engagement with a copywriter is often your most expensive one: this research will inform virtually ANY copy project you do with (or without) them moving forward.

The findings play into everything from content marketing strategy to email nurturing and beyond, so the value is MASSIVE and not one-time.

Most importantly: without doing any of this the copywriter would be guessing. You don’t want to pay someone to guess… do you?

 

Depending on who you work with, what data has already been collected, and the scope of what is necessary/beneficial to collect and analyze, this phase can range from $2,500 (for something quite basic and limited) to $10,000 or more. 

(Sometimes copywriters who are new to the game or tailor their services to small businesses will charge less than this. As a client, you should actually WANT and EXPECT to pay your writer sufficiently to spend time getting in the weeds and learning. Without doing this, they can’t be effective. The best writers are great researchers.)

Phase 2: Copywriting and (usually) Wireframing

The writer will take what has been learned during phase one, put together a strategy/hypothesis as to what will work better, and create the variant(s).
Most conversion copywriters (at least the best ones) do not deliver their work for landing pages or websites solely in word docs.

They send you a rough skeleton/wireframe of how the page will flow—whether made in Balsamiq, HTML, Webflow, Adobe, or something else.

This is NOT meant to replace a UX designer’s work, but to complement it and simplify the conversation. Conversion copywriters care about HOW the information is presented as well as what the copy actually says.

(It is not at all uncommon for them to collaborate back and forth with your designer to make sure the page comes out well and communicates the message as intended. In positive relationships, designers and copywriters make each others’ work stronger than either could be alone.)

Here, too, rates will range considerably.

 

You should budget in the vicinity of $1,500 to as much as $7,500+ per page (depending on who you hire, of course.)

If that seems high, fret not: that $7.5k+ range shouldn’t be considered the norm by any stretch. That’d be “top expert” territory on pages that stand to make you a significant return on that fee—like a sales page.

That said, pages that are highly political, quite long, carry a ton of the conversion load, etc. will usually come in higher than more straightforward pages.

 

(Yes, there are those who will sometimes charge less than the lowest fee listed above, and not everyone will come in near the top of the spectrum. That said, $2.5k – $5k+ for a high-priority page closely tied to conversions is neither unreasonable nor uncommon. If a small percentage increase in leads/referrals would translate into multiples of that in sustained ROI, it’s really not a steep investment. YMMV, don’t shoot the messenger, etc.)

 

Phase 3: Testing and Iteration

When the scope includes it, writers will continue to test and tweak the page alongside your team to arrive at the best performing variant.

(Side note: while this *should* be done in virtually every engagement, the reality is that not every client has the budget or traffic for frequent, ongoing testing at scale. It might look like periodic re-engagements/follow-ups, or (sadly) it might not happen at all.)

The writer will continually want to dig into the data, know what worked/didn’t, and collaborate with you to come up with data-driven hypotheses as to why so that they know what to focus on for the next test.

(Rates here will range substantially based on the scope and involvement, so I’m not really comfortable spitting out numbers. You shouldn’t consider a conversion copywriting project a “one-and-done-for-life” engagement, but you need to do what makes sense for your traffic volumes, budgets, and so on.)

Hope this was helpful—and if not, at least interesting!

Interested in working together?

Awesome!

I’ve had the privilege of working with brands like HubSpot, WP Engine, ReadMe.io, and more. I book out a few months in advance (and I won’t be your cheapest option) but if you’re keen to do things the right way, I’m always excited to hear what you’re working on.

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