The Case Against Offshore Writers
Jerry Maguire is a film about a sports agent, played by Tom Cruise, who writes a document he thinks will revolutionize his industry. It’s a 25-page mission statement entitled, The Things We Think and Do Not Say.
In it, he speaks the truth about the sports agent industry. No one wants to hear that truth, of course, so the movie is about the career challenges he faces because of his convictions.
This post addresses some issues in the content writing industry. The premise is that content buyers usually buy offshore content because it is cheap, not because it’s effective. There are exceptions to this, of course, and many will claim they are exceptional, but that is seldom the case.
Xenophobia is Not the Issue
This is not a wholesale indictment against offshore writers, of course. If you are selling your product or service in India, Pakistan, the Philippines or another country, then you need to use a writer from that country. However, if your market is in North America or Europe, then you want to use a writer from there.
The reason you don’t want to use offshore writers for website content has nothing to do with xenophobia. It is all about language and sales psychology.
You see, you have to live in a culture for an extended time to understand the nuance of the language and to know what motivates people in the culture to buy products and services. You can’t learn that in school, you need to be immersed in the culture, and no one does that better than a native.
The language you write in should be your first language, whatever it may be. That language is the repository of your primary understanding of yourself, others and the world.
The idea that you need American writers for an American audience (for example) is not whimsy. It is based on academic research in the field known as cross-cultural communication.
According to an international study,
“The knowledge of target language’s culture is as important as its grammar or vocabulary. Perhaps more to the point, a lack of cross-cultural awareness can be a severe hindrance in the understanding of a message which is linguistically accurate or comprehensible.”
This means that knowing how to write a sentence in English is not enough. Knowing the culture is as important as knowing how to write a sentence. Offshore writers lack that essential knowledge.
Those who have seen old World War II movies are familiar with this dynamic. There’s that stereotypical scene when a Jeep full of unsmiling blond soldiers arrive at the checkpoint. Only the driver speaks. Their uniforms look okay, but the old sergeant is a bit suspicious and thinks they may be Nazi infiltrators.
He says, “Who won the 1939 World Series?”
They can’t answer. The men in the Jeep are taken prisoner.
Most Americans at that time automatically knew it the New York Yankees beat the Cincinnati Reds in 1939, but foreigners were not likely to know that. Nuance is everything when it comes to communicating ideas.
Think about it. If I, as an American, studied Hindi (the dominant language of India) in university and saw many Bollywood movies, would I be qualified to write content to persuade Indian people to hit the buy button on your Indian site? Of course not. And offshore writers cannot effectively reach minds outside their culture either.
Two Elephants in the Room
Many online marketers will tell you that outsourcing your writing to foreign lands is a good thing to do. Most seem to have some “special” overseas person they rely on. There are two problems with this.
The first is that most marketers don’t know good writing when they see it. That’s why Google had to institute the Panda/Penguin/Hummingbird algorithm changes. There were probably millions of pages that ranked high in search results because of the keywords they contained, but the actual content was so poorly written that it offered no value to readers. Google banished those pages.
The second reason many online marketers suggest that newbies use offshore content providers is that the content is cheap. They never seem to praise such content because it is effective, but capitalize on the fact that overseas workers are willing to work for a subsistence wage.
Some people rationalize the exploitation of these workers, but how would you feel if you knew someone was exploiting you?
A contributor to a web marketing forum put outsourcing to overseas writers in perspective. He said, “The old adage ‘You get what you pay for’ comes into play here. Not saying that the articles are the worst in the world, but they aren’t going to be the quality of a high-end article either. Hey, for $3.75 for a 500-word [custom] article, what would you expect?”
The sad thing is that too many online marketers expect content to be cheap, in their minds, and effectiveness has nothing to do with it.
Worse, these same people think they can pay the same pennies-per-word to North American or European writers as they pay third world writers. However, the per capita income was $1,670 in India and $31,370 in the US converted to dollars (2016), so online marketers tend to exploit both groups. They would get better results if they paid writers honorably for the culture in which the content is primarily consumed.
What Do You Want to Achieve?
If you are intent on making a winning presentation to a North American audience, the articles and books from overseas vendors will complicate your life.
The simple reality is that content buyers need content that speaks to the culture of the person reading it. That means using idiomatic English in North America, for example, and the cultural sales psychology that is part of that.
There is a power beyond the words themselves. Content writers must harness that power to be successful. They can only do that effectively within the confines of their own culture. Content buyers should buy content from people in their target culture and pay them an honest fee for their work.