Have you ever wanted to spy on your prospective freelance writing clients?
There are some ways to sleuth out information that can really give you a leg-up in your marketing. The more you know, the easier it is to avoid scams and suss out better freelance writing gigs.
I love digging up useful info on prospective freelance clients.
So whenever I come across a new tool for this, I start compiling a list.
Below are the seven intelligence-gathering freelance writer tools I’m currently finding most useful:
1. Verify emails
Have you ever found an email for an editor or marketing manager online, and then wondered if it was still good? Well, wonder no more. You can use a free email verification site such as Verify Email to find out. (Other tools here include Email Hunter and Verify Email Address.)
One caveat here: If your target is using an email service other than their host’s (for example, using Gmail to pick up their Xfinity email), the email may show as ‘bad.’ I notice that nearly all of my many email addresses turn up as ‘bad,’ for instance, because I manage many of them via Gmail or pull them to my MacMail. So this isn’t foolproof.
Be sure to read through the results to see whether the email doesn’t exist, or if it’s another issue that may indicate it’s simply being picked up remotely.
If you get a ‘yes’ result, of course — you’re golden. And that editor need never know how you snooped around to get their real email and stayed out of their slush-pile, editor@ email black hole. They just know you’re gooood.
2. See if your email’s been opened
Once you make sure that editor’s email is working and send off your query, wouldn’t it be great to know if they ever opened your message?
That’s a snap now with Yesware, which has a free trial.
A couple other tools for this I’m hearing good things about are MailTrack and Hubspot’s SideKick, both of which also have a free level. (Editor’s Note: Sidekick has since been replaced with Hubspot Sales, which does also offer a free level.)
I’ve known writers who’ve seen their pitch email’s been opened multiple times, who then move in for the kill with a followup email — and gotten the gig.
The opposite is also true — if you see your email hasn’t been opened yet, that can be your cue to hold off.
3 Analyze competing sites
Ever wonder how your writer website stacks up against the competition? My new favorite spy tool for benchmarking your blog or website against the competition is SimilarWeb, which has a decent free trial level.
I have to say, I find their raw data for my sites fairly inaccurate, as I do the data on Alexa and other sites like this.
But assuming it’s equally inaccurate among you and your competitors, it’s still a useful benchmarking tool to see how you rate in relation to others in your niche.
The details on where competitors are getting traffic from, bounce rates, and top search terms may give you some ideas on how to make your own site better.
4. Improve your headlines
We all know we should spend more time on our headlines, because headlines are super-important. Uninteresting headline = no readers.
But…HOW, exactly, can we make them better? I’m loving the headline analyzer from CoSchedule for this.
The Advanced Marketing Institute also has a similar tool.From these tools, I’ve learned that I don’t use enough ’emotion’ trigger words in my headlines. So expect more headline drama in the months to come.
(I’m not going to work phrases like ‘act now’ into my headlines, though. I don’t care what the analyzers say. That’s not right.)
These are a great place to sit and tweak your headline, to see which version gets a better ranking. (Don’t get a complex when you do this — most of my headlines get a B+ from them at best, and I still do OK.)
Another always-useful resource for writing better headlines is Jon Morrow’s legendary Headline Hacks report — which has been newly updated! Always worth a re-read. (Yes, that one’s an affiliate link. All others in this post are not.)
5. Quick grammar check
Have you ever been busily writing on a tight deadline when a niggling thought comes into your head, that maybe what you’ve written has a grammar problem?
Should it be “hold onto him,” or “hold on to him”?
For this, there’s GoogleFight.
The correct answer is highly likely to have many more mentions in a Google search — so this tool quickly spits out your answer.
Of course, your desire to be efficient may be undermined as you start checking to see who wins such GoogleFights as Beyoncé vs Taylor Swift. Avert your eyes from their suggested fights to stay on track.
6. Read job-portal comments
Yes, Glassdoor and sites like it collect info mostly from full-time employees. But I’ve found it’s an increasingly useful source of intel about many of the online writing platforms.
For instance, when we were researching a recent post here on the blog, we discovered some negative reviews were up on Glassdoor about writing for Blasting News. Checking a bit more finds some positive reviews for WriterAccess (though saying “it’s better than other content mills” is damning with faint praise).
It’s worth taking a minute on here to see if there’s publicly available intel — good or bad — from previous writers about any major magazine, company, or online platform you’re thinking about writing for.
7. Tap your network
This is probably the most overlooked sleuthing tool in the entire freelance world. Tap the collective knowledge of other freelance writers to find out what the heck’s going on out there!
At this point, I’m on several FB writer groups, a Skype blogger mastermind, a local online-writer listserv, and of course always have an ear out in Freelance Writers Den. You want to be able to ask around.
Overall tip: Think of the info you initially get about a prospect — whether it’s from an ad or in an email to you — as the tip of the iceberg. Then, start digging for more.
What sneaky freelance writer tools do you use? Leave a comment and let us know what’s working.