BTown Web built ContentRunner.com a writing marketplace for connecting users and writers for the creation of unique written content. The project started in January of 2013 and continues to this day – it was a huge undertaking! We originally founded Words For Less in December of 2011 and immediately started working with writers to deliver blog posts, guest posts, onsite content and many other writing related projects.

By January of 2012, we were managing content for more than 20 agencies and managing writers was difficult. There’s only so much you can do with spreadsheets, emails and Paypal and we knew we needed a better system. We had many discussions and laid out the plans to build Content Runner.

I have already done a detailed write up on why we built Content Runner, but now I’d like to explain how we built Content Runner.

Phase 1 – Preliminary Design

The initial thought that we had for Content Runner was: Craiglist for Content. With that in mind we knew we wanted a relatively open platform where users and writers could interact and have a conversation. The home page design included our logo (which turned out great! Thanks Neda!) and a description of the key features plus a way for writers to quickly view the open projects.

Phase 2 – Architecture

The underlying framework or architecture decisions were primarily made by Matt Peters. Matt originally built the Words For Less internal management system and reporting dashboard so he had some great experience to draw on as he considered how to build out Content Runner.

Matt knew he wanted to start with a PHP framework for Content Runner and he immediately set out to do some research. After looking at all the available options he chose Laravel and that has been a rock solid base for the entire Content Runner platform. The symphony components have been a great foundation as we added on the different modules of Content Runner. The email messaging system we built was also much easier because of Laravel.

Phase 3 – Payment Processing

With Words for Less we got to know Paypal API’s very well (too well) and the more we learned the more we realized we didn’t want to use Paypal to power Content Runner. Paypal is handy if you want to use some of their simple buttons, but to really integrate payment processing on a platform, Paypal isn’t a good option. We evaluated Stripe and other payment options and eventually chose Balanced Payments.

Balanced Payments is specifically intended for 2 sided marketplaces and we loved their API! They had great help files, documentation and the payment charges were extremely reasonable. In fact when we pay writers via Content Runner, we make an ACH deposit directly into their bank account and the writer gets 100% of the money. Contrast that with Paypal and the writer would lose ~3.5% of the money they earned in fees. Balanced has no monthly fees, no setup fees and charges 2.9% + $.30 transaction fee – very reasonable charges compared to other payment processors.

Phase 4 – Order Form

I would conservatively estimate that we have spent close to 300 hours total building, reworking, redesigning and adding features to our order form. We keep simplifying the steps and adding (and trying to takeaway, we promise!) information to improve the customer experience.

From the start we wanted to have an order form that stood out compared to the competition (Text Broker, Zerys, Writer Access, etc), so we decided to build the order form as pop over window. To accomplish this we needed to use a lot of javascript and jquery which complicated things greatly, but gave use the effect we wanted.

The order form also allows users to post projects via CSV upload. This is critical as many orders contain 20-50 articles and it would be painstaking to enter the information field by field 50 times. The order form continues to evolve and we are happy how it turned out – take a look yourself!

Phase 5 – Project Dashboard

Users needed a way to review and organize their orders and their articles. We created a “Projects” tab so users can see all of their articles with the following attributes:

  • Title of the Article along with Article ID
  • Price, Writer and Deadline
  • Paid Status
  • Copyscape score as a % (Copyscape API integration was relatively easy and an absolute must for a content marketplace)
  • Status: Open, Writing In Process, Submitted for Review, Returned for Revision or Complete

In addition we created a feature where users can edit articles that have not yet been picked up. This was very popular as it allows you to increase the price (if an article is sitting for a long time) and change the article assignee.

There are filters that allow you to sort by article type, writer, status and hide completed articles as well as show all articles in a list (instead of grouped by order).

Phase 6 – Email Communications

Internal communication from Content Runner to writers, from Content Runner to users and then between users and writers was extremely critical. Our #1 form of communication was via email and we had to think through all the different ways we would do this:

  • New User signup emails
  • New Writer signup emails
  • Writer and User email messaging platform within the CR dashboard

We created a new user email drip that consisted of 7 different emails:

  • Welcome Email
  • Manage Your Writer Relationships
  • Navigate Part 1 of the Order Form
  • Navigate Part 2 of the Order Form
  • How to Create Awesome Content
  • How to Come up with Ideas
  • Our WordPress Plugin

We also created a writer email drip with 6 unique emails:

  • Welcome Email
  • Picking up Articles and Getting Paid
  • Order Types
  • Article Status and Take Limits
  • Completing Your Profile
  • What Happens When You’re Late with a Project

For the internal email system, we took the Gmail approach and tried to create something very simple and functional that our customers can use easily to communicate with their writers. We show threaded emails, give you the ability to delete and you can also view your sent emails to remember what you wrote.

Phase 7 – Alerts and Notifications

It’s important to notify users and writers when certain events occur. Here are some of the events that trigger alerts for users:

  • Place an Order
  • A Writer Drops Your Article
  • Article is Past Due
  • Article 24 Hour Auto Accept Warning
  • Article has been Auto Accepted
  • Writer Rejects a Direct Order

Here are some of the events that trigger alerts for writers:

  • New Order has been Placed
  • 24 Hour Deadline that Your Article is Due
  • User Returns the Article for Revision
  • Article is Past Due
  • User has Rejected the Article

Phase 8 – Idea Engine

Getting users to sign up for Content Runner has been relatively easy (the extensive marketing we’re doing also helps), but once a user has signed up we then need to get them engaged with our marketplace. One of the major impediments to jumping right in and placing an order has always been, I can’t figure out what to write about. To fix this problem we created an Idea Engine that will give you popular Google keyword phrases along with their search volume and average CPC. In addition, we give you real time tweets that include your keyword so you can see what people are talking about.

Phase 9 – Writer Directory

To differentiate Content Runner from the other writing marketplaces we knew we wanted to embrace complete transparency. The easiest way for us to do that was to create a public writer directory so our writers could show off writing samples, biographies and social profiles. In addition they could be reviewed by other users and most importantly they could be contacted by users directly about potential projects.