26 April 2011

So You Want to Be An Internet Writer?

Internet writing tips, the Google Panda Update and the content websites that rule the internet.

Do you really want to be an internet writer? I mean internet writing as a job? A way to make a living?
It seems as if everyone wants to do this. Simply log on, write a few articles, maybe a blog, stick on some Google adverts, sit back and let the money roll in. Be your own boss, work in your pyjamas, travel the world and write from every port. If you’re connected to the net and can write you have at your fingertips a way to make millions .

Such bullshit.

Yes it is possible to make a living by writing content on the internet. Freelance articles, blogs, SEO content and even reviews and surveys for businesses. But don’t expect to log on and pick up gold from the street; all you will get is a hernia and a headache. The competition out there is immense. From the university graduates in India willing to write 500 words for $1 to the writers working for content companies such as Demand Media Studios and Wisegeek writing ‘how to’ articles for $3 to $15; everyone is trying to get in on the game. If you can string a few sentences together into a readable ‘how to’ article then you probably can make some money, but we are not talking millions here, unless you actually are one of the major content producing companies.

I’ve been writing articles for five years and the well paying jobs are becoming scarce. Why would a company pay $50 or $100 per article when there are university graduates around the world willing to write content for a few dollars; a dollar stretches pretty far in some countries. But of course it’s not just the ability to write coherently on any given topic, you have to make it interesting. Most internet companies will also require SEO skills. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a skill and you can tell the experienced SEO writers from the newbies. In fact, strike that, you shouldn't be able to tell if an experienced writer has used SEO throughout their articles.

SEO involves keywords placed throughout an article that will be picked up by search engines such as Google and will help the article rank higher when people are searching for a particular topic. For instance, in this article ‘SEO’ has been used six times so far; you see what I’m getting at? It’s all to do with meta tags, advertising and linking articles, and the rules change constantly. It’s highly, sort of boring stuff but not to everyone. A good SEO writer can practically do it without thinking and can make a significant difference to a website owner who wants to draw traffic to their site.

Okay, you are reading this on my blog. I don’t use SEO on my blog or advertising. This is why my blog hits for the past five years are laughably low but the point is I don’t care about directing traffic to my blog although I’m beginning to reconsider. I’ve only just started writing on here again and mainly use it as a back-up for writing that has been published elsewhere. But sometimes people will find an article on here because there have been enough keywords unintentionally placed throughout an article for it to be found by people searching for a particular topic.

If you really want to become a more employable internet content writer then read up on SEO, keywords, density, advertising etc and become skilled at it, there is plenty of information out there on the net. This is a marketable skill sought by website owners who are looking for content writers. When I say 'marketable skill' I use that term loosely because website owners and editors can still pick, choose and pay low money if they so desire; there are still plenty of people willing to thousands of words for very little cash, and of course it’s supply and demand and the economic climate.

Internet content companies such as Demand Media Studios and Wisegeek are popular on the net and extremely successful and employ a huge number of internet writers. They produce hundreds of thousands of keyword rich articles every year, and pay pretty basic money to the writers; Wisegeek pays $10 for 400 words, Demand Media Studios pays between $3 and $15 and is worth an estimated $1.5 billion.

A lot of people do use companies such as Demand Media Studios as a way to make a full or part time wage and are quite happy to put in the hours to do so. Other writers call these companies scam artists in so much as they are making millions from the writer’s work and paying very little back. This article by Sophia Walker is her view on Demand Media Studios 'Demand Media Studios is a Fucking Scam!' I love the language used by Sophia here, it has offended a great many people on her blog but much to my joy she doesn’t care if others find her language offensive and she calls it as she sees it. There are few too many people willing to take a stand, writers especially, who are scared of hurting the chances of their next writing job. This is of course understandable if the company you are ranting against is worth as much on the public market as the New York Times, which Demand Media is, and operates many of the popular internet content websites such as Ehow, which Demand Media does.

There were more than a few comments on Sophia’s blog from others who disagreed with her. One that stood out was this, “who would hire someone who trashes their potential employer… your attitude needs a major adjustment.” Now maybe that comment is true enough but really, should we all just shut up and say nothing, where then does that end? Sophia was expressing her opinion on her blog. If she wants to trash a potential employer so be it. I’ve trashed a former employer on my blog and it didn’t stop me from obtaining better jobs, in actual fact much better paid jobs than provided by my former employer who I simply told the truth about (although that wasn't to do with writing employment).

Should we all just shut up in fear of the employer who wants a low paid employee to simply clam up and do whatever the employer deems necessary for them to live their golden money-drenched lives? Whether justified or not, in a world full of internet trolls who hide behind the safety blanket of anonymity, Sophia said what she wanted without fear of the consequences, and maybe if more people acted like that there would be less people working for a buck an hour. Her language may have offended and been jumped on by some people but that wasn’t the actual point of her article.

So, some people claim companies such as Demand Media Studios are a con, while others will write for them and bring in some extra cash. I have previously written about a content company called Wisegeek that I worked for. I won’t go into the details as they are documented in an article I wrote about five years ago 'Compost Bins, Contraceptives and Cuban Cigars' telling the tale of how I was ‘let go’ after writing almost 500 articles for 10 bucks an article. That was my first writing job and you live and hopefully learn from these things although it can at the time come as a slight shock to the newbie internet writer, and businesses employing freelancers can pretty much do what they want. But it was a learning experience and gave me some internet writing experience. No job route is plain sailing and internet writing is no different.

Now the Google Panda update brings as new challenge for internet website owners and has had a major effect on the amount of traffic directed to websites. From the research I’ve read Google Panda is designed to get rid of crappy content poured out by content farms; websites that rely heavily on plagiarized or cut and paste content. According to reports there are many websites that have seen their traffic drop by around 50%+, even websites that do not use plagiarized content. Google of course rules the roost when it comes to search engines and pretty much has the final say because they are the most popular search engine.

In my opinion something should be done about the fact that Google has this sort of power, especially if non plagiarized websites are being hit. But then again this may make a difference to content factories spewing out rubbish that internet users have to wade through in order to find some useful and well researched information. I’m not talking about Demand Media Studios because I haven’t knowingly read any of their output. (Although it must be true that I’ve read at least some of the hundreds of thousands of articles produced by the company.) But for now I’m talking more about those sites that are little more than pages of gibberish or simply lists of links to businesses. But it is interesting to note that Demand Media Studios has suffered a 40% drop in traffic since the Google Panda update, although the company itself has denied any such drop.

With the Google Panda update it should become harder for employers to put out content that is basically a cut and paste job. The novice internet writer could do themselves a favor by researching and training in the world of internet publishing to give themselves a head start. There are university courses on creative writing that now feature internet writing and publishing as part of the syllabus. Of course you can simply learn as you go, get experience, use low paying writing jobs as ways to obtain published internet samples. Just like any other job it takes time to build up the experience.

But be wary of the hype. Don’t believe the con merchants and scammers out there who say they can show you, for a price, the easy way to make hundreds of thousands from internet writing. The hint is in the words "for a price." Don’t believe the many scammers on sites such as Craigslist who ask new writers to write several new articles (unpaid) simply in order to judge your writing style before they will consider giving you a job. If you want to be an internet writer, go ahead. It can be a way to make some money and set your own hours. If your writing is good enough and you become popular with readers you may actually be one of the few who rakes in some good money.

I wrote this just to blow off some steam because I felt like writing today. Am I an internet writing expert, no, this is just my own experience, leave a comment and tell me yours. Will I make any money off it, nope. Will anyone find it interesting or worth reading, I don’t know. But it was enjoyable to do, and that’s an underestimated part of any job or creative endeavor and can sometimes, occasionally, be worth way more than money.


Sophia Walker said...

Thanks for mentioning my article on Demand Media Studios.

They suck!!!

Garryc said...

Loved the article Sophia, keep up the attitude. A revised version of this article will be available Broowaha later on....