The Internet has opened up a number of opportunities for the budding writer. Not only can you now reach a worldwide audience for a minimal cost, you can also earn money writing articles for other sites. There is a powerful driving force behind this need for unique content: Google. I would to first give a little background into why the demand for written content is so high at the moment.
Background - The Introduction of Google
On its introduction, Google revolutionised the search engine market thanks to its ground breaking ranking methods. Google figured that the sites that were linked to most by other sites were thereby probably the most relevant and highest quality; therefore, it displayed these over sites with little or no links to them. This worked fine for a while, as at this stage websites had mostly linked together in a natural way and it genuinely was a good measure of their popularity. Like all good things this was soon to end though.
When it became evident how popular Google was in reaching customers a new industry of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) developed around it. The aim of this industry was to provide services that would boost your rankings in Google (and possibly other search engines, but Google has generally been the one to aim for), and therefore drive more surfers to your website. Part of the optimisation process involves making certain your site is arranged in a way that is friendly for search engines. For instance, the search engine needs to be able to read your content, so the pages need to oriented to this and optimised to emphasise your chosen keywords. The main aspect of SEO though was the process of building backlinks (links from other sites) in order to boost a sites ranking. These backlinks could be built rapidly by submitting them to directories or link farms, and a site could be very rapidly propelled to the top of Google's search results. In many cases these sites did not contain quality content and were often merely shells that served as gateways to sell products for other web sites.
When Google saw what was happening, it took action to reinforce the integrity of its search engine results. It started to place a value on what websites actually contained. If a website was merely made up of content already available elsewhere (for instance public domain material) or content that was scraped from somewhere else in order to sell a product, then its search ranking results were drastically penalised, regardless of the number of backlinks it had. The quality of the links will also have an effect; specifically, the higher quality the linking site is, the more effect that link will have. This led to a surge in article sites, where you provide them with content and in return they allow you to publish a link with your article. The article sites however will not publish any old rubbish, it has to be unique, quality content.
This all basically means:
- Sites need an ample supply good quality, well written, and unique content. This provides visitors with a meaningful experience, which in turn promotes natural growth while at the same appeasing the search engines.
- To SEO a site effectively, the SEO expert may need to use article sites to build good quality backlinks. This means he needs fresh content which is relevant and ideally specially written for the website he is promoting.
All this content needs to be written, and this is where we come in.
Article Brokering Sites
When we speak about article brokering, we're speaking about trading in articles or in selling our service to write articles. For example, we could write an article about anything we like, and then try and sell it. Alternatively, someone might ask for articles on a particular theme, and we can provide our services to write those articles to order. Working in this way you will generally be paid for a fixed amount be expected to give up all rights to the work in return. It's very much a short-term game.
Textbroker (US only)
Textbroker is a US-based site specialising in connecting companies that require written content with authors that can provide it. They support writers with a range of abilities through a five-star rating system. The lowest quality they deal in is two-star content, which is described as 'legible' and has a standard rate of 0.7 cents per word. The three star and four star content is described as 'good' and 'excellent', which pays 1.0 and 1.4 cents per word respectively. The highest rating of five stars pays a much higher rate of 5.0 cents per word, but there are probably not many requests for this level of quality.
On making an application you will be asked to write a trial article; this will be assessed and used to give you an initial star rating. Your rating dictates the work you can complete; for example, a three star writer cannot submit an article for a four star request. Th rate of pay you receive is based on the request you fulfil, rather than your rating. For example, if a four star writer submits an an article for a two star request, the writer is paid the two star rate even if it is a much higher quality. There is also the option of employers directly commissioning writers to do work, for instance if they like the work of a particular writer. When working this way you can negotiate your own rate of pay.
Textbroker is currently only open to US residents and requires tax information to be submitted. As such I can't personally explore their system or relate any direct experiences. There are some mixed opinions on the net but none of it is too damming and generally positive; the biggest complaint seems to be the low rate of pay.
Words of Worth (UK)
Words of Worth is a UK-based site that is also open to writers from other English speaking countries. It is slightly different to the average site in that instead of dealing with individual articles, it matches writers with contracts to provide streams of work. The sort of work assigned may involve providing regular article and news updates for corporate blogs, but they also apparently deal with a large variety of writing assignments. Having a consistent stream of work is a big bonus but it does come with a downside: you also have an obligation to live up to your side of the contract and continue to provide the required amount of completed work. If at some point you wish to quit you are obliged to give them 30 days notice. It is hard to find independent reports but the few I've found all seem to regard it as a positive organisation to work for but stress the fact that it is very important that you are able to keep up with the work.
The application procedure is pretty simple. The first step is to fill out a basic application online with your basic information and a brief description of yourself and your areas of expertise. Within a week you will receive a trial assignment asking you to write an article for a particular site. This may involve sourcing a recent piece of relevant news and rewriting it for the target site. You will then hear back in a few days as to whether they are going to include you or not. I have just been through the application and it seemed very clear and straightforward at every stage, but unfortunately once accepted there is currently a five or six month queue of writers waiting for contracts. There is however always a chance of something coming up that specifically matches your profile.
Constant content is a site that specialises as the middleman between authors and SEO operators requiring content. There's two options of obtaining work. Firstly, you can choose to write about whatever you like and upload it into their system for sale. You can set your own price (or allow offers on it) and can choose from 3 different sale options:
- Usage: Basically just allows the buyer to reprint the article as is on their own site. You can sell usage rights an unlimited number of times.
- Unique: Similar to usage but the buyer is the only one allowed to reprint the article. The article is then removed from the site.
- Full Rights: The buyer gains all rights relating to the article. He can publish, modify and even resell the article in any way he wishes.
The second way to get work is to answer requests for specific articles. If you don't mind writing about someone else's choice of subject this will get a return on your work faster, as there's no guarantee how long your articles could be waiting for a buyer. The going rate seems to be around $20 for full rights to a 500 word article. Constant content uses PayPal and direct bank transfers for amounts over $500 (though you can always use PayPal if preferred). Payments are processed every month in the first week of the month.
Revenue Sharing Sites
If you don't need cash immediately, or you want to also spend some time investing in long-term projects, you might want to also try the revenue sharing sites. These provide you with an easy platform on which to publish your content. They will use advertising on the site, placed around your content, and distribute a portion of the income from this to the authors. This obviously means you will only get paid if people read your content, but it has the advantage that there's no cut off to this income.
The obvious alternative to this is to self-publish on your own website or blog and sign up for accounts to advertise with google AdSense or Amazon affiliates for example. However:
- Hosting costs money and takes time. While hosting is relatively cheap these days and content management systems, such as Joomla! and WordPress, are relatively easy to install, it may still be more time and money than you're willing to spend, especially if it's just a hobby or sideline.
- Publishing sites are already established. A good publishing site will already have a lot of trusted sites linking to content on their system. This is a huge advantage from an SEO perspective and will help your work to feature more prominently in search engines.
Even if you're adamant on self-publishing there is still good reasons to make use of these sites. Often there is no requirement that it is unique to them; you must simply have the rights required to post it. This means you can re-publish the same material both on their site and your own. You can also use them to drive additional traffic to your own site; this is perfectly legitimate on a lot of sites, so long as you are contributing worthy content to them – spamming meaningless content to promote your own site, however, will most likely result in it being deleted and your content deleted.
Associated Content (US only)
Associated content was founded in 2005 and as since been acquired by Yahoo. Touted as the people's media company, it combines a number of different models for article publishing:
- Performance Payment: Author's publish their content and receive a payment based the number of readers accessing their content. Currently, this is set at a baseline of $1.50 per 1000 impressions and rises as the writer's 'clout' increases.
- Requested Articles: They advertise required articles on particular subjects, which authors can "claim" (I believe this reserves your submission slot and avoids someone beating you to it). Once the article is submitted, it is checked and if it's good enough quality, the author is credited.
- Upfront Payment: In addition to performance payment you can also be offered an upfront payment of between $2 and $15 for certain highly sought-after content. This would be in addition to your performance payment and is an interesting compromise solution between long- and short-term gains.
Unfortunately the site only offers payments to U.S. citizens and residents, citing the often used tax arguments, so I won't be exploring it too much. It does however give off some good vibes. You can choose to publish exclusively (more chance of upfront payment) or non-exclusively (can republish the same content on other sites). Comments on the net seem generally positive, and it does seem to have potential if you have a knack of creating the content people want to read. It should only be thought of as a long-term option though, you will probably need to provide a decent amount of good quality content before you start seeing your impressions build up.There's also a referral program, but no one seems to know what it does.
Suite101.com follows a revenue sharing model similar that of Associated Content (AC). There are however some crucial differences. Firstly, suite101.com are only interested in content that is going to be exclusive to them for a full year. Secondly, unlike AC, no upfront payments are offered for any articles.
No specific payment is outlined. You will receive a percentage of advertising revenue originating from your articles, but suite101 do not release what this percentage is. The general feeling one gets is that conditions are very weighted towards them when you compare it to those at AC. For example, instead of publishing an article at suite101, you could publish it non-exclusively at AC. As it's non-exclusive, you could publish the same article on your own website/blog and also get benefit from it there. You could also publish it on other revenue sharing sites that do not require exclusivity.
Hub pages works slightly different to the above sites. Instead of paying you per impression, the site alternates advertising between its own and your advertising. This means that you will need to sign up for your own Google AdSense and Amazon affiliate accounts. You will be paid any revenue directly by Google/Amazon, which avoids the common tax related problems a lot of these sites have. Setting up content, or "hubs", is a real breeze; it's simply a case of adding a number of different modules to your page (such as blocks of text, images, polls, etc) and fill in the content yourself. Content is not required to be exclusive to their site, but you may prefer to work this way rather than compete with yourself over several sites.
Overall hub pages looks very slick, and the fact that it displays your own advertising gives you a bit more piece of mind when it comes to payments. It gets a thumbs-up from me.
Other Ways of Working
Well the specialist sites do offer some nice features, there's maybe a few other options worth considering.
People will often advertise their requirements for article sites on the big freelancing sites (see my round up of these). These will basically function as the specialised writing sites do and act as intermediary between the employer and the writer.
Forums such as Digital Point provide a way for people requiring content to contact writers offering writing services. The advantage of this is that both parties can save money by cutting out the middleman. The disadvantage, of course, is that you have to rely on trust and reputation in your dealings, as there is no recourse in the case of a dispute.