Writing for the Web

June 30, 2009

Over the weekend, I talked to a friend who was stressed out about some web content she was writing. Since most of the writing I do for a “real audience” these days is web writing, I thought I might pass on some of what I’ve learned to her–and to you.

  1. Think short. This is probably the most important thing to remember when writing web copy. Most people don’t have the time or the inclination to scroll down a LONG document or to page through many screens to read. They’re reading quickly before they go to work, or between projects at their desks, or on a cell phone screen in the airport. If you can’t keep what you’ve written below 600 words–and even if you can–consider breaking your piece up into subheads, with each section reading about 150 words apiece.
  2. Web users don’t read; they scan. Understanding how readers use the web is crucial to web writing. Most folks online have found your writing by entering keywords into a search engine; they’re looking for that one bit of information that applies to them. If it’s buried in a treatise, they’re likely to get frustrated and go someplace else.
  3. Search is key. I’m not yet the expert on SEO (search engine optimization) that I’d like to be, but I do know that a lot rides on whether your writing contains words or phrases people are searching. As such, you can throw out that old “print” rule of varying things up by using synonyms, unique phrasing, and SAT-words. Instead, use the words people are likely to be searching–and sneak them in more than once.
  4. Be conversational and clear. Folks aren’t looking for the latest literary masterpiece when they’re reading online. They’re looking for interesting, quick information. They’re also coming from diverse educational and occupational backgrounds. That old rule about writing to a “sixth-grade reading level,” definitely applies to the web.
  5. Be direct. In other words, avoid passive sentence construction. Passive sentences generally add length to your work, and they make the writing lethargic. The New Moon editors’ manual said passive sentences were like, “sentences that lay around in their pajamas and refuse to do any actual work.” You can think of your readers in the same way; while you don’t want lazy sentences, accept that you’ll have lazy readers. Make your writing do all the work so they don’t have to.
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Pros and Cons of Writing for Content Sites

June 18, 2009

Pros

  • With all the content writing sites available, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that jives with the type of writing YOU want to do.
  • The Internet now presents more opportunities to make money off your writing than ever before.
  • Your work is viewed by a real audience.
  • You determine the size of your workload and when and where you will complete it.
  • You build a diverse portfolio.
  • The work is steady.
  • There’s large potential to earn residual or “passive” income — your articles can continue to bring in money as long as they’re on the ‘net, without you having to put any additional work into them.

Cons

  • The pay is often low, sometimes ridiculously so.
  • It’s difficult to rely on content writing as your only income, as you’ll have to write a LOT of content before it can start paying off in big ways.
  • The lower pay on the “write what you want” websites makes it hard to devote time to writing about your interests; instead, I tend to commit most of my time to websites that promise an upfront payment, even if the topics interest me less.
  • The return on your time investment varies, depending upon how efficient a writer you are. The slower you write, the less payback you’ll receive for your time.
  • Writing for content sites does not necessarily increase your credibility as a writer or expert. Like self-publishing, people in the industry know that not all content sites have quality control; as such, they may not perceive you as an expert when they read your article on Associated Content the way they would if they saw it on the Mayo Clinic website, no matter how much you know.

I’d like to experiment with more content sites and build up a healthy pool of articles that could earn residual income. But for now, monetary concerns restrict the amount of time I’m willing to devote to experimentation. But I definitely encourage writers to try it; getting paid for your writing is good, even if that pay isn’t quite the figure you fantasize about.


Content Writing Sites: What are They?

June 17, 2009

A friend of mine (who, incidentally, has a great blog here) recently asked about content writing sites. I realized that I mention them often in passing but haven’t actually defined them in this blog. Basically, content writing sites are sites that are hungry for content–usually text, but sometimes video or other formats as well. They’re usually quite easy to write for, some of them not even requiring an application process. As they view it, the more content they have, the better. With a lot of content, their chances of showing up in search engines are better; more visibility in search engines means more click-through, which means more people will see the ads on the site/purchase the products on the site, which means the site makes more money. Most of these sites offer some sort of payment to writers as incentive, although it’s quite minimal in some cases. Also, there are varying levels of quality control on these sites, with some of them focused on any content, period, while others find it important to maintain credibility. At any rate, content-writing sites make it easier than ever for folks to earn a little money freelancing on the side. Below are some of the content writing sites I’ve explored.

  • Associated Content – Associated content lets you write about anything. You can choose upfront payments for content you’re essentially “selling” to them, or click-through based earnings on content you’ve published elsewhere. I’ve tried uploading several pieces from my blogs for click-through based earnings; unfortunately, Associated Content basically accuses me of plagiarizing every time because they do searches and find my content on my blogs, claiming it already exists on the Internet and is not associated with my name. And if content from this blog isn’t associated with my name, I don’t know what is. I’ve basically decided AC is more work than they’re worth.
  • Textbroker – Textbroker is a content-writing site that acts as the middle-man between writers and other sites desiring content. You can choose what to write from a list of available topics. The pay is ridiculously low — about $2 per article when you start out, with the potential to earn more. I’ve never bothered to put in the time with those kinds of rates.
  • Ehow – Ehow accepts content from anyone, and your earnings are based on how many people view your article. There are no upfront payments. Most of my articles from Demand Studios end up here, but the payment from Demand is better than going directly through Ehow because Demand knows what people are most likely to be searching.
  • Suite101 – I’ve never written for Suite101, and most of what I know of them comes from Freelance Home Writer’s blog. In a nutshell, they pay per click, no upfront payments, similar to Associated Content — but with a better reputation for high-quality content. They require an application process and have editors work with their content writers.
  • Demand Studios – Like Textbroker, Demand Studios fields content requests from other websites. You can choose from a massive, ever-changing list of topics, with payment usually ranging from $5 to $15 per article. You can also write revenue-share articles for Demand Studios, for which there is no upfront payment but the potential to earn on an article indefinitely over time. (A recent Demand Studios email claimed that the same article that would have earned you $15 upfront will earn you about $80 in revenue share over 5 years. But who can wait that long? That’s why I do a little of both.) Demand Studios requires an application process and has recently become more strict about their content, requiring references for each article and employing fact-checkers. This makes writing for them take a bit longer, but I respect their measures to weed out sloppy content. Because of the upfront payments and variety of topics, Demand Studios is the only site I write for on a regular basis.
  • Helium – I’ve only discovered Helium recently, so I haven’t written for them yet, but there are a few things I really like about them. One is that they have different “channels” (topics) you can write for. They pay per click for most articles, although upfront payment seems like an option for their higher-performing writers. The best part about Helium is their marketplace section, where you can submit articles to various providers seeking content for the potential to earn substantially more than you’ll find on other content-writing sites. The competition also seems to be less stiff than at sites like Elance.

There are tons of other content writing sites out there, but these are the ones I have personal experience with. My friend Jenny also has a great post that covers content writing. Doing a search on “write for us” will usually pull up hundreds of sites that want your content.


Lacey, expert on . . . everything

April 8, 2009

A bunch of my articles just went up on Ehow. Is there anything I can help you with?

My pride and joy is an article about how to cage a cat, because I learned all those lessons the hard way, but that one isn’t up yet.