Freelance Writing Online in 2016 and Beyond

fingers in proper typing positionThe first time I broke into writing online it was the beginning of 2005, and let’s just say the Internet was a very different and new place then as opposed to now. Back then the idea of being able to jump online and find work that could then be done from home was such a strange and novel concept. While remote location work seems anything but abnormal now, at the time this was a weird new thing – and it gained a lot of buzz from people I knew who were newspaper reporters, “real freelancers,” or from fellow graduate students and professors in my MFA program who looked down on any publication that accepted online applications. How times have changed, eh?

Freelance writing online in 2005 was a completely different world than even 2008, and that was far different from 2012 and 2012 is different than today. Or to paraphrase Bob Dylan, “The times they are always a’ changing.”

How Google Updates Have Affected The Freelance World

While not a lot of writers have tied it together, the changes to Google’s algorithms and how they decide to rank websites in their search engine results has everything to do with how demand for writers online has changed, how the markets have changed, and which writers are adjusting versus those that are not. While there used to be a huge demand for content of all type, and some content mills like Demand Studios even paid $15 a pop for articles that could be churned out every 20-30 minutes by even moderately decent Internet writers, the ease of those days are gone.

From a general time period from 2005 through 2010 (roughly – this is a bit of an oversimplification) bloggers, affiliates, and website owners needed lots and lots of content and it was relatively easy with even a basic SEO knowledge to make some good money online as an affiliate, an AdSense partner, or pulling in visitors who needed a service of some type. Because of this huge demand from seemingly every type of website, it was not hard at all to find work.

Guru.com, Elance.com, Demand Studios, and dozens of web 2.0 sites and content mills were all hungry for writers and full of employers looking to hire. Some of those websites remain, others don’t, but the level of demand for writers back then was pretty remarkable. As everyone and their cousin was looking to get online, be an affiliate, or start a blog, the demand for all types of content was pretty amazing.

Business handshake

Content manager: sounds fancy and respectable, doesn’t it?

They’re called content managers now

If you’re looking for a full time job (either on-site or remote location), you might want to know that for a lot of people “freelance writer” or “online writer” has apparently lost some of its luster. Now companies don’t want to hire writers for their website, they want content managers, content strategists, or on-page SEO specialists who all…basically write good content for them consistently and sometimes do a little bit more – but mainly write or manage writers.

Strange how things “change” sometimes when marketing becomes involved but if your long-term goal is a company position recognize that being a “content manager” will get you more open doors than being a “freelance writer.” This might seem like semantics, but you need to be able to find a job opening and get your foot in the door before you can impress anyone to land a full time job.

There is good news here. While finding churn and burn content jobs is harder than it was years ago, and finding decent pay through that method is much harder than it used to be, but there is still a high demand for very good writers.

Companies need talented writers (even if they call them content managers). SEO agencies need excellent writers to produce content. There are many different non-profits, businesses, blogs, and others who need really exceptional content. Talented writers willing to to go out and market themselves will find more opportunities for truly high paying jobs – like in the $40-$50 a page mark or more.

Those jobs are much more numerous, but they take skill and they take the willingness to work and find them.

So to summarize this section:

  • Full-time online writers are content managers now
  • The old high churn rate of content is now replaced with the need for high quality original content
  • Compared to the original “Wild West” days it is much, much harder to find work as a freelance writer
  • But with that being said there are also far more high paying opportunities than there were before – this is not a contradiction!

Are There Still Content Mills?

While they’re not as common as there once were, there are a few content mills around that do hire writers consistently. Unless you’re looking for pocket change, a part time income, or have one hell of a system (that probably involves using voice activated software like Dragon Naturally Speaking and a really good sound dampening headset microphone) then these are not places where you go to make a full time living.

That being said, I don’t hold the grudge some writers do because I recognize they have their place and if you’re a college student in a very small town without a lot of jobs, why not make extra money to save up for that internship, that J-Term opportunity, or to get an early start on paying off student loans or making an investment in your future?

For the especially low confidence writers who have never done anything professional, it’s a way to prove to yourself you can make some money writing, get some decent feedback, and keep charging forward for more once you gain that important first bit of confidence.

iWriter

When it comes to talking about content mills, iWriter is one of the first places that jumps to mind as they are sort of the definition of the term. This is a place that has a pretty open policy as far as hiring writers and while in theory a writer can work their way up over time, generally speaking this is where buyers go for sheer volume SEO content and where the quality doesn’t matter nearly as much – which is why articles are cheap to buy and writers don’t make much at all.

This is also one of the big reasons that iWriter has very low prices. For many, it won’t be worth it to write here, and many buyers will want better quality. There are a lot of writers here who are English as a second language, meaning there can be grammar and syntax issues with final articles, but it is still around.

The Content Authority

The Content Authority is an interesting mixed bag. As far as writing rates go, they’re not terrible for online content mills once you get up to being a Tier 3 writer, and the rates are downright decent as a Tier 4 writer. More encouraging is the fact that you have the ability to set custom rates so clients can place orders with you directly for what you see as fair rates, and there have been efforts by TCA higher ups to land larger clients and contracts for their Tier 3 and Tier 4 writers to bring in more higher paying jobs for them.

This is another instance of a place where you’re not going to have a full time living, but if you’re a decent writer who just wants a little extra on the side you can count on some decent work every week. It’s not a full time job but if you’re paying off student loans or looking to save up for a vacation or put some extra away in retirement, it’s not a bad option. I still drop in and write here on occasion.

ineedarticles.com

As of this writing the community to Jonathan Ledger’s ineedarticles.com is closed to new writers, but if it opens up again this is definitely worth a look for part time writers, college students, or anyone looking for some decent side cash. In the beginning the rates aren’t great for writers, but they are better than most online sources for writing, and the benefit comes in the extras that customers buy and once you get to where you gain “Favorite Writer” status or can write for “Expert Articles.” There are some really well paid articles and going rates at that point.

Among these types of websites, in my opinion ineedarticles.com is the best by far, but like I said, currently it’s not taking new writers. If news gets out that the doors are being opened up again then if you’re looking for a place to pick up some steady writing work each day, this is it.

Textbroker.com

Textbroker has been around for quite some time, and anyone who has worked for content mills at some point is familiar with them. In my mind they’re also a prime example of how much things have changed. In the beginning it didn’t matter how many stars you had – there was always work to be found. While there are certainly bursts of 2 and 3 star batches of articles, the far majority is always in the 4 star category.

For exceptional writers it is somewhat of an option, but the insanely long times it takes to get articles rated and a lot of complaints about really inconsistent editing standards making it hard to figure out how to get there seem to have some validity.

There might be some others still out there, it’s honestly something I don’t keep much track of at all at this point. However, if having the ability to grab a few extra bucks here and there from the comfort of your own home is what you’re looking for, these websites are still valid options to a point.

auction gavel hitting

And I’m NOT SOLD anymore on auction based writing sites!

Are Auction Websites Still Worth It?

This question can be answered by those words no person committed to a relationship ever wants to hear: “It’s complicated.”

Anyone who knows a lot about my background story of how I got started as an online freelance writer knows I have a special spot in my heart for auction sites, particularly Guru.com and Elance.com. Guru is where I learned how to cold pitch, how to market myself, and that site got me through some hard times when I was severely injured and had no other options to making a living or even scrape together grocery money. Not only that, but some of those early jobs led to friendships that have now lasted for over a decade.

Then there’s also the fact that a few ebooks there led to a dream job, an amazing two years in Austin. Although my job was one of many to disappear during the thorough beating that was the Great Recession of 2008, it’s still an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Even after that a combination of jobs from Guru.com and Elance.com allowed me to continue to put together a decent income while so many others were struggling to find anything at all.

But the writing world kept on changing…

That was years ago, however, and as with so many things about the online world, the times have changed immensely (note how almost all of my Top 10 places to start writing online back from 2008 no longer even exist). So what do I think of auction writing in today’s writing world?

While there are still some decent jobs to be found, the truth is it breaks my heart to say I can’t recommend either spot anymore. First of all, Guru.com has been so poorly managed. There’s a flood of terrible providers, no enforcement for getting writers paid, and while their old ranking system was based on actual ratings and jobs done, now earnings is the main factor of how good a writer is rated – but writers can “buy rankings” to make themselves look much more highly rated than they are.

Yeah, feels slimy to me, too.

Elance was great until it was combined with oDesk to become Upwork. Upwork is an outright disaster and has taken an amazing website that gave so many opportunities to freelancers and employers alike and become a garbage heap with virtually nothing redeemable about it, especially compared to what they already had previously with Elance.

They’re so bad I’m not even linking to them. Jesse’s article on the Upwork disaster goes over it really well.

sweet written in cursive

Full time writing is still a sweet gig.

Can You Still Make A Living Doing This?

Not everything is doom and gloom. While writing full time for Demand Studios, getting a full time passive income from web 2.0 websites, or making a full time income from

Absolutely – if you’re willing to market yourself and look for clients. There is still a huge demand for content. Google says there’s nothing more important than extremely high quality content and there are many, MANY people willing to pay seriously good money to not have to worry about their content – and to not have to worry about it.

You have to know how to provide value and be willing to pitch accordingly to make sure you connect yourself with those higher paying jobs. It isn’t out of the question to get paid $50, $60, or even $100 a page if you build your brand and your reputation for quality and reliability.

man typing at work desk

Freelancing abroad – the dream still lives!

Is Passive Income A Thing?

Well that’s one of those questions that can be answered by those all too hated words: “It’s complicated.” Writing for other sites like HubPages, Squidoo, InfoBarrel, or eHow and making really serious money is going to be ridiculously hard and extremely impractical. Can people still make their own websites and monetize them? Absolutely. This takes a lot of work and is worth a book in and of itself, but going long term with your own blog, your own websites, and your own online presence for both active and passive income makes a lot of sense from a professional standpoint.

The Importance Of Creativity

One of the best traits you can have for succeeding as a writer is to be creative. Despite some talk about how wide open 2005 and 2008 and 2010 were, don’t focus on the roads that have closed. There are still so many different ways to make it as a writer, a content producer, a remote worker, or an independent artist.

Don’t just look at conventional paths. There are so many ways to get attention and so many different ways to make your mark online. Explore! Try different things to see what works and what doesn’t. You never know where your breakthrough might be.

Just a few examples of what this could mean includes:

  • Finding individual blogs
  • Niche writing opportunities
  • Working for SEO agencies
  • Writing Kindle ebooks
  • Writing Online courses for Udemy
  • Finding new niches for your own themed websites
  • Amazing Pinterest posts to your best blog posts
  • Taking advantage of video marketing on YouTube

In Conclusion

When has writing ever been an easy job? The truth is that this is just one of those fields where to succeed takes a high level of talent most people will never give you credit for, a tough work ethic that competes with the most intense of blue collar jobs, and a refusal to let instability and new challenges scare them off. Being a freelance writer has never been an easy job, and it’s not an easy job now.

But whether you go by the title of freelancer, content manager, optimized content specialists, or whatever the newest lingo is, this job can be incredibly rewarding for those willing to work their butts off to make it that way.

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