The good, the bad, and the ugly truth about online content sites
I have spent a great deal of my time posting informational articles on online content sites for some time now. As many of you know, I was recently laid off from a career that drove me and provided for my family for over eight years, so yes, one of my primary desires in writing for these sites was to earn an income. I love to write, but with no job, I couldn't devote a lot of time to unprofitable devices. I also supply content to SEO sites that sell my articles anonymously, allowing the purchasers to take credit for my work and as any writer knows, there is a certain sting that comes from selling your work without a buy line. It's a hard pill to swallow. So, let's look at this online writing thing.
The ugly truth
No matter how good you are, or think you are, it is difficult to earn an income from writing for the web. Content source sites like Helium, Suite 101, Bright Hub, and Associated Content don't pay well. When you do earn an upfront payment on an article, it is only a dollar or two and you have to spend more time marketing than writing in order to see a return from revenue share. It takes a great deal of research to figure out how to write strategically for profit and you need a keen understanding of how search engines work and what topics are popular and trending. Writing articles for SEO content sites that require you to give up all rights to your work may pay a bit better. Writer Access pays a decent rate for highly rated authors and even Textbroker will earn you more upfront as a 3 star writer than Associated Content pays out in upfront payments. Helium does seem to provide a better stream of residual income than the others mentioned here and, if you do the leg work by posting links to your articles in places like StumbleUpon, Digg, and Reddit, you can see your traffic and page views grow.
To make a living in the business, you can't depend on these sites. You MUST market yourself and your business on Freelance Job Boards, bid on assignments, and develop your own professional client base. You can, however, supplement your income with these content source sites with earning potentials in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. The key lies in the quality of the content and the frequency of publishing. That said, it would be far too depressing to boil that down to an hourly rate! Sites like Constant-Content are good launching points for writers that are new to the game. Here you can post work for customers to browse and possibly purchase and you can accept assignments that have been posted by customers. This may not be the long term solution, but it is a good place to refine your skills and build your confidence.
Evil doers, many from foreign countries and lacking a conscience when it comes to stealing from the fat and spoiled Americans have seen the struggles associated with this business and have developed scams to steal your work, your identity and more so you must always be diligently on the lookout for fraud. One such criminal hires writers under the guise of an educational non-profit and tells writers that their parent company accidentally sent them a check for more than their monthly fee. They ask the writer to cash the check, keep their payment, and send back the remaining funds. Anyone who does this will end up getting arrested for check fraud because the checks are fake.
A lot of the online content sites like Triond, for example, have a very bad reputation because they allow anyone to publish there and lack editorial influence. Poor grammar, spelling, and SPAM abound on sites like this. This is not an American company and many of the writers here speak English as a second or third or fourth language. Because their quality of work is horrendous, good writers on the site suffer from poor rankings on search engines. Sites with better reputations work very hard to keep them and may have stringent editorial guidelines. For some new writers in the game, this may mean more rewrites and editing. In many cases, it just isn't worth the money in the end.
Finally, the good
Writing for reputable online content sources provides you with an opportunity to become published and build a portfolio. You now have a growing stockpile of links that can be used to provide potential customers and employers with access to your work. The more you write, the better you become. These sites allow you to hone your skills and develop as a web writer, which is a bit different than writing for print. Many of these sites have online training courses that are accessible to their writers providing them with a free education on things like marketing, grammar, and AP style guidelines.
These sites are communities of writers and it is possible to make valuable connections here. Writers learn from each other, collaborate and critique each others work, and share information that can lead to higher paying jobs and valuable partnerships. If you are writing for one of these sites, or thinking about doing so, don't despair. Look at the reality of the business and know that these endeavors will not make you rich but can reward you with a free education, experience, and an online presence if you can manage to invest some time in them.
Online petition writing on sites like Force Change can provide up to $7 per piece in earnings and give you the personal satisfaction of supporting causes that you are passionate about. I have written for them and they are helpful, courteous, and pay their writers on time via monthly PayPal deposits.