Posts Tagged ‘content mills’

Your 7 Favorite Posts About Freelance Writing — So Far

Posted in Blog on July 16th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 20 Comments

Seven great blog posts about freelance writingHey, writers!

Looking for a little summertime inspiration to get your freelance writing in gear?

Well, I noticed that my January roundup of the most popular posts of 2013 was the most popular post I’ve done here on the blog so far this year. Apparently, you find these best-of compendiums useful.

So I’m here to help with another handy set of popular posts — these are from the first half of 2014. I’m actually out in the Internetless countryside in Colorado right now, but wanted to keep you stocked with useful info to grow your freelance writing income while I’m gone.

Here are the seven Make a Living Writing posts that had the most readers the week they published:

  1. Why You Need to Go For Your Freelance Writing Dream Now
  2. What the Elance-oDesk Merger Means for Freelance Writers
  3. I Quit My Job to Be a Freelance Writer: What Was I Thinking?
  4. Writers: Soar Like an Olympian With These 4 Key Traits
  5. Use This Simple Tool to Move Forward With Your Freelance Writing
  6. Writing for Guardian Liberty Voice: 10 Writers’ Stories
  7. The 4 Worst Places for Freelance Writers to Start



What was your favorite post about freelance writing this year so far?
Leave a comment and share a link.




The 4 Worst Places for Freelance Writers to Start

Posted in Blog on June 8th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 82 Comments

four white eggs with faceIt can be confusing, being a new freelance writer. So many websites and ads promise great opportunities for writers!

Yet so many writers are broke.

Why is this happening? It’s because many new freelance writers don’t have the lay of the land. They don’t have a road map to know how to find or pitch good-paying clients. Instead, they do a Google search for writing opportunities and end up wandering into a bad online neighborhood.

I think of these time-and-money sinkholes as the Underworld of Freelance Writing. It has four main chambers.

Writers often think switching to a different site in one of the chambers, or switching from one chamber to another, will improve things. Then, they’re frustrated when there is little improvement in their income.

Let me give you a quick tour of the Underworld’s four types of websites that are guaranteed to put your writing career on the road to nowhere:

1. Content mills

If I see one more self-appointed “expert” tell writers that content mills are a “great place to start out,” I’m gonna scream.

Content mills teach you to write quickly slapped-together junk that no one wants to read. You learn lazy writing habits. You frequently wind up with nothing you’d be proud to put in a portfolio.

Mills’ crappy reputation could actually damage your chances with many legit magazines and other good markets. Meanwhile, pay is so low you have to write constantly just to survive, and never have time to do marketing to find better clients.

The type of writing you do for content mills bears little relationship to the writing any good-paying client would want of you. I’ve seen writers say their mill work gave them practice, built confidence, and helped them find their voice. You can do that on your own blog, or writing for your local newspaper, too — and you’ll get clips you can use to get better gigs.

They also have rules that change often, and editors who are often capricious and/or nasty. They can bar you from the site for random stuff they decide. Don’t give any site this much power over your career — especially one that pays $20 per piece or less.

I’ve mentored too many writers who wasted years on mills, only to discover that if they want to earn more, they’re starting from scratch building their career. Don’t let this be you.

2. Revenue share sites

These are much like content mills, except that instead of guaranteed low pay, you don’t know what you’ll get paid — but it will likely be less than you need for gas this month. It all depends on how many eyeballs or ad-clicks your pages draw, depending on the particular site’s pay plan.

Unless there is at least some guaranteed compensation, don’t fool yourself that this is an income-earning opportunity for a freelancer looking to pay the bills. Revshare is for hobbyists, and the owners of revshare sites have told me as much. Don’t pretend this is a place where you could create retirement income that will keep paying you for years to come.

First off, because there’s no viable business model here, these sites close down on a regular basis — just like Helium recently did. Second, many of them stop paying you when you stop regularly writing for them.

As far as reputation and building a portfolio here, see #1.

3. Bid sites

“I just signed up on,” one writer emailed me this week. “Do you think that’s a good option? All of the jobs on offer seem to be for frightfully low wages.”

Welcome to the race-to-the-bottom world of bid sites. Yes, you might occasionally find a decent job here. But problems include too much time spent bidding on gigs you don’t get, poor client communication because there’s an intermediary involved, generally low rates, and low regard for freelancers.

The model of competing against every other writer in the world for the same gig is not going to bring you happiness, my friend. Your dream gig is not sitting on a mass freelance platform’s dashboard waiting for you — not as long as someone in Malaysia or Kenya or somewhere is willing to do it for $5, and has access to the same clients you do.

4. Craigslist ads

I know many writers who consider their marketing work done if they’ve checked Craigslist for writer job ads this week. Sure, most of the ads they never heard back on, and the ones they do are offering peanuts — or are outright ripoffs. But hey, they’re so easy to check! Listings in every city, too.

It’s true that once in a while, a real client wanders on here who doesn’t know that Criagslist is a cesspit for freelance scams. But the huge amount of time you’ll spend mining for those few tiny gold nuggets means it’s not worth the effort.

This week, I mentored one writer who reported she’d been ripped off and never paid for her writing work no less than five different times, doing gigs she got from Craigslist ads. It shouldn’t take this many bad experiences to realize this isn’t a useful place to find good writing gigs. It’s mostly a waste of time.

Ready to kick the habit? Take my 1-month “no-Craigslist challenge.” It works like this: You may not look at Craigslist ads for 30 days.

You’ll have to take action to find clients, rather than responding to mass job ads. This is so much more effective, I’ve rarely seen a writer who takes this challenge go back to checking Craigslist.

What to do instead

If these are the worst places and you should avoid them, how do you get started as a freelance writer?

It’s simple. You want to write for successful magazines (yes, plenty of them still exist), or successful businesses that sell a real product or service in the real world. Ideally, they’ve been around a few years.

Yes, this means doing some research to find clients, and then doing proactive marketing — going to a networking event, sending an email, making a phone call, getting on LinkedIn. And that can be scary. I know.

But in over six years of coaching thousands of writers, it’s the only reliable route I’ve found to earning a substantial freelance income. If you’re serious about making freelance writing your main source of income, best get started on it.

What do you think are the worst places for freelance writers? Leave a comment and share your view.

Freelance writing success

Writing for Guardian Liberty Voice: 10 Writers’ Stories

Posted in Blog on May 28th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 80 Comments

Revenue share writing promises pay that often doesn't materialize.

I started this blog to help writers find freelance markets that pay well…and to warn writers away from sites that don’t.

All of which has led me to spend some time looking into startup news and op-ed website Guardian Liberty Voice, a 2-year-old, Las Vegas-based online news site started by entrepreneur and former chain restaurant manager DiMarkco Chandler.

What I learned led me to talk to writers with experience at GLV, to find out more. Before I launch into the writers’ stories, a little background on what GLV is and how I learned of them:

First contact

Earlier this year, a GLV manager emailed me, asking me to write for them and recruit a team of writers to work under me. They are seeking to hire 900 more writers in their quest to “raise the bar on citizen journalism.”

At that point, I’d never heard of them.

They explained that they paid per-ad-impression…in other words, for eyeballs on ads. I responded that I didn’t work for clients without at least some guaranteed pay. But I wondered if they might be a pay opportunity for political writers, a niche with few paying markets.

So I started asking around to find people who’d been writing for Guardian Liberty Voice. I also asked GLV if they could provide a referral to a happy current GLV writer who wasn’t part of GLV’s editorial or management staff, and spoke to one. In all, I spoke to more than ten writers.

To respond to some of the issues the writers raised, GLV senior managing editor Rebecca Savastio served as GLV’s spokeswoman, and Chandler also spoke with me on Skype.

GLV 101

First off, some basics on how GLV works, and what’s been said about the company publicly:

  • As GLV describes on its own About page, the company began as the Las Vegas Guardian, but had to change its name after the highly regarded Guardian newspaper of London objected, evolving to Guardian Liberty Voice. After a brief time as a print publication, GLV switched to digital-only.
  • Writers who apply to GLV are put through a two-week training bootcamp, during which they typically write upwards of 20 posts. On the final day alone, writers are required to write six articles.
  • GLV reports that 80 percent of writers fail to graduate from bootcamp, which means they earn nothing for posts written during bootcamp.
  • Writers must continue to write for GLV for at least 50 days and see royalties top $50 to receive a paycheck.
  • From there, every month that writers have at least two posts published, they remain current with GLV and can continue to receive pay, based on how many views their articles have had. Royalty percentages increase if you post more. Cease writing for them, and all royalties end, even on previously posted work.
  • At least one formal complaint has been filed against GLV with the Las Vegas attorney general’s office by a former GLV writer and editor. In the April 14 filing, Idaho-based Heather Pilkinton reports she ended up working long hours for what penciled out to 47 cents an hour.

The short version

Despite its claims of groundbreaking pay models and carving a new path for citizen journalism, GLV appears to be simply a low-paying revenue-share platform where most of the articles are quick rewrites of items found through Google News.

Writers — many of them brand-new freelancers — often end up earning nothing. Payout documents supplied to this blog provide a single-month snapshot: of 50 writers who were with GLV in June 2013, only two made more than $500 in one month. For the rest, average pay was just $45 a month.

Company founder Chandler is widely described as a charismatic man who draws people to his projects, but promises things he doesn’t always deliver. Among those who feel lied to by Chandler are his former employers at the Las Vegas Tribune. There is much more to the story of Chandler than I have included here — I’ve restricted my focus to what I think might directly affect freelance writers.

For more details, read on to hear from GLV’s writers in their own words.

Earning more with his own blog

Brand-new Toronto freelancer Jonathan Holowka initially spotted a Craigslist ad for GLV. He raved about his GLV bootcamp experience in a post on his blog. Within weeks of posting it, though, he had quit.

In a Skype call, Holowka explained why his viewpoint on GLV quickly changed:

“On the first day of bootcamp, they did show us how much people were earning, and I remember the numbers being quite small. But I saw those numbers and thought, ‘I’m sure I can do better than that.’ I got in my mind that I could surpass that, somehow. And they really seemed to like my writing.”

As a writer with absolutely no previous online writing experience, Holowka says he found the bootcamp “really good, and free…we learned how to write organically and not word-stuff.” He passed bootcamp and was certified.

His pay for 65 articles written over two months? It was $85, or about $1.30 per post.

Holowka’s conclusion was that he could do better putting up his own website — and he has. His site, What To Do When Bored, has made $450 off the first 50 articles he posted on it in just its first weeks, Holowka reports.

Some quit during bootcamp

One of the reasons 80 percent of GLV writers wash out may be because many realize little income is likely, and quit before the bootcamp ends. That’s what Reno-based writer Hamilton Tolson did back in February, after writing just three articles. Here’s a digest of GLV impressions he emailed me:

“I’ll be honest — knowing nothing about finding a job as a writer, other than that I had a marked interest in politics, I was stoked with what I thought was a real job opportunity. [GLV] had me write three articles.

“Then he clued me in to the whole ‘team building’ bullshit by telling me that I too could, perhaps, have a team under me in the future.

“As soon as I attended the first class of bootcamp, I quit.  The first class was a round robin of glad-handing, as DiMarkco and others praised each other back and forth, while we all listened.  I realized I was in a virtual classroom with many others who barely spoke, or typed, English.

“I only wish I had done the diligence to research the company a bit. These people prey on the desperation of young, uninformed writers. I’m ashamed to have been stupid enough not to know better.”

GLV’s Savastio says writers who make it through their initial 50 days are paid a flat $30 for their first three “tryout” posts, and that Tolson went unpaid because he didn’t stay long enough.

Creating fake social-media identities

In contrast to Holowka’s reaction, Denver-based freelance writer Danyelle Overbo told me she found the bootcamp a mind-numbing waste of time. She waited an hour or more while Chandler logged writers in, went over SEO basics, and repeatedly showed writers the GLV categories they needed to use for posting.

“It was really nonsensical,” she says. “He would say things that were wrong about grammar.”

Perhaps the single biggest issue that made Overbo quit was the black-hat social-media techniques she saw demonstrated. In some post-bootcamp meetings, Savastio has shared how she creates multiple fake Facebook identities so she can pose as a fan and promote her posts more aggressively, which she describes as key to helping posts “go viral.”

Savastio says she’s aware this violates Facebook’s terms of service, but says she considers the move “guerrilla marketing” and has no ethical qualms about using this promotional technique.

When she estimated what she’d be earning, Overbo says it appeared to be roughly a penny an article.

“I was trying to launch a freelance writing business,” she says, “and it was just a huge waste of time.”

Earnings: zero

L.A. based new freelance writer Luke Sargent is among the 80 percent of GLV writers who quit by the end of bootcamp. Sargent says he wised up when one editor accidentally opened a payout spreadsheet and he saw the small amounts writers were owed.

“They got 30 articles from me, all free,” he says. “They sell it as, ‘You’re building your business,’ but of course you’re not — you’re building their business.”

He also saw that the premise of earning on an ongoing basis from the news articles was unlikely to pan out.

“That can never happen, because it’s a news site,” he says, “and people aren’t interested in old news.”

GLV’s Chandler says he’s straight with writers from the start — that it could take six months to start earning anything, and that for some, it might turn out to be more of a hobby than a revenue generator.

Who’s his ideal writer? “We’re looking for housewives, and people who don’t have anything to do,” he says. “They love writing and use it to supplement their income.”

Payment delays

If they can get a check, that is. That proved a struggle for Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada, a Pakistani attorney who does freelance writing in his spare time to bring in extra money. He started with GLV in September and wrote 229 articles in all — over 100,000 published words, he relates.

He says his dashboard shows he’s owed $126 for that effort, having hit the $50 minimum last October. But despite repeated requests over a period of several months, a payment was never sent until March — and that was for $108, not $126.

Khanzada feels his distant locale made GLV managers feel paying him was optional. “What could I do to them, from here?” he told me in a Skype call.

This particularly rankled because in meetings, when writers complained, Chandler would tell them to look at their long-term earning potential with fast-rising GLV. He’d direct them to business-valuation site WorthofWeb, which at one point indicated GLV was worth more than $25 million, and talk about how they could end up earning big if they stuck with GLV.

“[Chandler] boasts that he’s buying a Mercedes, and his company has a $25 million valuation, but he can’t pay me $100?” Khanzada asks. “That’s paradoxical. Writers shouldn’t be writing for this scam.”

Overworked editors

To help grow its writing staff, GLV editors encourage writers to recruit a team and become editors. GLV’s Savastio says it is not a multi-level marketing model — writers only earn from the team they directly recruit. There is no “downline.”

Editors are paid a stipend ranging from $100-$800 per month. Though this brings some guaranteed income, the hourly rate for editors may work out even worse than it does for writers.

In the complaint she filed with the Las Vegas attorney general, former GLV editor Heather Pilkinton says that while some editors and key writers were repeatedly promised they’d be given 1 percent equity stakes in GLV worth $250,000, nothing materialized except a stipend raise for Pilkinton to $500 a month. Writer Overbo says she also heard the $250K spiel, but Savastio says she’s never heard that promise.

A few quotes from Pilkinton’s complaint:

“…The saturation of writers is so high in order for writers to actually earn money by writing for the GLV, they must write an exorbitant number of articles. This also means that there are so many articles going up that many articles get lost with only a minimum amount of reads. Because of the 50-day payout and because of the $50 minimum required to receive payout, many writers leave without ever seeing any of the money their articles have earned, meaning [GLV] has accumulated a bunch of free content.

“Editors often find themselves working 7 days a week, upwards of 15 hours a day. [Once, Chandler] decided he needed to call me at 1 a.m.  Very rarely does the total payout for the editors reach $1,000 for an entire month, and that includes the stipend and the commissions. Plus, in order for commissions to be paid out, editors, on top of their other duties, are expected to [write] anywhere between 29 and 112 articles per month.

She also points out that writers see pay only from one of the ad networks that serve ads onto GLV’s pages — Tribal Fusion — while GLV works with several ad networks. Savastio confirms that writers only get paid from Tribal Fusion, adding that revenue from the other ad networks is minimal in comparison, and goes toward the editor stipend payments.

The biggest month she had during her five month stay, Pilkinton made $685, working more than full-time hours. She estimates that given the time she put in, it came out to 47 cents an hour.

For her part, Savastio says she earns little from her editing chores, but enjoys mentoring writers. “Not everything is about money for me,” she says.

A self-described “mediocre” writer who says she doesn’t have the chops to write for higher-paying magazine markets, Savastio adds that she considers the chance to earn a living as a writer a dream come true, despite the 12-hour days.

Her total pay last month, thanks mostly to a couple of posts that got lots of views, was roughly $2,000, or $7.75 per hour. She says that in the world of revshare, GLV’s stipends are rare — when she was looking for a new gig after leaving AOL’s imploding Patch network, she says AllVoices didn’t offer stipends, for instance.

Cloudy visibility

While some writers report they were able to keep tabs on how much they were earning, others felt the information was hard to come by.

For instance, Costa Rica-based writer Mimi Mudd did the bootcamp in February, and wrote over 50 articles over the course of two months. She says requests to see what her income would be were met with weeks of stonewalling. Finally, one editor showed her she’d accumulated just $4.50, not enough to receive a check under GLV’s payout rules. Mudd departed in April.

“If you’re looking for exposure as a writer,” Mudd says, “if you’re looking to get articles published and get clips, there are far better ways to do it.”

Savastio says since Mudd’s departure, she has strengthened the training on how to view earnings and stresses that if posts don’t get huge traffic, writers will not earn enough to see a paycheck.

Article spinning

Then there’s the quality of work GLV writers do. While a small portion of the posts involve unique interviews, writers say the vast majority are simply quickly rewritten from items found searching Google News. Former GLV writer Juana Poareo, reports she earned $800 for 173 articles — or about $4.62 per piece — over the course of four months. The L.A.-based writer says posts are cranked out fast, and that she routinely ran her own articles through Copyscape, to make sure they’d been rewritten enough that they wouldn’t be considered duplicate copy.

Why are writers article spinning? Time pressure to meet their posting goals and keep earning, Poareo says, as well as to quickly recycle the hottest topics currently trending online, in hopes of catching some of the big traffic needed to get paid.

“Writers are pressured to perform and get their articles to go viral,” Poareo, who is deaf, said in a Skype chat interview.

Reading the site myself, I found most stories simply recycle trending news or research press releases, as with this story about 3D-printed cancer cures. Adding insult to injury, GLV’s style is to put the links to the original sources at the bottom of stories, rather than appearing with relevant key words in the parts of the post that derive from each source, thereby minimizing their prominence and the likelihood they’ll be clicked — and also leaving readers to guess which facts came from where.

Vague, unsupported sentences are typical, such as this one from the 3D printing story: “Doctors will agree that current cancer therapies are horribly imprecise.”

Good grammar also appears to be optional, as with the opening sentence of this energy story, reproduced exactly as it appears:

Natural gas vs. oil, which is more affordable -when considering efficiency- to heat a home?

Chandler says GLV now has over 300 writers. Won’t the pay pool be diluted as ever more stories and writers vie for the same eyeballs? Chandler’s plan is to reassign many of the writers to some of the nearly dozen other sites he’s created, to keep things stable at GLV.

The (sort of) happy camper

You may be wondering — who enjoys writing for GLV? In general, new freelance writers who are unaware of any other way to make more money from writing.

One of these is Douglas Cobb, a former teacher and current Arkansas resident with multiple advanced degrees. Cobb has been writing for GLV for over a year, usually writing 40 or more posts a month in his off hours from his regular job at an auto-parts store. He estimates he spends 15 or more hours a week writing his posts.

He’s been given the title senior review editor, though no extra pay comes with this. With an emphasis on writing TV and entertainment-related stories that sometimes include interviews, Cobb has done fairly well by GLV standards.

His pay has ranged from about $250 a month — around $4 an hour — to over $1,000. When I explained what I’ve earned as a blogger, he was interested to learn how to find better markets.

“I knew getting into it that it’s not a way to make a whole lot of money,” he says of GLV. “But it is a way to make some. If I knew of any other places, I’d try them out.”

What will Google do?

The final question about GLV is how Google will respond to the site’s mass of recycled content. Savastio said she’s well aware that a tweak in the wrong direction by Google’s algorithms, and much of GLV’s traffic could vanish overnight. Alexa reports that roughly one-third of the site’s traffic comes through the search engine.

GLV’s Chandler says the worst has already happened.

He reports that earlier this month, he discovered Google had removed all GLV’s stories from its News results. Chandler worked frantically to remove ads from the site and create a cleaner layout, which he says helped GLV return to News results. He admits he may need to remove more ads — and that this reduced ability to advertise may hit writers’ paychecks.

GLV has gotten tougher about who it lets graduate from bootcamp, Savastio says, trying to screen out lower-quality writers to help keep Google happy. Which means that now, likely even more than 80 percent of the bootcamp writers will wash out.

“This pay model is definitely not for everyone,” Savastio says. “It’s performance-based pay. Then again, no one is making anyone work here.”

The past is prologue

Prior to starting GLV, founder Chandler was employed at the Las Vegas Tribune, for about six months that ended with his firing (or quitting, depending on who you believe) in February 2012. The paper’s founder, editor-in-chief and publisher Rolando Larraz, recalls Chandler was so broke when he arrived, he didn’t own a car and was staying in a weekly-rate hotel, for which Larraz footed the bill. Larraz took him under his wing, and soon Chandler had password access to company computers and bank accounts — which Larraz quickly came to regret.

“He wanted to be the publisher, and I didn’t want him to be,” Larraz told me in a recent phone conversation.

In an op-ed piece in the paper in the wake of Chandler’s departure, Chandler’s hire was termed a “fiasco” by managing editor Maramis Choufani. Larraz actually ran a front page article headlined, “DiMarkco Chandler Is Not Affiliated With the Las Vegas Tribune In Any Way,” on Feb. 29, 2012. In it, Larraz warns his paper’s readers and advertisers that he’d discovered Chandler was soliciting ad checks from Tribune advertisers after he’d left the paper, while claiming to still be with the Tribune.

Chandler remembers it differently. In his version, Larraz’s paper was failing financially, Chandler was working to save and relaunch it in a more viable form, and Chandler ended up out of pocket for a new Spanish/English version of the paper the two were partnering on, for which Chandler printed multiple editions.

“I worked without him paying me a dime,” he says.

Interestingly, the Tribune‘s policy of paying writers nothing is what inspired Chandler to create his pay model at GLV. He’s proud to be offering writers at least the chance to earn something, compared with what he saw at the Tribune.

“My writers are making more money than me,” Chandler says, “and they get to write whatever they want.”

In her op-ed piece after his firing, Choufani writes that Chandler had “ill intent, betrayed us, and took what wasn’t his,” leaving “a trail of deceit and lies.” She calls him “a really great con artist.”

“If DiMarkco is still out there fooling others,” Choufani writes, “I feel sorry for them.”

What’s your reaction? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.


What the Elance-oDesk Merger Means for Freelance Writers

Posted in Blog on January 14th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 91 Comments

Let's look at the Elance-oDesk merger

You may have missed it in the holiday crush, but a big deal went down right at the end of the year: oDesk announced it is merging with Elance.

Yes, I spend most of my time discouraging writers from hanging around these sort of race-to-the-bottom, bid-site platforms. But they’re mighty popular — 8 million freelancers are registered between the two merger partners — and their plethora of dirt-cheap gigs has posed a challenge to freelance writers striving to earn more than mad money.

I wanted to stop and talk about the Elance-oDesk marriage, because it signals some important changes coming down the pike, whether you use bid sites or not.

Why the merger happened

While the two companies have mouthed the usual reasons why mergers happen –  “We think we can do a better job this way,” the press release says, for both freelancers and the companies that hire them.

In reality, there are several big reasons why mergers usually happen:

  1. One of the companies is or will soon be out of money
  2. One or both of the companies is losing the competitive/branding war
  3. One of the companies covets the technology, executive brainpower and/or client list of the other
  4. One of the founding teams wants to cash out
  5. The market opportunity is shrinking and combining forces increases odds of surviving a shakeout

Any of 1-4 might be in play here — the companies are privately held, so their financial details aren’t public knowledge. oDesk’s CEO is the one stepping down, so that tells you who the weak sister is in this deal.

The one new fact they released: The two companies have $750 million in combined annual billings. That’s not what they make, but the total freelancers billed on Elance and oDesk combined in 2013.

I’m sure you can do that math: With 8 million freelancers, that means the average freelancer on Elance/oDesk makes under $100 a year. Before the platforms take their cut. Hopefully, if you ever thought these platforms were a place to make a living, you’re now cured.

But I digress. Let me draw your attention to #5 there. Because that’s the one that is a sure thing here.

A shrinking marketplace

It’s not a fluke that Elance and oDesk decided to combine forces. This merger is evidence of a sector implosion that’s happening for two reasons.

1) Junk content lost the Internet

It sucked, no one read it, and then Google did several updates to penalize keyword-stuffing content, culminating in last fall’s final blow: the Hummingbird update.

Now that cheapie content can’t get sites traffic, demand is plummeting for $5 articles. That’s why the call for quality content is skyrocketing, while demand for “link building” type articles sinks, as Google recently reported in this chart:

That’s bad news for bid sites, where scads of junk articles were commissioned at appalling rates. Let’s face it, startup websites commissioning keyword junk made up the bulk of the writing gig listings on places like oDesk, and were what fueled the growth of these marketplaces. Now, that fuel is vanishing.

2) The downturn ended

While demand for SEO articles is shrinking, my bet is that supply is, too. While many writers still gripe to me about “these tough economic times,” in fact, the U.S. economic downturn ended a couple-three years ago (depends on which economist you ask). The unemployment rate today is dead even with pre-recession late 2008.

Know what that means? Lots of freelance writers who turned to places like Elance out of desperation are gone. They’ve gotten jobs again.

There were a few years there where we had both huge demand for cheap SEO-focused writing, and a huge pool of writers hard-up enough to do it. Now, that moment has passed.

What’s next

I don’t have a crystal ball to tell you exactly what Elance and oDesk will do in the coming months as they integrate their merger and put the two companies together.

OK, I kind of do, because I spent 20+ years covering mergers and acquisitions.

The outcomes of big, high-profile mergers like these tend to follow a few pretty well-worn paths. Here’s what you will likely see:

Confusion and fear

Elance and oDesk freelancers seemed not to buy the happy talk. Both companies were flooded with hate mail from their member freelancers the minute the deal was announced.

The first comment on oDesk’s community site seems to sum it up: “This announcement fills me with dread.”

The initial phase of a merger is always marked by chaos and the wastage of huge amounts of time on speculation and gossip. Freelancers have been told everything will continue as it has been, with the two sites operating independently as before.

But everybody knows if that were true, there wouldn’t be a point to merging. This makes everyone anxious about how the merger will really shake out.

This feeling usually lasts a few months, and then everyone gets lulled into thinking maybe the status quo will maintain. As soon as writers start to relax, it’ll be time for the next phase.


It always takes merging companies a few months to get the lay of the land, analyze the assets, assess the weak spots, and decide on a plan of action. Then, they start changing things.

There must be changes because the point of any merger is to create a larger, more efficient company with higher profits, so that the owners get even richer.

If the two companies were to go on as before, there would be no efficiencies realized and no additional profit. So steps will be taken to streamline the company.

Usually, one company’s technology and systems will be chosen and their team will run both brands, while the other team is laid off to save money. That will leave freelancers at one of the sites to learn new systems. Sooner or later, there will only be one headquarters. Cuts or changes in editorial staff are likely as well.

Often, in the end, they will loot one brand for its technology or client list, gut it, and then close it down to give the winning brand more combined power. Could happen eventually with oDesk.

It’s also more efficient to have one set of policies for how to operate — and that’s what’s got a lot of freelancers worried. Elance has a floor of $3 an hour, while oDesk has none, to name just one of their differences. Which philosophy will prevail?

My money’s on Elance’s, given the trend away from super-low paying gigs. Whichever way it goes, freelancers at one of the platforms will be unhappy to see their boat rocked. Employers may likewise drift away if they dislike the new regime.

One final point: Many mergers fail. If they can’t find efficiencies, Elance could decide to try to sell off oDesk, triggering another round of uncertainty and change. It happens.

More mergers

In the wake of this merger, other players in the cheap-hiring online space will be compelled to merge to compete with the combined Elance-oDesk behemoth.

When two of the biggest players join forces to form an 800-pound gorilla (so big it requires a federal review to ensure it’s not creating a monopoly), that sets off a consolidation cycle among smaller players that must scramble to fortify their resources and stay competitive in this new landscape.

With rapidly shrinking demand for junk content, expect to see some cheap-hiring bid sites go bust and disappear. This will be a smaller sector by year-end.

Takeaways: If you rely on any bidding sites as a major source of leads, beware. Changes are coming, and despite the press release happy-talk, they may not benefit you.

Diversify your sources of clients, ideally by prospecting to find your own clients and cut out the middleman, not by signing up for more bid sites or content mills. As Demand Studios’ parent Demand Media’s implosion shows, that sector is facing many of the same challenges as the bidding sites.

If you are earning pro rates and staying off these sites, rejoice. The coming year will be one of increasing opportunity for more sophisticated gigs. Sharpen your skills, up your marketing, and get ready for the boom.

What’s your reaction to the Elance-oDesk merger? Leave a comment and give us your own trend forecast.