Four Types of Freelance Writing Sites We SHOULD Be Talking About


The content site discussion is getting old. Some freelance writing bloggers see the merits, others don’t, and neither the twain shall meet. What strikes me about the content site debate is that we focus on one or two evil sites as if they’re the only problem. If we’re going to be discussing the best places for freelance writers to work and caution them against certain other opportunities, I personally feel that there are worse places and those are the ones we should be discussing.

When we debate content, we generally focus on two main issues; pay and poorly written content. When it comes to both of these, I don’t necessarily feel web content sites are the worst offenders. There are other types of freelance writing sites that flood the web with crappy writing and the pay is a lot less or not at all. Yet, most of the time when we see blog posts or articles about these other types of sites they’re along the lines of “the benefits of…”

Today, I’d like to explore some of these sites and discuss why (I feel) they’re  bad idea. I’m really interested in your thoughts as well.

1. Article Directory Sites

Article submission sites are sites that pretty much accept any old article. They’re not listed on freelance writing jobs sites and we don’t discuss them as being a gig, because they’re not. They don’t pay writers and they don’t pretend to be anything but a place to submit writing. However, if we’re going to gripe about content sites not having high standards and flooding the web with bad content, it would behoove us to discuss article directory sites as well.

I never wrote for an article directory site for several reasons, the first is that they didn’t pay and the second is because I’ve seen so much truly bad writing coming from article directory sites that I didn’t want my name associated with them.

Here’s the thing, we hear from many people, even some freelance writers we know well, saying article directory sites are terrific marketing opportunities.

I don’t know about that…

I don’t think an article directory submission is any more terrific than having a bio at the bottom of a guest blog post, personal blog or even a content mill article. Lately all the content I see coming from article directory are marketed to sell products or drive traffic to a blog or website, which makes it all rather spammy. Moreover, more than half the content is poorly written, SEO articles. So how come we don’t see enough folks calling for higher standards on these sites?

Another issue with article directories is the same marketers are submitting the same articles on multiple sites, so the web is being inundated with the same “article” over and over. If the article isn’t well written, then we’re seeing the same really bad piece of writing more than once. Again, I don’t hear too many arguments about this in the “cheap” or “free” web content arguments.

Most people who use article directories are doing so to create links to blogs or websites, build up name and brand recognition and drive readers to a particular product or service. So we can argue that the purpose of the articles submitted to these sites isn’t necessarily to educate. Some folks who use article directory sites also hire writers to create content for them. Since the article directories don’t pay, many times the cheapest possible writers are hired, again flooding the Internet with questionable content. Not all article directory writing is bad, but I’m willing to bet there’s more bad than good.

I personally write off any article found on an article directory site as a marketing tool and don’t use them as resources or tools because I can’t count on the validity of the discussion.

2. Bidding Sites

I used to believe that bidding sites would lower the rates for all writers.  I no longer believe this. I feel there will always be high payers and there will always be low payers and neither has to worry about the other. However, if we’re going to throw out the argument that web content sites are low paying and promote poor writing, we have to go after the bidding sites too.

Disclaimer: Not all bidding site gigs pay .50 cents per article, nor are all bidding site writers of the amateur variety, but there are enough bad to overshadow the good. (Just like content sites)

Here’s the thing: I didn’t last long with bidding sites. The reason I didn’t stick with them is because I couldn’t get work at a decent rate of pay. When I quoted my usual rate I was told I had some nerve bidding so high when I wasn’t even rated. When I showed these potential clients my resume and long list of writing credits, they said it had no bearing. I had to be rated at that website which means I have to start very, very low and work my way up. I didn’t last long.

Another thing about the bidding sites is that they are a true global market place. A bidder in America might think $50 is a decent starting bid (and good luck getting that one), while a bidder in India or Romania might think $1 or $2 is a decent starting bid. No matter what you bid, there’s always someone willing to go lower. Granted, there are clients who are willing to go higher, but I don’t see clients paying over $10 or $15 as being the norm. Most bidding site clients are looking for the lowest bid possible. Moreover, there are plenty of unrealistic expectations. For example, 100 articles needed in a two week period. A person bidding $2 a pop on 100 articles about anti-freeze isn’t going to put in a best effort. I’d like to submit that bidding sites are a major contributor to poor content on the web, yet I don’t see many people raising torches or pitchforks in front of these castles.

(We”ll be exploring a popular bidding site a little later this week).

3. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is another way of getting something for nothing. It’s sort of like a big hippie commune of everyone working together to produce a product because of the good vibes. You might see crowdsourcing in action on Twitter or Facebook without even knowing it. Rather than head to the library or even the closest search engine, someone might research by asking questions on the social network and gathering the answers. The problem with this is, many of the responses are long on opinion and not always factually correct. (Don’t come after me, I said, “not always” which is different from “never.)

Crowdsourcing is more than research. There are plenty of people who don’t want to spend money to hire freelancers for design or writing projects and crowdsource instead. The problem here is that the idea of crowdsourcing takes front and center over utilizing qualified people for campaigns and projects. Yeah, I’m all about the social media love, but sometimes I think we take it to the extreme. Not everything has to be so Up with People.

Crowdsourcing can be sort of an open audition. Big corporations are crowdsourcing projects where hundreds of people compete and maybe one person will land a paying (or non-paying) contract. It can also be a call for ideas. For example a business may ask for slogan or design ideas and open up a forum for discussion. They don’t have to hire a team for the creativity and brainstorming process, because folks from all over are offering thoughts for free. Eventually the winning idea will have cost nothing but a little time and web hosting space. With so many people willing to give away their ideas, why not do away with freelancing altogether?

PLR or Private Label Rights Articles

PLR or Private Label Rights articles are inexpensive article packages sold to webmasters and ebook compilers to use as often as they like. This means the same set of ten or twenty articles about dogs can be sold to 25 different people and spun as many ways as possible to produce completely new articles. PLR writers will tell you this is a lucrative package – selling the same ten articles to $25 people for $60 a package but that’s not always the case. Also, since the purchasers now own the rights to spin the content as often as they like, PLR articles are responsible for putting the same bad content out many times over.

Now, like all of the above, not everyone who writes for these sites are hacks producing poor work for little money.  My biggest problem is with the article spinning. Even if it’s the greatest writing in the world, do I want to see the same article posted over and over again on the web? Some webmasters only require enough changes for the writing to pass a CopyScape test. They’re looking for inexpensive content, not originality. If we’re going to discuss bland web writing, then why aren’t we talking more about PLR and article spinning?

Why am I talking about this?

I’m tired of the web content site debate. (I know I’m just as guilty as everyone else, but go with me until the end, please. I swear there’s a point to all this.)

Web content sites aren’t the only reason the web is polluted with garbage. Web content sites aren’t the only places that take advantage of writers. I’d like to submit that web content sites are a convenient scapegoat. There are other types of freelance writing sites that we should also discussing with our readers. There are plenty of places that use cheap, poorly written and even plagiarized content. There are plenty of places that don’t pay writers well at all.  If we’re going to show anger, let’s give it where it’s deserved.

Lots of places take advantage of writers and cheap content.

Why don’t we talk about them?


20 responses
  1. John Hewitt Avatar

    I agree. Web content sites have their downsides and upsides, but there are plenty of reasons why writers aren’t getting big money these days, and the biggest reason is that there are just so darned many of us out there now. The market is flooded and will continue to be for quite some time.
    .-= John Hewitt´s last blog ..Are you ready to move to a full-time freelance writing career? =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      John, I used to think that the amount of people applying for freelance writing jobs doesn’t matter, now I wonder if the whole market is getting flooded. I read a comment recently that freelance writing is the new Tupperware Party. At first I found that insulting, but now I sort of see a truth in it. Freelance writing is a way to stay at home and supplement a spouse’s income or keep from having to work an office job. It’s so easy to write, so why not do it?

      I’m going to have to think about whether or not this is a good or bad thing.

      1. Phil Avatar

        With the flood, rates have definitely been hurt. I was getting plenty of work at $1 a word 10 years ago. While most of that has dried up (publications folded), I still come across it ocassionally. But it’s still $1 a word. Even if you figure 2 percent inflation over each of the last 10 years, that $1 is now worth 82 cents. It’s a real kick in the head when you think about it.

  2. Salma Jafri Avatar

    Hi Deb,

    While I do agree with your overall assessment of low pay, crap content offenders, I would like to make a positive case for bidding sites. I’m on Elance and while its no picnic, I’ve worked hard for my current asking rate rate and an award ratio of 33% there.

    Bidding sites are sometimes the only option for international freelancers such as myself who don’t have PayPal services and for whom it would be very difficult to set up a direct deposit system.

    I’ve learnt a lot about how to avoid low-balling clients on Elance during the year that I’ve been there and it all comes down to attitude and self-worth. If you believe in yourself, provide stellar work and stick to your guns, then there’s loads of fantastic buyers willing to hire you at a good rate and treat you with respect. In fact I’m working with some right now and aiming to convert them to regular clients.

    I do, however, agree with you 100% about article directories, PLR stuff and crowdsourcing!
    .-= Salma Jafri´s last blog ..Part II: How to Investigate a Buyer =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Salma,

      I think it’s terrific it’s working for you. I know there are many happy bidding site freelancers just as there are many satisfied content site freelancers. My point is that we have both good and bad experiences with all of these different places and to single out one site individually isn’t addressing the problem. A lot of places need to be cleaned up.

  3. Kate Avatar

    I’m interested in hearing more about bidding sites. I’ve tried a few, and my experience has been less than stellar. In addition to the unrealistic expectations for providing tons of work in a short period of time and the incredibly low pay rates, I found so many of the actual project descriptions to be poorly written and vague. I had serious qualms about submitting proposals to these sketchy posts. Maybe I’m missing something, so if you can provide an insider’s view explaining the best way to navigate these sites, I’d love to read it.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Kate,

      We’re going to have one writer’s experience with a bidding site this week, and if there’s a good response we’ll make it into a series.

  4. Genesis Avatar

    Good point, there’s a lot more going on out there apart from just content sites. That being said, I’ve used article marketing sites myself to promote other sites, so I do see good things there, though like you say, the vast majority of stuff on those sites is crud, and I’ve also sold PLR packages in order to make a little more cash off a small amount of writing. My experiences on bidding sites have been similar to yours, I’ve never been able to stick out the “build your ranking” part . . . I’d rather spend that time applying for actual paying jobs. 🙂

  5. Matt Demers Avatar

    Why we DON’T bitch about other sites as much as Demand Studios is because of those other types of sites, none of them -should- work.

    Anyone with common sense (and who wants a good paycheque) should be able to tell that crowdsourcing, PLR and lowballing bidding sites aren’t going to make you a steady living at writing.

    However, content sites like Demand should, in theory, subvert this problem and offer writers manageable rates for the work they put in. However, they don’t, in the name of saying “if you don’t accept our crap rates, someone else will.”

    This does not fix the problem. They are representing the unwillingness to fix the problem. THAT is why we bitch.
    .-= Matt Demers´s last blog ..Matt rocks The Not So Much News =-.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Actually I wasn’t singling out Demand Studios. There are tons of content sites. Many were around long before Demand.

      Demand Studios has the strictest of all the guidelines and they recently raised their rates on more than one site, so they are addressing the problem. In fact, they’re one of the few sites that listen to the freelance writing community to clean up the content and pay writers more money. However, because they’re so big and so successful, they ‘re the scapegoat.

      But that wasn’t what this post was about at all.

      We can’t talk about poor web content and poor rates without discussing all the reasons why this is the case. One site is not to blame for it all.

  6. Eric Avatar

    Thanks for the informative post, Deb. I think I joined the party late – I missed the raging debate over content sites – perhaps that’s a good thing.

    Here’s a suggestion, one that might be good for someone like you who likes to make lists: why not write a pair of “best and worst” lists of writing sites? Content sites, article directories, bidding sites, the whole works – every place writers go to write that’s not traditional freelancing. Are these sites even worthy of that sort of ranking, in yours (or some other expert’s) opinion?
    .-= Eric´s last blog ..Standby Mackenzeie – Chapter 3 =-.

  7. Erik Hare Avatar

    I completely agree that there are literally dozens of ways to lure people into writing for very little money. Textbroker is an example of a site that can work for you IF you write very, very fast. However – at 3 cents a word a 400 word “article” can’t take you more than 90 minutes to research and write if you’re going to avoid violating Federal Minimum Wage Laws.

    I gave it a try a few times, and there was no way I could do quality work without skating very close to that boundary. If it was a topic I could do off the top of my head it was no problem, but when asked to “re-write this article to pass an originality test” it was hard to finish in less than 60 minutes.

    If I’m gonna get paid minimum wage, I’ll pick manual labor that allows my mind to wander off into good plot development for my novel, thank you. Besides, heavy lifting is good for your physique.
    .-= Erik Hare´s last blog ..Health Care: A Line not Crossed =-.

  8. Brittany Laneaux Avatar

    I joined the party late as well, and even though I have been reading your blog for about 2 months, I have never commented. I think I have always felt a little out of my league.

    My experience with has been interesting so far and I’m just at the beginning. I work full time as an English teacher and have two small children, but writing is my dream. In my spare time (whatever that means), I write for Demand Studios and Suite101. I tried Associated Content, but I have seen more residual income faster at Suite101.

    For me it is a great thing to be able to need a little extra money and go to Demand Studios and get it. This summer while I’m not teaching, I plan on experimenting with more. I would love to freelance full time and your blog has really helped me so far.

    Thank you so much.

  9. poch Avatar

    I was once offered a PLR job in which I have to use an article-spinning program.
    I replied that I only curate or ‘spin’ articles manually and only once.
    I was rejected.

  10. Mary E. Ulrich Avatar
    Mary E. Ulrich

    Thanks for listing the types of freelance writing sites. I’ve heard some of these descriptors before, but still don’t really know what they mean. I look forward to your future posts and examples–actually I’ve never seen them explained anywhere before.

    When I started this journey, I thought it would be about becoming a better writer. Then there is the need to learn the basics of social media, blogging, marketing and…. guess this is just the next logical step.

    The path to becoming a freelance writer feels like Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. It’s a whole other world with new jargon, new ways of thinking, strange customs and with people yelling, “Off with your head.”

  11. Jill Preston Avatar
    Jill Preston

    I have learned a lot from this article. I was not aware of some of the other kinds of sites and problems. The big world picture of free lance writing kind of reminds me of TV. You have your awesome miniseries and Public television. That’s like research writers. You have sitcoms which is a lot like content writers.Then you have ads. The ads on prime time are a lot more clever than the infomercials. There is a whole range beyond my few listings. Put together though it is what we have become familiar with and there is a place for all of it. I think this is true of free lance writing.
    I can say I do write for a content site, I do love it for several reasons. The things I hate are the same old things I hate about jobs in general. I think its about choice. I am always glad for chocolate,vanilla and strawberry. It means I have a choice! That’s a good thing.

  12. Carson Brackney Avatar

    There’s SO much to cover here, so I’m going to limit my comments to the article directory question.

    I’ve ghostwritten literally thousands of articles that my clients distributed to directories like

    The editorial bar is set extremely low at these sites (though is making some effort to weed out the crappola) and I you’re right about the overall quality of articles encountered–especially at weaker directories that are nothing more than Adsense bait in weak disguise.

    The directory world may be diluting overall quality, but until something changes with the way search works, they’re going to keep on trucking–at least for awhile.

    The reason why people will pay me to write those articles is because they work like a freaking charm under the right circumstances.

    When optimized for the right long-tail keywords, effectively written and coupled with a good resource box, they can drive a lot of targeted traffic to the right spot–traffic that converts much better than most sources.

    Here’s an example… A few years ago, while playing around on a Sunday afternoon, I found a little info product/ebook in a niche I wouldn’t have considered. I thought their copy was good enough and they had an affiliate program. I did a little keyword research, checked things out a bit, created a quick (and extremely plain) pre-sell landing page, and then wrote a few articles under a pen name that went straight to EzineArticles.

    It didn’t take long before the sales started. So, I wrote a few more articles as I worked down the keyword list. Long story short: I spent at *most* five or six hours on the project and it’s netted me literally thousands of dollars over the course of four years.

    That’s one landing page on a project site and about ten short articles plus a half-hour of research… Yes, it’s an outlier–those results aren’t typical–but the same core strategy can work with less startling, but still damn good results, elsewhere.

    Now, I could’ve built a site or blog on the topic, promoted it and obtained the same results (if not slightly better). Piggybacking on EZA allowed me to get great results with very little effort, however. I can count on a commission or two every week even now.

    At some point, I could still opt to use what I’ve learned about the niche to launch my own site to push the product–or to create my own product, for that matter. In that sense, the directories can provide a low-risk method of testing the waters before diving into a particular idea.

    I think we sometimes dismiss the idea of using some of these options because *we* know how much crap is in the same neighborhood. In many cases, the people who find the articles aren’t regular info-searchers and they don’t give a rat’s ass where they find things. They aren’t instantly turned off by the domain name upon which the content rests. If you can use directories to get good pre-sells high in the SERPs, the fact that the other 1 billion horrific articles are there doesn’t really enter the picture.

    That being said, I think the low quality issue will eventually produce some changes in search, etc. So, it may not be a “forever” strategy. I also think a lot of people overstate the backlink benefit of these sites. The really low-quality directories are well on their way to dying out, as well. In the meantime, one can use the better directories to his or her advantage.

  13. John Soares Avatar

    I think the best way to make good money as a freelance writer is to specialize in a niche that needs high-quality writing and will pay well for it. It’s worked for me and other writers I know.

    Granted, if you aren’t established in niche (yet), you can make some money and gain valuable experience through some of the opportunities you address here.
    .-= John Soares´s last blog ..Capturing and Keeping Your Freelance Writing Ideas =-.

  14. SatuR Avatar

    As I’m reading this, I’m also looking at a bidding site where someone wants “100 high quality, totally original and unique articles of at least 250 words each” about “travel and vacations”, and the MAXIMUM he’s willing to pay is $250 for the 100 articles. That’s max. $2.50/article, yet he wants native English speakers and “informative and entertaining articles” that must pass Copyscape.

    I’m quite new to this online writing thing, I used to work for print media and radio for years over here in Europe. The lowest paying print gig I ever had was writing a 400-word column for my local newspaper (a paper known for bad pay, it’s a small local paper) and I got 80 euros for each column (that’s around $110 for 400 words). I’ve started experimenting with bidding sites recently but it’s shocking how low most of the bids are. I’ve ended up winning very few bids because there are so many people willing to write for $1/500 words (I think I once saw $0.75 for a 500-word article).

  15. Doug Avatar

    Funny, but all the type sites you complain get advertised right here on The worst offenders are those who ask you for a writing test, then don’t respond back to your submission and don’t pay you for your time. Anyone writing site asking for a writing test, in my mind, is a scam to get free content out of you with the ploy they are going to pay. I’ve been burned by so many of these sites, I’ve lost count. Applying to these jobs is so time consuming and frustrating, and maybe I’ll one or two responses out of 10 ads to which I’ve applied. I did find one site that actually paid me $50.00 for an article, even though they didn’t bring me on to work for them but that is a rarity. Obviously people do not read the sent writing samples nor the cover letter where I clearly state my rate, even though these potential ask for them in order to be considered. I’ve been doing this freelance thing for over 2 years and have found one legitimate client, but one can’t make a living or even decent part-time pay off of one client. And every time I read about the thousands of dollars to be made by working as freelance writer, I cringe. How anyone can or could make a living do this seems beyond me. I have alterior motives for doing it, but freelance writing is an avenue I’m exploring that I hope will lead me to better things.

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