Freelance Writing for the Web: A Change is Gonna Come. Are You Ready?

While many FWJ readers may write primarily for print, I know that many others (like me) have businesses built primarily on writing for online markets.  This post targets those of us who make a living online, so to speak.

The Big Question

Why do people pay you to write?

Is it because…

  • You’re so damn talented?
  • They can’t do it themselves?
  • You can make the content creation process more efficient?
  • Clients love your website and/or pitches?
  • You have a special skill or area of expertise?


Those may be reasons why clients choose you over other writers, but people come to the marketplace in the first place for another reason.  They think they can use what you produce to turn a profit.  They want to make money.

Sometimes I wonder if too many online writers spend way too much effort thinking about how to get work now and how to compete for gigs while spending far too little effort thinking about that bigger, core question.  I wonder if many web-based freelancers may be setting themselves up for future struggles because of it, too.

A Change is Gonna Come

That’s not because I foresee a sudden drop in the demand for online content.  On the contrary, I think that a variety of new and even lucrative opportunities is on the horizon.  However, I do question the longer-term viability of many markets upon which writers are building businesses.  I wonder how many writers will survive and/or react as the Internet and the way we use it changes.

In order to protect yourself and your business, it’s important to delve into the reason why demand for writing exists–the profit potential of the output.  That means having both a solid understanding of the strategies clients are employing in pursuit of revenue and the greater trends that will undoubtedly force changes to those strategies and to the marketplace as a whole.

For instance, any writer who isn’t thinking about inevitable changes in the nature of search engines is making a mistake.  The search engines don’t stand still.  Google and its smaller competitors are constantly refining their approaches and there are a number of reasons to believe that they’ll be forced to make some major adjustments in the relatively near future.

Those changes could have a major impact on what are “bread and butter” for many writers.  Traditional article marketing and the mass production “content mill” approach will have a difficult time thriving in an improved search environment.

Last week I posted an interview with SEO Kieran Flanagan here at FWJ.  He made a point of discussing both the changing face of link acquisition for SEO and the growing role of social media in his business.  The days of using 500-word articles at a pre-ordained keyword density level and fueling them with a series of  easy-to-acquire, low-grade links is on its way out.  At the very least, the writing is on the wall.

At my blog, I recently posted about the less-than-rosy long-term future of low-quality content mill work due to market forces within the search sector and the increasingly untenable hypocrisy of Google in terms of how they’ve “banned” paid links yet are allowing other intentional methods of subverting their search algorithm to have an impact on SERPs.

You don’t need to agree with my perspective to recognize that there’s a lot boiling under the surface in the way people find and use information online.  No matter how you think it all might unfold, you can be certain that, in the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.”

Preparing for Change

We often talk about the need to spread risk when developing an overall approach to building a freelance writing business.  That need is usually expressed in terms of “not putting all of your eggs in one basket.”  That’s rock-solid advice–in the short run.  In the longer run, it’s just as important to have a sense of what future eggs may look like and if there may be new ways to store them.  Hell, the eggs we gather today may be poisonous before too long and we might all be laughing at the antiquated notion of using baskets.

People pay writers because they want to make money.  Writers who aren’t sufficiently prepared to transition their talents and to apply them to new contexts aren’t going to be in the best position to help clients make money.  Writers who have over-invested in strategies that seem to have a limited lifespan could be setting themselves up for a more difficult future.

That doesn’t mean anyone should abandon any part of his or her business that’s currently producing a nice stream of revenue.  Make hay while the sun is shining.  However, one should probably do that with an awareness of the need to move on to new markets and new approaches once the limitations of those activities start to become increasingly visible.  Otherwise, you might find yourself well behind the curve while other writers profit from being ahead of it.

The Moral to the Story

Continue to focus on being a badass writer who offers the world’s greatest customer service.  Continue to work on distinguishing yourself in the marketplace and do everything you can to become the best choice among those who are looking for a writer.

At the same time, look ahead.  Make a point of learning more about why potential clients are looking for a writer in the first place and study the hell out of the marketplace and the kind of changes in advertising, search, social media, and all of the other things that are going to force changes in the way people conduct business and information acquisition on the ‘Net.

If you’re going to focus on online markets, be smart, nimble, well-informed and an expert in larger trends.


20 responses
  1. John Soares Avatar

    I’m glad you are examining the future of writing articles and posts primarily to gain SEO.

    If you want to make a truly decent living as a freelance writer, you need to specialize in a niche that pays writers well. Pick an industry or business sector you know something about, and then target individual businesses to hire you.

    I specialized in writing for college textbook publishers, but there are thousands of other niches.
    .-= John Soares´s last blog ..Four Ways Writing Well Helps Your Freelance Writing Career =-.

  2. J.B. Greene Avatar
    J.B. Greene

    Twenty years ago my publisher told me a change was coming. She asked if I would be ready, to transition from newspaper writing and editing to the next big thing. The next big thing was the Internet. Those who can’t evolve will not succeed. This applies to all writers, not just those at the content mills.

  3. LIsa Avatar

    what JB said.

  4. allena Avatar

    Yet another reason to remember eggs and baskets.
    .-= allena´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Blogs: Cream of the Crop Posts =-.

  5. Kathryn Lang Avatar

    Thanks for the insight – I have already started to focus on providing quality content to all my clients. If they are not ready to pay for quality then I am not the writer to do the work. 😀
    .-= Kathryn Lang´s last blog ..Raising the Bar to Excellence =-.

  6. Kimberly Avatar

    I agree, Carson. As writers we have to stay on top on industry changes and always remain strategic in our thinking and the way we market our services.
    .-= Kimberly´s last blog ..Is There a Negative Stigma Attached to being a WAHM? =-.

  7. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    I find the changes exciting. Every time the market shifts the demand increases for new content to explain the new rules.

  8. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @John- I think niche specialization can work well for many people. Personally, I prefer the life of a generalist in terms of subject matter, though I do have a few areas where my knowledge base runs a bit deeper. I guess I’ve specialized in having “crossover” skills, though. At least I’d like to think so! 🙂

    @JB & Lisa- Absolutely. The need for adaptability extends to everyone.

    @Allena- Eggs and baskets, for sure. Plus, whatever might eventually replace eggs and baskets!
    .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..Weekly Post at FWJ–Freelance Writers and Preparing for Change =-.

  9. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @Kathryn- I think everyone should always be making a point of quality. However, I think that changes in the “way things work” will result in fantastic opportunities who combine that commitment to quality with a deeper understanding of search, online business models, etc.

    @Kimberly- Agreed. It’s basically mandatory if one wants to consistently grow his or her business instead of playing catch up.

    @Tammi- It is exciting. I know that many people aren’t thrilled at the prospect of change, but I see it as a great opportunity for improvement.
    .-= Carson Brackney´s last blog ..Weekly Post at FWJ–Freelance Writers and Preparing for Change =-.

  10. Anne Wayman Avatar

    I’m old enough to have lived through several changes and more are coming… I was just looking at what’s happening in ebooks with google reader and and I think I’m behind on those.

    Writing well got me started in this writing industry; seeing the web as another way to publish has kept me going… I love the way it changes… not always while I’m struggling to learn, but the results.

    .-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..Invoicing For Freelance Writers and Editors =-.

  11. tara Avatar

    You make a lot of claims with nothing to back it up. Holy smokes! This article would not pass Demand Studios standards, LOL!!

    What exactly are you talking about with search engine searches and how it is changing? You’ve offered nothing here to explain it. Any good writer, Web or otherwise would not simply post a link and send people off to hunt down the information. It’s just not interesting enough.

    A Google change is not the story. Specifically, in other countries — London, for example — there is a real push to heavily regulate the Internet through new laws. These new laws have the potential to severely restrict ALL online content. Talks of Internet regulation changes in the US are also underway. This is at the government level, not the Google level.

    If you think “content mills” and the like are the only ones who will feel it, IF similar laws ever come to America, you are sadly mistaken. An overly restrictive online environment has the potential to severely impact ALL forms of Internet businesses. When businesses lose revenue, they cut jobs and if your client is affected it just might cut YOUR freelance writing job.

    To the author of this tripe, find something more productive to do and write about aside from the old, OLD angle of “writing for Web, bad; writing for corporate America, good.” Before you cheer on the demise of other industries, realize you might just be — in ignorance — cheering on the demise of your own livelihood, as well. Get a grasp on what is actually happening and how it affects everyone. It comes across as some sort of spin job to placate the people who think these kind of excessive restrictions are a good idea.

  12. tara Avatar

    Ok, out of morbid curiosity I checked the blog and it was as expected. Now you not only made a claim with nothing to back it up — you have sent me to a link that also has nothing to back it up. The interview you cite has no such information!

    Examine your own standards of quality. One of the people who commented on your blog made a good point. If Google makes money off of something, they will keep it.

    Having said that, I regret to inform you that your blog might be in danger, LOL! Oh, I have to stop, my stomach hurts from laughing….

  13. Carson Brackney Avatar


    At the risk of sounding rude…

    What in the hell are you talking about?

    The point of this wee blog post (which, by the way, wasn’t intended to be a comprehensive examination of the constantly-changing face of the Internet) simply reminds those who write for online markets that new developments may very well dry some wells while digging new ones. If folks want to stay hydrated, they should consider that. It’s simply a reminder that folks need to stay on their toes so they can continue to make a living.

    The posts referenced within this one *do* underline that point. My interview with Kieran showed how at least one SEO professional is shifting his perspectives on various fronts. The other post explains how some online business strategies are exploiting Google’s vulnerabilities and that they will force SEs to look for new (and hopefully more accurate) means of quality assessment.

    With respect to your comments re: Internet regulation… I can see nothing in the post that would contradict that or minimize its importance. I sense that the two of us would probably see eye to eye on much of that.

    With respect to your weird claims that I’m somehow arguing in favor of serving corporate masters… That’s laughable. I’m simply mentioning that multiple forces are likely to alter the way search engines make ranking determinations and potential shifts in their usage. Those changes will have an impact on those who write for the web. That certainly doesn’t mean “working for big business good.”

    If your hidden point is that I’m fiddling while Rome burns by examining changes in the search landscape instead of sounding the warning about improper government interference with the Internet, so be it. You’re right. This particular post doesn’t address that risk. Why not? Well, let’s see…

    1. It wasn’t on my mind at the time.
    2. It isn’t necessary to cover all issues at all times.
    3. I wanted to piss off you off, compelling you to write a big ol’ rant.

    I’m just kidding about #3.

    I’m not cheering the demise of any industry and I’m certainly not a big fan of licking the man’s boot. I don’t know how you reached those conclusions. Seriously. I’m at a loss.

    You might want to read this:

    I think it’s apropos for this situation.

    Thanks for calling it tripe and keep on laughing,


  14. tara Avatar

    I said it because you have used a fragment of a huge issue to grind an axe over Web writing. The fact is you didn’t offer a good case and you ignored the over-riding issue. In my book that makes your agenda questionable.

    In keeping with your theme of how everything we write is a reflection on us, what you just displayed was very unwise.

    If you want to spout arrogance, be careful what that says about you. Quite frankly, I trust people from your camp a lot less than someone who wrote a half-baked article with a typo in it.

    I don’t like mean people and your motivations are very mean.

  15. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    Hi Carson,

    You don’t need to post this comment. I think your blog may have been hacked. Two different links I tried to follow took me to some evil pop-up from that says my computer has been hacked, runs a threat assessment…yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Wonder if it has anything to do with the troll…

    Anyway, thought you should know.

    .-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Find Writing Jobs Through Clubs and Associations =-.

  16. Carson Brackney Avatar

    @Tara: You’re jumping to a number of conclusions. I’m sorry if I was snotty in my reply, but you really are about 100 ways wrong about me, my perspective, etc. My motivations aren’t mean and I don’t have “a camp.” Good luck with everything.

    @Tammi: Thanks for the heads-up. Just returned home from a weekend out of town to find this comment and a few emails about the problem. I don’t think Tara (who is mainly just wrong, not a troll) had anything to do with it. I’m going to try to fix things up this evening.

  17. Deb Ng Avatar

    Tara – Freelance Writing Jobs has a comment policy. Though we appreciate a debate or respectful disagreement, we draw the line at personal attacks. By all means, debate the issues with Carson, but please make it about the issues and not Carson himself.

  18. Quitman Gregory Avatar

    Interesting set of comments. While I can appreciate a good debate. I have to agree with Deb…As much as niche writing is concerned. I see the field becoming more and more subjective-basically the end of novelty.

    Well if change is coming…I hope its good. The last decade was a bust!


  19. Confused Avatar

    Could you please fix your website so that all links for “writing gigs” or “freelance jobs” do not link to this article? When I click on those headings, I’m expecting to see links to writing job websites or a listing of jobs like they have on

    It makes the navigation very frustrating. It seems that articles or columns should be under a heading such as “career advice,” “latest news,” “latest trends,” or some other variation thereof.


  20. David Avatar

    Good read and well put out. Change is coming (hope for the better).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.