"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Freelance Writing: Helium.com Review

Beginning Freelance Writers: Helium.com Website Review

One of the websites that many beginning online freelance writers run into is Helium.com. Helium is an unusual writing website in that they really emphasize community and a ratings system. There are several ways to make money here, as there is a market place, weekly contests, as well as the normal revenue sharing streams that online freelance writers might be aware of from writing on other websites online like Associated Content, which pay a PPV (pay per view) bonus, or from sites like Xomba, where you share in the AdSense revenue your articles help to produce. Just recently (and the one thing that is preventing me from absolutely putting Helium's head on a chopping block) is they have recently introduced up front payments, although there is a catch to this, as well.

Helium's mottos range from "A Place for Knowledge" to "A Place for Writers." While many people talk about how good the community is, and there are always people trolling blogs with comments defending Helium every time a bad Helium website review is posted online. In fact I have an account with Helium from checking it out and giving it a fair shake. It won't surprise me at all if I never see my first $25 payment. If I'm wrong and I do, fine. Great. I'll write an apology if it's warranted, but even with the new system of upfront payments for freelance writers, for the beginning freelance writer I simply would not recommend Helium.com. It might have its place for certain freelance writers, but for most writers and all beginners I would say not to waste your time, but I'll go into that more in the main review.

First of all, the terms of service. All the rights that Helium.com buys are non-exclusive, meaning you are allowed to re-publish and re-sell your articles wherever you can find a buyer. But, Helium also ALWAYS has the right to use your article for any further purpose they see fit without further reimbursement. So if you write an amazing article they sell to a magazine, tough luck. You don't see any of that. How often (if ever) this happens, in all fairness, is debatable.

Second, you can get paid for your work...but you're never going to find out how exactly since the terms on payment are vague and nebulous at best. Also, you absolutely must have one rating star to get paid. Period. If you don't have a rating star from having at least 50 articles rated in the past month, then you will not receive a single penny of the money your articles make. So despite advertisements about Helium being a place that will earn you income "in perpetuity," the fact is if you ignore this site for more than a month, you won't receive any money.

So let's also get to money. It stinks. There's no other way to put it than that. There are several ways to make money, and some might not seem so bad a pay rate, but there's a reason that I can say freelance writing for Helium does not pay off. Let's go over how the money works:

1) Contests. There are weekly contests for channels where the writers who get the most points, through a combination of total articles written and overall rankings, get some decent pay outs by the end of the week.

Problem w/ Helium Contests: I use the word "decent" in the most liberal and loosest, sense of the word. The second problem: they say they 'discourage' the practice of uploading all 20-25 articles at once at the end of the week, since early articles tend to naturally rise. By having all these articles uploaded right before deadline, the combination of scores is likely to put that person into first place because there isn't enough voting time for the quality of these articles to be judged. Despite 'discouraging' this practice, it happens all the time and those who complain are often banned, or at least claim to be at which point new articles under that pen name cease to appear on Helium. This might not happen with every contest every time, but it has happened on several Helium writing contests.

2) Helium Marketplace. Many people claiming to make any amount of money writing for Helium mention the marketplace as where it can be done. The competition in marketplaces is huge, and it's not unusual to see over 200 articles per request. There has also been rumblings online (disclaimer: these are alleged and while this has been repeated by several individuals the evidence offered is scant) that many of the markets looking for content are actually fictional or owned by Helium, so they're being used to generate content without picking someone to pay.

Additionally, even if these are all completely legitimate, here's the thing: if you're good enough to consistently beat out 300+ people in the marketplace, then spend $75 on a Writer's Market with a one year online subscription and make the big bucks writing for legitimate print markets. If you're that good, there's absolutely no reason why you should settle for peanuts when you should be eating caviar.

3) Residual Income from profit sharing at Helium. The Helium writing site spends a lot of time enticing writers with this promise, but is it a really good deal? With over one hundred articles that have been uploaded since February, over 3/4 of which are #1 in their category, including several "front page features," I have acquired a whopping $17.71. Other people talk about $300 a month for 500 articles...I find that incredibly unlikely.

Slight writing tangent: Before I get ten comments talking about how amazing Helium is (wait for them - it's only a matter of time) and how I must be a (insert explicative) who doesn't know how to write, I'll repeat: over 100 articles, nearly 75% that are #1 ((or at least in that range as of this writing)), and including several articles that were featured front page. If anyone wants to get into an economical "whip it out" contest, fine. By the end of this year I'll clear close to $50,000 from writing. Apologies to everyone else as I usually keep my calm, but the comments I've received before from questionable "Helium rocks" sources have pissed me off before, so if you aren't clearing 50k from Helium (and if you are, you're an idiot for not writing elsewhere) then bite me. This is an honest review from my experiences, deal with it. End of slight freelance writing tangent.

And if you're that good at promotion, why not write online for some place that pays a lot more per view, like Associated Content, which also more easily ranks near the top of Google, giving you more traffic for real passive income. Which doesn't disappear the moment you're under one rating star. Since you don't have to waste your valuable time rating what is often times really really bad writing.

If you don't have a rating star, Helium isn't going to pay you a penny. So the "completely hands off income" idea with the Helium writing site is crap, and still would be even if they paid more. At worst at AC you get $1.50 per 1,000 views. It's not a lot, but it is truly passive income, and if you get ranked at the top, it's $2.00 per 1,000 views. Far better than the 7 cents a month Helium has paid for my best articles (and yes, I use Stat Counter, so I can confirm that I've had high traffic articles that received pennies).

4) Upfront payments from Helium for freelance writers. Yes, they now offer up front payments. But these up front payments are also conditional. You have to have one writing star for the entire month, including when rankings and earnings are figured at the end of the month. Upfront payments are also dependant on your writing stars and range from $0.50 to $2.50 per article. AC still has them beat here with $3-5 an article for upfront payments (and their bonus for page views is far better than Helium's - the two aren't even comparable).

But you don't get upfront payments as a true beginner. You need a minimum of one writing star in order to qualify for upfront payments. In theory, if your articles are in qualified topics and rank on average in the top quarter, you can get a writing star with 4 articles. You can get three at 100 articles, and 5 isn't in reach until the 500 article mark. So some early articles you won't get paid for. And if your rankings mysteriously fall right before payday (something that happens quite often if you're on the edge) then you might lose out quite a bit by getting knocked down.

And there's the fact that it is still a ridiculously small amount of money and that there are far better sites to put your money up on.

So what's the cash difference between Helium & AC?

A ton. Let's hypothetically say you upload 100 articles from scratch to Helium vs. AC. We'll also assume that you get the maximum payment for every Helium article, and the lowest end of average for AC ($3 each, and you're losing a ton of change if you go by this average, if not outright dollar bills - and I'm not saying AC is the best, but it is compared to Helium, IMO). And we're even assuming only 3/4 of AC articles are approved for upfront payment, so you don't get any upfront money for your writing for a quarter of the articles. Assuming this:

Upfront payment from Associated Content: $225 (and in reality it would probably be much higher).

Upfront payment from Helium: $83.50 (and remember, this is the absolute maximum possible starting from 0 to 100)

That's a $131.50 difference right off the bat for the EXACT SAME AMOUNT OF WORK! Based on my experience, in a good month you can expect about $3.60 from Helium in residual income. That's it. So $87.10 for 100 articles of work assuming everything breaks right.

For 100 articles with Associated Content, I'm even going to estimate low. You usually get the most views right off the bat, but I'll going to figure average page views for 100 articles that are a year old, and we're figuring you don't have a single breakout article on AC out of those 100. Also not likely, but hey, that's what we're figuring. Shame on you for not doing better ;)

For those 100, on a bad month, expect $15 if you don't do any promotion at all. So what does this lead to? $240 worst case scenario for AC as opposed to $87.10 for a best case scenario. It wouldn't be unrealistic to think the actual numbers far closer to $330 to $80 or even bigger. So defend Helium if you want, but why as a freelance writer would you do the same amount of work for $150 less or worse?

So How Could Helium Be Good for Freelance Writers?

First of all, beginning freelance writers simply should not waste their time here if money is the only concern. The monetary rewards aren't nearly enough, and anyone who can make a respectable residual income here can do far better for the same or less work elsewhere. But Helium does offer a really good online community if that's what you're looking for, as long as you don't bring up criticisms or issues you have with the site.

In addition, Helium does allow links in articles now. There are two issues with this. One: if you know about Internet Marketing, AdSense, and how search engine rankings work, then this is potentially an obvious bonus. If you want to only be a writer and that's it, then this isn't much of an advantage at all. The one caveat: I don't spend much time there anymore, so I don't know if the links are "Do Follow" or not. If they're not, then there's no advantage here. If they are, then this could be an okay place to dump article directory type articles marketing your other sites. You get some keyword anchored back links, and maybe a few pennies for each article. Maybe.

Also, if you've been writing online for years and literally have hundreds upon hundreds of articles you've already written that :

  1. You still own the rights to
  2. You will never use or re-sell for higher amounts again

Then writing for Helium can work for you as an article dumping ground. But keep in mind you will have to continue ranking articles in order to receive your upfront payments, as well as residual income. Otherwise you get absolutely zilch for your effort.

I hate recommending a site as an article dumping ground, but that's about the high end of what I can recommend here. It could get you a few hundred dollars extra on the side, and maybe a pittance of monthly residual income. If you are working with Squidoo, AdSense, Hubpages, then those keyword anchored links (if they are do follow - and if anyone knows for sure please leave some information in the comments section) could be helpful if you use them right.

Otherwise new writers should look at Associated Content, or check out my review of Constant Content if you're more of a dabbler. I've sold single articles there where my take home is more than I would make in residual income in a decade of writing for Helium.

For writers with a lot of articles already, there might be something here. If it wasn't for the upfront payments at least offering something, I would say this site is a complete waste of time.

I've heard Helium.com for writers is really a scam

There are a lot of blog posts, forum discussions, and other pages relating to this thought process online. There also ALWAYS manages to be several people ravenously defending Helium, usually lobbing accusations of people not following the TOS, or not understanding how online writing works. The sheer consistency of this is suspicious enough to me personally, but that's neither here nor there.

I am a believer in the "where there's smoke, there's fire" thesis. And no matter how much you argue, among the "big name" online content sites that pay for freelance writing, Helium by far and away has the most complaints involve the words "scam," "rip off," or "they never paid me." I haven't qualified for the first $25 in residual income, but I did dump a ton of old articles for their early year Reward-a-thon, and they did pay me the $150 owed, so I can't speak to rip offs personally, because I've kept my mouth shut and I got paid.

That said, it is online. Do your research and make up your own mind about it. Is Helium a complete scam? I'd say no. Is it a major rip-off? Yeah, it could definitely be considered that. I've experimented with a lot of writing sites, and Squidoo, Hubpages, Constant-Content, Associated Content, and even my 5 new articles on eHow absolutely trump Helium. Even Xomba, which pays by splitting AdSense clicks, does better for me on an article to article basis.

I would say that beginning writers who are trying to learn how to start freelance writing careers should not spend a lot of time at Helium, but should work on other online sites that pay for freelance writing and develop your careers through those much higher paying websites.

So my final grades? If you are an absolute beginner writer who is a competent writer and only interested in the money, Helium gets an F. If you have hundreds of articles to dump that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you'll never use again, and don't mind spending a few hours a week rating, Helium gets a C-. If you're into the Internet marketing and building websites, then the grade is incomplete, but has potential to become a solid C.

The writer who can get the most value from writing for helium is the one who has hundreds of articles collecting dust, who is into Internet Marketing and collecting anchored back links for websites (assuming they are "do follow links") and can stretch one article into a ton of online sales. For this person, Helium might get as high as a B-, but that person might even be the first to tell you there are better ways to spend the time, and Helium is better as diversification rather than a main strategy for making money writing online.

And if it's all about being read for you, you'll get more readers on other websites. So if you're a beginner, my posts have listed a lot of websites where you can get started for free. Your time is far more valuable working for these other sites than it is working for Helium.

That's my review of Helium.com. Now all we have to do is wait and see if I get booted off the site or ever get paid that $25. I'll add an update when I find out either way. Until then, keep on writing, and I'm always happy to answer any questions I can in the comments section.


  1. Thanks for this article. I just started posting pieces to Helium to get familiar with the process and already some serious red flags are popping up. For one, there's got to be rigged ranking, and I'm not saying that because of hurt feelings. I'm saying that because certain writers whose work is consistently crap have a large inventory of #1 rated articles. Helium is (deliberately?) vague about how the rating process works, but you don't have to have superpowers to keep track of your buddies' pieces and rank them high whenever they come up. There are thousands of titles to write to, so there need never be any overlap. You just agree ahead of time who is going to write to what.

    Of course I haven't mentioned this on the boards because I know I would be moderated or shouted down.

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment. I agree with you. I've spent more time on there since, and after writing a few articles to see if the links are do follow or if the up front payments come through, I had a rating star disappear a day before they figure out payments for the month, meaning I didn't qualify for up front payments. This was after spending an hour rating 40 articles just to make sure. After payment time a rating star re-appeared.

    So at this point, I'd say Helium should be avoided like the plague, period. You'd do well to stay with the other sites I mentioned on this blog - you'll make a lot more money for yourself. Don't be embarassed, though, you can't really find out about a site until you try it first hand, so take it as lesson learned and keep on going :)

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thanks for the article, I just joined Helium and wasn't finding it to my tastes. Its not even so much the money aspect but I don't seem to fit in with the "community". The autobiographical Reader's Digest nonsense that dominates their "creative" writing is really unimaginative to me. (Of course, I could just be an incredibly strange guy....) Anyway, Ill focus on my new AC account and see where that goes.

  4. I'm trying out Helium, but will probably leave once I cash out the first $25. Their Gestapo-like tactics, and the way people are crucified on the forums if they refuse to Helium-speak nauseate me. I've looked at supposed "star authors". They are churning out 400-600-word bland drivel for the most part. Anything non-US-centric gets trashed. As for rating, unless you vote with the sheep (hint, search for the article and look at placements before rating :)) ), you will lose your rating star and therefore forfeit any payments until you get it back again.

  5. Thanks for the comments, guys. It's been a while and I should probably do an updated freelance writing website review of Helium, but if anything my opinion of them now is even more negative than before. It really is not a good place for writers to be spending their time and effort. Thanks for the comments on my freelance writing blogspot blog.

  6. Can't disagree with you. I've done what you suggested, using Helium as a dumping ground for articles. I've made about $50 there over the last four or so months. It's something.

  7. Hi John,

    Yeah, I can't argue with having a "dumping ground" for the leftovers, and in theory you can actually get some decent backlinks from Helium, but in my mind there's so much wrong with it I choose not to bother.

  8. better search for dollars by reviewstream.com there easier but I've never get a dollar, please teach me
    dollars over the internet search how easily I had two years to make money online on the internet but do not produce at all. really bad. there may be suggestions from your.
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  9. While I agree that you will not get rich on Helium, I completely disagree that you can't make money, I make slightly over payout every 2 weeks and in one month I made a ton of money by writing historical articles which earned quite a bit, in addition I pick up 3.00 extra for rating so I am paid for it. Another thing is that I write for groups and have an inside into higher paying articles, such as news and how-to articles. I have been with the company for 5 years, and have picked up some very good job leads including two paying me 125.00 for one article. Additionally when my articles were bought from buyers, (I have three so far) I received a payment of 8, 12, and 28 dollars for them. Now I can in no way earn a full time income but I do well. I have learned how to market myself, I have learned how to use blogger to promote my articles and I have learned a few techniques to make sure that I am high up on a regular basis.

    You may have some bad experiences, but I love Helium and will stick with it. I work for many different places so I understand the need to find one that pays you more but I find that I do just fine with Helium, and it is not my only place so I don't depend on it to make my living.

    With Helium, I am working on becoming more involved in How to pages as it gave me a considerable boost in my income, a contest or two helps and you do really great with the marketplace if you stick to articles that are only open to 5 people, another thing is that you can do the marketplace (of groups such as travel) and earn considerably more.

    I think you gave up too easily with Helium and did not participate fully in the programs but as a longtime member of Helium who loves it, I may be biased.

  10. Hi Katherine,

    That's fair, and I thank you for your perspective: it's very well thought out and explained, and that type of comment is always welcome here.

    My issue would still be that if all that work is leading you to payout every two weeks at Helium, that you could have done that work yourself for your own sites or other article directories or web 2.0 sites and have made a lot more for the exact same work. I can see your point of not giving it enough time, but based on the results I was seeing there compared to other sites it made absolutely no sense for me to continue at Helium - and it became a moot point anyway as my account was shut down shortly after I requested my first pay out, which took seven months to accumulate. Meanwhile one of my first articles I wrote on AC (which I'm not as high on as I used to be) made me $7 up front and as of this date over $458 in residuals and still counting.

    Also: This review was posted in 2008 so it's fully possible that in 2011 things have changed slightly. I won't know, because the site isn't worth my time at this point and I had the original gall to ask for my accumulated $25 in earnings.

    But as with anything: if it works for you then don't worry about it. The places that get my attention now weren't the same sites as three years ago, and that's fine: sites change, the markets change, and each writer has to find their own niche. I would say that if you find Helium works for you, then go for it, but I wonder how much income you've left on the table by not building your own sites and blogs or writing for sites that tend to pay better.

    So long and short of it: I appreciate your comments and hope that Helium continues to work well for you. Writing online can be hard and we all need all the positive experiences and steady paychecks we can get.