"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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Freelance Writing 2011: So What Now?

Freelance Writing Online Never Stays the Same

If you've been freelance writing online for any amount of time this spring then wow, you know how crazy the landscape has been changing even by online or writing market standards. If you're hoping for a quick read, this isn't the post. So feel free to bookmark and come back later, or get ready for a marathon run. But first a very important announcement: to those who took me up on the offer of buying my friend Ashley Cowger's first book "Peter Never Came," the report I was finishing for all of you become very outdated with the most recent Google Change and the reaction of Xomba, HubPages, Yahoo Contributor Network, and others towards them. So instead of giving a report that was half obsolete, or making you wait for just a few updates, instead I'm going to finish the freelance writing e-book I'm creating and giving you all the whole thing, including the bonuses.

So it'll be even better than what I promised, it will be completely up to date, and it'll be about two more weeks - but it'll be worth it. I'm very sorry for the delay, this was a prime example of "life happens" along with "Google happens." So since all of you have been so nice and patient with me, I'm just going to give you my entire freelance writing e-book for free.

So onto the long delayed blog post. There's a lot to cover, so this will be a long one and I'll try to cover how freelance writing online has changed, the HubPages ad program, residual income, and everything else that changed/shifted or didn't with the last big Google change.

Xomba updates their policies
Xomba has recently updated their online writing policies, especially in regard to bookmarks. Previous to this, one of the best ways to use Xomba was to bookmark your articles and blog posts, as Xomba bookmarks tended to get amazing rankings in Google all on their own (while their articles didn't which I still find strange) and even better, pretty much guaranteed indexing of whatever you linked to. For those of you who know the frustration of writing 100 backlink articles and hoping they get indexed, you know how valuable it would be to be able to link to every one with a Xomba bookmark and know that those articles would then be crawled. That's very powerful when you're trying to build your backlinks. Now you can't do that. You can't link to your articles, you can't link to your blogs, and well you can't really link to anything. So what does this mean? From my point of view, it means that Xomba no longer as any place in my online portfolio. A 50/50 AdSense on articles on a site that doesn't have the juice of other options out there (options who share more of the pie) doesn't appeal.

Because of this I no longer recommend Xomba as a place to write for online freelance writers looking to make money online or use it as part of a passive income campaign. If writing is just a hobby for you and the money is bonus, then that might be the best place for Xomba, but without the bookmarking benefit, it's just not a good ROI on effort as opposed to benefit, in my opinion.

So where to go now to help stack links and get your articles indexed and keep them that way? If you're an old hat who knows how to use Bookmarking Demon software, then you're already set. For the rest of us, I'd probably recommend two bookmarking site who have revenue share programs: Snipsly.com, and Shetoldme.com. I don't expect these to have the same impact as a Xomba bookmark did, but it's much better than nothing and Snipsly especially is pretty painless to use.

If you have no idea what link stacking is, then take a look at this video blog on the importance of link stacking. It's a great introduction, and Blogger Illustrated is a great marketing blog to get familiar with anyway.

The big Google update - is it time to panic???
The short answer is absolutely not. Google updates are going to happen, and they're going to happen every year. This time sites coined as "content farms" were hammered (how eHow escaped this designation is beyond me), and the cutting down to size of HubPages is the one that really got a lot of attention of online freelance writers and beginning marketers. Part of the reason for this is that HubPages had a ridiculous level of authority in ranking new hubs, which made it attractive for marketers, writers, and unfortunately also douchebag spammers.

My suspicion even early on after the big time slap HubPages received was that the main action was to discount internal HubPages links. The internal linking structure of HubPages was too effective. Sometimes you could get page one rankings for decent keywords with nothing but 30-50 internal links and not a single external backlink. It was only a matter of time until Google did something about this, because that type of system is too easy to abuse. Now don't quote me as Gospel on this is what happened, but others who are much better at analyzing technical data then me just in the past week or two are starting to say the same. Personally, most of my hubs with a lot of external backlinks still rank very well. The hubs whose main strength was strong internal linking were absolutely decimated.

So are HubPages still worth it? For true freelance writers (ie those of you not into Internet Marketing but whom still want passive income) HubPages is great, and the backlinks are still solid even after the Google Algorithm change. Squidoo was declared left for dead three years ago when they were slapped much harder by Google - and my earnings from that site are four times what they were back in 2008. HubPages is making some major changes, and I fully expect them to bounce back over time. Now there are no shortcuts and you need backlinks, but hubs can still rank very well, and you can backlink a lot quicker to hubs than completely brand new websites.

So what happens if you were building original niche sites with solid original writing, good articles, and keyword based URL names? In my case, and the case of hundreds of others, the keyword rankings for my niche websites (especially the long tail keywords) jumped. In other words, if you were concentrating on your own sites which you have full control over, then this last update probably actually helped you out. And if you spent a little too much time on HubPages building easy income instead of investing in your own websites (and I'm not judging - I'm nailed based on this criteria), then take this Google update not as a step back, but as the kick in the pants you needed to do what you should have been doing all along.

At the end of the day this confirms that in the online world change is constant and that people writing high quality original content and who build solid (not thin, not spammy) sites the right way pretty much still have nothing to really worry about. Keep at it.

The HubPages Ad Program
One of the major programs rolled out after the Google-content farm smack down was HubPages' news that they were rolling out their own advertising based program. This was planned even before the Google action and is being rolled out in waves starting with the most prolific and trusted hubbers and as the bugs get worked out the rest of the community will eventually be able to take part.

The earliest beta test only involved 9 hubbers, so take the early results worth a grain of salt, but they reported that AdSense + Hub Ads combined to equal a lot more than what just AdSense alone from Hubs earned. Everyone reported double digit % improvement, while some saw jumps as high as 40 or 50%. This was before the Google slap, but I've been with the program most of March and while it's still early to say anything too definitive (there's just not enough data at this point), I can say that while my Google AdSense coming directly from HubPages has plummeted, the Hubs AdSense + HubPages Ad Program = 6% income increase for me which might not sound like much, but considering that over 80% of my AdSense income came from HubPages, and all of March was post Google slap for HubPages, then a 6% gain is actually pretty damn impressive. And yes - I projected February as a 31 day month to match March so the three day difference has nothing to do with the 6% increase.

However I still have a couple of reservations. I had a couple uncustomarily big days with AdSense that ramped up the monthly earnings, while the overall number of double digit dollar days from AdSense plummeted. However, with the Hub Ad Program there might not be a lot of high days, but daily earnings are consistent which helps bring up the bottom line. The biggest problem is without those two really big days my combined earnings would have been lower. In fairness there's a chance that if I stayed all AdSense on my Hubs, the March numbers would have been even lower than projected. This will bear some testing.

I'm going to be watching through all of April and all of May to collect more data. On the plus side, as this program gets stronger and the changes being employed to HubPages should only make them stronger in the search engines, the Hub program pays directly via PayPal. This means you can still earn AdSense and Amazon from Hubs and build them independently from niche sites, but you also now can have a new income stream from HubPages which definitely helps the diversification process - and add in the bonus of building links and getting a little AdSense and Amazon action on the side and HubPages could really end up ahead on this one. As much as I dislike where Xomba is going with their remodel, I really like the direction HubPages is going for online freelance writers.

Good news - markets are getting better
Granted, this evidence is anecdotal, but on the good news front is I'm finding work much easier to find since before the big recession/economic crash in 2008. Overall many people I'm talking to agree that the demand for freelance writers is rising, and one of the benefits of the most recent Google slap and their strong public argument for quality content is that a strong movement is forming away from Indian and Philippines outsourcers and towards native English speakers for writing articles. The movement is towards at least basic quality, and even if $5 for a 300 word article isn't much at all, a good Native English speaker shouldn't have any problem writing 3-5 of these an hour (assuming Internet standards of quality and not New York Times-Pulitzer Prize level). Even at the minimum there, $15 an hour isn't bad compared to you know, $0 from being unemployed or not being able to find any work.

Now, I don't have an issue with many Philippines outsourcers who are paid to write quality and can do so, but I am against making outsourcers write $1 articles at obscenely fast rates like 125 articles per 40 hour work week. You can't get quality from that. Those of you living overseas who can write quality articles are going to find yourselves in higher demand. It may take some time, but this is a good thing in the long run.

So generally speaking, especially with a changing perception from many Internet Marketers about wanting more original content and wanting more quality, the outlook for freelance writers and especially beginning freelance writers is excellent compared to recent years.

Individual Niche Sites & The Keyword Academy
Individual niche sites are still the way to go with Amazon and AdSense based sites, or you can go with the super site model. The point is, many people who wrote high quality content and invested in their own sites are still doing well. The old model of 5 pages with thin re-hashed content and tons of backlinks and nothing else isn't going to work anymore. However a rock solid niche site with twenty or more pages of original and high quality content can do quite well.

In other words, those of you frustrated seeing cheap crap rank ahead of you because you developed your own sites with original and high quality content that took some time to develop then don't worry and keep working because my niche sites are doing fine. In fact, they've done much better since the last update. If anything, the only thing this last update did was to confirm what many Internet Marketers have said all along: go ahead and use blogger, HubPages, Squidoo, and the like for links but INVEST in your business with your own websites which you can actually control and which can't arbitrarily just be taken away from you.

This also brings us to what I believe is the best tool out there for online freelance writers or marketers, especially novices or beginners or even those somewhere in the middle. I am a firm believer in The Keyword Academy (and yes, that is an affiliate link) and see the teaching, lessons, and resources they offer as more important than ever. If you want to work towards full time residual income, then in my opinion you'd be a fool not to join this program. It's the only monthly membership site I belong to, and I anticipate it's the only one I ever will.

First of all, there's an e-book and video tutorials for beginners that are extremely detailed and helps even the greenest newbie understand basic SEO, how to build niche sites, and how to get going with making money online. Add in support forums, a great community, and some unbelievable tools and it's not hard for people to see why the Keyword Academy is so well thought off by its members.

There are amazing tools that make keyword research a breeze, help to get a large number of good backlinks (the hardest part of SEO and ranking in the search engines), and to teach the technical aspects of setting up WordPress blogs. Those videos in particular have been huge for me, helping me to learn how to change the blog set ups as necessary to optimize my sites and get the most money out of them.

The way it currently works is the first month is free, then it's $33 a month for the premium membership after that (go with the premium as the webinar recordings and Forums are worth the extra $4 a month). Any one of their major tools alone would be worth the money, so the combination is outstanding. They're recent webinar push towards further quality content convinces me that they're dedicated to building amazing tools that will last.

If you are ready to really pursue the passive income options from working online, then you want to check out the Keyword Academy. They're the best teachers I've found with an amazing array of tools and a great support system. Worst case scenario, take the free month, learn all there is to know, and then cancel if you're not ready for the rest or simply aren't sure if it's right for you. Right now they're even sharing 4 "super sites" they're building from scratch so you can literally follow the process along the way.

The e-book
I'll be working to wrap this up shortly - was just about there when a huge series of changes made big sections of the e-book obsolete. So now working on the overall and I'll be bringing it out before too long. It's aimed primarily at beginners and people just getting started but there will be some solid advice in there for some people who are at that space of being more than a true beginner but not where they want to be yet making a full time living writing online.

My goal is to provide clear cut information on all the sites I've written for and how to get the most out of each one. This will not only give readers the ability to make a full time living writing online, but also get the most out of each and every site I go over. This way readers won't have to spend six years learning by trial and error like I did: they'll get all the benefits of my experience with one reading and be able to get to their goals much faster than I did.

I'll keep everyone posted on more as that project develops.

So finally at the end...
So this will probably go down as one of the longer freelance writing blog posts I've had here, but this brings us about up to date with all the changes that have gone on. I'd love to hear everyone's experience with what's going on and what your plans are to make the most of it. Hope everyone is doing well and keep at it - the reward at the endgame is worth the long online freelance writing journey.


  1. Thanks, Master Dayton. I have been looking for some solid advice on how to deal with the google update and what it actually meant. I should have started here instead of elsewhere.

  2. Hey Dusty,

    Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, no matter how much all of us talk it's educated guessing on some things and looking at the numbers on others. I strongly believe that HubPages will eventually bounce back, but we all should be making our own niche sites anyway, so hopefully this will be the push a lot of us need to really get going and hit it. Thanks for the comment!