On January 6 the LA Times published a compelling article on “freelance writing’s unfortunate new model.” It’s definitely worth reading in full, but to summarize, writer James Rainey makes the point (not news to most of us) that freelance pay is falling precipitously.
The story says that the trend began with the Internet but expanded to newspapers and magazines. It then goes on to provide examples in both electronic and print environments.
Yes, pay is plunging in both but the reasons differ between the two. It appears to me that print rates are falling because advertising and circulation are declining.
However, the principal driver on the Internet is Google. Much of the writing on the Internet is intentionally designed to improve organic (unpaid) rankings on Google and smaller search engines.
On the internet, therefore, Google, much more than the end reader, defines quality. While Google’s specific algorithms change, the fundamentals are well known.
If the goal of posting content is to build Google traffic, a good article is defined as one that optimizes keywords (or keyword phrases). The prescribed ratio of keywords to total text is unknown, but there is a moderate ratio that mimics natural writing (so as to prevent unreadable keyword overloading).
The title should prominently include the keyword, preferably at the beginning of a not-too-long title. So the best titles start with the keyword, often followed by a colon and the heading for a numbered list that will appear in the text.
Many writers then repeat the keyword in the first paragraph or two and sprinkle it throughout.
(While Google itself doesn’t blatantly recognize the keyword field itself, keywords appear to be necessary for effectively using Ezinearticles and other article banks to maximize the impact of each article.)
This template delivers content that is rather formulaic, even at best, and highly annoying at worst.
The second way to boost ranking is by quantity. Lots of articles in the article banks, lots of blog entries, lots of comments on other people’s blogs, etc.
Google is more attuned to the computerized measurement of quality than to human evaluations (though readers who “vote” for content via Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon and other social bookmark programs may be adding an element of human evaluation to the system).
As long as abysmally paid people can hastily write the same-old same-old, altering content that has already been published by someone else to flood the internet with trite stuff that works the algorithms, internet publishers have no reason to raise their rates.
Writers’ indignation is an interesting footnote to the story, but if those who hire writers get the results they want on the cheap, the battle is lost.
How can discerning readers influence the Internet to reward quality? Is conscientious social bookmarking an answer? Will willingness to purchase subscriptions to professionally-written online news services send a message to publishers’ bank accounts?
(Our profession is still looking for the answers. I’m not asking these questions rhetorically.)
Some of the “professional” writers I see are most concerned with churning out their own publicity faster. They frequently post abbreviated, shallow copy to their blogs to work the numbers.
There’s irony here. Writers want to spend more time on each paid assignment and be paid more, but they want to build their own visibility by throwing buckets of their own hastily written slop into the mess.