5 Tips for Breaking into Freelance Web Content Writing

The good news for freelance web content writers is that today’s market is full of opportunity. Current opportunities include but are not limited to:

  • Seo copywriting
  • Writing articles
  • Writing whitepapers
  • Writing for corporate blogs
  • Writing eBooks
  • Creating content for email newsletters and
  • Managing discussion forums and groups.

Every day, companies are spending billions of dollars creating content for several reasons:

  1. According to Google’s 2011 seo algorithm updates, search engines reward fresh content with a higher ranking. On the other hand, static sites are penalized with lower rankings.
  2. Social Media has grown to become an absolutely essential marketing tool for business. Companies need to constantly churn out new content to attract their audience via social media.
  3. Web visitors like to see fresh content. Site owners constantly need to attract traffic to their sites and will invest in paying writers to produce new material.

The secret to breaking into today’s freelance web content writing market is to build an awesome portfolio online. Drive traffic to your site through social media and by ensuring that your content is search engine friendly. In the long run, these measures will get your work noticed and prospective clients will approach you.

Here are some surefire ways to instantly break into today’s freelance web content writing market and earn some money in the process:

1. Blogging

Blogging is an excellent way to build up your portfolio and hone your writing skills. The key to learning how to become a blogger is to start blogging! It’s really that simple. The advantages of blogs as a small business are very low start-up and operational costs. The only real cost is the blogger’s time.

I think that blogging is primarily a great way to showcase your writing skills. However, if you are blogging for profit then your biggest challenge will lie in creating a large enough audience to support your business.

The two most common ways to earn money from your blog are:

  1. Ads
    Blog networks such as Goggle’s Adsense make it easy to add advertising to a blog site. However, only the top sites in terms of traffic generate more than a few dollars per day.
  2. Affiliate Marketing
    Most ecommerce sites have affiliate programs, and they are easy to use. For example, The Amazon Affiliate Program rewards sites that sell Amazon products.

2. Write for Squidoo and EHow.com

  1. Squidoo is a user-generated website which uses the concept of a lens. Seth Godin was the founder and developer of the concept. Lenses are much like blog posts, except that they are created around a single subject. The writers who create lenses are called “lensmasters”.
    The site allows content creators to earn revenue from referral links to sites like Amazon.com and Ebay. The site also employs a unique revenue share: 50% of all revenue goes to the lensmasters. Squidoo and its lenses rely on advertising and affiliate links to create revenue. Again, Squidoo is a good site for building up your portfolio online.
  2. EHow.com is an easy site to begin your content writing. This site is good to build a portfolio to show clients samples of your work. Search engines give a good ranking to ehow. It may not be the top site for earning solely through your writing but it is definitely a great starting point.

3. Freelance Broker Sites

These sites connect freelance writers to different markets that require their skills. The membership process is simple. You register and often pay a small fee. Once you are registered, you can browse through all the active projects and bid on the ones that interest you. These websites make a small commission on all projects that are awarded. The buyer is billed directly. Elance, oDesk, iFreelance and GoFreelance are a few examples of freelance-bidding sites.

4. The Problogger Job Board

Problogger has tremendous writing opportunities for first time content writers as well as experienced copywriters, article writers and bloggers. Problogger has built up an enormous reputation on the internet. The owner Daniel Rowse was showcased in Business Week’s ‘How Top bloggers Make Money’. The site has an Alexa ranking of 2,000. They currently charge $50 per posting to avoid spammers and low bidders.

5. Freelance Switch Job Board

You can sign up for free at the Freelance Switch Job Board. You need to pay a $7 monthly subscription fee if you want to apply for any of the advertised positions. A good percentage of the opportunities are web design and web development related. The writing gigs are mostly IT, marketing or social media related. If you are comfortable writing for these niches then the Freelance Switch is definitely the site for you.

Where do you look for freelance opportunities? Please share your thoughts and ideas.


SEO – Do it Inside or Outsource it?

A Guide to How You Handle SEO Work

By Alan Eggleston

Some people like the challenge and the control of doing SEO in-house. Others like the ease of having someone else do it. Whether you choose to do SEO inside or outsourced may depend on several factors:

Do SEO inside if you have Outsource SEO if you have
– knowledge / can build the skills
– time to do it right
– willing personnel
– one person to focus on it
– lack of knowledge or adequate skills
– lack of time
– budget to handle higher costs
– combine with SEM/pay-per-click

If you have never done SEO, it takes a little reading and skill building, and finding the right keywords takes research, so time is a factor. Once you learn the skills and get used to writing page titles, descriptions, and relevant content, it becomes second nature and it will become a natural part of the process. Still, web editors already have plenty to do and it may make sense to delegate the task to someone else in the organization or hire an outside source.

If you outsource the work, make sure you are getting quality work for quantity payback, not simply a big bill for little output. SEO firms can charge a lot of money, and it isn’t necessary, depending on what you’re looking for. SEO-trained writers and editors will do it for less than a full-service SEO or SEM (search engine marketing) firm. You can pay more with an SEO or SEM firm and get additional services, like an AdWord program and their full attention – but beware a marketer making grand promises that can’t be kept.

See more of my articles on SEO in Web Editors Blog and my series, SEO and Web Editors – the Basics.

My next article: SEO – “White Hat” or “Black Hat”?

It isn’t exactly like the Gunfight at the OK Corral, but in the world of SEO, there are good-guy techniques and bad-guy techniques. Which will you choose, “White Hat SEO” or “Black Hat SEO”? Join me!

Web Editor Job Hunts

We have recently received a couple of discussion starters on the LinkedIn Web Editors Group asking how to find jobs as a web editor. With job losses in the publishing industry from changes wrought by technological changes and with thousands of college students about to graduate, we thought this might be a good time to post some suggestions.

First, networking is still your best hope of finding any job. Someone you know, or someone who knows someone you know, knows about a job opening and you need to connect with them about it.

Second, you can’t wait for the perfect opening to show up at your door. You need to actively look and take advantage of all your connections and all of your resources. That means posting resumes, that means doing Internet searches, and that means looking at companies as well as jobs – not just what job do I want, but where do I want to work and for whom?

Here are some of the ideas our Group Members listed:

  • This Web Editors group posts job listings, so keep your eye here for opportunities.
  • Watch other writer/editor groups on LinkedIn for job opportunity postings.
  • Consider international opportunities as well as domestic – UNICEF and UN, for instance.
  • Check professional organizations for postings, like PRSA, BMA, etc.
  • Have you thought about freelancing? Contract agencies often have positions or jobs needing filling.
  • Try face-to-face networking at local meetups and professional organizations.
  • Consult a career advisor or coach, who can help establish goals and set strategies.
  • Let your friends, family, and acquaintances know you’re looking and see what connections they have.

Whether you’re new to the job market or returning to it, you will need to be resourceful and reliant on your network of connections. Never give up, be self-confident, and be upbeat. You can do this!

Vonnegut Editing Tool May Be Useful for Online Stories

Editing Tools for Web Editors

To celebrate National Novel Editing Month, Media Bistro’s GalleyCat reprinted a writing tool that novelist Kurt Vonnegut introduced during a New York City lecture. If you as a web editor work with fiction writers, the Vonnegut Story Grid may be a helpful tool for plotting a story. This article also leads to a blog by Derek Sivers, who reproduced a series of story grids by Vonnegut.

What other kinds of tools do you use to work with writers for editing stories? How might you use this one?

5 Common Web Copy Errors to Avoid

Your website is your business’s face to the world.  It should grab people’s attention, provide them useful information, and ideally close a sale or prompt an initial contact. In my experience, many business websites are riddled with writing and copy mistakes. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, sentence structure – they aren’t sexy, but if they aren’t right, you may inadvertently send your customers packing.

Poor website copy doesn’t just detract from your website, but from your brand promise and your business reputation. Here are 5 common errors I see in my work with clients. Don’t risk losing potential customers over simple, avoidable issues like these:

  1. Homonyms – Homonyms are two or more words that sound the same, but mean different things. A “cue” is not a “queue”; it’s easy to confuse “there”, “their” and “they’re”; a “Segway” is different from a “Segue”. When you’re busy, you may miss these. Read your web copy slowly and double-check that you are using the right one.
  2.  It’s vs. its When to Use the Apostrophe –  This is one of the most common errors I encounter, and one of the easiest to avoid. The ONLY time you need an apostrophe with “its” is when it stands for the contraction “it is”.

    Incorrect: “Its a great day to be alive!”
    Correct: “It’s a great day to be alive!”
  3. Lengthy or Run-on Sentences – When writing for the web, keep it short! The web is a different medium – people “scan” more than read. Short sentences, short paragraphs, short pages. Resist the urge to wax poetic on you business website. Your customers are time-starved and will appreciate you getting to the point. One of my clients had a web page that included a 58-word sentence. I will not repeat the sentence here to protect the innocent. In that case, the client was re-using content from another source – an appropriate and understandable thing to do. But content usually needs to be tweaked for the web. This sentence was too long. Each sentence should PULL your reader along to the next one. Creating two sentences by inserting a period at a natural pausing place is better.
  4. Consistency – the web is the wild, wild West right now in terms of the editorial “rules of the road”. I continue to take classes to keep up with what is standard and what is changing, and there’s a lot of gray area. So in the absence of clear rules, pick something and be consistent. For example, should you hyphenate or not hyphenate the term “nonprofit”? Different nonprofit clients that I have worked with answer that question differently. There is no one right answer. The key is to pick a standard for YOUR site, and stick with it. Consistency adds to the professionalism of your site.
  5. Frequently Confused Words – Unlike homonyms, these words are pronounced differently, but the wrong one is selected given the intended meaning. Examples I have seen recently include:
    What was written: She eagerly recanted (took back) her story.
    What was meant:  She eagerly recounted (told) her story.
    Complimentary/complementary –
    What was written: Please accept this complementary (goes well with) token of our appreciation.
    What was meant: Please accept this complimentary (free) token of our appreciation.

A powerful story or proposal may be totally derailed if the crucial words you use turn out to be the wrong ones!

The goal of producing quality website copy is not slavish adherence to a bunch of arcane rules. The goal is to make your writing so clear that your customers can focus on your message, not your mistakes.  A website with clean, compelling copy suggests that your business will deliver on its promises, and starts to build the trust that converts visitors to customers.

What copy errors do YOU see most often in your web travels?

Web Editor: Anne Moreau

Since 2004, I’ve been proofreading and editing for publishers (primarily trade nonfiction) and ad and marketing agencies. So, much of my experience comes from traditional print formats, though work in advertising inevitably includes email, interactive, and social-media content.

Alongside more traditional editorial work, I’ve found opportunities to learn about and practice both the tech and content sides of web editing. I interned at a large accounting web portal, maintained websites for two nonprofit membership organizations, and created several small websites, one for a university library. As a freelance editor, I’ve also developed and proofread web content for corporate clients.

Learning web editing
I find the web an especially fascinating medium because it allows, even requires, a deep dive into understanding human behavior—how, when, why, and what people read on the web. Consequently, when it comes to web editing, I’ve squeezed in as much learning on the job as I could. To give a quick sense of my history and take on the topic, here’s a short list of what I’ve found helpful, with commentary:

Developing Online Content by Irene Hammerich and Claire Harrison. At the time, (I think) this was the only book on the topic. The idea that web content needed editorial attention was so little considered that most people who saw me reading it thought it was for coders and developers. It’s now outdated, but it was a good start.

Alertbox, email newsletter, by Jakob Nielsen. These weekly newsletters on usability are gems—with a little snarkiness thrown in. The main point, for me, is that usability is inextricably linked to writing and editing for the web. People use websites at least as much as they read them, so understanding how people behave and interact with the web is critical—and utterly fascinating if you’re a people watcher.

Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish. This fantastic book pulls together elements from user-centered design and writing and editing for the web into one seamless whole. The author explains a range of useful techniques, from big-picture to detail, for example:

  • How to create and use personas
  • What to consider when you lay out a web page
  • When to write “you” vs. “we” or “I” in web copy

Clear and very pragmatic, this book really helped me improve as a web editor.

Next up
I plan to write about the things I’ve long been interested in and about which I want to know more. Those subjects include the crossover of user-centered design with editing; insights into how people read online and human behavior; meeting audience needs and expectations on the web; content strategy; web editorial style; and some how-to and best practices.

My next post (April 19) will cover a few salient differences in editing for the web vs. editing for print.

My aim in writing for this blog is to learn more about web editing—from the other contributors and from my own blogging-as-inquiry process. I hope you’ll keep reading and add your own comments and suggestions!


Content Workflow – Who is Responsible for Your Company’s Website?

by Cathy Hodson

How does content get from a Word document, or a note scribbled by your boss, into a web page and then onto the company’s website? Is there some kind of workflow or procedure that takes place? Is there an approval process this content has to go through in order to reach the website? If it is done right, yes – there is a workflow, and there is an approval process to most business or organization websites.

Deciding on a workflow process for a company’s website is a big decision. Depending on the size of the website, how many people are involved in adding content to the website, as well as how experienced these “authors” are in adding content to a website all play into how content ultimately will be added to the website.

Larger websites by their very nature need more people to add content. However, if the staff involved is not trained in the ways of the web (HTML formatting, for instance) or journalistic styles and editing, companies may require someone who has expertise in these areas to review, edit and approve submissions to the website. If it is one or two people, or even a core team of people, this is what is called centralized workflow. All content flows to a central location and is then, after review and approval, posted.

The content is added to the content management system by a content author, and submitted electronically, usually to a web or content editor, or the web editing staff. They review the submitted content, and anything that does not match the style (is this capitalized, is underlining allowed, does the link need to open in a new window, etc.) is sent back electronically to the content author to be fixed before it can be posted. This is to ensure a consistency across the company’s website. Once everything is up to snuff, the content and any associated documents and images are posted.

Decentralized workflows are basically where multiple authors are each allowed to post their own content. There may be an internal review within their particular department or division, but the process stays within that department or division, or however the site is covered (subject matter, for instance). The department authors are held responsible and accountable for upholding the website’s style and maintaining consistency throughout their sections of the website. They may be subject to a governance body or document, and it may be part of their official responsibilities within the company – to which they can be held and reviewed for their annual salary review.

Can you have a large website that has a decentralized workflow and a small website that has a centralized workflow? Absolutely. Pretty much any configuration you can imagine is possible. Sometimes a single person maintains the entire content of a website. These are usually smaller websites, or single-purpose and uncomplicated websites. The author/editor may have additional responsibilities as well – social media, IT responsibilities – it can vary widely. Other times there are scores of people throughout an organization or the branches of the organization – sometimes scattered across the country or even countries, who add and maintain content across the corporation’s website.

However your company’s website is maintained, hopefully you have good people put in place who care passionately about your company’s message and mission, and are wholeheartedly dedicated to upholding the style and consistency necessary to make your company maintain its professional face to your customers and audiences.