I've been itching to respond to Jennifer's post at CatalystBlogger: Five Reasons to Embrace the Humble Keyword Article Gig for a few days now, after seeing it mentioned at Anne Wayman's blog. So here are some of my reasons as to why most freelance writers should reject these keyword article gigs (and for the record, my comments aren't meant to be an attack on Jennifer personally or her own choices - to each her own - but rather the other side of the story, so newer writers or those considering branching into SEO writing can have a better perspective from all angles before jumping into something that may not be right for them):
They're Really Not That Lucrative (Small Market / Big Competition)
Those $3 per article gigs that Jennifer mentioned aside, there isn't a huge market (quantity-wise) for "keyword articles." Yet there are hoards of writers just dying to get those gigs. Most reputable sites that will pay you decently for your Web writing are in it for the readers; not "keyword articles" which tend to look like sad, generic high school essays more often than not.
Can you find high-paying Web writing gigs. Absolutely! I've told you how to do it here numerous times before. But "keyword articles" are a part of the webmaster marketplace and not the larger Web writing field; a group that rarely pays more than a few dollars to around $25 per article.
I'm not sure where Jennifer gets the idea that there isn't much competition. There is. It's also a rapidly growing group. Maybe I see it more than other writers because I'm a webmaster and online business owner in my own right, separate from my freelance writing.
I'm heavily networked with other webmasters who buy this kind of content, the writers who write it, SEO companies that employ them for more regular gigs, etc., and knowing those groups, I can tell you there's no shortage of SEO article writers. Don't think for a minute that there's not a sh*tload of competition that write as well as you do or better, even ignoring all of the third world rate "competition."
It all comes back to the fact that many freelance writers (especially new ones) don't have a lot of business sense. They make the assumption that the SEO article market is the way you're supposed to start out instead of putting real research into what it takes to earn what they want and need to earn in the long run.
There are new writers out there every day, whether they're stay at home parents, college students wanting to earn part-time money, or writers just wanting to venture into something new and different for them.
Many of them aren't even trying to earn a full-time income from their writing; they're often hobby writers, meaning they can afford to undercut you by quite a bit when they don't care about earning a living (and they will).
They're a "Volume Game"
Jennifer looks as that as a positive thing. I say, "Why would any writer with an ounce of business sense want to write in volume?" More work for less money is never (I repeat never) the best business decision when you can earn more for less of a time and / or resource commitment.
Writing in volume not only takes away more time (which can, and should, be spent on marketing efforts and developing additional revenue streams), but it sucks the joy right out of writing when you're under constant deadlines for a bunch of articles that won't mean squat in the grand scheme of things.
That's precisely why a lot of new writers fail: they get into a situation where they have to keep a constant volume going, and if they lose one of those bulk clients, they have nothing else to fall back on right away.
When they do maintain a large volume regularly, they're more prone to burning themselves out. As a writer it's your responsibility to create a constant demand for you and your work; not a steady gig with a few clients. If you want regular gigs, get a full-time writing job and forget about freelancing in the long run.
No Long-Term Benefit for You
These little keyword article gigs and bulk projects offer very little long-term benefit to the writer for a few reasons. In many cases, you won't be credited with the work, and you'll sign over full rights (which often means you can't even use them in a portfolio, so as far as potential clients are concerned you don't really work; you just sit on your ass all day).
When you are credited or at least permitted to use them as portfolio pieces, you're doing a disservice to yourself and your reputation. You don't get taken seriously in larger markets down the road by showcasing a bunch of keyword articles tossed up on article directories and such. You just don't. If anything, you make yourself look like a damned joke.
Sure, they might be a breeze to write when client-offered info or very basic Web research is all you need to throw the pieces together. That also fails to demonstrate that you have any skill or talent beyond that of a high school freshman too lazy to do proper research. Do you really want to associate yourself with the type of crap people are littering the Web with these days - nothing but regurgitated Web research we could find in a dozen other sources?
Nobody Cares if you Know a Little Bit About a Lot of Things
The real money has always been, and will always be, in specialization; not generalization. Clients who pay top dollar (or anywhere near it) are going to be just as interested in (if not moreso) your expertise and what you have to say as in how well you write it down (making it "pretty" is what editors are for).
That's why you'll see doctors getting paid more for medical articles than some generalist. That's also why you'll see people without advanced degrees (like a recognized blogger) being paid much more to write a piece on their specialty than someone who can't offer the same background, unique perspective, and quality information.
It's great if you like to learn new things. Do that on your own time, and then write about it (and charge accordingly) when you have any kind of credentials to back you up. That absolutely doesn't mean that you should only write about one thing.
You can specialize in multiple areas that you enjoy to always keep your interest in your work. For example, I specialize in marketing / PR, small business, independent music, and freelance writing (all niches I have experience or education in, and where I can provide a unique twist that others can't quite replicate).
Does that mean I don't learn new things? Not at all. I'm a self-proclaimed "education junkie." Yet that doesn't mean that I have the right to make people feel like they should trust me in a niche where I only started researching the topic a few days before. There's a feeling of dishonesty in doing that.
You (Should) Have Better Things to Do
You'd be hard-pressed to convince me that any freelance writer is earning to their full potential by filling up their schedule with basic Web articles (not talking about quality Web articles with proper research, where you can be paid on par with print work). I just don't buy it.
If you're not earning to your full potential, or working really hard to get there, you're doing something wrong. You may not be marketing yourself enough, or effectively. You may not have targeted the right market(s) to begin with, and should go back to the drawing board. You may not have more than one income stream, meaning you too heavily rely on a small group of clients (other income streams include other niche specialties, selling your own informational products like e-books or reports, earning by writing for your own sites or blogs, etc.).
Any way you cut it, if you're not working for the long term (making enough to support yourself or your family while putting something aside, building your reputation for future growth, etc), you're hurting your potential of long-term freelance writing success.
I'm certainly not against Web writing. I'm just against Web garbage and common misconceptions for new writers who think this is the way you get started in building something much bigger. I spend a lot of time working with new writers trying to show them how to earn a livable income from their writing without settling for crap gigs and large bulk orders pushing them to burn out. It's not a matter of sticking my nose up at a gig or market. It's a matter of not looking down enough on what I (and others) do to accept gigs that go against my ethics and business sense (whether that be writing this kind of poorly researched search engine spam at any price to writing hyped up and misleading sales letters), and encouraging others to do the same.
By all means, write what you enjoy writing, and charge what you want. But if you're serious about long-term success in freelance writing, never lose sight of your end goals. You should be working for the long run; not for tomorrow's gigs.