The Biggest Misconception About Freelance Writing for the Web

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to writing online -- specifically Web content writing. Many of these misconceptions come from the print writing side of the fence, where (while things have improved dramatically over the last few years) there's still occasionally a feeling that Web writing just doesn't measure up.

That sentiment definitely played a role in what I'd consider to be the biggest misconception about freelance writing for the Web -- that you can't earn good money in Web content writing. What's worse is that this particular myth has unfortunately led to people justifying taking extremely low rates just because they consider projects to be quick and easy.

Now don't get me wrong. If you're happy with $10 for an article, by all means take it. I'm not in the mood to debate it as a business decision (blah, blah, blah -- been there, done that). What concerns me more is that there seems to be an underlying assumption that if you charge significantly more then you must have to spend hours upon hours writing to earn those rates.

That's not true.

You can earn ten times that much (and significantly more) writing Web content without having to spend hours on a single article. We're not talking magazine features here -- just SEO Web content. It also isn't that difficult to do. You need to focus on your specialty area and position yourself as an authoritative source (just like you'd do in copywriting, PR writing, technical writing, medical writing, etc.).

The real beauty of these gigs is that clients rarely want one piece (making the "content sites will give me lots of work so they're better" argument moot). They usually want content for all-out SEO campaigns (often meaning regular monthly contracts), and more and more companies and even bloggers are looking for writers who can add expert content with SEO flair. They're also willing to pay well for it.

I'm not really worried about the Web writers who choose the low paying route for themselves. More power to them (and less competition for the better gigs!). What I would like to explore more here though is the role Web content writing can play for those print writers who perhaps used to shun it.

I'm going to be working on a new free report in coming weeks, where I'll be talking to both freelance magazine writers and reasonably well-paid freelance Web content writers about how print writers can position themselves to land these decent Web writing gigs in the interim (between projects or as they're waiting for query responses).

If you fit into either of those groups, and you'd like to answer a few questions or take part in some other way, feel free to contact me at We'll be reaching out much more to freelance magazine writers through the New Year, and I'm hoping this report will serve as a fun and useful tool to show print writers and Web writers how similar they truly are in some ways, and how a magazine writer dabbling in Web writing is anything but "selling their soul."

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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8 thoughts on “The Biggest Misconception About Freelance Writing for the Web”

  1. I know you didn’t want to discuss it, but too bad! 🙂

    Content writing is like restaurants. You have fine dining, family dining, and fast food.

    Let’s compare the two ends of the spectrum.

    Fine dining is expensive but very yummy. There are also less people that are willing to pay that much for the food and it is sometimes an acquired taste.

    Fast food is cheap and does the job by filling your belly but if you eat it too much then it could lead to health issues.

    Both types of restaurants can make the same amount of money depending on how they run their business, but in my opinion they are two totally different businesses and really shouldn’t be compared.

    • Actually, technically it’s impossible for both methods to make the same amount of money if the writer charging more is correctly marketing their services to keep a full plate. Freelance writers are service providers. Time is a primary asset. There are only so many hours in a day, and so many billable ones at that. It’s therefore technically impossible for someone charging $5 per article to earn more than someone earning $50 per article (just an example to keep nice round numbers). Remember, we’re talking about freelancers here — not content companies who employ a bunch of writers and what they might be able to do with that content (although years of experience at it also tells me the cheap content very very rarely earns more as long as the publisher knows how to actually use the more authoritative content — but that’s a topic worth a post of its own, so maybe I’ll talk about that on Thursday). That’s precisely why bloggers, directory owners, and SEO firms have been coming to writers like me much more over the last two years — they’re slowly but surely realizing that authority content has more value to them and their own clients in the long run.

      The common assumption is that the $50 per article writer might not earn as much because there are fewer gigs. That’s bullshit if we’re talking about anyone who knows anything at all about managing a freelance career. There are a lot of those $50 per article clients out there. It often comes down to lack of effort on the writer’s part — constantly trolling job boards instead of working to build their own visibility (which doesn’t take nearly as long as some people think — but I have a separate blog entirely devoted to that at, so I won’t explore that much here in a comment). Even on the off-chance the writer couldn’t fill their billable hours with $50 per article gigs, they could still earn as much as the cheap writer with TEN TIMES less work coming in! And it’s very unlikely that anyone who can command $50 per article would be that bad at marketing their services still.

      The other issue is the one I talk about in the post. It’s assumed that the $50 article takes longer — let’s say 2 hour to write — as opposed to the $5 article which might take 20 minutes. So people convince themselves that the cheap articles earn $15 per hour and the more expensive ones earn $25 per hour — not a huge difference. But that’s only true if the more expensive writer is targeting the wrong clients. When it comes to basic SEO-style web content, I can write a $75 article in 20-30 minutes (and very often do). The higher price isn’t about the articles taking longer. It’s about hiring someone who has some authority in their field who can add something from real experience instead of solely rehashed content from the Web, because it lends more credibility to your own site. Even on the low hourly spectrum, I might spend an hour and a half to two hours on a $150-200 article. A) It’s still a pretty damn good hourly rate, and much better than anyone’s going to make cramming in those $5 articles, and B) having one train of thought for that hour for a longer piece can be far less stressful on the writer than bouncing around endlessly through a dozen different topics throughout the day. There’s a reason so many of the cheap writers either burn out or realize over time that it’s not a sustainable income, so they quit. Want more bullshit? The claim some more “experienced” writers make that these cheap gigs are a great place for newbies to start off their careers — a jumping off point so to speak. The joke of that of course is that several of them are still writing these cheap articles themselves after years of working as a freelancer — not exactly a great demonstration of a jumping off point when people still have to take those gigs, even as fillers, years later.

      But like I said… these are things not really worth talking about in the comments. They’ve been explored here and elsewhere numerous times in much more depth looking at specific issues of content mills, setting rates, etc. so if you’re that interested in the topic, I invite you to check some of that out — I believe a few are highlighted near the top of the sidebar. 😉

  2. Just a quick note — I won’t be doing that post today. I have a tool launch focus here today, so it will either be tomorrow or next week (probably next week while I’ll have other off-site stuff going on during the virtual blog tour).

  3. As someone who’s still relatively new in the writing game, I have to admit that there are times when things slow down where my mind thinks about going back to looking for those penny a word articles just to keep money coming in the door. I know it takes awhile to build up the business, which is why I’m still working hard at it. At the same time, I have had some potential clients who decided I was charging too high for them, even at just $25 for an article.

    It certainly takes awhile to get going in full, but I’m going to keep shooting towards it.

  4. Just keep reminding yourself that if they say your prices are too high, they’re not really your “potential clients” at all. Look at who you’re targeting and how you’re targeting them. Sometimes just a little tweak in how you market your services can make the difference between attracting those who can’t afford you and those who not only can but would find your rates a welcome bargain. 🙂

  5. I’d have to admit that marketing is my worst issue. I’ve been in business 8 years, believe it or not, and marketing any of my services has always been difficult. I’ve been luckier at other times in some of the other things I did, but in writing… I’ll admit, it’s definitely a new learning curve. Thanks!


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