This post is based on a comment I recently left on Lori Widmer's "If it Didn't Work with Huffington...."

Writing for ad revenue is usually a bad idea for writers. Some of the big networks have been doing it for years, and the problems have been clear for a long time now. It's easy to justify it though. I've been there myself. I've crunched numbers in any way imaginable to convince myself that it was better to get paid over time. But over time, reality sets in. Even if it might have been a good idea several years ago, it isn't now.

Why Writing for Revenue Share is a Bad Deal for Professional Writers

  1. Visitor claims are intentionally exaggerated. A site, mill, or network may indeed have the millions of visitors they claim when they use that point to suck in writers. Great for them. What they neglect to tell you is that the vast majority of those millions will never visit your specific articles. Many go to the homepage. Others use the site for other reasons. They visit articles written by other writers. Those visitors don't earn you any ad revenue, which is usually based directly on ads only found on your articles. You can often monetize your own site much better within a few months.
  2. You don't have any control over the ad placement to improve conversions. Again, you're better with your own site where you can diversify income streams and optimize your site to improve conversions if you want to make money through ad revenue. The best ad placements can vary for different audiences in different niches. Huge sites with a standard article template can't account for that the same way you can independently.
  3. Every article is a gamble. If they're so confident in their ad revenue potential, they can keep it and pay you a fair market rate out of pocket, expecting to profit through the ad revenue over time.
  4. Relying on 3rd party ad revenue means you also rely on 3rd party marketing. Your content is useless without visitors, and if the site isn't going to heavily promote YOUR content (as opposed to generically promoting their site) to get those visitors and drive ad revenue, that falls on you too. Yep. You're expected to market their site too without any direct pay. Tip: it isn't uncommon for people offering that service to make another $50-150 or so per hour.
  5. Long-term promises don't pan out. Some of these sites try to suck writers in by saying they'll earn ad revenue indefinitely or that it will continue to grow over time. That's utter BS. It happens like that early on. But eventually the ad revenue drops unless you continually create new (relatively unpaid) content. Old articles drop in search rankings and lose traffic. They end up in an oversaturated pool of content on the site as opposed to when the program just began. And many articles eventually become outdated. It's rare for anything to earn forever, nonetheless keep increasing in value.
  6. The online ad environment isn't what it used to be. --  If you've been involved with online advertising for years, you probably know it can be tougher now to survive on a single ad revenue stream than in the past. That's especially true if a site relies on something like Adsense alone, when it's common knowledge that model has been suffering due to social media and changes in online ad models available to advertisers. Keep your content on your own site and invest in its growth for a few months instead and you can diversify your income streams much more effectively based on what works in your niche (another tip: not all niches monetize well through contextual advertising).
  7. High earner examples are also exaggerated. -- Another way these sites draw in writers is by sharing case studies for writers making out well with their system. But what they don't tell you is equally important. Take a look at their about page, press room, or anywhere else they offer info about their site. See how many writers they claim to have. Now how many high earner case studies are there? Back in January one of these revenue share sites inadvertently made their list of top earners publicly viewable. While they didn't share names with the revenue info, here's what you could find out if you took a look: out of the 20,000 "professional" writers they claim to have working for them (another page says 8000 which more likely represents the US / Canada site), only nine were earning over $1000 per month. The highest earned under $2400. Keep in mind that contractor pay is a very different animal than employee pay, and you can see how little this actually works out to for those US / Canadian writers. A beginning writer with an effective marketing plan can earn more with private clients. While things will fluctuate over time, this is hardly a good sign, or the glowing image they try to present to attract new writers.
  8. There's a high opportunity cost. -- Not only did few writers reach even a low full-time income level, but to do so generally means writing hundreds of articles first with little up-front return. Any way you cut it, you're better off getting paid a reasonable rate up front and then investing that money for better returns. You have the money when you need it. You can invest it back in your business for further growth and greater income potential. And in a stable investment you can see consistent gains without the risk of that suddenly stopping as Google algorithms change.
  9. There is no sure future. -- Along those lines, you take another risk when you write for these sites. They're often highly focused on writing for search engines or ad revenue over readers (and any site letting writers write about anything based on how much ad revenue it brings rather than topical knowledge fits the bill). This is why these kinds of sites run the risk of being targeted by search engines like Google which are looking for ways to weed out shallow content and spammy sites. I received an email just a week or two ago from someone about one of the bigger revenue share sites, telling me how they were completely slammed by the Google Panda update (which was its intention). In other words, you can't count on your traffic or income sticking around when you don't control the sites your content is shown on. If it's your own site you can fix the problems quickly and request reconsideration. You don't have that ability with a third party site.

Here's what it comes down to: bad deal for the writer, great deal for the cheapskate site owners. If you're a hobby writer hoping to pick up a few bucks and you have no interest in launching your own site, by all means go for it. The point isn't that they have absolutely no place, but rather that these sites aren't right for most professional writers.

If the exception to the rule is only earning a low full-time freelance income, that should be a hint that you can do better. Even if you think you can match their success, look at the numbers. We're talking about chances like being one out of 1000-2000 writers (depending on which of the site's writer stats you choose to look at -- either way, not in your favor).

Instead, use your content on your own site. Chances are good you won't get rich that way either. But you have full control. And your own site goes much further in promoting your services to private clients -- where the real money will come from for most professional freelance writers.

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