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Cheap Content: Not Our Fault, but Our Responsibility

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There’s no denying it. Love it or hate it, outsourcing is
here to stay. Technically speaking, if you’re a freelancer then you’re part of
the outsourcing trend and quite possibly the problem. No, no need to start
taking a mental inventory of your moral standards, outsourcing per se is not a
bad thing. A whole world of opportunity has been created with the increasing
demand for talent and affordable services that the growth of the global
marketplace has made available and it would be silly to ignore such an
opportunity. There are, however, some unfavorable facets of this outsourcing
trend that can leave a less than enjoyable aftertaste if you’re not fully
prepared for the challenges it represents.

First and foremost, let’s allow that yes, outsourcing has
resulted in the loss of jobs that were once the sole domain of the full time skilled
employee. The very real and reasonable reasons why this is include the fact
that employers are able to contract with individuals outside the company on an
as needed basis. Rather than carry staff fulltime who may only be utilized to
their full potential part time, employers can contract out work only when it is
needed. This has the added benefit of also allowing companies to expand their
range of services and offerings while keeping expenditures and outlays to a
minimum. As more and more companies do this, yearly revenues continue to show
sustained growth despite a reduction in the size of the overall workforce.

The downside of course is the drying up of positions and
more importantly, the adverse effect on wage scales and freelancing rates that
have occurred as a result of unregulated and unchecked competition for these
opportunities. With the advent of the world wide web, it has become possible
for employers to shop through a global marketplace of workers. While this is in
large part responsible for the wealth of opportunity that freelancing offers,
it also creates serious issues as workers from highly disparate economic
conditions compete for the same jobs. Without regulations of any meaningful
kind in place to regulate this global marketplace, the wildly differing economic
conditions among providers have acted to depress the value of all workers and
their products. When someone from India can subsist happily on the equivalent
of 10,000 dollars a year and his counterpart in America requires at least twice
that for the same living standards, a serious problem arises.

Although capitalism and free market principals are the
backbone of beneficial and healthy trade, they are not foolproof or perfect.
Without any means of control or moderation, the natural tendency to buy low and
sell high runs rampant in the freelancing marketplace. Providers from country’s
with weak economic conditions are able to bid on work at rates that would
quickly ruin their counterparts in countries with more expensive living
standards. Where market values for a skill may have run in a comfortable range
for the western worker, the sudden and unregulated introduction of workers from
the Philippines, India, China and other nations has worked to devalue these
skills as western employers find themselves unable to resist the lure of
extremely cheap labor. Despite the problems that have arisen with quality
control, worker integrity, communication, and the fact that many employers
are now retreating from the online labor marketplace as a result, the overall
trend towards depressed rates continues.

As much as I would like to offer an easy solution, this
simply is not possible. I will say, however, that if this trend towards poor rates
and unrealistic competition is to ever change, the solution will certainly have
to start with the providers and not the employers. For my part, I now refuse to
even consider rates less than ¾ of my chosen standards. I no longer travel the
diplomatic route and instead strongly encourage those interested to avoid
patronizing mills and work for hire sites that encourage unrealistic bidding. I’ve
even been preparing to launch a bidding site of my own geared towards
regionally specific employers and providers.

As a freelancer or online entrepreneur, the question here is, if you see this as a
problem, what are you going to do, if anything?

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Content, ANY Content, is King

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If you were having any doubts that content indeed truly is king, look no further than the new brouhaha revolving around Demand Studios and its successful debut with an IPO that not only opened higher than initially expected, but ended 35% higher. To further cement the fact and add a big fat exclamation point, Google in turn immediately makes public that it is all of a sudden so concerned with the quality of the content it is returning in its search results that it is going to be changing its algorithms to address the problem of content mills. Apparently content is not only king but it is in and of itself, regardless of its quality, enough to build an entire $1.4 billion dollar company around. There lies the problem as it’s not the quality of the content that’s made this possible but its sheer volume. It’s almost enough to make a web content writer forget all about substance. Almost.

Despite Demand Media’s successful first outing, there is a huge question mark of whether or not this content er, company *cough cough* has a sustainable model. Demand’s CEO, of course, in disputing the unattractive content mill label his company has been saddled with is quick to point out all the great plans for expansion his company has. But the truth is Demand Media has yet to show a profit, which has caused many would be investors to question whether Demand is even viable as a business model. Sure Demand can rake in the traffic, but at this point in time Demand appears very much like a paper tiger. They can make a lot of noise and pull in a lot of traffic, but once you get past all the theatrics the substance is hollow and disappointing.

In an interesting peripheral development, Google’s Matt Cuts less than two days after Demand’s successful outing announces Google’s plans to begin aggressively dealing with the problem of content farms. Now, Demand Studios has been around for six years and in the last 3 or so has pretty well buttoned up the top slots in Google with its Ehow and Answerbag sites. What is interesting about this is the fact they have done this with what must be honestly called poor content. Oftentimes, very poor content. If you have any doubts about this, I invite you to have a look at this list put together last year by Jeff Bercovici. It’s enough to make me want to do penance considering I’m an “approved” Demand writer. I’m fortunate I stuck almost entirely to simple fact lists and never wrote about how to put on a pair of eyeglasses or anything equally asinine.

What Demand has done is nothing more than exclusively exploited Google’s own expressed interest in promoting fresh and consistent content. While many of us were busy building the BEST possible content we could, Demand threw quality to the wolves and went full bore after producing a lot of fresh content on a regular basis that was targeted to some of the most common search terms currently in demand; a whole LOT of content. We are talking anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 new articles a day. What this amounts to is nothing less than a brute force attack on Google’s fondness for fresh and relevant content. More importantly, it exposes the weakness in the Google algorithms by showing us that far from quality being as important as Google has repeatedly stated it is, simply dumping tons of content regardless of quality will cement you in the top rankings and make you an ad revenue hero. I can’t help but imagine that some of the Google bigwigs must be feeling somewhat chagrined to find that not only has someone revealed just how little importance Google really places on content quality, they demonstrated this by creating a 1.4 billion IPO around it.

As you can probably see, it’s not surprising Google would now decide the time is right to address the “problem” of content farms. This is annoying because there are a lot of damn good writers out there turning out some amazing content, yet they are consistently buried in the SERPS because several others have decided to load tons of well optimized garbage into a site. Many of us have known for years that the true value of quality content lies in its ability to form the bedrock of your online presence. It establishes your skill, your knowledge. It builds your network and authority. Building ranking though? Not so much. That’s better done addressing search engine algorithms and feeding the search bots. It’s almost ironic that little startups like Blekko with little presence or chance of dethroning the big guys like Google and Bing have already added controls allowing their users to block results from some of Demand’s outlets from their search results.

  Once again, Google is behind the curve and only shows real concern when we catch a glimpse of the man behind the curtain.

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Are You Writing Good Copy?

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Unless you’re just starting out with freelancing, blogging, marketing, or just maintaining a personal page, it’s a safe bet that most of us have been engaged in writing of some form or another for quite some time now. You may even be getting good at it, or already have a natural talent for putting together paragraphs that don’t double as sleep aids. I’m pretty sure I’ve about reach this level myself. I’m also well aware that I have a tendency to get pretty long winded and improve Folgers’ coffee stock values now and then. Luckily though, that’s mostly confined to my informal copy like here on my blog. Well, lucky for my clients, not so lucky for my blog.

  When it comes to writing for the money though, we’re dealing with a whole different animal. One that sometimes seems about as easy to handle as a bipolar cat headed for its annual bath, and still has all his claws.

When we use words to achieve an intended goal, we are writing with a purpose. No longer are we really trying to entertain or express ourselves. We are now trying to inform, incite and motivate.

 Once you’ve put on your work hat and dusted off your desk, it’s time to write for real.

What is good copy?

 There are a few things I find stick out like sore thumbs whenever you read about copywriting. Rather than begin a series and put even more money in the coffee industry’s pockets, I’ll spend some time on what I perceive as being common copywriting problem areas.

Basics first

Good copy is text that delivers a message in a clear, concise,  engaging manner and is often, but not always, intended to incite the motivation to perform a desired action on the part of the reader. While there are plenty of different definitions of what makes for good copy, I’m reasonably satisfied that this covers the most basic premise when it comes to writing commercially. Put even more simply, how you define good copy is in large part determined by the purpose.

In order to write good copy, particularly when you are doing it as a hired pen, you must have a firm understanding of the message your client wishes to convey and the audience that will be receiving it.  One size does not fit all in the copywriting world despite the multitude of writers who insist that there is some sort of set formula to follow. Generic content produces generic results. Form writing is for forms. Good copy works because it is tailored and crafted to a subject and a purpose.

The first thing to do when putting together your copy is to ask questions and build the contents theme and character. What is the content expected to do? Does the content need to be formal or informal? What kind of appearance is the copy intended to create or adhere to? Is the audience a regular following or a wide base of unique visitors? Is the copy meant to create action or is it intended to build presence? These questions represent only part of the most basic information you must have a solid grasp of before you can begin putting together your copy. The more you know about your subject and who it is intended for, the better you will be at showing readers why it is so great.

When putting your copy together, it’s best to be concise. Get started by introducing your subject with an interesting fact, ask the reader a question that the copy will later answer, or simply define your subject immediately and clearly. The point is to not waste words and force the reader to work any harder than is necessary to understand the subject and where the copy is going with it. Tell them what the message is about and build their interest with uncommon facts or a suggestion that the answer to their problem lies in the copy that follows. It really is that simple.

Now that we’ve moved past the basics, I’d like to address a couple of the things I think are some of the biggest mistakes copywriters make.

Writing for children

After you’ve gotten your introduction out of the way, give the reader some credit and move right to the heart of your message. Writers oftentimes feel as though they have to spell out every single detail, or use ten elementary school level words when four adult sized words would do the job just fine. This often leads to plodding and boring copy that readers simply gloss over, or worse, aren’t willing to continue following. Accept that public educations afford most people better than rudimentary level reading comprehension. Sure this goes against what most suggest, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that what most suggest is simply material that’s been regurgitated because it sounds good, not because it works.

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, consider this…

“The Ronco Pocket Diaper Steamer is very nicely put together. The seams between each component are even and fit together tightly. The finish is very smooth and shows that Ronco has put a lot of effort and time into producing an attractive product.”

Then,

“The fit and finish of Ronco’s Pocket Diaper Steamer is outstanding and clearly demonstrates Ronco’s commitment to quality.”

I know that personally, when I read something like the first three sentences, my first inclination is to scan past and look for something else simply because it plods and feels as though someone was more interested in word count than telling me what’s important.  Not to mention it feels as though it was written for a twelve year old. Twelve year olds don’t have credit cards, grownups with educations and jobs do. Should you write so a twelve year old can understand, or inform and excite a credit card holding potential customer? Decisions decisions……..

 On the internet, no one can hear you scream

Speaking of producing excitement, how many times have you been moved by calls to action that scream wild claims at you? Chances are, if you had any interest before finally making it to a piece’s call to action, it evaporated as soon as you hit the section with oversized fonts and colored text proclaiming…

“ONLY A LIMITED NUMBER OF PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO GET IN ON THIS INCREDIBLE LIFE CHANGING OPPORTUNITY!!! ACT NOW AND DON’T BE LEFT OUT!! BE ONE OF THE FEW WHO ACHIEVE SUCCESS AND RICHES BEYOND THEIR WILDEST DREAMS!!! THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION YOU WILL EVER MAKE IN YOUR LIFE!!!!!! ORDER NOW!!!!!!!! HEEEEYAAAAAAA!!!!”

Ok, so I’m exaggerating a bit myself, but to be honest, not by much. The point here is that you don’t have to be dramatic or grandiose to show a reader why they should accept what you’re offering. Part of what makes copy good is that it is written conversationally and builds trust by showing appreciation for the reader’s intelligence. When you close with a call to action, you cannot simply abandon the readers trust and go for the gusto with drama. Continue giving the reader credit for being an intelligent human being and strengthen your call to action by highlighting why your subject is the best they can find and why acting now is a good idea. Of course you should use active words and urgent phrasing, but use them sparingly. Above all, use your call to action to drill down to that one thing you want the reader to do and lead them straight to it.

Copywriting in many instances seems to have devolved into an almost used car salesman type of rhetoric. So much emphasis is being put on formulas and mass distribution that it seems as though the baby is being thrown out with the bath water and the importance of integrity and trust ignored. While content geared only towards getting a click may produce, how many of those clicks really turn into customers, and how many of those turn into repeats?

 How many people does that content have to reach in order for it to get a worthwhile number of clicks to begin with? By putting more thought into how copy is perceived and addressing the readers specific interests and needs with copy that is intelligently conversational as well as informative, you build trust that will later translate into more action. In the end, it boils down to the age old adage of deciding whether you prefer quality or quantity. It’s up to you where you go from there.

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So, What is Article Marketing?

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Put simply, article marketing is the process of providing content to the public via the internet which in turn results in exposure and traffic for its provider. The most common form of article marketing involves creating articles and submitting them to various directories. The premise here is to get your content published, and receive links from the publisher back to your site. While worthwhile, this is only the most rudimentary basics of article marketing. Think of the links you receive this way as “gravy” on the meat.

The real benefit comes when bloggers and websites reprint your articles to their own sites, post links to them, or even just circulate them via e-mail or forums. The reason they do this is because they find the material interesting, relevant, and complimentary to their own subjects. Thus, the exposure and links you receive from these “organic” reprints are much more valuable in terms of SEO and page ranking, as Google and other search engines place much higher value on natural linking.

Remember, to use your articles, they must credit you and cite the original source thereby providing you with the exact marketing you were seeking. Targeted, relevant, organic links that cost you nothing more than the price of the article. Compared to the price of paid advertising or SEO, it’s an unbeatable bargain.

The benefits don’t stop at simply gaining links.

Regularly submitting articles to free article directories is one approach that can be effective. But it is not the only one. You can also target well ranked websites relevant to your own and offer the use of your articles in exchange for a link back to your site. Success in getting your article on the right website can cause major increases in your traffic almost overnight, and is a valuable resource that should not be overlooked.

Of course, not to be forgotten is your own website content. Not only do your visitors want to be greeted with fresh content when they visit, the major search engines also factor in how often content is added when they calculate ranking. Nothing will do more to increase your organic traffic, and KEEP it, than to have fresh con

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Smart business owners know there is no such thing as overnight success. They also know that today's marketplace is online. If you're in it for the long haul and are success minded, you need an online presence. I have helped many businesses increase their exposure, develop their branding, and grow their customer base through website design and content development.

Whether it's an online presence, or direct e-commerce application, I can help you make it happen. Best of all, I can do it cheaper and better than most.

Visit my business page Writingfourmylife.com to learn more.

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