What Writers Must Know About the Internet


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From time to time, freelance writers get asked to write for websites. Most of the time, they tackle the assignment as any other, that is, as a work-for-hire arrangement. The writer creates an article and earns a few bucks. But most writers never ask themselves how the business actually works. The Internet is many things, and one of them is a business model. While there are websites run by kids or old ladies or self-important pundits, most websites actually are fueled by a great force than mere idle time. Most of them are extensions of a business and some are a business unto themselves.

A writer can be asked to contribute an article to a website that is run by a traditional brick-and-mortar type business; in other words, some websites are just cyberspace business cards for traditional enterprises. For example, a hospital may have a website and hire a writer to do some articles on cancer prevention. In that case, the hospital is the business and the website is a vehicle for that business. The website does not make money itself, but it reflects favorably on the hospital.

Some freelance writers have gotten gigs writing product descriptions for websites that sell things. It is pretty easy to understand that business model. In such cases, the website is an online version of a catalog. The company is a mail-order type business. But what about sites that seem to have no such tight link to a real business? Take a website that talks about bankruptcy or another that provides information about studying accounting or another one that offers advice on how to beat a traffic ticket. Why would anyone create a site like that? Writers are often hired to write articles or other material (special reports and e-books) for such sites. But how do they make money?

A content-rich website is one that provides a lot of information. On the surface, the site does not sell anything. But the site often contains advertising of one sort or another. In this case, the website functions based on the old business model of the magazine. A magazine provides a lot of information targeted to a specific audience. The publisher then sells advertising space in the magazine. The concept is simple. If you can get fashion-hungry women to spend some time with a magazine like Vogue, these particular women are likely to be very responsive to ads in that magazine for things like clothing, perfume, and shoes.

A website that contains lots of high-value content may also sell advertising. Some of these sites use the traditional model for advertising; they sell real estate on their site to somebody who wants to put his or her message up. But it gets even easier. You can also use a system with Google called AdSense that allows you to reserve real estate on your site for ads that Google hires and places. You don't bother with selling ads or dealing with the advertisers; you just reserve space and work with Google.

That's one business model, and it can work great. It works well when the content is targeted and useful to a particular niche market and when that content inspires and motivates the visitor to want to buy products or services. But what about a site that talks about accounting degrees? They may be selling advertising and they may also have their own products. There are websites that offer electronic reports, e-books, online courses, podcasts and even physical products that relate to the topic. You often find a section on the site called “Shopping" with their offerings.

A website about how to beat a traffic ticket might tempt visitors with a promise but then offer to sell the full information in the form of an e-book or report. These sites are often set up like sales letters, that is, they make a pretty hard pitch for a product. Sales sites like this can seem frivolous, ineffective, ugly, or even stupid to you, unless you're in a situation where you really and truly need the help. If you're facing a serious traffic ticket, you may just find that ugly sales page website is not nearly as offensive as it was when you did not have a ticket.

The point for writers is that many of these business models are things that they could use. Rather than sell articles, reports, or manuscripts to other sites for money, a clever writer can set up a website with a business model and go into business for himself. For example, a freelance writer who specializes in gardening and lives in Houston might create her own website on gardening in zone 9. He or she would fill the site with articles and sell advertising space. Since gardeners need things-plants, tools, soil, fertilizers-this is a good type of site for selling advertising. Then the writer could write some special reports, for instance, Growing Roses in Zone 9 or Citrus Trees in Zone 9, and sell them as well. The writer might even one day write and publish a physical book on gardening and offer it along with a line of gardening tools.

The point is, writers have practically been handed the ability to run a full business rather than work for a publisher. The hard part is developing the content. The other aspects to running an Internet site (things like how to construct a website, shopping carts, how to set up a legal entity as a business) are all things that can be learned.

Jo Ann LeQuang is a freelance writer and owner of several websites who is encouraging writers to recognize what just happened with the Internet in terms of giving writers the tools to earn a great living. Find out more about this at http://www.workingonlinewriter.com


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