As you might expect, the answer to that is “It depends.” This very subject came up in our SEO Chat forums, and you can check out the thread for the full story. Basically, what it boils down to is that there’s a glut in the market for content writers at a certain level – but if you’re really exceptional or hit the right niche, you can do well if you’re prepared to stick with it for long enough.
Let’s start by taking a look at the writer glut. In advising an experienced content writer, highly respected SEO Chat forum member Egol noted that “content for the web has become a commodity. Writers from Asia and some from North America are willing to write for a few cents per word.” Really good writers, however, should insist on their hourly rate; “You don’t want to be a racehorse that pulls a plow,” Egol observed.
But who would be willing to pay a high hourly rate? Think of the kind of people who really need high quality content, and can afford to pay for it. That includes high traffic sites that make lots of money from ad views; professional websites with high value visitors; certain organizations that care about their image and want to project quality, and/or who have an important message they want to get out; and certain others. Egol stated that “Those make up a very tiny percentage of webmasters.”
For a writer, this means that a huge part of the market won’t want or need to pay your rates. One natural answer to this involves specializing in an area that cut-rate writers can’t touch. It’s a great opportunity to serve a well-paying market; as with all opportunities, however, it comes with certain pitfalls.
Reaching higher-paying customers usually means writing for markets looking for highly specialized knowledge. By this I mean professional fields such as law, medicine, finance, and the like – though it could also apply to certain highly skilled trades. Cut-rate writers can’t really touch these fields because they don’t have the background knowledge; they can’t write like someone who knows it inside and out, because they don’t. Visitors to websites that post that kind of information LIVE the subject matter; they’ll quickly spot even subtle mistakes made by a writer who merely researched it. For many high-quality websites, that is simply not acceptable.
This is one of the reasons, by the way, for the oft-repeated advice to bloggers to write what you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about something, you either know it intimately or are willing to put in the concentrated effort to learn. Also, you’ll never run out of things to write about it!
It’s not just a matter of passion, however. In addition to picking a topic “that you truly enjoy and can write about long-term without fatigue,” Egol notes that “It’ must also be one that you have the ability to produce best-on-the-web content that is useful or entertaining for the reader and technically accurate.” Keep in mind, too, that you may invest a year or two before seeing satisfying results.
As an example, let me point to Dr.Marie. An SEO Chat forum member for two years, she’s also a professional veterinarian with her own pet care website. She makes her money on the site from AdSense. She writes evergreen content, and as a result she gets income even from articles that she published two years ago. In the time she’s been on SEO Chat, as she has applied what she’s learned, she noted that her income from her site went from next to nothing to paying her mortgage. That’s not going to make one rich, of course, but it is a nice side stream.
Keep in mind two things, though: Dr.Marie is in fact a professional veterinarian, which gives her very specialized knowledge. And her niche, pet care, is particularly popular. She has a lot of competition, sure, but she doesn’t have to capture a large percentage of the traffic for that niche to make money. The key is that her knowledge – and writing ability, of course – means that she can offer much better information than many of her competitors.
What does this mean for you, the passionate writer trying to figure out the best way to earn money from doing what you love? How do you decide your niche? How do you know you can write best-of-the-web content for it? Ask yourself what any responsible web master with a demanding audience would ask: what qualifies you to write this content? Remember, Dr.Marie has formal qualifications in her area. That may not be required for your particular niche, but your audience – and anyone who publishes what you’ve written, if you’re also trying to sell your work elsewhere – will want to know, and they will spot even the most subtle errors.
If you don’t have formal qualifications, what should you do to determine whether you can compete in a particular niche? It’s actually somewhat simple, according to Egol: “Can you pick subjects, search Google for that topic, and know that you can defeat the content of every site currently positioned on the first page? That means better writing, more detail, better graphics, better everything.” Now, if you want to make income from that, you need to be able to it at least once or twice a week, and hold that pace for a couple of years, until your site gains traction.
This is why you need to be careful picking your niche. Remember, also, that your competition might not be made up of devoted amateurs, depending on the topic. As Egol explained, especially when you’re writing for a professional audience, “you are not competing against people who are sitting at a card table in their basement typing on a cheap laptop. In many niches your competitors are teams of people who have support staffs to help them.”
Say that you do decide to start building your own content website. Obviously you need to think about your own background when choosing your niche, but what should you look for? Egol offered some suggestions, which I’ll include here. You want a niche with high search volume, because if you are monetizing with ads you’ll need to show a lot of ads to make money. You also want one with competition, because “if there is competition there is generally a lot of money changing hands and a lot of volume,” Egol pointed out, and you needn’t fear any competition you can beat.
You should also look for topics that will attract a lot of subscribers and repeat visitors; in fact, if you can, try to hook people in with an RSS feed or email subscription. Egol recommends building a theme site (such as Dr.Marie’s, which is focused around pet care); that way, it can become the go-to place for those who have problems or questions, or just need information. When writing for your site, look for evergreen topics; you may not want to build a site around a flash-in-the-pan celebrity who will be yesterday’s news in a few months, for example.
Egol also recommends writing about a topic that is closely tied to things that people buy. He uses the example of home repair, where you show them how to fix something and they need to buy the tools and the materials. “If the ads can be as valuable to the visitor as the content that is where you will make the most money,” Egol explained.
Make no mistake, building your own content-based website is a lot of work, and even if you do everything right, it will take some time before it starts paying off. But it could be one of the best gambles you ever make. Good luck!