A couple of years ago, I wrote this advice for writers looking to get their start in blogging for money by working for the blog networks. Back then, blog networks were everywhere and they all shared fairly similar business models. These days the industry has evolved a lot, with most of those networks going out of business–particularly the bad ones like 451 Press–and others turning into completely different types of blogging and publishing businesses. I can proudly say that the sites we run at Envato are all focused on quality content and treating writers fairly. They’re run with an editor and a team of writers–significantly different to the old model that relied on one self-sufficient writer per AdSense farm blog.
But the blog network is still out there even in this more evolved industry, and there are still many unsavory things to watch out for. These tips are also relevant if you’re applying for work at regular blogs outside of a network. Here’s my original article:
Many writers have a hard time making ends meet. That’s why when I hear about blog networks treating writers badly, it gets me riled up. Getting work is hard enough, and once you’ve sunk hours of your time into a network that screws you over, you can’t get it back.
When you lose time on a pursuit that you believe is going to return on the investment, only to find yourself back where you started due to the moral bankruptcy or general ineptitude of your client, it can put you in panic mode trying to put dinner on the table and pay the rent.
That said, there are some excellent blog networks out there who can provide you with a great experience, cash, and exposure – and you won’t have to deal with the technical aspect of blogging.
At the very start of my career, I had some dodgy experiences with networks myself. Here are five warning signs, based on my own experience, to watch out for.
1. They want you to do all the work for a revenue share.
There are precious few revenue share opportunities that will work out well for you as a writer. Revenue share is a model that generally only works when you’re going into partnership with someone to build something from the ground up.
But when a blog network is going to load up WordPress on a few servers, give you an account and say “go!” and expect to split the revenue share in their favor, something’s wrong. Get paid per post. If they can’t offer this, it means they don’t have anything to offer you and you’d be better off starting your own blog and building it from the ground up.
2. Google turns up more negative reviews from ex-writers than positive ones.
Blindingly obvious, you might say, but I know of so many writers who could’ve saved themselves the time and trouble, had they bothered to dig deeper than the first page of search results. It’s better to take the word of multiple fellow writers than decide to just take the chance.
3. The blog network’s age does not scale with the blog network’s size.
If you see a a blog network that has only been around for a few months or a year, yet has hundreds of blogs, it’s a definite sign to steer clear and stay clear. It means they’ve set out to start as many blogs as possible, set them up with poorly paid writers who keep them updated with fresh content, while they sit back and watch the money roll in from the sheer amount of sites.
They’ve probably got unrealistic expectations, but many ‘entrepreneurs’ do get this idea and since they’re just trying to pump out quantity over quality, they’ll ultimately fail. They also don’t care about you, the blog itself, and they won’t take any time communicating with you about any concerns you have once they’ve got you in. Usually, if you do happen to make any money in amounts worth being paid out ($20 or more), they’ll find a way to keep it.
4. What dominates the screen: content, or ads?
Have a quick look at a few of their blogs and see whether the design emphasizes the ads or the content. This is how most blog networks start–some individual lacking a certain level of integrity is sitting around telling a friend:
“We’ll throw up some WordPress blogs with ad-laden themes and chuck a few revenue-share paid writers in – who might make us some money, but if they don’t we won’t lose a cent!”
Ads are fine and to be expected. But if the ads are the focus of the site, with the content just filler for Google spiders, it’s a good sign you won’t be treated well.
5. High blogger turnover.
If the site you’re interested in applying to write for has a long list of former bloggers, it’s a good indicator that you’re not going to want to stay around for long either.
It’s easy to find out if this is a problem–just dig through six month’s worth of posts and see how many times the author changes. If it’s a multi-author blog, you’ll have to take a closer look to see what is going on.
With these five warning signs in mind, you should be able to avoid a dodgy deal when you’re looking for work online. Good luck finding the right blog for you! There are as many good ones out there as bad ones. 451 Press still stinks. Others, like Weblogs Inc, are reportedly pretty good.