One of the first things I figured out when I started freelancing in 2005 and began exploring the online opportunites was that revenue-share sites weren’t worth my time.
Most paid you if ads got clicked, and you needed thousands of clicks to earn anything real. The feedback I got from most writers doing it was they were maybe making $100 a month tops writing dozens of articles.
That’s a pretty tiny slice of the pie, for a lotta work.
It didn’t sound like a way to make a living to me.
I’ve since learned more about what it takes to earn real money on Examiner and similar sites, which also did not make me want to jump in and do it.
In fact, when I interviewed one of Examiner’s top earners earlier this year at BlogWorld/NMX and told him how I earn off my blog, he said it sounded better than his own grueling schedule of posting nearly 100 articles per site monthly in order to drive enough traffic to earn well and feed his family.
Then, around 2008 or so, my opinion of revenue share started to change.
Where revshare is big business
I applied for and got a job blogging for BNET, a big business-news portal created by CNET and — at the time I joined up — owned by CBS Interactive. BNET ended up being folded into CBS MoneyWatch in 2009, so it isn’t around anymore.
But while it lasted, BNET served as my introduction to the other side of revenue share…the one that can be a lot of fun and pay real money.
BNET had great editors with daily-paper experience that I learned a lot from. It was also a chance to write fun, tabloidy headlines. I covered retail for them.
I learned a lot about how to compete on a busy blog with lots of contributors and stand out with snappy stories and headlines. The key words that got the best traffic for me, I quickly discovered, were “Crazy,” “Madman,” “Walmart,” and “American Apparel.”
I learned a ton about blogging here that helped me build this blog and write for other clients, too.
Enter a hybrid pay model
Most interesting of all was the pay structure. It’s been a while, so this is all from my recollection, but we were paid a low base amount for doing a minimum number of posts — as I recall, I was supposed to post at least once per business day. I could get paid at a higher per-post rate if I averaged 1.5 or 2 posts per day.
We were paid additional bonuses if we drove a certain number of pageviews.
In other words, it was partly a revenue share model. Not based on ad-clicks, but on traffic.
BNET also had the cachet of writing for a brand-name company with a great reputation (which allowed me to annoy my family members by pointing to myself and saying, “This is CBS!”).
I did fairly well some months with BNET, but burnout loomed fairly quickly. I couldn’t imagine how I was ever going to get a vacation if I had to crank 20 posts a month for them! Coming up with 20 unique angles on retail news and writing them up took a lot of news scanning and loads of time.
I lasted less than a year. But for a time, this was a steady, reliable, bread-and-butter account for me that could top $1,000 on a good month.
How revshare got better
After BNET, I left revenue share behind for a while, and went back to writing for per-post or per-article fees.
Until one day, when I got a call from an editor at Forbes.com. I thought they were like Huffington Post and didn’t pay anyone, but that turned out to be wrong. They do have a core of trained journalists that they pay to cover specific beats.
It was the call I’d been waiting for — I’d been blogging for a competing magazine with 1/30th Forbes’ traffic and considered Forbes the big leagues of highly regarded business blogs.
Turns out they needed someone to cover one of my expertise areas — franchising. I happily switched camps.
Besides the opportunity to get in front of a way bigger audience, Forbes offered a pay model similar to the one I’d had at BNET. I get a base pay amount if I do X number of posts, plus a bonus for X number of views, and additional bonusi for unique visitors and repeat visitors.
On a good month, I’ve made $1,200 writing four posts. So that pencils out well, eh? And I gather others with more experience on the platform, hotter topics, or a bigger built-in audience from their own blogs are earning way more per month than me.
There’s a lot of opportunity to go viral, drive huge traffic, and earn a nice hourly wage blogging on big sites, if you know how.
Why this is the future
I know — loads of writers want a sure thing. They’d rather get $50 or $100 a post guaranteed. And I used to be that way.
But I’ve become a fan of this revenue model, which is basically a mix of flat fee and revshare.
Why? It’s pay for performance. Which I respect.
If you learn how to get that blog attention and traffic and help that site make sales of its workshops or books or products or whatever, why shouldn’t you profit from your expertise? And if you don’t know how to make posts get eyeballs, why should you earn the same as the writer with huge traffic?
It doesn’t make simple business sense to pay a flat fee, which is why I’m betting you’ll see a lot more of these hybrid fee/revshare models in the future.
When to do revenue share
How can you tell if you’re looking at a great revshare opportunity or a time-waster that will earn you pennies? Here are a few important things to look for:
- Big traffic. Find out what monthly viewers are. Check on Alexa or one of its competitors and benchmark your prospect against other, similar sites. There are loads of startups that claim they’ve got traffic, but don’t. I’ve had sites pitch me that writing for them would give me “huge” exposure, only to check and see that this blog gets more traffic than they do.
- Engagement. Social shares and comments are a sign that people don’t just click to the site and then immediately realize they’ve made a mistake and leave (like I do every time I find myself on eHow).
- Great reputation. As you can see above, my revshare deals were for solid-gold names. Ask around about the place in the writer community. Google “sitename sucks” and see what you get. If it’s somewhere with such a crummy rep that you couldn’t use the clips in your portfolio, think hard about whether you want to do this. It’s probably a gig writing for search robots to read instead of for people, and that’s not going to help your freelance writing career.
- Flexibility. Revshare should include the ability to set your own schedule and post or not as you desire. This is one of the things I love versus my pay-per-post gigs, which all committed me to definitely post X number of times a week or month on a rigid schedule. Now, if I’m busy, I can make a decision to blow off my revshare gig in favor of other projects and earn less from Forbes that month. Per-post pay gigs usually don’t offer that freedom.
- Pay for traffic, not ad clicks. These two metrics usually relate to each other, but you don’t want to be tied to ad clicks. Which ads they put up and products they decide to hawk are totally beyond your control, so you don’t want that to be a pay trigger.
- Some base pay. The company should have a successful enough business model to be able to offer you some guaranteed money for your time.
- Substantial upside. Watch out for caps on how much you can earn if your post goes viral. You want the potential to really cash in if you have a good month.
I’m fascinated to see where the world of revenue share goes next. But if what I’ve seen is any indication, business bloggers should work hard on learning how to drive traffic. Likely, the size of your future freelance paychecks will depend on it.
Related: How to make money writing
Have you written for revenue share? Share your experience in the comments.