Why We Should Not Write Guest Posts for Free

Everyone knows that guest posts are a great source of traffic. Many top bloggers, such as Bamidele Onibalusi, have established themselves solely through successful guest post campaigns. It’s a tried and tested way of getting traffic to your blog or website.

I’m sure you are already aware of the benefits of guest blogging. Therefore, I don’t want to reiterate the pros of guest posting for others. Instead, today I would like to talk about the act of writing for others for free.

Guest Posting

There is one word that is synonymous with the term guest post; FREE. Guest posts are always written by bloggers without remuneration. All they get in return is one or two links back to their own blog. It’s become accepted that bloggers should not be paid for their writing.

Bloggers write guest posts for free in order to gain traffic and raise their profile. It is not in the interest of bloggers to write for small traffic blogs. In order to get the most from guest blogging, bloggers should always target high-traffic blogs that can send hundreds of visitors to their blogs, and increase their blog’s ranking in the search engines.

Many low traffic blogs accept guest posts too, however their guest posts are usually shorter and not high quality. This is the type of thing that Google is trying to crack down, as they tend to favour longer more in-depth articles.

Google’s stance is one of the many reasons why blogs are looking for high quality article guest post submissions. The types of articles they are looking for take a long time to write. Some of the guest posts I have written in the past took several hours to write. Yes, I got a little traffic from them, however I was not paid.

Why Bloggers Should Always Be Paid

Before I get on, I have to be up front and say that when I first started out, I accepted guest posts on my blogs. I stopped accepting guest posts when I launched my last blog, WP Mods, in 2010. Firstly, because the standard of guest posts were low, and secondly, because I felt that everyone who contributed to my blog should get paid. I have also written guest posts in the past for many blogs, so I fully understand why bloggers spend hours and hours writing articles for nothing for high-traffic blogs.

I have been blogging actively for 6 or 7 years now. The longer I do this, the more I believe that writers should always be paid for the work they do.

I am fully aware that many blog owners do not have the funds to pay people who contribute guest posts to them. If the blogger accepts this and still wants to submit a guest post, then I don’t think there is inherently wrong with that.

The problem is that there are many highly profitable blogs that are not paying writers. Take ProBlogger for example. I’m a huge fan of ProBlogger. I have a lot of respect for its owner Darren Rowse and I have submitted several guest posts to ProBlogger in the past. They rely heavily on submissions from guest posters. I’m not trying to single ProBlogger out, as there are thousands of top blogs out there who accept guest posts, however ProBlogger is well known within the blogging niche so is a good example to use.

A quick look at their guest poster account shows how often they accept guest posts. Last month, there was a period where there was an article published every day by a guest poster (and each article was thousands of words long).

These contributors do get credit for their work and will get a few hundred visits from ProBlogger in return, but is it fair that they are not paid? Look at it this way. ProBlogger makes a huge amount of money every month. In the past they generated a lot of money through banner ads, however they have moved towards a different model in which they push traffic to products they sell, including eBooks, workbooks, a job board and a paid discussion forum.

The profitability of all of these products relies on the traffic the blog generates. If blog traffic drops, earnings from product sales will too. The irony is that as Darren and other ProBlogger staff have focused their attention into producing products, they have relied more and more on guest posters.

In the past, guest posters have contributed up to 50% of the content on the blog. The blog makes tens of thousands of dollars every month, and yet, the people who are producing up to 50% of the content are getting nothing for their hard work. I don’t think this is right. The fact is, profitable commercial blogs are taking advantage of high-quality bloggers by offering them a stage to display their writing.

I employed staff on my last two last blogs. On BloggingTips, staff wages cost me more than half my earnings (at the start, this figure was much higher). On WP Mods, the figure was a little lower as I wrote most of the articles myself, however it was still my biggest expense.

Imagine a business model whereby you can eliminate your biggest expense and still get the product you need. It is amazing when you think about it. Can you imagine a news station that relied on reporters, cameraman and researchers working for free?

* Again, I reiterate that I am not singling out ProBlogger. There are many other blogs who publish guest posts regularly including Search Engine Journal, Mashable, Copyblogger, ReadWrite, MenWithPens, GetRichSlowly, QuickOnlineTips, and many many more. I could have used one of a thousand highly-profitable blogs that are out there as an example. My point is, this kind of thing has became accepted as the norm.

Devaluing Your Own Worth

As someone who has owned many blogs in the past, I am a little in awe of the blogs who can build their blogs through the contributions of others. They have effectively put their blogs on auto-pilot. There’s no payments to make, and no payroll to manage. And profits are double than what they would be if they did pay their staff.

As someone who also writes for a living, I don’t like this situation. I do not like the idea of professional bloggers working several hours to produce a high quality article, and get only one link in return. One link!

Over the last three years, I greatly reduced the number of guest posts I made. I don’t know the exact figure, though I suspect that I’ve contributed less than seven guest posts over the last few years. It was a concious decision to move away from it. Instead, I started writing for large blogs such as Smashing Magazine and Noupe. Not only did they give me links back to my websites, I was also paid a few hundred dollars for my articles. I strongly believe that this is the way it should be. We should get credit for the work we do, however we should also be paid a fair price for what we contribute. Surely, as bloggers, our goal should be to raise our profile and make money?

The problem with guest posting is that it has devalued our work. Our stock is plummeting. Why would a blog owner pay for articles if they can get the same quality for free?

I have become more aware of this over time. Many of the blogs I have contacted over the last years have quoted abysmal rates. These blogs are making thousands of dollars per month, but would only offer $50 for an article that would take more than five hours to write. I would rather go and work in a supermarket than write for $10 an hour. I would make more money.

So why are so many blogs offering terrible rates? The reason is simple: They can afford to. Firstly, because many bloggers accept these low rates, and secondly, because many bloggers are submitting good articles for free. As American writer Harlan Ellison explains, the amateurs are messing it up for the professionals. Blog owners are so used to getting the product for nothing, that they are unwilling to pay for it.

* Hat tip to Carolina A. Miranda for bringing this great video to my attention.

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist

This article was inspired by an article which freelance journalist Nate Thayer wrote two days ago, entitled “A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013“.

He was contacted by the online magazine The Atlantic, who wanted him to rewrite a piece he had recently written. They wanted an article of around 1,200 words by the end of the week. This is the response Nate got when he asked about what he would be paid:

From the Atlantic:

Thanks for responding. Maybe by the end of the week? 1,200 words? We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. I understand if that’s not a workable arrangement for you, I just wanted to see if you were interested.

Thanks so much again for your time. A great piece!

Yes, you are reading that correctly. The Atlantic gets around 13 million readers every month, and yet they don’t want to pay a professional journalist for him contributing a 1,200 word article.

Nate then pointed out that:

I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children.

They responded:

Hi Nate — I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have, but that’s not right for everyone and it’s of course perfectly reasonable to decline.

I’m surprised that a website with 13 million readers is only paying $100 at most. I’m also surprised that a website with that amount of traffic can simply run out of money.

As you would expect, Nate received overwhelming support in the comments area. I particularly liked the comment from Mynta Duhamel, who wrote to The Atlantic and said:

There is no category for general feedback, so “Advice” seemed most appropriate. I have read the article by journalist Nate Thayer in which The Atlantic attempted to gain his story without offering compensation of any sort, beyond “exposure”.

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist—2013

I wanted to inform you that you have lost your legitimacy in the estimation of this reader. My advice to Atlantic Media Company is to pay your writers. I find this practice utterly unacceptable, and honestly rather pathetic. If you do not wish to be a news site, then do not be a news site. But don’t go begging to legitimate journalists in hopes of bolstering your own reputation for free. I am sure that somewhere up the line is a parent company who can afford to give the Atlantic a budget which can pay for journalists. If you are unable to make any policy changes yourselves, I suggest someone speak to the parent company about amending practices.

It seems that websites across the internet expect to get good content for free. This isn’t a business model that is sustainable unless content creators are willing to work for nothing.

Overview

Somehow, all of these top blogs have managed to convince bloggers that it is in their best interests to contribute content to them for free. It’s in our interests because we will get one or two links back.

When I first started, I used guest posting in order to build traffic to my blogs. In hindsight, it isn’t always the best strategy. Why should I publish a 2,000 word article on someone else’s blog rather than my own? Shouldn’t I be paid for doing so?

I strongly feel that bloggers and freelance writers should always get paid for their work. We have bills to pay, just like everyone else. We need to stop devaluing ourselves and only contribute articles to blogs if we are compensated for it. And, in my mind, a link back to my blog is not sufficient remuneration for me spending a full day writing an article.

I am not going to criticise any of you who do use guest posting as a strategy to promote your blog, however, I do encourage you to reconsider the benefits of every article you agree to write for free.

In future, I plan to write all my articles here. If I have something to say, I will say it here. Perhaps I will do the odd guest post as a favour for friends, but it will not be as a way to build traffic.

I see little benefit of me writing two or three thousand-word articles to be published on someone else’s blog, only for a link back. I’m worth more than that. If my articles cannot generate social media shares and links naturally, then my articles are probably not good enough. In that case, I need to either go back to the drawing board and improve my writing, or give up blogging altogether.

Kudos to the website owners out there who have a policy of always paying writers. Michael Jackness from WP Hub, for example, has spoke many times about how he believes that writers should always be paid for the work they do. Here’s hoping more people follow his lead.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

Thanks for reading,
Kevin

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