What is a content farm? Wiki summarizes it brilliantly so just head over there for a balanced picture.
What’s it got to do with me? I dipped my toes into the copywriting field in late 2008. I was looking for a flexible online job, and by chance, I found out about this strategy called SEO. Low cost (and average quality :P) writing was in demand!
The jargon kept increasing as I learnt more about the field: content farms, keyword spamming, Latent Semantic Index (LSI), Copyscape…soon, I realized I wasn’t just writing words in return for some pocket money. Unknowingly, I had stepped into a complex, vibrant industry with many clamouring for jobs.
So I’ve been doing SEO copywriting on and off for more than 2 years now. I do it mainly because I want to earn a bit more, my schedule doesn’t usually allow for regular jobs, and it’s easy. I can do it when my brain is dead. I can do it when I’m bored.
I’ve written 100 x 450 word pages for a hospital website (at a ridiculous rate of 1USD per article) although I’m no medical expert. I’ve written about weddings, cookbooks, poverty, trucking licenses, and cat repellents; even assuming fictitious roles at times. The assignment I enjoyed most was probably developing 25 activity sheets for group discussions on various social issues, but other than that….forgettable. And I don’t trust commercial websites anymore.
Today, I’ve come to a point where I am seriously rethinking whether I should continue being a cow, laboriously ploughing word fields for farmers looking to harvest internet traffic crops.
Ethically, SEO – a huge aspect of online article writing – is a grey area. There’s good SEO, acceptable SEO, bad-taste SEO, and downright bad SEO! We shall not go into SEO techniques here as I’m no expert, but assignment-wise, you also don’t always have the liberty to pick and choose. Most of the time I am not told where my articles end up (I suspect some are meant for low quality content farms because they’re too general to be informative), and my employers know I wouldn’t care because I’m not credited. See what an excellent set up this ghostwriting thing is for all sorts of questionable internet practices! Sigh.
Last month, I declined to write the hospital page on abortion because of personal conviction.
That was easy. But some things are not as clear: one of my current assignments is to write about travel in Thailand in the first person POV. Obviously, this is already a deception, but then, it’s often acceptable in the industry. But through the brief given I also feel like this client wants to promote the sex trade there…while I don’t! So how do I write my 800-word article?
Sometimes I feel what I’m doing can be compared to growing crops on Farmville. It’s been interesting and a good learning experience, but I can’t help feeling it is a waste of time.
I quit Farmville within a week. I quit Barn Buddy after I grew tired of stealing crops and planting weeds in other people’s farms. I still think I haven’t learnt enough about SEO – and the money did help pay for summer school when my financial resources were depleting quickly – but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up quitting SEO due to a sheer lack of meaningful purpose in the writing.
I started a little ping pong game:
Ping. I learn about social toursim, insurance, burglar alarms and whatever I write on.
Pong. But I’m paid too little to be willing to produce anything worth more than $4 – $5 dollars.
Ping. Well, it’s still money and I’ll move up the chain to write better things.
Pong. I DON’T want to be called a cheap overseas writer. I am NOT a cheap overseas writer!
…and I’m gonna continue the match in my head while I finish off my last project and take my article writing break. Meanwhile, it’s time for this again:
7.94 million Malaysians voted in the 12th General Election. 4.08 mil voted the government into power on behalf of a 27 mil population. That’s 15.1%. If you haven’t registered, do it by tomorrow. Don’t let the 15.1% decide your fate.