When I started as a freelance copywriter in the early 1980s, one of my plum assignments was writing articles.

Typically, I would ghostwrite a 1,500 to 2,500-word article on something related to the client's product or technology. One was on a new kind of semiconductor, and another was on an artificial cork for wine bottles:


My fee would typically range from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on length and complexity.

But I just didn't ghostwriter articles for corporate marketing departments.

I also published articles in major consumer magazines and daily newspapers including New Jersey Monthly, Cosmopolitan, and the Record.

Now, on elance.com and elsewhere, there are freelancers offering to write articles for $5 per article.

There are several problems with this.

First, any intelligent client will ask himself, "What quality of article am I getting for $5?"

Answer: crappy. I know.

once hired an elance freelancer to write an article on "careers in chemistry" for my chemistry web site www.mychemset.com.

The first line of her article ... and I'm not making this up ... was: "Chemistry is a good career for people who are fond of atoms."

Second, if you are a writer and you charge $5 an article, you are being paid so little that your priority is likely writing these articles as fast as possible, rather than giving the client a great article.

Third, most of these cheap articles today are what I call "Google goulash."

The methodology for writing Google goulash articles is simple: Google the topic. Print out 5 articles on the topic. Put a few facts from each article into your article. And call it a day.

The result is nothing more than warmed-over Google content: stuff that has already been said before (and better said, most likely). No new information, insight, analysis, or ideas.

Aside from poor writing, which is what you get from a $5 article writer, the reason Google goulash articles are so relatively worthless is that they contain nothing fresh, nothing original, nothing of any value.

There are two solutions to avoiding Google goulash and writing better articles.

The first is to hire a writer who has some or even considerable expertise in the topic.

The big publishers of investment newsletters, for instance, hire staff editors who are skilled analysts or investment writers. They think and write about investing on a deeper level than most people, providing interesting and original content.

The second solution is for the writer to do research that goes far beyond a cursory Google search on the topic.

When I was writing technology articles for corporate clients at 2 or 3 grand a pop, I would typically spend the day interviewing the engineers who had developed the technology I was writing about, and often went on a tour of the plant where the technology was manufactured.

Once I was writing an article about a reverse osmosis filtration unit that purified water. I stood at the outlet with a glass in hand, waited for it to fill with the filtered water, and drank. You don't get that kind of first-hand view from Google.

Professional journalists produce much better work than the typical elance freelance writer, largely because they do more research vs. the elancer's cursory Google search.

For instance, when I wrote this article on stock car racing for Baltimore's City Paper, I spent an evening at the track, watching many races and interviewing fans, track officials, drivers, and mechanics:


Another time, when writing an article on a guy who used billy goats instead of lawn mowers and hedge trimmers for lawn and bush care, I drove an hour to his spread to see the goats in action.

Don't get me wrong. Google is a godsend to writers. We can now do a lot of secondary research without leaving our offices instead of spending half a day in the library like we did back in the day.

But the dark side of Google is that it has made writers lazy, research-wise.

Action step: for your next article, go ahead and research the topic on Google.

But then pick up the phone or get on Skype and interview an expert or two.

And get in the car. If you are writing about fish farms, drive to a fish hatchery and see the fish in their tanks.

You'll see the quality difference in your content, I assure you.



Bob Bly
Copywriter / Consultant
31 Cheyenne Dr.
Montville, NJ 07045
Phone 973-263-0562
Fax 973-263-0613

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