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Web Writing’s Evolution: The Web Content Market for Writers

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When It All Began: The First Web Writings

While there weren’t many online writers in the formative years of the web, if you were around then, you know what it was like.

What I remember most about the web back then (the Al Gore days?) was the plain text, 10-point courier font that was consistent with 90% of the websites I encountered. Searching the web was a pain, but reading the web on-screen was impossible. By the end of the day I was completely nuts and half-blind. I would print out what looked to be a thousand pages of text and take it home to read and highlight. Even on paper, the font caused my eyes to be squinty and my head to ache. I probably drank two liters of coffee a day to keep my eyes moving across the page. The next day I would return to the school computer and begin again. The web was a pain, but it was still a fascinating source of information that was free and at my fingertips.

A year or two later, web design evolved into flashing text and moving GIF’s that danced across the page. Words were scarce, and oftentimes, filled with unbelievable claims and brazen, nothing’s-too-wild hype. There are still a few of these sites up on the web today, but consumers shy far away from them when it comes to online shopping. Thank you, Jakob Neilson! While Jakob didn’t change the writing itself, really, he DID change the way it was displayed and warned that blatant commercialism sent customers running for cover. Because of his research (available at useit.com) millions of websites changed the way they did business, and learned about relationship building and credibility building. Web designers and writers began to learn and understand the nature of the web and the process of converting website visitors into loyal readers. Web text became readable, scannable, and interesting. By 1998, I was using the web on a regular basis again. While I still encountered many ugly, unreadable websites, I discovered a few gems and I was hooked on the “free information” movement again.

Web Writing Markets Today

Between web designers and web writers, the web has evolved into a medium that is not only scannable, but also readable. Thousands of websites hire content writers to create interesting, compelling, emotional content for their customers. While it is true that online business has lulled, the truth is that online content is here to stay. As you may know from a statistics class, there is really no way that 100% of online businesses will crash and burn. For every website that is on the web today, there will be two online tomorrow. Web business moves at a quick pace; but as one dot-com crashes and burns, another is submitting their press release to online venues around the world.

Understanding the web writing markets is crucial to success for online writers. Many writers get frustrated because they can’t find work or don’t know where to start. An understanding of the term “content” is a good start to understanding the companies that need content.

Online content today consists of: *Web sales copy *Filler *Articles *Online tutorials *Online user manuals *Newsletter writing *Online press releases *Online journalism *Flash movie scripts *Online game scripts *Online ads

Because the web is evolving so quickly, the type of content a website needs depends on their purpose or goal. Web sales copy, of course, is meant to produce sales. But if a website has sales copy alone, their users may get turned off. How do they level out the hype? They hire writers to write objective content such as articles and filler. Websites also understand the importance of interactivity; interactive elements allow readers and customers to get involved. Surveys and “talk back” features help establish a relationship with website visitors. In addition to these elements, website also have the goal of establishing an ongoing relationship with their users. Newsletters and discussion lists provide a quick reminder and a steady outreach to a website’s target audience. Freelance writers create email content to fulfill this goal.

So, how big is the online content market?

“Huge!” says Rachel McAlpine, founder of the Quality Web Content Club, (http://www.webpagecontent.com) “Creating and maintaining web sites is a team job that requires many areas of expertise.” “My most successful work so far is a horoscope column, believe it or not,” says Brandi Jasmine, a freelance writer and digital photographer. (http://www.brandijasmine.com) Does she think there is enough work to go around? “I do, definitely. Actually I think that the `dot.bomb’ has helped freelancers. I have had no trouble getting freelance work, it’s the `full time jobs’ that seem thin, few and far between. Portals and online publications are looking more to outsourcing and syndicated material as things get tight.”

Looking Ahead – The Future of Web Writing Markets

Can you image the web without decent writers? When I think of a web without professional writers, I often think of my well-meaning friends and neighbors who have often showed me their love poems and essays, eagerly asking me, “How much money can I get when I publish this?”

I try to imagine my old boss writing an online newsletter or my father writing sales copy. (Which could happen; Dad’s an engineer and the old boss a CEO –but I doubt you would want to read it ;-) I think back to the days where term papers and transcripts were the “free information” on the web.

Whatever the future of content is, I know that the “free information” of the olden days was free for a reason. The content writing of today pays well, and the content of tomorrow is promising. As the web matures, the duties of writers expand and solidify. There is a reason that a website’s writing doesn’t work or a newsletter can’t get any subscribers. This is where the online content writer comes in. We’re the ones who will make it work.

“Web content writers need to know where we fit in, and make sure we have expertise in our own field. In the end, all you need is three or four big clients,” Rachel McAlpine says.

So, are you ready to go out and seek them?

*This article originally appeared in Web Writing Buzz Newsletter in April of 2000.

Melissa Brewer is a freelance writer specializing in online content.
She writes articles, tutorials, and online training materials for
corporate and small business clients. She has taught classes on web
writing in the past and recently published an eBook for writers: The
Writer’s Online Survival Guide, containing over 230 writing-specific
job sources for writers online. She hosts a website for writers, the
Web Writing Buzz, at

http://sites.hsprofessional.com/webbuzz/index.html

and publishes a corresponding newsletter with tips, resources, and
jobs for writers at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/webwritingbuzz/.

Web Writing’s Evolution: The Web Content Market for Writers
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About Melissa Brewer
Melissa Brewer is a freelance writer specializing in online content. She writes articles, tutorials, and online training materials for corporate and small business clients. She has taught classes on web writing in the past and recently published an eBook for writers: The Writer's Online Survival Guide, containing over 230 writing-specific job sources for writers online. She hosts a website for writers, the Web Writing Buzz, at http://sites.hsprofessional.com/webbuzz/index.html and publishes a corresponding newsletter with tips, resources, and jobs for writers at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/webwritingbuzz/. WebProNews Writer
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