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

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.

About the Author

Melissa Brewer is a full-time freelance writer and author of The
Writer's Online Survival Guide, available at
http://www.webwritingbuzz.com. She hosts a website for professional
freelance writers and she publishes a free weekly newsletter, The Web
Writing Buzz, featuring articles on freelancing, writing jobs and
publishing news from around the web.


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