I went into college with dreams of becoming a journalist or even an essayist, but by the time I graduated, it seemed like the industry-side of publishing was going extinct. Printed matter, I’d been informed by numerous authoritative sources, was on its way out. Not only did this strike me as tragic – What was happening to all the books and magazines I had grown up reading and loving? – it was also incredibly anxiety-producing. What was I going to do with my life?
As has often been the fate of English majors, I first found a job in traditional marketing and sales. But then in 2009, like a lot of people across the country, I fell victim to a company-wide layoff. I got ‘in-between’ jobs just to pay the rent, but my debts were stacking up and I was living on a pauper’s budget. It was taking a long time to find a ‘real job’ like the one I’d had coming out of college, which did a number on my self-esteem and confidence. At one point, I even turned to a resume service for help, hoping that I had been overlooking a simple curriculum vitae no-no that was preventing me from getting hired. I simply had to accept that nearly 10 percent of the population was also competing for employment. While it took longer than I anticipated finding a ‘real job,’ something did finally come my way in April — and it came as a surprise. I ended up finding a full-time job doing the last thing I expected to be paid to do: writing.
Not for a newspaper or a magazine, as I’d once expected to do. The new writer boom is happening on the web, fueled by an algorithm update that happened earlier this year.
In February, Google upended the search engine optimization industry and a major recruitment of writers began. Perhaps, like me, you assumed that what you read on a given website was fresh, new, and not published elsewhere. Turns out, this isn’t always true. Google started cracking down on websites that had published content that could be found somewhere else online. The change was a result of Panda, an update to Google’s search algorithm whose purpose was, among other things, to suss out plagiarized and ensure that people who go searching for original content will find it. This, perhaps predictably, has created a huge surge in demand for fresh content–and that means lots of work for writers.
I was, for a long time, one of those people who believed that being paid to write was a myth – unless you were a famous author or blogger. Freelance assignments were few and far between and though the practice was paramount to my development as a writer, it did not pay enough to live on. Thankfully, Google’s improved standards of quality made that living a reality. The need for writers with a unique voice has made the thing I love to do best into a valuable commodity.
So: what kinds of jobs are becoming increasingly available since the Panda Update in February. I’ll list off three of the main types of jobs that are popping up, though there are many shadings and subdivisions of these jobs that appear:
- Onsite content-author/Copywriter
This is the person who actually sits down and does the hardwork of filling the blank page—or screen as it were—with words. ‘Onsite’ content authors write the text that visibly appears on their clients websites—generally speaking title-tags, meta-descriptions and HTML heavylifting remain the province of SEO’s and Developers. Content authors may follow direction from SEO’s and content-managers, or they may merely submit their copy to higher-ups for optimization.
A content-editor does not ‘merely’ correct the grammatical mistakes of the content-author. No, the editor’s job is now much more complicated than that. The content-manager must now also make sure that… a) The copy is true to client’s brand, and that the voice matches the tone that they want to project to their customers b) The copy is ‘optimized’–it contains the necessary keywords and contains text that is generally relevant to both that keyword and to the client’s brand.
- Offsite Content Manager
Offsite content is a wily creature and it involves creating relationships with brands other than your client’s, and providing articles or content to others which refers to your client, thus cementing their reputation.
While writing pages of never-before-seen content can be intellectually challenging, it’s also a thrill. Knowing that a checks-and-balances system is in place to keep people from falsely inflating their search engine rankings makes my job just a bit easier. It also makes me feel better as a person who turns to the Internet to research subjects of personal interest. I can now read articles with a bit more confidence, knowing that the content is trustworthy, not automatically generated by some kind of program, and not published elsewhere under a different heading. I can now back up a source with more confidence, both as a writer and a researcher.
For the time being, the ‘Panda boom’ ensures that writers remain in high demand. The trick is to find a way to get plugged into that demand: start by marketing yourself as a copywriter or content-manager to web companies in your area. For once you can feel confident about what you have to offer, rather coming as an obsequious supplicant hoping to be given a chance: a writer’s skill, original voice, and ability to authoritatively research and report back on a topic are ‘commodities’ given the current landscape of search ranking factors—and smart web-dev companies know it. No longer will a fancy cut-and-paste job or changing a few keywords get the job done. Lest the urge to get lazy bloom, keep in mind that Panda is watching.
Thomas Stone is a content-author and a contributing writer for technected.com.
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