There is a huge debate about whether or not writers should write for free. It’s been going on for as long as I can remember, so let’s talk about it once again.
My thoughts about writing for free are rooted in my background as a marketer and an entire field of marketing called content marketing that companies are desperately trying to understand and integrate with social media and traditional marketing tactics and strategies.
To me, writing for free and allowing that content to be published on websites and in media that will help build awareness, recognition, and loyalty to a brand equates to free advertising. Rather than investing hundreds or thousands of dollars into advertising placement, you can invest your own time and your own creativity into building awareness, recognition, and loyalty to your brand using your own words and choosing your own “placement” for those words.
The key, of course, is to evaluate free writing opportunities to determine whether or not they can help you reach your goals in the short or long term.
For example, writing for well-known, authoritative websites and blogs can help you boost authoritative incoming links to your blog, which helps with your search engine rankings. Furthermore, writing amazing, shareworthy content that people want to talk about and share with others online helps to further boost your online platform and drive more traffic to your website, assuming you’ve set up a core branded online destination that all of your content leads people back to. Writing content for free with a strategic marketing plan in mind does far more for building a business than the time it takes to write that content.
With that in mind, everyone has to start somewhere. Is there value for beginner writers to publish content on free article sites and other sites that have reputations for publishing low-quality content? Looking at it from a marketing perspective, my answer is, “It depends.”
I know, it is not the straight answer you want to hear, but it is what it is.
Ask, “Does the site have strong linking potential that can bring more attention to your content than you can get on your own blog or website?”
If so, it might be worth it to publish some content on that site and drive some link juice for your own branded online destination. If the free site doesn’t have a strong presence of its own that has the ability to draw attention to your content, then there is little benefit to publishing content there. You’d be better off writing your own high-quality blog and seeking out guest posting opportunities on larger, authoritative blogs to build your online presence and links back to your branded destination.
Bottom-line, there is more to the argument of whether or not a writer should write for free than the simple debate of how much your time is worth. There are few occupations where you can prove your own abilities and worth thanks to the ability to publish content online. Writing is one of them, so think strategically and choose writing opportunities that lead you to your ultimate goals.
If writing for free to raise your online exposure, build incoming links to your own branded destination to boost search traffic, and demonstrate your skills and talent will help you build your career (and I’d be hard-pressed to find any business or entrepreneur who could argue against those three objectives), then you should integrate the best opportunities into your marketing plan. Free advertising is something companies looking to grow would be crazy to miss, and if you’re trying to grow your writing business, you shouldn’t discount it either.
Of course, being strategic in choosing free writing opportunities is the key. You always want to make sure your brand is associated with sites and other content that is representative of your own brand promise. Building incoming links to enhance your online presence and boost your search engine rankings in order to generate more traffic to your website and more business is important, but you should never sacrifice your brand promise by confusing consumers and clients. Always make sure free writing opportunities truly benefit you and your business before you dive in.
Finally, while there may come a time when a free writing opportunity is too good to pass up, you should try to only accept free writing opportunities that allow you to retain ownership of your content.
What is your stand on this topic? Should a writer write for free?
Editor’s note: This post was first published in 2010; updated December 2023