What I Have Learned from Writing for an Online Website

Recently I published my 250th article on WeekendNotes. It’s quite a milestone for me, so today I thought I would write about what I have learned and achieved from writing for an online review website.

Some statistics:

–          WeekendNotes has articles published for 48 different countries with the majority of articles and writers in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States

–          It’s difficult to tell how many writers there are but most of the major cities have at least fifty current writers. Only thirteen other WeekendNotes writers have published over 250 articles.

–          There are over 1 million Australian readers every month

–          Writers are paid a proportion of the money earned from advertising, which is around 1 cent per click. They also have the opportunity to win various ‘medals’ which range from $5 to $20 based on the editorial quality of the story.

–          All articles are vetted and scored by a small team of editors. Only articles with a certain score will be sent to subscribers in the newsletters

–          The most popular WeekendNotes article of all time was How to Meet and Greet One Direction with (currently) over 92,000 readers

–          Of the top ten articles (worldwide) for Weekend Notes, the word ‘nude’ appears three times

–          I am currently ranked Number Two in Perth (Australia) and Number 23 worldwide with just shy of 200,000 readers

 

What have I learned:

1. It’s all about the title.

An intriguing title makes people want to know more. Maybe it’s ambiguous. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it’s controversial. Because of the restrictions placed on us with regard to the main titles (to fit in with SEO conventions) we have had to be quite clever with our article titles.

My most popular article is Perth Charities That Don’t Need Your Money.  People were intrigued: what sort of charity doesn’t need money? Is it a scam? What do they need? I was then compelled to write three more articles, each focussing on a major Australian city, and it turned out people across Australia were interested to know what sort of charities don’t ask for money.

People also like to be told that something is the ‘best’ or ‘the coolest’ or the ‘top ten’. We are time poor these days, so if a reader thinks they will be able to digest a lot of information from a single article, they tend to be more popular. Some examples from my most successful articles:

The A-Z of Breakfasts in Perth

The Coolest Places to Volunteer in Perth

Top Places to be a Big Kid in Perth  

 

2. It’s not about the money

If I sat down and calculated my hourly rate from my work at WeekendNotes I would be mortified, my husband would be disgusted, my accountant would laugh, and other writers would shake their head in sympathy. When I answered the advert calling for writers WeekendNotes claimed you could earn upwards of $20 an hour. But what they didn’t say was that you would only earn that $20 after an undisclosed period of time. In my opinion, you also would have to be a very quick typist with little regard for research.

I probably spend between one and two hours on a normal review article, and around two to three (or more) hours on one of my Secret List or other more comprehensive stories.  

At roughly one cent per click, I need 1,000 readers before I earn $10. My most successful article has so far earned me about $65 plus a $20 Gold medal. For what was probably three or four hours work. That computes to be the $20 an hour I was offered. It is quite sobering, and I won’t pretend for a minute that my less successful articles are earning anywhere near that.

That being said, time will tell. Articles that I published two years ago are still earning me money today, because people are still reading them. I will continue to earn money from the majority of my articles potentially forever. I will update this blog in about twenty years to let you know whether I ever ended up impressing my accountant.

 

3. It’s about the exposure

Just like the popular WN articles about nude beaches, what is most important for me about writing for WeekendNotes is the exposure. Every time I publish an article my name goes out attached to it. Google ‘share food etiquette’ or ‘Perth Zoo carousel’ and one of my articles will be somewhere near the top. Combined with two blogs, a google+ profile and a number of stories in print, I am working towards getting my name out there.

 

4. People love to hide behind the anonymity of the web

I put my name to everything I write. I have to because my name is now my brand, and there is little point using a pseudonym if I want potential employers to say ‘I want Shannon Meyerkort to write for us’. Not everyone agrees with this. I have found, both through my blogs and my articles on WeekendNotes that people are happy to make unfair, racist, and judgemental comments and then hide behind the relative anonymity of the web.

This year I wrote a tongue in cheek article about things to do instead of watching the Melbourne Cup. Let’s face it, not everyone likes to watch horses run in a big circle so I offered a number of fun alternatives. The subtitle I used was ‘It’s ok to be un-Australian.’ It was clearly a joke, yet one of the comments I received was ‘go back where you came from’ which I found hilarious as I am a born and bred Aussie.

There isn’t much I can do to prevent trolls making nasty comments, but it has made me think twice about what I write, and what I am putting my name to, because…

6. When you use your own name, people can find you

I wrote a review this year about a local pub and the service was pretty appalling, and I said as much in the review. A couple of days later I received an email from the service manager saying she had read the review and would I mind providing more information.

I had to applaud this restaurant for two reasons: firstly they obviously take their business seriously and keep an eye out for reviews and articles which mention them, and secondly, they approached me politely and with intent to improve their services.

As I wrote to her: I do not make comments about receiving sub-standard service lightly. We all have off days (I certainly do) and I usually give people benefit of the doubt. In most instances where I am not sure, I just don’t mention it.

Because all six of us at the dinner had the same unpleasant experience I felt it fair to mention.’ I also had a quick glance at reviews on Urbanspoon, because as I mentioned in #4, people hide behind anonymity and reviewers on that site are happy to say pretty much anything. There were dozens of unhappy customers who all thought the service had been a major let down. It wasn’t just me, and it obviously wasn’t an isolated occurrence.

Yet because I put my name to my writing I was sought out. In this case it wasn’t a problem, but I have been verbally attacked in the past by someone who was not happy with what I wrote (funnily enough, I had written they were aggressive and rude) and their response merely confirmed that.

It has made me think carefully about what I write. The internet is forever, words are powerful and reputations (including mine) are at stake.

7. Photographs are almost as important as words

One of the skills I have fine-tuned over the past couple of years, along with my writing is my photography, especially of food. In the early days I would sneak my old digital camera out of my bag to surreptitiously take rushed photos of my food. These days I take the time to artfully arrange the table and have learned about appealing angles.

Luckily, most people I regularly eat out with have accepted this rather annoying habit of mine. ‘I’m working,’ I tell them, and they know not to dig into their food the minute it arrives. They know I will want to photograph it, and many already know to turn the plate around to face me, and wait patiently while I take my images.

8. The art of self-editing

When I first started writing for WeekendNotes I would type my article and hit the ‘submit’ button with little thought, all the while congratulating myself on how fast I was. It is something that writing and journalism students probably learn in their first class, but

I have had to teach myself the essential and subtle art of self-editing.

When I write a review my first draft is usually full of personal anecdotes and too much background. Then I remind myself I am not writing a blog and no one actually cares whether or not I was late for dinner because I couldn’t find a car park.

Admittedly, it’s been said that part of the charm of my articles are the personal anecdotes and background stories* it is certainly part of my style, but I have learned to keep a slightly tighter reign on it. And when I can’t keep it under control, I use bold type to highlight the important bits for people.

 

 

*I have absolutely no data to back this statement up

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