Getting Paid By the Pageview: Good or Bad for Freelance Writers?

Getting Paid By the Pageview: Good or Bad for Freelance Writers?
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So you’re in the process of landing a new freelance writing gig, and during the discussion of duties and compensation, the editor mentions that the publication offers pageview bonuses.

The more views your article gets, the more money you’ll receive.

It’s an increasingly common scenario. But is this type of compensation good for writers? Does it motivate writers to do their best work, or encourage us to write solely for pageviews?

Most importantly, is it a fair method of payment?

While some pageview bonus programs do benefit writers, others try to substitute bonus money for a fair upfront rate.

I’ve written for pageview bonuses, but since every program is different, I wanted to know more about how they work and which red flags to watch out for. So I asked freelance writers Laura Shin, Kelly Clay and Kelly Gurnett to share what writers should look for in a pageview bonus plan, how to write for high pageviews, and what you can do to track engagement if your clients offer pageview bonuses but don’t share those metrics.

How website traffic bonus plans work

Every publication’s pageview bonus program is a bit different, and publications may change and adjust their bonus programs over time. But we’ve got a few examples to help you understand how pageview bonus plans generally work.

Some programs pay writers a flat fee upfront, then layer bonuses on top when posts perform well. Performance can be measured with a variety of metrics: pageviews, unique visitors, social shares or whatever the publication considers its main goal.

The Penny Hoarder, for example, offers a tiered bonus plan: when a piece hits 50,000 pageviews, the writer receives a $100 bonus; the writer receives another $200 when the post hits 100,000 pageviews and another $500 at 250,000 pageviews. Those bonuses are paid in addition to the flat rate writers are paid for posts.

Forbes offered bonuses for both new visitors and repeat visitors when Clay wrote for them in 2014, on top of a per-post rate. “Every month I’d receive .005 cents for a new visitor and .10 cents for a repeat visitor,” Clay said. “This meant the more a single person viewed my blog per month, the more money I’d make. This number was reset to 0 every month.” Forbes now uses a different traffic bonus program, but they wouldn’t reveal details.

This bonus system turned out to be profitable for Clay, who wrote about two articles a week for Forbes. “I’ve earned anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 a month. It really depended on how many pageviews I got that month (such as if I wrote an extremely viral piece) and how long I had been writing,” she said. “The longer an article that ranked highly on Google gathered new visitors, the more money I made every month.”

The lesson: If you have the opportunity to write for a publication that allows you to earn significant bonus money for good work, it can be worth your while.

Hearst’s contributor network The Mix — a program we’ve written about that invites writers to contribute personal essays on spec for the opportunity to have their stories published in major outlets like Cosmopolitan or Seventeen — also offers traffic bonuses. If your story gets selected, you receive a base payment as well as $.0025 for every pageview over 40,000 views. (At least, the last we heard. We emailed The Mix with a fact-checking request, but they didn’t get back to us.)

That means if your story sees 50,000 views, you’d earn an additional $25. If it gets 100,000 views, you’d earn an additional $150. The Mix’s pageview incentive system might be great if your story lands on a high-traffic site like Good Housekeeping, but that’s not going to happen for every post you write.

So what should you look for in a traffic bonus plan, and how should you determine whether it’s worth writing for that outlet?

Let’s let the writers explain what you should look for before signing on to a publication that offers this kind of compensation.

What to look for in a website traffic bonus plan

First, make sure the publication offers base pay. As Shin put it: “Even if your story gets zero views, you still get something.”

Base pay is important because although you can use certain techniques to help improve your article’s pageview performance — and we’ll look at those in a minute — you can’t control how many views your article gets, and you still deserve to be paid for your work.

Gurnett explained, “Since I never know how much I’ll be getting each quarter, I can’t rely on [pageview bonuses] as part of my regular income. I count them solely as a bonus.”

I treat pageview bonuses the same way; I’m happy when I receive a bonus, but I don’t factor potential pageview bonuses into my monthly freelance income goals.

You also need to look at whether the publication already has an audience.

Why is this important? Shin listed the reasons: “For both platforms for which I’ve been paid by pageviews, they already had audiences and weren’t using me to build their own. That meant that they promoted my stories on their sites and on social media, and so as long as I did a good job with my stories, [they would get lots of views and] I could make good money.”

Also beware of the publication that asks you to bring in your own following, Shin said. Most of us have our own fans who follow us on social media and read our articles, but a few thousand social media followers isn’t enough to get significant pageviews — and it definitely isn’t enough to get those bonuses.

How to write for high pageviews

Once you’ve started working with a publication that offers a pageview incentive plan, how can you write stories that will earn bonuses? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

“Some stories take off because they’re riding a newswave,” Shin said. “If you see something in your beat that you think is going to be hot on Google News, then you jump on it.” Keeping track of news and current events and bringing an interesting perspective to those stories is a great way to rack up pageviews.

When J.Crew announced layoffs this June, for example, I did some research and wrote “How a Single Sweater Lead to J.Crew Layoffs” for The Billfold. That article is still at the top of Google search results for “J.Crew layoffs,” probably because it provides a quirky, human-interest perspective on what would otherwise be an ordinary hiring-and-firing story.

“With Forbes, the bonus encouraged me to write time-sensitive articles,” Clay explained. “My top posts were always about a company trending that day — a post about GoDaddy, written the day a scandal broke out about its CEO, is still one of my top posts.” If you write for a site that allows you to draft and publish articles quickly, it’s to your benefit to follow news trends and write timely pieces that attract attention to a breaking story.

What about evergreen pieces? These types of posts get pageviews when they’re published, but also get traffic over time as people continue to search for that topic or question and use your story to learn more about the answer.

To come up with evergreen ideas, start with topics you find interesting, Shin suggested. What types of stories would you like to read, and what types of evergreen questions are still unanswered? Shin notes that you should always check your competition: “Is there a good story out there, or is this something that people would be searching for?”

Then there’s trying to go viral. “This is what most people think about when they think about writing for pageviews,” Shin said, “but you have to be careful with this category.”

If you write stories with clickbait headlines and no substance, you might get an initial spike in pageviews, but your reputation — and your publication’s reputation — will likely slowly erode over time.

How to track performance metrics for your posts

So do most writers know how many pageviews they bring in?

That depends. While some outlets do allow you to log into a dashboard to see your stats, none of my clients give me that option. I do track social shares through my Contently profile, which tallies shares of individual pieces and also provides an aggregate total. My articles have been liked over 84,000 times on Facebook, for example.

Gurnett has a similar experience. “I can see the number of social shares as well as how many comments each post has received, but that’s it,” she said. “I wish I could see pageviews but I’d probably be checking them obsessively if I could!”

Some of Shin’s clients have provided pageview information not only for her articles, but also for other writers’ work. She likes this method because “we could see what does well on the site, and we could learn from that.”

I’ve worked with clients who regularly share the week’s top performing articles, which also helps me understand what does well on the site, but these performance roundups don’t include pageview numbers.

If your client does not offer pageview numbers, tracking social shares is one way of understanding how your articles perform with readers. If your article receives a lot of likes and tweets, chances are it also receives a lot of pageviews.

Likewise, if you notice certain topics or types of pieces perform better socially, you can structure future pieces in the hopes of receiving similar engagement.

Are pageview bonuses good for writers?

So what’s the verdict?

When pageview bonuses are administered fairly, they can be lucrative for writers — so long as it’s not the only compensation.

I have a client who offers a pageview bonus system, and I’m happy with it. I receive a competitive base pay and occasional bonus money if my articles perform exceptionally well.

And a pageview bonus plan that’s good for writers can be good for publications, too, Gurnett said. “If Client A (who does give me a bonus) has a project for me the same week as Client B (who doesn’t), and I only have time to work on one of their projects, I’m going to go with Client A, all other things being equal, because of the potential for the bonus.”

Yet the biggest reason pageview bonuses can be good for writers doesn’t have anything to do with money, Shin said — it’s about the insight they provide. “You can see how well your stories are resonating with readers.”

In the publishing world, writing stories that readers enjoy and share is the most important part of your job. After all, publications don’t just want pageviews; they want a loyal audience who keeps coming back.

And writers don’t just want pageviews; you want to know your work is being read and appreciated. A good pageview bonus will provide that gratification — and throw in a little extra cash as a reward.

Do you work for clients who offer pageview bonuses? Do you think the pageview bonus system is effective? Does it affect the types of pieces you pitch and write?

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Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

Nicole Dieker
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Comments

  1. A good article, Nicole, clearly laying out the emerging payment models.

    It seems to me that this is a part of finding a fair, workable, and sustainable payment method for the internet age. In the early days of the internet, most content was produced without payment. A lot of it still is, but the good stuff will always require a substantial investment of time and effort by people with the right talent and education, and internet users cannot expect that kind of content to come for free; there will be ads, and some of that ad money will have to go to the writer.

    In days of yore (living memory, to some writers), much writing was done for an upfront fee, generally by the word for periodicals but sometimes a flat rate for books. The book royalty system developed as a way of indexing the author’s income to the number of people who bought (though not necessarily read) the book, and remains standard in both nonprofit and commercial book publishing. This system has the advantage of aligning the publisher’s financial interests with those of the author, in that both make more money if the book sells more copies, but it normally does NOT include any flat fee at all. The “advance” is quite literally an “advance against future royalties,” so no further royalties are paid until enough books are sold to cover it. If the book doesn’t earn out its advance, the author does get to keep the upfront money, but will have trouble selling a book on the same terms again. It’s a system that has worked fairly well for both publishers and authors for years.

    I see the various click-indexed payment systems as an effort to find something that works on the internet the way the royalty system has worked with books. I can envision a day when the upfront fee to the online writer is a nonrefundable “advance” against later earnings (based on views or visits), rather than a flat fee independent of later “bonuses,” and maybe that’s all right. The writer still gets some quick cash for his or her labor, but also shares in the rewards of a post that may go viral and be read by millions, the online equivalent of a bestseller. That sounds fair to me.

    These matters affect me only indirectly as a freelance editor rather than writer, in that they create the publishing environment in which all of us work. Writers sometimes try to generalize their own method of payment to an editor they may wish to hire by trying to get me to work on spec in return for a share of future royalties, but like every editor I know, I always turn down such proposals. I believe editors will be working for upfront fees for a long time to come. If a book sells well, we are rewarded with a warm feeling, and a bright spot on our c.v. It is the author who has the bigger stake in its financial success, and that is perhaps as it should be.

    I wish you all success on your projects!

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services
    epiclesisconsulting.com

    • I’m not sure I want to see the pageview bonus system transition over to the “author upfront plus royalties” model.

      There are a lot of similarities, but I think the biggest difference here is whose name goes on the top. When I write a story that gets a lot of engagement, the name that gets tweeted and Facebooked is usually the publication’s name, not mine. (Though sometimes mine gets included as well.)

      A pageview bonus feels more like a bonus for doing good work that benefits the publication/company, the same way other workers receive bonuses.

      What do the rest of y’all think?

      • I agree.. I am trying to get started in freelance writing so this info was very informative.. So how do I get started? I have a few stories, some funny and some more serious. I also would love getting into proof reading. Any help would be much appreciated.. Thank you, Donna

  2. Great post! Nowadays articles is growing up and thanks for sharing this nice information with us.

  3. Sam Douglas says:

    I’ve just started writing for a website who only pays for pageviews. I have yet to receive my first paycheck, but most of my articles are not listed on the front page of the website, or even promoted on social media by the site, as far as I can see. I can’t see my pageview stats, only the number of shares I get, which are an order of magnitude less than for the articles that are being promoted. I’m not expecting to get a big first paycheck. I guess I better start writing more “likeable” content so I get promoted more!

    This is my first freelance writing gig, so I suspect I have lots to learn, but honestly I would prefer to write decent articles and get paid less, rather than just run after sensationalist stuff just to get paid more. I may change my mind as time goes on though!

  4. Nicole, I was one of the most skeptical people about the pay per pages read program until I got my July royalty statement from Kindle. It was better than I could have ever been able to believe. Finally, I was able to wrap my head around how and why this deal works. If you sell one of your books to a library, you get one royalty payment for the sale of that book regardless of how many people read it. with this new pay per page program I get paid for every page that everyone that signs up for Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited reads. I believe this is a much fairer way to compensate writers for their work. Also, the writers who write the biggest books and/or the most books get paid the most, because their work is what’s being read by most people. This pay per page would be the same form of compensation that a library would pay us every time someone checked one of our books out of their library and read our work. So, i’m real happy with the pay per page that Kindle has initiated. Now, a writer has the opportunity to get three checks from the same book – one from Kindle when a person buys their book in eBook form, one from CreateSpace when a person buys that same eBook as a print book, and one from Kindle for pages read. I’ve been writing books for more than 40 years and getting three checks for one book is the best deal I’ve ever seen for writers. If you write more you make more.
    John E. Phillips

  5. Hi! My name is John Whye and I am currently blogging for word press with no financial returns at all...I would just as soo freelance my articles,,,I know my content is good, I have always been a good writer, just how do I get started? says:

    Hi! My name is John Whye and I am currently blogging for word press with no financial returns at all…I would just as soon freelance my articles….I know my content is good, I have always been a good writer, just how do I get started?

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