The shitty writing jobs on Craigslist

At first glance, SEO article writing seemed straightforward enough — easy brainless writing that could be done quickly. (Ritesh Nayak/ Flickr/

“How refreshing it was to see your advertisement among the slurry of mechanical paid-to-write jobs on Craigslist.” — That was the opening line of the application I sent to the first company I came across that seemed somewhat legitimate. Such is the sad state of online writing jobs that even the slightest hint of promise from an ad can bring so much positivity. If you’ve had the opportunity to scour the interwebs for writing jobs, you know what I’m talking about; but if you haven’t, indulge me for a little while longer.

At the time I had been trying, very unsuccessfully, for almost two years to make a living as a freelance writer. Having some aptitude for writing, I felt that this might be a means to put food on the table while doing something I actually enjoyed. The reality was that: 1) I never had enough money for all my needs — never mind any of my wants; 2) I wasn’t enjoying my day job at all; and 3) The stress, aggravation and heartache from it all was sending me into a downward spiral.


300x250 internal ad spot


It’s not that simple

The vast majority of writing work on sites like Craigslist, oDesk and Elance do not require expertise in a field other than English (I use the term expertise very, very loosely). Some of the most popular positions are writing articles for search engine optimization (SEO) and writing in the Romance and Erotica genres. At first glance, SEO article writing seemed straightforward enough — easy brainless writing that could be done quickly. So, with the zeal of a newlywed, and the naïveté of the same, I started on a career path for which I had high hopes. It was not long before I discovered that I was keystroking myself headlong into a cold winter of writer’s discontent.

The first lesson I learned was that SEO writing involves quite a bit more than the skill and time in banging out a 500 word article lauding some destination or activity. First, the word count is misleading, to put it kindly. 90 percent of the gigs I took on involved writing one original 500-word article with keywords and proper formatting, and then writing another 500-word article on the same subject, with the same keywords. It is essentially saying the same thing as the first article but writing it in such a way that the second article cannot be considered a plagiarized copy of the first. In the dark world of SEO, this is creatively called “spinning.” That 500-word article you thought easy is now twice as long, and several times more difficult to pull off.

When I was lucky enough to receive keywords that were easy to incorporate into an article, the job, double-length notwithstanding, was easy enough. However, this was the exception rather than the rule.

Here is one example of a typical keyword phrase, or meta keyword, that I had to work with: Honeymoons Saint Lucia. If the grammatical gremlin of this phrase is not immediately apparent to you, try it for yourself and see how difficult it is to use that exact key phrase without modification at least five times while writing in proper English.

While writing this piece, I also performed searches for SEO writing jobs on Craigslist and oDesk, the latter having merged with Elance. What I found was even more shocking than the realities I came to know of when I first started freelancing full time. (I should mention here that I skipped checking the People Per Hour offerings. The name alone brings visions that even some sweatshops might have nightmares about.)


The Payout

Apparently, the average 2012 remuneration of US$5.00 for a 500-700 word article was too high; the outsourcers had to cut costs even further. Below is a brief rundown of the state of the market as it is now.

Typical payment for a 500 word article is US$2.00 and turnaround time is 3 hours. oDesk automatically takes 10 percent of your payment as their service fee and between online payment service and Philippine bank fees, about another 7 percent is taken from your funds. Doing some quick math at the current exchange rate and assuming you put in a typical eight hour work day, you would net just shy of PHP201.00 daily.

An unskilled construction worker here in Baguio at the provincial rate would earn between PHP250-350 a day. In Metro Manila, it would be between PHP350-700 — food for thought, in my opinion — and certainly a lot more food on the table for the common laborer’s family.

If nothing more than to drive home my point, and in case the facts were not enough to make you cringe, I will leave you with something I have copied and pasted verbatim from a posting I found on oDesk recently:





I need writer(s) who can creatively write reader-friendly articles. I need at least 2 to 4 articles done in 1 day with at least 1, 200 words each article. This project is about 10-posts/articles. Deadline for 10 articles is 5 days.


1$ for 1 article. Lower bidder can have this job. Topics vary from gift ideas to holidays, from messages samples to writing descriptions. Copyright of all written materials will be mine after submission, so you cannot use them in any purposes (e.i. Sample of work, portfolio, etc.)


Thank You

Five people applied to this job as of this writing. I can only imagine what the lowest bid is.


Darius Nease is an author currently living in Baguio. His published works can be downloaded at He may be contacted at [email protected]


4 Responses to “The shitty writing jobs on Craigslist”

  1. Meg Dalagan

    It’s really frustrating to find some people who really offer low-paying jobs but I can understand how desparate most of the new freelancers (or at least some of the pros) are just to get paid. It’s a matter of confidence and expertise in writing though, and I’m sure these clients only want to play safe in case they come across with a rookie. I can imagine the length of time to proofread when it could have been done by the writer too. I can’t blame the clients at this point unless they want a writer with supernatural skills yet they will only pay for a dollar or two. But clients should be aware that they will only get what they paid for.

  2. Christian

    The state of writing jobs is difficult to say the least. It’s difficult to make SEO writing a main source of income.

    $43 an hour is the minimum wage in Manila — $2 is PHP45 x 2 = PHP 90.0 then for 3 hours work, you’re only making PHP30.00 an hour, 30% below minimum wage.

  3. Darius Nease

    Hi Mai,

    True, writers with a lot of experience may place higher bids (on sites that allow bidding) and may just be awarded the job. I am certainly happy that you get more than $2 per article.
    While it frightens me too that “$1 or lower for 1,200 words” and similar offerings get bidders, that is also a reflection of the fact that our own government does not seem to think that Filipino workers need-or deserve-more than a few dollars (in peso equivalent) per day.
    Whether one works as a freelance writer for outsourcers or, if able, as a construction worker ( I don’t mean to sound sexist when I imply that many women would find the latter job quite difficult), the fact is that minimum wage should mean: Earning enough to survive (hopefully with prospects for advancement to a reasonably comfortable life).
    Sadly, what it means now, and has meant for a long time is: We, the Employers, will pay you as little as possible, regardless of the cost of living, or less if you choose to accept it-and many thanks to the various governments that make this all possible.
    Last year I wrote a piece for a local paper on “Survival Vs. Living”, breaking down what workers like us (used to) make and comparing those earnings to real life living expenses. If you would like a copy of that article, feel free to contact me at my email address above.
    I do hope the situation improves for us writers, you included; but as you mentioned, it is partly in our hands. Nevertheless, the best of luck to you, fellow writer, and hopefully, if and when you make enough to have the free time and the energy to take up the fight, I look forward to reading longer pieces on what you have to say that endeavor to help workers everywhere.

  4. Mai Bantog

    I can totally relate. I’ve been freelance writing full time for a year now, and I get most of my jobs from oDesk. I get higher rates because of my experience, but it appalls me to see people actually applying for jobs like what you posted above. As long as there are writers who tolerate these things, clients who think so lowly of writing will never go away.


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