Are Online Ads A Fool’s Game? – Merry Morrison

Over the years, I’ve probably responded to a good thousand online ads for writers. Out of those, about one hundred turned into assignments that led to actual checks. Some were one-time gigs, others have led to long-term partnerships.

I have been hoodwinked, though, along the way. To be wary of scams, I now regularly Google the email addresses of people who write me back about online jobs as well as those who respond to the ads that I place. You might be surprised to find the number of addresses that show up on boards where folks are complaining they got scammed by someone with the same email. It just takes a second and it can save you hours of effort down the road.

A suspicious ad I responded to recently asked for short samples on very particular subjects using certain keywords. Since I’ve never yet gotten a job from an ad with this m.o., I’ve come to suspect that these are run by people who want to quickly add a lot of free SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to their site.

Basically, they’re trying to get many free articles using specialized keywords to help them place higher on search engines. So, watch out for those who ask for this in their ads or in their first email to you.

Some people don’t appear to be scammers at first, but their business practices leave a lot to be desired. I’ve only written “per click” once and I’ll never do it again. At first, I was paid a very good rate per click. But, when my articles got far more clicks than anticipated, the site owner dropped the rate!

He also refused to meet in the middle and negotiate a regular rate per article. Since most people I’ve talked to never even started out with a decent rate to begin with, it seems the only people who want to pay this way are looking to save money on writers. Stay far away!

Between the good clients and the scammers are those in the middle. They’re not going to technically steal from you, but they’re terribly high maintenance. How do you mollify these for long enough until your mortgage is paid and you can hopefully transition them out and someone more neutral if not positive into their place?

With one client who fired me whenever her personal life went into turmoil, I just learned to ignore being fired. I would email commiserating about whatever problem she was having and then include my work in the body of the email. This worked for quite some time, until the drama finally took over permanently. Still, though, she was my main client for a while and, though it was difficult dealing with her, my mortgage was more important than her silly games.

Generally, I prefer to work for people who are hiring me for several projects, if not on an ongoing basis. Obviously, though, I still take many one time gigs. I don’t mind that, as long as it’s understood up front. I resent, though, those who pretend it’s a long term situation when it seems later they had no such intention.

The biggest tell-tale sign is often someone who gives out very little information about themselves. I don’t mean personal information, but someone who somehow manages to seem like they’re saying a lot about their project, but in reality just gives you enough information to create one very limited piece. I’ve learned not to believe anything I hear from folks like that.

For all these negatives, I’ve also met some very nice people over the years, including those who put me on retainer. When one woman put her online business on hiatus for a while, she actually kept me busy writing Ebay ads and personal correspondence instead. It wasn’t what I originally expected, but I created an interesting variety of material for her.

Another client asked me to research a very complicated medical topic for a professional journal. I realized after I accepted the assignment that some difficulties in my life were going to prevent me from doing the tedious reading I needed to do. When I called to break the news to her, I was surprised when she said that she’d be fine as long as I edited what she came up with. I wound up writing a bit extra to pull it all together into one cohesive article and we were both happy. And, so was the editor who had requested the piece from her originally.

Is it worth answering online ads? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Honestly, if I could support myself without ever answering another one, I probably would. Still, they can help fill out your pocketbook. Just watch out for yourself and play it as a numbers game, trying not to depend too much on just one or two clients. When you’ve never met them in person or even talked on the phone, it can be hard to judge their sincerity.

Merry Morrison is a ghostwriter and editor. Check out the most recent book she’s edited, Unfinished Poetry, a Novella. If you need handholding or butt kicking on your project, email her at