Hi! I wanted to announce a slight shift in the Ask a Freelancer format. We are going to continue answering questions from readers, but we’re also going to use this space to look at some unique questions that we think are important for freelancers to consider.
Today’s topic: pageview bonuses.
As a rule, I am generally for anything that allows writers to earn more money for their work. If a publication or website is already paying you a fair rate, adding a pageview bonus is a nice way to put a little extra money in your pocket.
However, pageview bonuses—like anything else—can be abused. Clients can offer pageview bonuses in lieu of fair pay or can urge writers to generate work that is designed to incite anger instead of present factual information. Not all bonus structures are created equally, so it’s crucial that you ask yourself two questions when deciding if the work is good for you in the long run.
1. Is your client promising pageview bonuses instead of a fair rate?
It’s one thing if a client pays you $150 for a 700-word article and promises a $300 bonus if your article reaches a certain number of pageviews. It’s another thing if a client pays you $15 for the 700 words and promises you a $300 bonus.
A good client will never offer you a bonus instead of a fair rate. A bonus should always come as the icing on the cake; it should never be the cake itself.
So if a client contacts you with a lowball offer but tries to persuade you with bonuses, it’s time to seriously consider whether you want to work for them. Chances are, those bonuses will be few and far between.
2. Is your client pushing you to complete work you’re not proud of?
Remember the story from last year about Subway yoga mat bread? We all know that Subway bread does not contain actual yoga mats, but plenty of writers churned out clickbait articles with misleading headlines to trick people into thinking their next Subway Club would contain a little extra chew.
Those kinds of articles can lead to pageviews—we are very curious about whether Fireball whiskey is filled with antifreeze, after all—but they might not be the type of articles you want to add to your portfolio.
So if a client pushes you to write sensationalist work in order to earn pageview bonuses, it’s time to decide whether you need to fire this client and find a new one.
The benefits of the bonus
Now that I’ve presented those arguments, I just want to restate: I like pageview bonuses. Last month, for example, I earned $300 in pageview bonuses. One of my clients has a bonus system that adds on an additional pageview bonus for every pageview milestone I hit, so I get paid when a piece gets 50,000 views, I get paid again when it gets 100,000 views, and so on.
I find pageview bonuses useful not only for the extra money but also because they let me know which of my articles resonated most strongly with readers. I watch my metrics constantly, including the number of social shares and comments, because they help me identify what I’m doing well.
These metrics also help me decide what to write next. Knowing what types of articles tend to draw shares and comments leads to more effective pitches that tend to get accepted. That knowledge also makes it easier for me to produce work that draws loyal readers and helps that publication build a community of readers and commenters.
As a quick example: I know that any time I write about the economics of dating on The Billfold, I’m going to get substantial engagement. Likewise, I know that my Tracking Freelance Earnings column on The Write Life is going to get a good number of comments every month.
Some pageview bonus programs pay writers for repeat visitors as well as new visitors. As Digiday explains:
Forbes, one of the [pageview bonus] model’s vanguards, still pays its outside contributors based on how many repeat visitors their articles get. In its model, a returning reader is worth more than a reader who clicks a writer’s work once. The company says this encourages contributors to create quality content over one-off hits.
If you find a client offering pageview bonus programs for repeat visitors, odds are the company understands that building a community of readers is a gradual process that can’t be hacked with one piece of misleading clickbait.
In the end, it really is about the content. Nick Denton of Gawker, another publication known for its pageview bonuses, said as much at the beginning of the year when he announced an adjustment to Gawker’s bonus system to reward quality:
That’s the theory: do good stories and the traffic will come anyway. Unique growth is a by-product of good journalism, but a dangerous target to follow blindly.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. Pageview bonuses are nice, but writers and publishers can get into bad habits if they prioritize the bonuses over the work. If you write interesting stories, the traffic will follow.
(Full discosure: Forbes and Gawker are Contently clients.)
Nicole Dieker wants you to continue sending her your freelance questions so she can do good work in upcoming Ask a Freelancer columns. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.