What foolish writer would ever agree to writing anonymously for twenty bucks? A ghost blogger would, and that puts them in the hot seat in the freelance writing community.
At the heart of all online discussions and arguments over whether or not ghost blogging is an acceptable practice for a writer (or a blog) are those ideals about what writing should and shouldn’t be.
Why ghost blogging feels all wrong
In an age where the words “authenticity” and “community” are used when talking about blogging, where “content marketing” has elevated writing to almost mythical status, the very idea of a post written by some outsider and then sold to be used on a blog without attribution seems all wrong.
For the content marketing purist, all blog content should be truly your content, and if you don’t have the chops to get the writing done for your blog, tough bounce. The value in content is that it comes from the expert, the person whose voice readers want to hear. Don’t go asking another writer to do speak for you on your own blog.
For the writing community, the cheap price tag of ghost blogging seems to add to the low payments freelancers are seeing more of, cheapening the process and act of writing and hurting all writers in some way. It turns writing into a commodity, and all commodities do is hurt the rest of the niche economy by forcing prices down.
For the blogger struggling to create content for their own blog, it smacks of someone trying to take the easy way out, getting traffic and a platform while someone else does the work of putting the ideas and words together. They have to find a way to manage their time to blog and be successful; why should another blogger get to bypass the work it takes to write and do the same?
But are these fair opinions? Is ghost blogging the same as lying, or is it more like writing a speech for someone and allowing them to give the speech and take credit for it? If a writer agrees to do it, what is the problem? Do people really think a blog is written by the owner of a business? Do they expect that?
What ghost writing means for the blogger
Simply put, ghost blogging means you won’t receive any recognition as a writer.
You’ll get paid, but you won’t receive any attribution or Google Authorship credit for your own work as you would if you were guest blogging. Once you cash the check, you’ve met the end of the line as far as benefits are concerned. (Not taking into account the skills you’ll be sharpening each time you write, of course.) Ghost blogging won’t do anything to bring readers back to your own site or let them know about your own writing or services.
Ghost blogging is a straight exchange of words for cash, and nothing more. Your writing is a commodity, and if that’s hard to accept, and if you’ve always viewed writing as an art form or something too valuable or personal for such an exchange, ghost blogging is definitely not going to sit well with you.
And regarding that words-for-cash exchange?
Ghost blogging doesn’t pay a “living wage” unless you’re writing a huge number of posts per week. In a time of content marketing when every business under the sun is being told they need to blog, ghost blogging is an increasingly growing market for freelance writers to make a bit of extra cash. The pay, however, isn’t going to be thousands of dollars per post. It might be as low as $20 per 800-1000 word blog post and unless you have a fair sized collection of clients, you might not be able to make a living off of that.
Why would anyone even consider ghost blogging in light of all of this?
Money is money, and it helps to pay the bills. You can make your extra money flipping burgers or you can make it writing blog posts about table saws or hot fashion trends.
And, oddly enough, it’s possible you don’t want the recognition for what you’re being asked to write. Ghost blogging is going to require you to write on a variety of topics you might not necessarily want associated with your body of work. It’s not that you’ll be forced to write topics you’re morally against. It is more a case of you being known for a certain kind of writing, and not wanting your name on blog posts about something as pedestrian as the proper care of bunions, or how to unclog a sink drain.
What writers need to know before they ghost blog
Have you decided to forge ahead and try ghost blogging as part of your freelance writing repertoire? There are a few key things you need to know as a writer before making any commitments.
- You can dip your toes in freelance writing. Thinking about making the leap towards living off of freelance writing? Starting with some ghost blog writing in your free time might not be such a bad way to see if it’s something for you. You’ll experience (on a small scale) things like deadlines, content restrictions, client change requests, and the opportunity to write when writing isn’t “fun.”
- You should be paid fairly and on time. Ghost blogging in which writers do not receive payment is not ghost blogging. That is taking advantage of a writer. If you’re not working with a reputable agency that pays you regularly, you might consider getting payment up front from the blog for an agreed upon amount of blog posts. You definitely don’t want to go more than one blog post past payment and find yourself unpaid for a blog post that was used. Any freelance writer who has been working for a while knows that sinking feeling when suddenly communication goes silent and payment never comes. The time and effort needed to chase down $20 in late payments is exhausting
- You should be provided with ideas. Your job is to write the posts you are assigned. The blog owner or agency should provide you with the headlines and ideas to write. If they do not, rethink writing for them or, at the very least, increase your price substantially. Clever and unique ideas and headlines take a lot of work to come up with, especially on a blog with a niche you know little about.
- You may have difficult topics to write on. Ghost blogging is like any other freelance writing in that you don’t always get the “fun” topic. With blogs, in particular, niche topics are the norm and you may find yourself tasked with writing some very challenging content that you know very little about. You’ll have to learn how to do research quickly and effectively (time is money, after all), and come up with a system that helps you break down how you write so that you can meet your deadlines every time.
- You might want to work with a ghost blogging agency. Perhaps you don’t enjoy working directly with the client, or don’t know how to go about hustling up ghost blogging opportunities. Maybe you don’t want to deal with invoicing and chasing down payments from every blog. In that case, you’ll want to work with a business or agency that finds the blogs, and handles everything for you. All you’ll need to do is write, and get paid. They’ll provide the schedule, the style guidelines and rules, and handle everything else. Understand that you’ll have some money taken out by the agency handling the ghost blogging for doing that legwork for you. Consider avoiding the crowdsourcing or “bidding” systems where you write blog posts and throw them in the pot with others, allowing blogs to tell you what they’ll pay you for it in comparison to what other writers have contributed. You’ll find yourself working very hard to earn very little in that kind of buyer’s market.
- You are using your precious time. I have done ghost blogging, and I know that if I’m not careful, I could derail serious writing efforts by letting $25 ghost blogging projects supersede the work needed for potentially larger freelance opportunities. It is tempting to allow the immediacy of “a quick $25” seem much more important than research for other larger writing projects that may not pay off as quickly.
What ghost blogging means for the blog owner
There are two primary “shame on you” accusations leveled at blog owners that use ghost writing to fill their blog.
- They are taking advantage of the individual writer.
- They are taking advantage of (lying to) the reader.
If they aren’t paying fairly and promptly, or are capitalizing on desperate or newbie freelancers with rock-bottom payout, these blogs are definitely taking advantage of the individual writer. But if they do pay fairly and promptly, and the writer isn’t against the process and even welcomes the opportunity to earn extra cash from something they do already, we ought to judge them less harshly on the individual basis. Whether or not the practice contributes to declining payment and value for other freelancers, or is merely part of the shift in what kinds of freelance writing work is now available with the explosion of blogs is still open for discussion. The more interesting question might be whether or not the blog is taking advantage of the reader.
Why would blog owners want to hide who writes their blog posts?
The obvious answer is that they want readers to think that it is them, that the content they are reading was created by them. This is particularly noxious when the blog is owned by a single person with a platform built around themselves, their products, their personality, and their philosophy. Readers expect that such a blog would be written by the person whose name is on the blog, and are coming to the blog to hear from them.
Readers might understand it if a large “faceless” company who makes dog toys uses ghost writers, but they probably wouldn’t expect the blog of a well-known dog trainer to be written by anyone but the dog trainer. They want to hear tips and ideas from the actual expert-the dog trainer-and not a hired gun.
Some blogs are pure content marketing (the faceless business blog), and others are a platform (the one-person blog). A platform blog should not use ghost writers.
What bloggers need to know before hiring ghost writers
Blog owners take on the risk and possible wrath for using ghost written content. If the voice of the blog changes with writers, it will show up in how loyal the readers are. If the quality is poor, that will be reflected in the traffic.
- Make sure you know who your readers want to hear. If you’re the CEO of the company and the blog is called the CEO’s blog, your readers expect to hear your thoughts. Know if your readers expect to hear a specific person, or if they are merely reading the blog because it relates to the rest of your business’s website and general content marketing.
- Reconsider how you market your blog. How are you selling your blog to your reader? This ties into the idea that platform blogs shouldn’t ever use ghost blogging. If you market your blog as the genuine real McCoy, yours and yours alone, you simply cannot justify ghost blogging. If you can’t write, market your blog differently and make it less about you than about the niche.
- Have a reason ready to explain your use of ghost blogging. More than once a blog has been outed (link: http://davefleet.com/2009/02/ghost-blogging-wrong/) as being ghost written, and the blog owner has had to scramble to explain why this was the method used to create content. Your reason should be a good one, much better than “I didn’t have time to write.” If your blog is about blogging, you definitely should have a stellar reason for not drinking your own kool aid.
So is ghost writing right or wrong?
That’s the answer.
As a freelance writer who has done ghost blogging, I’ve written posts on rather mundane topics that I prefer my name not be on. I’ve done good work, to be sure, but I don’t want a post about the best way to brush your teeth included in the pantheon of work I’ve done that I’m actually using to build my own platform and reputation.
Despite that, I appreciated the money I was paid. I felt I was paid fairly, and the money has helped me make a living. I chose to write for some blogs and not others, based on the criteria laid out in this post. Pragmatism, to be sure, but I still had the choice of what I wanted to write and what I would take as payment.
About the author:
Julie R. Neidlinger is a writer, artist, and pilot from Bismarck, North Dakota. She has been blogging for over 12 years on her Lone Prairie blog, and also writes for CoSchedule, a content marketing editorial calendar for WordPress.