Why Content Sites Need to Stop Asking Freelance Writers to Take Writing Tests

Content Sites

One of the main issues writers have with content sites  is how they don’t pay much money. When you’re a low paying market, it can lead to a compromise in quality. I’m not saying this is true of everyone who writes for content sites, but the quality issue comes up more for them than a higher paying market.

Now, let me preface this by saying I’m not going to tell you where to work or how much to earn. If writing for a content site is your thing- and it’s sending regular work your way – by all means go for it. The work is quick, easy (in most cases), and they pay right away. It’s also a way for newer writers to gain experience and work with editors. So I get it.

I wrote for content sites when clients weren’t easy to find.  In fact, a couple of them still seek me out from time to time with higher paying opportunities. I might even go back again if I have trouble finding work – and  I don’t believe in writer shaming.

With that said…

My biggest pet peeve with web content sites is the testing. I hear stories from seasoned writers – some with prestigious backgrounds – about how they were turned down by content sites because they didn’t pass the writing test. I’ve also seen some poor writing come out of content sites from people who know their grammar and usage, but can’t write worth a can of beans.

I don’t believe testing is the answer to the quality content question.

Content Site Writing Tests Are Unnecessary

Writing tests on content sites are a waste of time for both the test taker and the person who is grading the tests. Moreover, there are better ways of telling if someone is a good writer. I do understand that content sites have a reputation for putting out poorly written content and that tests are a way to vet writers, but I feel it’s the wrong approach.

Content sites aren’t employers

Content sites are clients, not employers. It’s one thing to take a test where you are going to receive a full time salary, benefits, and all of the perks that come with working full time for a brand. It’s a totally different story when a potential client expects you to spend a large chunk of your time “trying out” for a “gig”  you may or may not get. It’s the same thing as writing on spec in that you’re spending unpaid time auditioning for a job.

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That’s what writing samples are for

Published writing samples are a good indication of a writer’s voice, writing style, and ability to write well. A potential client should ask for a variety of samples from different publications or websites in order to see if a writer is a good fit. Honestly, I can’t understand why a content site even asks for both writing samples and writing tests. If you have one you don’t need the other. A solid portfolio is the only test a writer needs.

If a writer provides samples and they’re not what the potential client is looking for, the potential client can take one of two actions:

  1. Ask for more samples.
  2. Determine the writer isn’t a good fit and move on.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s insulting to seasoned writers

Granted. Most writers with years of experience don’t turn to content sites for work, but there are also many who do. For some it’s a quick and easy way to supplement their income, and others simply need the work. Regardless of one’s reasons -when someone has a resume or portfolio filled with years of experience, it’s insulting to be slapped with a writing test request. It’s like asking a former CEO to take a minimum basic skills test.

There’s something to be said for experience

An experienced writer knows more than basic grammar and usage. Experienced writers know about treating their clients in a professional manner, meeting deadlines, and writing copy that hasn’t been researched and rewritten from the same web content ten times over. Writers who can provide proof of experience by way of resume, samples, and references shouldn’t be asked to take a writing test on top of that. What more proof do you need they know what they’re doing?

A good editor goes a long way

Even the best writers in the world make mistakes. We typo, we fudge words, we even “they’re” when we meant to “their.”Mistakes happen to the best of us which is why we have editors. Writing is more than knowing grammar, it’s being able to tell a story or paint a picture with words. A good writer takes it beyond antiseptic copy. Good writing draws a reader in and inspires them to take action. If you have good writers on your team, you don’t need writing tests – you simply need a good editor.

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Anyone can find the test answers online

A content site writing test isn’t a good indication that a person knows what he or she is doing anyway. If you do search, you’ll find the answers to many of these tests are online. Writers are asking for the answers in forums, or Googling the information. I even found a couple of people asking for answers on Reddit. (I didn’t link to them here because I don’t want anyone to be out of a gig because of me.)

Time is money

A freelancer’s time is valuable. Some of these writing tests take five minutes – not enough to establish expertise, really – and some of them take 45 minutes to an hour. Freelance writers can be using this time to earn instead of trying out for a job they may not even get. Again, writing tests are like writing on spec, you’re putting out unpaid work for a gig you might not even get.

How content site should vet writers instead

Ok. So you own a content site and want to be sure you’re putting out quality writing. Good for you. Content sites have a reputation for flooding the web with crappy content, so you should take steps to ensure your writers are the best. Writing tests are probably not the answer.

Here are a few ways to vet writers and find the best people for the job:

  1. Writing samples: Ask for a variety of samples from your potential writers. Ask to see different topics, and places published. For example, if a writer is a bestselling author, or has been published – online and/or offline – for years, it’s a good indication this person is successful and doesn’t need a writing test.
  2. Experience: Years of experience means years of success. To determine if a candidate is a solid writer conder how many long term clients that person has had over the years, which publications or website that person has written for, and how long he or she has been writing for a living.
  3. Call for interviews: Calling to have an interview with a potential writer can help weed out unqualified applicants. For example, you can tell how well a person speaks the language, and discuss specifics relating to experience.
  4. Ask for references: If you really want to know about a writer, speak to his or her clients. Ask for references, and contact them for more information.
  5. Pay more money: Experienced writers don’t want to take jobs with content sites because of the low pay. Paying more per article means more writers of a higher caliber will apply. Also, when you hire good writers, you can justify paying a higher price – and charging a hire price to your clients. The people who buy writing from content sites don’t want to waste time with shoddy work, or waste money hiring someone to clean up poor writing. Show your clients you’re worth a higher fee by paying more for good writers.
  6. Offer a test to beginning writers: Everyone has to start somewhere. If a beginning writer doesn’t have samples or experience to speak of, offer the opportunity to take a writing test. Make it an option instead of a requirement.
  7. Don’t keep subpar writers: It’s easy to understand why content sites give writing tests. Howver, this wouldn’t be necessary if some content sites didn’t already have a reputation for hiring poor writers because they are less expensive. If you hire someone who can’t write, let them go. Your reputation should be more important than your brand’s ability to put out large quantities of content.
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I’m not going to knock content sites if they’re your thing.  My problem isn’t with the existence of such sites, my problem is with how they vet their writers.  If a writer provides samples and proof of experience, it should be enough to indicate skill and expertise.

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2 Thoughts on “Why Content Sites Need to Stop Asking Freelance Writers to Take Writing Tests

  1. Bravo! As a seasoned writer, I totally agree. Writing tests are insulting. Good writers are talented professionals who know their craft. You wouldn’t ask a cabinet maker to create a “test cabinet.” Why then is it acceptable to ask that of a writer? A writing test or custom writing sample is unacceptable. The problem is writers still go largely under-appreciated. and under-valued.

  2. Zennish on September 4, 2016 at 2:47 pm said:

    Tests aren’t for seasoned writers. They are to screen out the scammers. Anyone can stick up a writer’s site onine and pay someone to write some good articles, even pay someone to write your test article. Happens all the time. One site I use for content purportedly “screens” their writers with tests and grades them into levels. I’ve employed writers at the higher levels who wrote in plain old ESL — no doubt about it. I even had one try to sell me a spun article.

    These site accounts are for sale all over the net. I don’t write for mills anymore, but keep my memberships “just in case” private clients run dry. I’ve been offered insanely low amounts for my accounts there, and for one that is known to pay relatively well, I was offered $1,000, which the owner could then make up in a month or less. The problem is, once they have my account, my reputation is ruined. Of course, the black hatters don’t care about this. They own dozens of accounts and when one is closed, they just switch to the other.
    I don’t actually mind writing tests, because I don’t have much trouble with them, but some sites want tests then loooong profiles full of experience and samples before they will even rate you. Then some sites have a test, but still start everyone at Level 1, no matter how good you are.
    If you’re going to write for content mills, testing is just part of the game. It’s their feeble attempt to keep the black hatters and scammers out. It doesn’t work well, but they feel like they have to do something to show clients they are trying.

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