There was an article in the Nov/Dec ’09 issue of Writer’s Digest (I’m behind, I know) all about content aggregators and I thought it was an interesting topic to cover over here. Chances are you know what those are even if you have never heard the term before.

Think of sites like the Examiner.com or Squidoo where you write articles in exchange for a portion of the resulting ad revenue from traffic to the article. In some cases, (like Squidoo) the content stays on their website and in other cases it is syndicated to other sites. Most of these sites also offer an option for you to be paid upfront for your work once you have built up a following but this is usually far less than standard freelance rates.

Obviously, the terms of each site are going to vary. Some require exclusivity to the content you write, others don’t. Some edit the work you post, most don’t. This makes it easier to get published which can be both a good thing (if you are an unknown, if you aren’t that strong a writer, no need to query or apply, etc) or a bad thing (no prestige in being published, anyone can do it, your work is in amongst lower quality work, etc) depending on how you look at it. I actually like the idea that the barrier for entry is low because it makes a nice place to put writing you don’t want to work over and over in revisions and editing. I like being about to type something up, proof read once and then move on with my life. Basically, I like the idea that I can write things up for them just like I write them up here. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Maybe I’m just lazy. This could be the case.)

The idea behind these sites is two fold: the site gets to profit off of content without having to write it and the writer (you) gets some extra cash for your words. For many people, this becomes an attractive option to become a freelance writer without having to send queries all over the place and play the publishing game. It can be a little extra income if you just enjoy writing anyway.

A few of the best known of these sites are:

*I should mention that all of the above were in the WD article except Squidoo which I added because I know its popular with many of you reading.
 
Now, Writer’s Digest tried to stay on the fence about aggregators and failed, leaving me with the sense that they thought they were a waste of time and not a lot of money. In the bigger picture, many professional writers feel that sites like this cheapen the value of freelance writing web-wide so they are a very bad thing.

I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them, myself. For starters, I know there are people out there making some nice extra cash from many of the sites above, some of whom are good friends. I also know that fellow e-commerce blogger Randy Smythe of My Blog Utopia! mentioned on Twitter that he built his blog following on Associated Content before going solo. Regardless of any stigma associated with the content aggregators in general, good content will still stand out and many of these sites have a big readership. Especially when the sites are syndicated elsewhere, these sites can give you a chance to market yourself and extend the reach of your platform. (You like that? I sound like I know what I’m talking about when I say stuff like that. ;-)) Sometimes posting content on the web is less about making money and more about marketing you and your brand and this may be the case here.

But I also cannot help but wonder what these services have to recommend them over just starting your own blog and slapping some ads on it. After all, the people who have the most success on content aggregators are the ones who know how to play the SEO game and if you are that good at search engine placement, why don’t you use that same knowledge to get traffic to the article on your blog? If all you are getting is ad profit sharing on their site, you’d get the whole profit on your own site.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Making money off a blog isn’t as easy as posting to a site that does the work for you and getting people to visit your random site is harder than getting them to check out a site they may already be familiar with. But is blogging on your own site the end game that starts with content aggregators or are they comparable?

I have used Squidoo and Associated Content both only for promotion with no thought to profit. My efforts there were half-assed at best so I really cannot say that I gave either a “real” try. But I am eager to hear from some of you that may have written for the sites above (or any others you want to add to this list) about how the experience was.

Were any of them a good source of extra income? How did the profits you made there compare to your blog (if you have one with ads on it)? Did you get benefits from writing that that extended beyond just money?