Armchair Explorer: Pripyat, Ukraine

Today I visited Pripyat, Ukraine, also known as one of the most interesting places on the planet – simply because it is largely off-limits to unrestricted exploration.  The reason for taboo travel in and around Pripyat is, of course, because it was located in the fallout zone near Chernobyl, the Ukranian nuclear power plant that experienced a meltdown (allegedly due to flawed reactor design and poorly trained staff) in 1986.

When I say I ‘visited’ Pripyat, I actually mean that I played the role of Armchair Explorer and traveled the streets and examined the sights courtesy of Google Street View I love abandoned places populated by the shells of society and devoid of humanity.  There is something both eerie and peaceful about being in a place once well-populated and now totally deserted.

While I was meandering through the streets of Pripyat, I noticed something unusual.  At latitude/longitude 51.4004125,30.0526197, there are some structures that are intentionally blacked out at street level.  See the image below:

If you move slightly to the right (when facing this blacked-out structure), the image comes back into view unobstructed and looks like this:

An aerial satellite image of the area reveal nothing unusual or seemingly secretive – just more abandoned buildings that look like every other abandoned building in the area.  What is covered by the black box and why?

    

    

There are several large apartment buildings in Pripyat, and most of the windows are either wide open or have been broken out.  Since the town was evacuated right after the Chernobyl accident and was not fully secured for some time afterward, it may be likely that vandals and looters opened or broke the windows while scavenging around the modern ruins.

    

Most people who explore Pripyat want to go straight to the amusement park and the Ferris wheel.  It has become the most photographed object within the city limits of Pripyat, leaving a large part of the city and surrounding area neglected and ignored in favor of popular media.

    

Along the outskirts of town, the rusted hulks of power line support structures jut up above the overgrown trees, grass, and other plant life.  With no human presence in the area for 30 years, the landscape is slowly taking over once more and creeping onto and over the concrete and metal buildings scattered here and there.  Time will continue its slow march onward and eventually these structures, no matter how sturdy, will succumb to decay unless they are manually demolished before being reclaimed by the land.

    

Pripyat has become a tourist attraction over the past several years, with visitors being allowed to explore with a guide.  Visits to the area are time-restricted due to the possibility of contamination from the radiation fallout of Chernobyl.  While the risk is minimal, government officials and designated tour guides elect not to take risks with the health and safety of visitors and tourists.

    

Studies of the area have shown that proximity to the fallout has had little long-term impact on the flora and fauna in the area; plant life is obviously abundant, and the wild and feral animals observed and studied have shown little to no signs of permanent damage from exposure to radiation.  Long-term effects on humans is another matter entirely, however.

    

Despite guards around the area and the fact that Pripyat is a forbidden zone, urban explorers still find their way – unescorted – to the city to wander through the silent ghost town.  The advantage they have over an Armchair Explorer using Google Street View is that urban explorers can wander in and out of the buildings and through areas that are not accessible to vehicles.

    

Google is, unfortunately, restricted to streets, trails, paths, and other vehicle tracks – at least until such time that they manage to install Google mapping cameras on wildlife or miniature, self-guided exploratory drones.  You can go where guides don’t usually take you, however, when you explore with Street View.  The Pripyat guided tours often visit the most popular destinations – Ferris wheel, amusement park, shopping mall, school, etc.

    

Even though I am unable to explore inside the buildings to see how life essentially stood still (at least what remains now after scavengers and looters have laid claim to quite a bit of it) when the people of Pripyat were told to drop what they were doing and leave – basically with little more than the clothes on their backs – it is still enjoyable to explore the streets via Street View.  It’s a place I may never get to explore in person, so Google Street View is certainly the next best thing (until they create a virtual reality street simulator!).

The image above is a roof-top view of the city of Pripyat.  The silver dome-shaped object on the horizon just to the left of center is the containment dome for the #4 reactor at Chernobyl, which is the reactor that experienced a malfunction.  While this image captures just one direction of view from a roof in Pripyat, it gives you a sense of just how big the city itself was.  Thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods when the Chernobyl accident occurred.

    

There is so much more to see at Pripyat than the Ferris wheel and bumper cars….

    

…places you simply don’t get to see on a guided tour, not even from a distance.

And if you aren’t able to make the trip yourself, whether you plan on having a guide or guiding yourself, you can always explore via Google Street View.  It might not be the same as being there, but it’s better than never getting to ‘see’ it at all (or trying to see it by looking at someone else’s photographs while blocking out their ‘fascinating’ commentary for every picture).

    

If you visit Pripyat in person, you can also visit Chernobyl itself and view the power plant, reactors, and containment dome used to cover the failed reactor until the irradiated contaminants can be safely disposed of.

    

    

If you have an hour or two to kill and you’d like to see more of the world without spending a dime, check out Google Street View and visit those far-away destinations you have always wanted to go to.  You can also add your own photos to Google’s Street View ‘library’ – just check out the application information and help file to find out how.  That way, you can contribute to the experiences of other explorers and give them more than just a bird’s eye view of a destination they have only dreamed about!

43 Lead Generation Tips To Boost Conversion Rates

If you have an online marketplace, one of your biggest concerns is how to generate leads that will convert to sales.  Don’t deny it, because if you did – you’d be lying.  The existence of an online marketplace means that you’re interested in making money, and money comes from good leads that turn into good customers.

So how do you get people to visit your site, learn about what you’re selling, and buy it?  Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether you are selling information, ideas, products, or services – you are still marketing something and you still want someone to pay for it.  Generating leads isn’t as simple as creating your site or landing page and watching the dollars come rolling in.  You do have to work for it.

Here are 43 tips for online lead generation that will help you get traffic to your site:

  1. Use engaging, valuable, original, and informative content on your landing pages.
  2. Be creative and specific with your calls to action.  (“Click here” or “contact us” are SO boring; use relevant anchor text so you can boost your SEO.)
  3. Your landing page has about 5 seconds to keep your visitors’ interest.  Make those seconds count.
  4. Don’t put anything above the fold that isn’t vitally important to what you are offering (whether you are offering a product or service for sale, a newsletter to sign up for, a publication to download, or something else entirely).
  5. Give your landing pages short and high-impact headlines that snatch a visitor’s attention.
  6. Don’t ask visitors to BUY anything; tell them how what you’re offering can help them solve a problem, meet a need, or accomplish a goal.
  7. It’s not about you, it’s about your site visitors.  Keep yourself out of the equation.
  8. Prove your credibility.  (Don’t ask me how – that’s for another blog at another time!)
  9. ALWAYS have a landing page for whatever you are marketing.
  10. Avoid generalities (“it’s the best”) and be specific about why yours is better than your competitors.  Consumers already know that companies think their products and services are ‘the best’ – so you need to dig deeper and specify what, exactly, about your offering is superior to that of your competition.
  11. Provide content (articles, information, etc.) on your site that have nothing to do with selling at all.  This content should focus instead on letting people know that you are an expert in your industry or that you are the most knowledgeable about the product, service, or idea you’re marketing.
  12. If you ask people to fill out a form, give them a good reason why they should.
  13. Your landing pages should be very minimalist.  Avoid any links, information, or content that is not 100% focused on convincing the visitor that they need to take action NOW to obtain what you’re trying to give them.
  14. Do not use descriptive words for your products or services that are already overused.
  15. Do not use technical jargon or industry buzzwords.  The average person will not understand them and will therefore not understand what’s so great about what you are offering.
  16. If people fill out a form, reward them for it.  This can be with a discount, promotional offer, free newsletter, or anything of some ‘value’ that makes it worth your visitors’ time to complete your form.
  17. Locate sites that offer products or services that would enhance yours if paired together and arrange a mutually beneficial linking strategy.
  18. Do not hide your calls to action in your web page design; they are meant to stand out, so make sure they do.
  19. Less is more when it comes to landing page design.  Really.  Less is more.  Start chanting that.
  20. Monitor the ways in which people reach your site (referrals, direct URLs, search engines, etc.) and capitalize on those methods.
  21. Create landing page keywords that are extremely specific to what you are offering.  Long-tail keywords work most effectively for this strategy because they narrow down the pool of searchers to those that have a focused and specific interest in your offer.
  22. Use keywords that are designed with “real world” usage in mind.  Make sure your keywords reflect how people enter words and phrases into a search engine.  In other words, select keywords and phrases based on ‘conversational’ choices rather than ‘algorithm’ choices.
  23. Never link your calls to action to your home page.  Your CTAs need to go to very specific landing pages that contain very specific offers.
  24. Create a blog, post to it regularly, and link back to your landing pages where appropriate.
  25. Be chatty about the benefits of what you are marketing.  If your product or service has several fantastic features that totally set it apart from the competition, say so.  Be specific.  (But don’t include your greatness when it’s the same as your competitions’ greatness.)
  26. If you can do so, let your visitors know how many other people have downloaded, purchased, obtained, or contracted the products or services you are selling.  If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t they?
  27. Use your blog to increase your credibility as an authority or expert on what you’re selling.  (This builds trust and trust makes sales.)
  28. Sign up for as many quality affiliate marketing programs you can find.
  29. Create something that is the “first and only” and let people know you’ve got it and they can get it, too.  Exclusivity is a great motivator for many potential consumers.
  30. Use e-mail as a marketing method (but don’t spam!).
  31. Offer things that are exclusive, rare, or in high demand.  This ties in slightly with #29 in that exclusivity can motivate people to engage with your calls to action and/or enter your marketing funnel simply to have something that no one else does (or that everybody else wants, in the case of ‘high demand’ offerings).
  32. When you do create engagement through an online form or sign-up page, redirect the visitor to a “thank you” page and add more information on that page than just your appreciation (put more CTAs, product data, freebies, etc. on it).
  33. Make use of “free” in what you offer – free trials, free subscriptions, free newsletters, etc.
  34. To compel a more timely decision, add “limited time” to your offers.  Along with creating offers that are in high demand or exclusively available to a select few, a time limit can inspire action for some people simply because they do not want to miss out on something.
  35. Use multi-staged calls to action.  People go through different stages when they are contemplating a purchase, and if you multi-stage your CTAs, you are progressively directing their decision closer and closer toward a final YES.  This strategy can also help you overcome those indecisive consumers who fall out of a sales funnel, abandon a shopping cart, or simply choose not to make a choice until they have been pulled farther along toward the action you want them to take.
  36. Place calls to action everywhere you can (but don’t make them “used car salesman” obvious or make your web page look like a carnival freak show), and definitely put them above the fold.  For how NOT to place CTAs, visit Ling’s Cars (and prepare for bleeding eyes).
  37. Don’t use deception between what your call to action says the visitor will be seeing on the landing page and what they actually see.  This will instantly destroy your credibility.
  38. Include social sharing links so people will spread the word.  With social media playing a significant role in the online lives of many people these days, providing social sharing options allows you to obtain greater visibility and audience saturation simply through ‘word of mouth’ advertising.
  39. Don’t offer more than ONE thing on each landing page.  Restricting your landing page content to a single subject or offering will ensure that your visitor’s focus is on exactly what you want it to be on; also, if you present too many pieces of information at one time, it’s very likely that your visitors will make no choice at all.
  40. Keep your online forms short and sweet.  The more information people have to give, the less likely they are to give it.  (See #12 and #16 for more tips about online forms.)
  41. Don’t use the default SUBMIT button for forms; make it creative and make it specific to what they are going to get when they do complete the form and submit their data.
  42. Add customer testimonials and references when and where you can.  These types of information let your visitors know that other people have already taken advantage of your offering(s) and are glad they did.
  43. Test your different methods of acquiring leads frequently and discard those that aren’t working favorably.  Regular testing of your lead generation methods will help you redistribute those that work well, refine those that seem to be missing something, and either completely revamp or remove those that aren’t generating leads at all.

One of the biggest things to consider when marketing online is that your leads do not always come from the same source.  One person may come directly from a referral link on another industry-specific website while a different person may arrive at your landing page because they used certain words in a search engine query.  Make your lead generation techniques as diverse and varied as the people who will be finding you, and always – always – give them quality, information, relevancy, and appealing content FIRST.

Above or Below the Fold?

You have figured out a way to get traffic to your website or landing pages through online lead generation, now you need to find that magic formula that will provide you with through-the-roof conversion rates.  Guess what?  There is no magic formula. 

Converting visitors – even those that are highly qualified leads – is part of your overall marketing strategy that, like everything else, requires effort.

If only it were as easy as putting a particular phrase on your landing page or making a “buy now” button a certain color, and everyone who saw it would instantly be compelling to buy, buy, buy.  There are aspects of your website design that can be instantly compelling, but the results they achieve are usually in regard to instantly compelling your visitors to continue reading your content or move along to another site that is more appealing, engaging, or interesting than yours.

Statistically, when an internet surfer reaches your landing page, you have about 4 to 7 seconds to keep them on that page.  What this means in the most basic and logical sense is that your “above the fold” content has to be out-of-this-world.  If the first few pieces of content on your page don’t immediately grab their attention, your visitors will quickly lose interest.  This applies even if they are targeted prospects or qualified leads.  People using the Internet to obtain information or make purchases still make decisions that are measured in seconds, because of the immediacy that the Internet provides.

But does a call to action above the fold really make that much of a difference in conversion rates?  Some Internet bloggers and so-called experts claim that above-the-fold content has no bearing on conversion rates, while others will vehemently insist that if your important content and calls to action are not above the fold, you’re losing leads, prospects, and sales with every passing second.

In an article titled The “Above the Fold” Myth Debunked, Eugen Oprea discusses some specific examples where CTAs were placed below the fold and resulted in increased conversion rates.  He claims that the fold doesn’t matter because people know how to scroll.  Yes, and people know how to stop at stop signs, not beat their wives and children, avoid using illicit drugs, eat healthy, balance their checkbooks, flush the toilet when they’re finished going to the bathroom, wash their hands before eating, and stay below the posted speed limit when driving, but that doesn’t mean they do it.

The majority of people searching for something on the internet determine their interest in a page by what is visible on the screen when the page loads, meaning what they see “above the fold.”  Just because someone CAN scroll definitely does not mean that they WILL scroll (and more often than not, they don’t).

Eugen Oprea’s article also refers to what he calls “the cloud box,” that annoying floating advertisement that follows you down the side (or middle, even worse!) of the page when you DO decide to scroll for a second or two.  He claims this is wildly successful in terms of getting more leads and generating more interest.  In my opinion, it is wildly off-putting because it’s just more crap in the page that I have to look at while I’m trying to look at the content I came to the page for.

Eugen’s article page also displays a “sign up” window of some kind at some point during your viewing, and it is incredibly deceptive – there are no “X” boxes in the corners or a “no thanks” button or any apparent way to get rid of the window without signing up for whatever it was pitching…I didn’t bother reading it…but if you click outside the window, it goes away; good thing, too, ’cause when it appeared I was ready to “X” the entire browser tab to get rid of it.

KISSmetrics, a respected source for all things SEO and marketing related, also claims that calls to action above the fold have no bearing on conversion rates.  However, unlike Eugen Oprea, they qualify this statement by saying that placing your call to action above the fold is irrelevant IF your content is totally awesome (i.e., appealing enough to make the site visitor want to continue reading below the fold).  KISSmetrics actually claims that the fold has no bearing at all on conversions, whether CTAs are above or below it.

A study to determine fold placement for CTA success reported that long-copy content detailing the value and benefits of what is being marketed to the site visitor is actually what makes or breaks the visitor’s decision to stay on the page, keep reading below the fold, and activate a call to action at the bottom of the page.

An Unbounce study on landing page call-to-action placement determined that there are actually several different ways you can locate a CTA on your landing page and they can have varying effects on conversion depending on how you lead your site visitor to the finish line.  (They are, however, also advocates of the “people WILL scroll” school of thought, despite the fact that studies have determined that less than 20% of site visitors will scroll.)

Despite these examples that claim either that the fold doesn’t matter or that below the fold calls to action are either just as successful or more successful than above the fold CTAs, other industry and marketing analysts say otherwise.  An older article on DemandGenReport.com says that above-the-fold CTAs increase conversion rates exponentially.  A Boostability article says that a call to action is a “must have” for content above the fold to generate more leads and conversions.

There are many, many more examples of marketing articles and information that support above-the-fold calls to action as the most appropriate location to generate better leads and increase your conversion rates.  Ultimately, the choice of placement is left in your hands.  Regardless of whether you decide to go above or below the fold with your calls to action, always make sure you have high quality, original, and appealing content to attract and keep your visitors’ attention.  If you lose that, you’ve already lost the potential conversion, no matter what you are marketing.

The Paradox of Choice: Real or Not?

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less is a book by psychologist, Barry Schwartz.  In a nutshell, the book discusses why and how multiple options create stress, confusion, and a lack of decision-making ability on the part of consumers.  The first part of this post deals with real-world scenarios.  For the section on how the Paradox of Choice relates to online buying decisions and the effect it has on digital commerce, skip ahead to the section titled The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce.

In a supposedly world-renowned, researcher-curated economic study where many different types of jams were offered to customers for sampling prior to making a purchase, people faced with so many decisions ultimately ended up not making a decision at all.  They felt stressed out and confused over the large variety of options, weren’t sure which single flavor to pick, and didn’t pick anything at all.  (Also known and referred to as The Jelly Experiment.)

There are supporters and detractors to the applicability of the Paradox of Choice when applied to consumer purchasing decisions.

In an online article titled More is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth, The Atlantic Magazine presents a debunking of Schwartz’ theory.  They claim that in “several studies” attempting to replicate the results of The Jelly Experiment, the end result was that offering lots of extra choices made no difference either way.  The Atlantic’s article also claims that offering a single-option actually produces the results that Schwartz is claiming via the Paradox of Choice.

To demonstrate how one option creates a “no sales at all” result, The Atlantic cited Williams-Sonoma and how they nearly doubled sales of their $279 bread maker.  At one time, the $279 bread maker was the only one being sold by Williams-Sonoma, and they were not really generating noteworthy sales on the item.  They introduced a $429 bread maker and sales of the lower-priced version almost doubled (and practically no one purchased the $429 one).

Daniel Mochon penned a single-option aversion paper for the Journal of Consumer Behavior.  Mochon claims that when consumers are faced with a “take it or leave it” option consisting of one particular brand or item, they become more interested in shopping around for comparisons to make sure they are getting the best product, best deal, and best option.  Conversely, when they are presented with 20 different flavors or brands of potato chips, for example, the numerous options actually heighten distinctions and give us a greater and more confident sense of surety when making a final purchasing decision.

Mochon’s explanation for this is that by offering a much wider range of options, we are actually giving the consumer the impression that they have explored every possible option (on the shelf in front of them), and are making the best possible decision based on their ability to make comparisons on-the-fly.

While all of this explains the Paradox of Choice and how real or effective it is in real-world examples where consumers can see, touch, taste, and smell the options being presented to them, how does it affect online purchasing decisions?

The Paradox of Choice and Online Commerce

Real-world applications for determining how many options are simply too many can be made easily via a kiosk, sample counter, or simple survey.  Determining whether or not the Paradox of Choice is real in online commerce, however, is another thing entirely.  Companies may not have the time, staff, and budget to spend untold hours performing market research before coming to a conclusion on the best way to market, display, and sell their wares on the internet.  This means that, in most cases, a refinement of shopping options or marketing strategies is done on an as-needed or on-the-fly basis, when one particular method isn’t working and gets modified or replaced by an alternate method.

According to a Smart Insights article on the Paradox of Choice:

Less really is more when it comes to your customer’s satisfaction.

The study of how and why people make decisions, especially as those decisions relate to consumer purchasing, is not a new field of inquiry.  There is research dating back to the 1950s that examines whether or not the number of purchasing options impacts a consumer’s decision, and how more or less likely a consumer is to make a decision at all when faced with a greater number of selections or fewer.

A research paper published by Iyengar & Lepper in 2000 discusses When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? [PDF document] as part of a section on personality processes and individual differences.  This study begins:

On the face of it, this supposition [“the more choices, the better”] seems well supported by decades of psychological theory and research that has repeatedly demonstrated, across many domains, a link between the provision of choice and increases in intrinsic motivation, perceived control, task performance, and life satisfaction.

The Iyengar & Lepper study conducted field and laboratory research trials to evaluate choices made by potential consumers when faced with a varied number of options, as well as when faced with a different number of options that consisted of very similar and very dissimilar characteristics.  An example of the latter would be when you are faced with 20 different brands of plain potato chips of varied types (wavy, plain, kettle, salted, etc.), or 20 different flavors of chips offered by the same brand (sour cream and onion, BBQ, cheddar, wasabi, jalapeno, salt and pepper, etc.).

The conclusion reached by the Iyengar & Lepper study is that while people may initially prefer to be faced with a greater number of options (which appears to give them more power over their final decision), they often fail to choose decisively and confidently, or fail to choose at all.  A smaller number of choices produces the greatest level of post-selection satisfaction and almost always culminates in a decision being made by the consumer.

A perfect (and perfectly frightening) example of too many options can be found at the website for Ling’s Cars.  A word of warning – before you open the page, turn down your computer speakers.  There is quite literally so much information on the home page that you simply don’t know where to look or click first and, if you are like so many other people, you choose instead to just click away from the website altogether.

Some marketing experts recommend that you design an online landing page with some information and options for your visitor, but not too many.  The blog over at Kissmetrics provides The Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page.  There are many other experts, however, that would disagree with Kissmetrics’ opinion.

Those dissenting experts mentioned above hold the opinion that a landing page should display nothing more than what serves the page’s purpose.  The purpose of the page is to get your visitor to buy something.  There should be no navigation links, options, menus, calls to action, write-ups, or anything superfluous on the page that does not say (literally and figuratively) “buy me now.”

This ‘less is more’ theory is certainly in line with some aspects of the Paradox of Choice, but oversimplifying a landing page by giving your visitor only one option that consists of spending money may be just as much of a deterrent as the carnival of the grotesque at Ling’s Cars.

If you do simplify your options to the point of having no options at all other than the one most beneficial to your business, you need to make sure it is as much of a no-brainer non-choice as possible.  Make it impossible for your visitor to walk away from what you are offering.

Conclusion

Finding out what makes consumers tick – and what makes them click – is an endeavor that will continue to occupy the minds of market researchers, digital marketers, business owners, and other professionals for some time to come.  There are plenty of great resources for guiding you in the process of getting clicks and conversions, so make sure you do your own research, too.  Pay attention to your analytics, perform testing on content and CTAs, and keep fine-tuning your marketing strategies until you have ones that work best for your business.

Writing Through Constant Content (And Why I Love It)

[Author’s Note: This was originally published on my former blog some time ago.  As I re-post it here, I am also making a few modifications to the content.  The basic message, however, remains the same.]

I have been a successful freelance writer for four years.  I use the word “successful” because I no longer have a “day job,” earn all my income solely from writing, and spend a few hours a day, a few days a week doing it.  I use two online sites for my writing; one is a somewhat popular content mill that has, recently, become extremely tedious to work with due to increasingly anti-writer changes they’ve made over time.  The other site is Constant Content.

The Content Mill Site (My Introduction to Freelance Writing)

Despite my growing disenchantment with the content mill site, I’ve had a very good track record.  I have completed and sold over 4,000 pieces of content in the past four years and my rejection rate is less than two percent.  I have provided content for over 180 different clients on a variety of topics ranging from blogging to wire cloth, and a senior staff member of this content mill site informed me recently that I am perhaps the site’s most prolific and successful writer (relating to the quantity and quality of work).

The content mill site was much more enjoyable to use a few years ago, when I first began my journey into freelance writing.  The number of jobs available through the site has dwindled down from several hundred at any given time to less than a dozen, most of which are undesirable for whatever reason (pay rate, topic, length, etc.).  The writer’s forum is so over-moderated that it is a useless ghost town of outdated information, when it used to be a vibrant and engaging platform for writer discussion and creative debate.

A more significant and recent change has also made it harder for writers to actually WRITE, mandating instead that writers provide an ‘audition’ of their work before completing a full length writing assignment.  While that may sound like a good idea, there are many clients who reject the audition piece (thus not paying for the writer’s efforts) and then ask that writer to create full length content.  Some writers do so, but I do not for one simple reason…if my work was acceptable to them (and clearly it was, since the client now wants full length content), they could have at least paid for the audition piece that introduced them to my writing style and ability in the first place.

Unfortunately, I cannot explain much more about this site lest I identify it completely – and I’ve read on other blogs that those who do end up getting banned from the site for posting negative comments about it (and they allegedly disavow these writers with no warning, no explanation, and no response to inquiries about “why” it happened).  [Edit: At this point, I no longer write through, and rarely visit, the content mill site – so if I were to identify it and subsequently get banned from using it, it would be no loss to me whatsoever.  The site ceased to be a candidate for ‘loss’ about two years ago, actually.]

Getting Started on Constant Content – My Journey

When I initially started submitting content to Constant Content, I was using the “other” site as my primary source of income because it was actually quite lucrative.  I was regularly earning over $1,000 a month – from a content mill, for part-time work.  The Constant Content submissions were the infrequent rejections from the content mill, for the most part.  I gradually started creating more work specifically for inclusion in Constant Content’s catalog for three main reasons:

  • I can write about whatever I want.
  • I can choose any word count.
  • I set the price for my efforts.

Unlike the “content mill” where writers are restricted on all three points, plus many others, Constant Content allows me to write freely about any subject under the sun.  I can create my own title, format the body of the piece however I wish, make it 100 words or 10,000 words long if I want to, and when I’m done writing – I decide what it’s worth.  For example, an 800-word piece on Constant Content can sell for $50 to $100.  On the content mill, I’d be lucky to earn $10 for the same content.

The Difference Between Contract Writers & Freelance Writers

In reality, I consider the writers (including myself) who provide work through that unnamed content mill site to be “contract writers” rather than “freelance writers.”  I believe there is a big difference between the two.

Contract writers are told what to write about, how long it needs to be, when it needs to be completed, what keywords must be included and how frequently, and how much they will be paid for it.  Freelance writers, on the other hand, have no such restrictions unless they are providing content for a specific client where the details of what, when, how much, and so on have been prearranged.

Another primary difference between the two is that contract writers (especially those who write through the unnamed mill) do not have work to do until a client creates a job for them.  Freelance writers write when they want, without waiting for someone to let them know that a particular piece of content might be valuable.  This means that a “mill” writer could possibly be waiting days or weeks before a writing job is created by a client that they would be able to complete.  No work means no money.

Three Types of Writing for Constant Content

There are three main types of writing that can be done for Constant Content.  The first is private requests, which means that a particular client has asked you to write a specific piece of content for them.  They will likely choose the topic and general length, and assign a pay range for that content (which is always going to be substantially more than the same work would earn through a mill).

The second type of writing is public requests, where clients ask for writing focusing on a certain subject.  The client often restricts the word count and sets a pay range for the writing they are looking for.  Public requests are accessible to all writers on Constant Content.

The last type of writing consists of catalog submissions.  Constant Content maintains an expansive catalog of writing that covers a large variety of subjects from astronomy to zoology, which is accessible and available to anyone who is looking for a piece of content about a specific subject.

Writing done through the content mill site consists of private requests and semi-private requests.  There are no ‘public’ requests and no catalog of content through which clients can browse to find material that fits their needs.  With the content mill, private requests are direct assignments, issued to a specific writer by a client (with all the details of the content predetermined by the client).  Semi-private requests appear on an ‘open’ writing assignment list but are not visible to all writers.  Clients can set parameters for the assignment that restrict it to writers with certain subject matter expertise, a specific writer rating, a certain geographic location, and so on.  If a writer does not meet the criteria set by the client, the assignment will not be visible to the writer in the ‘open’ assignment list; thus the ‘semi-private request’ status.

All of the writing I have done through Constant Content has been catalog submissions.  I find it easier to create content on my time rather than working to a deadline, simply because I have other things going on in my life on a daily basis.  Watching the clock, in my opinion, means my work will suffer in terms of quality.  I can take a few hours, days, or weeks to create a specific piece of content; my ‘deadline’ is only what I set for myself.  On the content mill site, writers are given a deadline that typically ranges from 24 to 72 hours depending on the desired length of the content to be written.

Pre-Editing Before Client Access

Speaking of quality – the editing team, albeit outsourced, at Constant Content is perhaps one of the primary reasons why the site is so successful.  Submissions must be reviewed, edited, and approved by an editor before they will be accepted and made available for sale, and the editors are good at their job and strict in their editing.

A large chunk of the writing done through the content mill site is embarrassing, in my opinion.  Stilted use of English, awkward phrasing, terrible grammar, spelling errors, incomplete sentences… those are some of the characteristics of a lot of the writing I’ve seen come through the mill – and sell.  That’s the shocking part, that a client would actually pay for such horrid writing, or that the mill would allow such low quality work to get to a client in the first place, especially when they boldly advertise a client’s access to professional writers.  I also find it surprising that the writers themselves tout their superior skills, or at least they used to when the forum could actually be used for communicating thoughts and ideas, despite the substandard quality of their work.

While I sometimes do not agree with certain editing decisions made by Constant Content’s editors (example to follow), I appreciate their time and input.  They do catch things I didn’t when I was reviewing the content before submission; things that I’d be displeased about having included in my work.

There is a slight lack of consistency with the editing process, however, that I’ve encountered.  I recently had a submission to Constant Content “rejected” solely because it included an ampersand.  The ampersand was in the title, which is required to be included at the beginning of the content body (thus placing the ampersand in the ‘body’ of the content, even though it was in the title and not in the actual content itself).  Titular ampersands are common and accepted across all writing styles, although the Chicago Manual of Style recommends that the word ‘and’ be used for consistency’s sake.  After changing the ampersand and resubmitting, my content was accepted and placed in the catalog for sale.

In the mean time, I looked back through my previously submitted – and accepted – work and found half a dozen items with ampersands in the title.  Other writers have also submitted (and had accepted) content that included titular ampersands – MANY of them.  Be that as it may, it didn’t kill me to change an ampersand to the word “and,” even though the editing inconsistency was very mildly irksome.

Quite honestly, a lot of the work I’ve seen by other writers at the content mill would literally get killed by the Constant Content editors.  If red pens were to be used for editing notes, it’d look like a horrific mass murder had occurred on the pages.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve had very few pieces rejected by the editing team for various and very minor reasons, even though my portfolio of content isn’t very large yet.

My Sales Through the Constant Content Catalog

Constant Content states somewhere on their website that 87% of all catalog content eventually sells, with 70% of it selling within three months.  I spent a bit of time this morning reading about Celeste Stewart, who is one of the top writers through Constant Content.  At the time of this writing [previous publication date for this blog post], she is listed at #6 on the Most Prolific Writers list, with over 5,500 pieces written, and holds the same position on the Top Selling Writers list, as well (both of these writers’ lists are found here, on the same page).

Celeste Stewart states in a five-page write-up about succeeding on Constant Content that she has a 58% sale rate for catalog submissions (page 3).  Her public request sale rate was given as 74% and private request sale rate at 100%.  This prompted me to take a look at my own “track record” with Constant Content submissions.  While I’m nowhere near the caliber of Ms. Stewart in terms of being a prolific writer (with 87 submissions compared to her 5,500+), I was still able to break down my submission/sales rate to determine where I stand.

As of today, I have 87 catalog submissions on Constant Content.  Five of those have yet to be approved by the editing team.  Twenty-two of those, including the ones awaiting editing, were submitted in the past two or three weeks.  With the approval process taking nearly a week for each piece, I decided to calculate my submission/sales percentage for all content I had submitted through June 19, 2016, which totaled 65 items.  As a side note, I’ve submitted more work to Constant Content in the past year than I had altogether in the three years prior.

Out of my 65 submissions, 13 of those have not sold yet.  This leaves me with an 80% sale rate – for catalog submissions.  In other words, 8 out of every 10 articles I’ve submitted to the Constant Content catalog has sold.  (I do not do private or public request writing through Constant Content at this time.)  I would say that approximately 80% of those catalog submissions that have been purchased were sold within two weeks of being listed in the Constant Content catalog, as well.

I generally write in two main categories for Constant Content’s catalog – Business Marketing and Home Improvement.  Roughly 90% of my submissions center around those two subjects, with the content focusing on online marketing and SEO for the Business Marketing category and energy efficiency for the Home Improvement category.

Drawbacks to Constant Content?  Very Few!

There are really very few drawbacks to writing through Constant Content, in my opinion.  It may not suit everyone’s own style and personal preferences, however, and if you aren’t a very good writer don’t expect to do well at all (you probably won’t make it past the editing team, in all honesty).

While not really a drawback, the length of time it takes the editors to approve a submission has grown over the past few years.  When I first started writing through Constant Content, my submissions were always approved within 2 or 3 days, at the most.  I am now seeing approval times take at least 5 days or more.  The Constant Content website states that they generally try to get submissions approved within 3 to 5 days, and that submissions for private requests always have priority.

I have noticed that submissions for the catalog that fall under a category with a large number of existing items (such as Business Marketing) take longer – most likely due to the fact that there are more submissions for those categories than any other.

Again, not a drawback, but Constant Content takes a 35% cut of your sales price for any work you submit and sell through their site.  It is a hefty commission, to be sure, but they provide you with a platform where you can truly be a freelance writer and you get a top-notch editing team along with it.  From what I’ve read on their writer’s forum, Constant Content also does not dilly-dally around with substandard writers for long.  If you have consistent rejections by the editors, you’ll eventually lose the ability to provide content at all.

Lastly – and again (!), not a drawback really, and beyond Constant Content’s control – it may sometimes take a while for your work to sell.  If you provide content to the catalog about an obscure topic with little relevance outside a specific niche, you may have to wait a while for it to sell unless you already have a client lined up.  Material that is trending, evergreen, relevant, and popular will sell quickly.  For example, I have an article in the Constant Content catalog about banning incandescent light bulbs that has been sitting there for two and a half years.  It has been viewed 13 times, and is my oldest unsold piece. I have written other content that has sold within a couple of hours of being approved by the editing team and listed in the catalog for sale.

Edit: Constant Content is headquartered in Canada, which means that you may have to wait through one of the many Canadian holiday periods to receive payment for writing you have sold through their site.  Payment is always promptly delivered on the date promised (1st and 15th, if you have chosen a twice-monthly disbursal of your earnings), or on the following day if the payment date is a holiday (they never pay out earnings early).

Viewed 13 Times?  What Does That Mean?

When your Constant Content catalog submission has passed the scrutiny of the editing team and made it to the catalog, you can view your content list on their website.  You’ll see the title, date submitted, category, status (view/review/rejected/resubmitted/waiting), number of sales, and number of hits (or views).  The “hits” information is interesting and useful if you want to see what content is popular among your catalog portfolio items.

Approved submissions with a large number of hits are obviously popular.  Lots of people are looking at it.  If it hasn’t sold, however, then there’s something wrong with it.  Perhaps the price is too high or the content isn’t long enough (or too long).  You always have the option of editing any of your submissions (AFTER they’ve been approved) provided they haven’t been bought by anyone yet.  If you have a 500-word evergreen piece about social media marketing strategies, it’s going to be popular, but if you have it priced at $100, it probably won’t sell regardless of how amazing it is.

Constant Content provides a pricing guideline on their submission page to give you an idea of the range of prices generally considered acceptable for different word counts. The great thing to see is one hit and one sale.  That means the first person that looked at your article loved it so much they immediately bought it.  This is even better when the hit and sale occurs within a day or two of your article being accepted by the editing team.

The highest number of hits I’ve gotten on an unsold piece is 39 as of the date of this writing (an article about home winterization tips), and 38 for a sold piece before someone finally bought it (staying productive while working from home).  Most of my sales have occurred within the first 10 hits.

Conclusion

The conclusion is simple – I truly love writing through Constant Content.  I can do so on my own terms and in my own time, without deadlines or picky clients, restrictive word counts or awkward (but required) keywords and phrases, or the requirement of audition pieces, and I can put a price tag on my work that I believe represents the value of my content and my efforts, rather than getting a few pennies per word for hours of research, writing, proofreading, and re-writing.

Self-Inflicted Body Shaming

I was perusing the news around the internet this morning and came across an article that seems innocent enough.  Published on The Guardian, it is in their section of stories about ‘a moment that changed me’ – along with a large variety of other personal stories about pivotal moments in the lives of different people.

The article in question is written by a woman who used to weight 365 pounds and lost a significant amount of weight.  She claims in her article that she was ignored and basically viewed as a non-entity until her weight dropped to society’s version of ‘appealing’ or ‘normal.’

According to this woman’s article, men did not open doors for her, help her pick up dropped items, or do other ‘common courtesy’ gestures when she was obese.  When she lost a significant amount of weight, according to her, men started doing those things.  Also according to her, this change of attention was a direct result of her impression that she had now become a woman of appealing body size, rather than the fat and unattractive self she’d been before.

I have personally witnessed a great many men open doors for women of all sizes, ages, races, and appearances.  I’ve seen them let those same women take their spot in a checkout line.  I have seen them help those women pick up items dropped in a store or parking lot.  I have also seen them smile pleasantly when doing so and politely say ‘you’re welcome’ when the woman says ‘thank you.’

The only type of people I have seen intentionally disregard other people – men and women included – are those who appear to be under the age of 25 to 28.  The younger they get, the more disregard they have for others.  This is a tragic reflection of a parental disconnect in our society today, and mirrors back to us the deplorable condition of the society in which we live.

I don’t know where this article writer has been that she’s been so horribly and intentionally disregarded by other people (allegedly), but based on my experience, her experience is not the ‘norm.’  I am also aware that where you live does make a difference in the way you are treated by others.

Typically, in the southern parts of the United States and in many locations in the central and western parts of the country, people are much more easy-going, laid back, and respectful toward others.  Not so much in the northeastern part of the country – but New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians have a bad reputation as being aggressive, impatient, hateful jerks anyway.

Perhaps this woman’s experiences are a reflection of how she expects to be treated.  You expect kindness and exude it yourself, you will often get it back in return.  If you walk around with an obvious unhappy chip on your shoulder, other people will have a tendency to reflect your ‘attitude’ back toward you unconsciously.  Perhaps her ‘body shaming’ encounters are more of an outward result of her inner dialogue.

You reap what you sow, whether you are planting seeds of positive well-being or negative self-destruction.

The Ocean Belongs To Us

Fox News posted an article today (August 27, 2016) about a presidential action taken by Barack Obama to enlarge a protected marine area near Hawaii.  Normally, I could really care less about what Barack Obama or anyone else in the political realm decides to do, because single voices have no impact on national and global issues – like I once said to a police officer who was giving me a ticket for allegedly not wearing a seat belt, you can’t argue with a badge.  Or a politician.  Or a president.

The thing that sparked my ire, however, with this article is a comment attributed to former Hawaiian governor, George Ariyoshi.  In the Fox News article, the cite him as saying:

The ocean belongs to us.  We ought to be the ones to decide what kind of use to make of the ocean.

I beg to differ.  I strongly beg to differ. The ocean belongs to no one.  The ocean belongs to the planet.  The ocean belongs to the creatures and plants that call it ‘home.’  It most certainly does not belong to a bunch of small-minded, self-serving, destructive-in-the-name-of-progress homo sapiens who are so overwhelmed with hubris that we dare to think we hold dominion over anything on this planet other than our own future annihilation.

In my opinion, the entire width, breadth, and depth of all the oceans on the planet should be protected habitats.  You want fish?  Build a hatchery.  You want oil?  Tap into the northwestern part of North America; Alaska and western Canada are a veritable oil goldmine.  Something you might not know – Texas is actually the most oil-producing state in the U.S., with almost 5 times the production and reserves as Alaska.  Texas Pipeline, anyone?  The U.S. actually has the largest untapped oil reserve in the world.

But we can’t drill for oil on land, can we?  Have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?  Why we are so upset when someone wants to build an oil rig and run a thousand-mile long pipeline across the broad expanse of North America’s ‘untamed wilderness’?  It’s because we can see and feel the destruction when it’s sitting in our backyard.  Who cares about what happens in the depths of the sea, right, because we don’t see it happening.

The proof is in the numbers – roughly 13 percent of the Earth’s land surface is protected, while only 2 percent of the Earth’s oceans are.

Would you like to know what you are doing to the ocean?  How you are killing hundreds and thousands of marine species every year because of your selfish consumerism?  How the powers-that-be are destroying fragile oceanic ecosystems because we are addicted to technological advancement and industrialization?

The human impact on ocean life, where we rarely venture compared to how often we tread (and damage) the land-based parts of the planet, is accelerating to a point where a mass extinction is entirely possible, almost probable.  In another 20 years, it will undoubtedly be a foregone conclusion.

We have already destroyed almost half the natural coral reefs on the planet.  ALMOST HALF.  It takes years (and years and years) for reefs to build themselves up, and here we come – bent on having a nice cruise anchored above some pretty reef somewhere where we can get some great underwater selfies with a stingray or dolphin – and just like that, we destroy decades and centuries of ecological habitat in a year or two.

By the way, did you know that cruise ships dump their waste (trash, garbage, human waste, fuel waste, bilge water, etc.) directly into the ocean?  The Environmental Protection Agency conducted a study that discovered cruise ships dump 150,000 gallons of sewage into the ocean EVERY WEEK.  One ship dumped half that amount all by itself IN A SINGLE DAY.

Every year, more than one billion gallons of raw, untreated, contaminated, toxic, harmful sewage is being dumped directly into the ocean that you are so flushed with sun-bathed bliss to see from atop the upper decks of that luxurious cruise liner.  Why don’t you get a selfie of that.

Princess Cruises has an environmental responsibility statement on their website discussing how they ‘treat’ waste water before dumping it into the ocean.  It’s still waste.  It’s still harmful.  It still contaminates the ocean.  I’m sure if they have to dump it into their bathtub and then bathe in it, like marine wildlife are forced to do, perhaps they’d think differently about their high-and-mighty (and so-called) environmental conscientiousness.  No matter how they dress it up in pleasant wording, they are still engaged in a massive pollution campaign that dumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic sludge into the ocean every year.

In the past sixteen years, contracts for seabed mining operations have laid claim to 460,000 square miles of ocean floor.  Sixteen years ago they had contracts for ZERO square miles of ocean floor.

The United States, all by itself, produces 32 millions tons of plastic waste each year, with only NINE PERCENT being recycled and a large percentage of the rest of it ending up, eventually, in the world’s oceans – where it is significantly contributing to the extinction or future extinction of hundreds of marine species.  In fact, there is an estimated 270,000 MILLION tons of plastic floating around at sea right now.  That’s 270,000,000,000 tons of plastic for those who are where-do-the-zeroes-go-in-a-million challenged.

The poetic justice about the entire situation is that we are now discovering that a lot of what we’re dumping in the ocean is ending up in the foods we eat that are harvested from the ocean, so our own “me-me generation” hubris is killing us.  A big ol’ belly laugh is appropriate here.

That plastic bottle or cell phone battery or Styrofoam cup you threw out on the side of the road five years ago is going to kill your grand-kids one day.

Just in the past 40 years, we have eliminated more than half of the planet’s wildlife.  Not just in the oceans, but on the entire planet.  More than half.  In just forty years.

We are wiping out between 100 and 1,000 species per million every single year.  The number is hard to pin down because some species live and die without us ever knowing they existed, while others whose numbers have become so human-depleted retreat to hard-to-reach habitats where we can’t continue killing them off (or finding them to know they still exist).

By comparison, before we evolved from hunter-and-gatherer grunting idiots (thousands of years ago), less than ONE species per million was eliminated annually, and usually not due to human intervention.

In a few more decades, we will have to create vertical forests and vegetable farms (like they are doing in China right now) just to have oxygen to breathe and organic foods to eat, because we are too consumed with consumerism right now to remember a simple little fact from middle school science class – trees and plants, among other things, create oxygen.  What do you think we are going to breathe when we’ve clear-cut all the forests on the planet just so we can have new houses and new parking lots and new shopping centers?

Going back to our headlong rush to poison our oceans – here’s a fun fact for you.  Phytoplankton, delicate and small marine creatures, create half of the world’s oxygen.  Some scientists believe they actually contribute up to 85% of the world’s oxygen.  So let’s keep dumping waste into the oceans while we enjoy that Princess or Carnival cruise, conducting underwater drilling and marine habitat destruction, and tossing out truckloads of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in the ocean because we are too lazy to find a trash can or recycling bin.

Why do these numbers and statistics not bother you?  You should be horrified at what you, personally, are doing to the planet and the plants and animals that are struggling to survive the reckless stupidity of humankind’s complete and total arrogance.

The bottom line is that, no, the oceans do not belong to us – and who the hell are we to think so?