Should You Provide Free SEO Writing Samples?

Imagine applying for a super-cool freelance SEO writing job. You provided amazing, targeted clips, your interview was on-point, and you were ready to get the “let’s sign a contract” go-ahead.

Now, imagine the prospect asks you to write a 1,000-word blog post to see if you can “match the brand voice.”

But here’s the catch: the blog post is an unpaid “test.” You won’t be compensated for your writing.

Would you still move ahead with the lead? Or tell them to pound sand?

I bring this up because one of my SEO Copywriting Certification students went through this very issue. She rearranged her schedule and jumped through multiple hoops to provide a free writing sample.

Did she get the gig? No. And she was angry.

What’s the problem with providing free SEO writing sample?

Unfortunately, there are scammy companies that use “writing tests” to get freebie content. It sucks, but they’re out there.

If you’re an experienced writer with clips, testimonials, and results, you may feel like you shouldn’t have to jump through extra hoops. The client already has what they need to make an informed decision.

Plus — and this is my big bugaboo — as professional writers, our time is precious. Doing stuff for free takes away from paying clients. If the client wants to PAY me for a writing sample, cool. I can work with that (which is what I advise companies that are searching for freelancers.)

Otherwise, I don’t have time. Companies asking me to volunteer my time on the off chance that they might hire me feels like a huge power imbalance right off the bat.

Are “test” projects the norm for freelance SEO writers?

It’s not the norm, but it does pop up — especially in companies with HR departments who think that’s “how it’s done.”

In other cases, some larger companies or content agencies ::cough:: content mills ::cough:: have a “screening” process that requires testing and time.

Plus, if you’re looking for an in-house staff job, some sort of testing process is common.

For example, a company once flew me to Phoenix, so I could take an editing test and a personality test. (Yes, a personality test!) Since I got a couple of free nights in Phoenix during a bleak Pacific Northwest winter, jumping through their hoops was a no-brainer decision.

Should you always say “no” if a company requests free writing samples?

Well, it depends.

The first thing I’d do is counter with, “My blog post rates are X,” and see how the conversation flowed. The prospect may say, “Sure,” and ask for an invoice. (This has happened many times.) They may give you a counter-offer.

Or, they may write something that makes you think, “Nope, I’m not traveling down this road.”

You can learn a lot about a prospect by how they talk about money.

Plus, you’ll want to research the company, check with other freelance writers, and get some intel. As you may guess, some of the most amazing-sounding freelance gigs aren’t on the up-and-up. You’ll write multiple pages that you’re told “aren’t right” for the company…and then, you’ll see YOUR content on the company website.

You know, the content that “wasn’t right.”

But, let’s say the company checks out, you know you won’t see a dime from the work, and you STILL want to work with them.

Yes, this happens!

Maybe they’re a dream client, so you’re willing to jump through some hoops. Or, the job allows you to grow a new skill set.

Or, the gig just sounds fun.

I know writers who have gone through the content mill process for a short time because they were burned out and needed a new way to find clients. It wasn’t great, but they had their reasons.

If you can make it work for you — and the downside is limited  — why not? For instance, this blogger urges writers to “think of the bigger picture” when faced with an unpaid writing test.

I wouldn’t provide a free writing test for 99.9 percent of the jobs out there. But when an unpaid test turned into a free wintertime vacation, it turned my “no” into a “why not?”

Otherwise, it would have been a Letterkenny hard no for me.

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So, know that it’s wise to feel wary of unpaid “test” assignments. There are other ways to get writing jobs without penning multiple unpaid pages.

If you decide to move forward, do your due diligence and make sure the arrangement works for you. You’ve got to see some upside to make the free work worth your while.

To paraphrase the wise words of Missy Elliott, “Do your thing / Just make sure you ahead of the game.”

What do you think?

Have you been asked to submit an unpaid writing test? How did you handle it? Leave a comment here, or head over to the SEO Writing Tips group and let me know. You can check out this Facebook discussion about free SEO writing samples too.  Enjoy!

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