Are Performance-Based Pay-Scales Fair?

Actually the question is not so much are they fair, but do you want to sign on with a client who is big on performance based pay. Here are some basic performance pay scales I’ve seen clients launch for their writers…

Base pay + traffic perks: For example, you make $250 flat base per month for a set number of posts plus $2 per every 1000 page views.

Base pay + bonus perks: For example, you make $500 flat base per month for a set number of posts plus if you write the number one post (traffic wise) for your blog or network you get a $200 bonus. Some clients will do other stuff like give the top DIGG post a bonus or reward you for having a second most popular post.

Revenue pay only: This is when, surprise, there’s no base pay and anything you make is based on some sort of traffic, advertising draw, or so on. There are two sorts of typical revenue pay deals when you blog for others. One is revenue based on a pay per click or hit sort of deal that only relates to your individual blog (for example, you write for a network blog and you make a different amount than other bloggers in the network). The second deal is a revenue split, when you get a 50/50 or some other set split of profits that a site or network brings in.

There’s also may be a mixture of the above used by various clients. The client may call it performance based pay or may call it a rev share, but it all boils down to the same thing.

So, is performance based pay scales fair or worth it? In my opinion it depends on what sort of revenue job you take. I think performance pay is fine if you’re also getting base pay. There are just too many cons when it comes to revenue only pay. That said we should look at both pros and cons…

Pros of performance based pay or revenue pay:

  • You’ll learn about social networking.
  • You might make some awesome money.

Cons of performance based pay or revenue pay:

I think that people intuitively think that people (writers in this case) who perform better or bring in more traffic should be rewarded more and that writers performing worse be given fewer rewards. The main problem with this is that we also assume that it’s totally possible to measure performance objectively, but in most jobs, writing included, it’s not so easy. Some of the cons…

Traffic stats are not always 100% correct. Try out five different stat programs and you’ll see what I mean. All stat programs profess to be accurate, but if you sample different programs you’ll see vastly different stats pop up.

DIGG and other popularity contests are often won by luck not skill. Some amazing posts don’t score top points at community voting sites like DIGG or Stumble Upon while something ridiculous like “Cats making silly faces” hits the front page. It’s a total toss up.

Some topics are just more popular by nature. If you write about some top Hollywood star or TV show you’re going to get more page views, comments and exposure. At one blog network I worked for the Jon & Kate blog had one post with something like 1,300+ comments (last I saw) while other very well written blogs had way fewer comments and page views. This is and all fine and well IF you love writing about the hottest topics AND if your editor gives you that popular topic to blog about. However, we can’t all write about the hottest topics – and some of us don’t want to. Some of us will be assigned the cooking, green living, and pet topics, so what then? Is the blogger who scored the hot blog really a better writer, or have they just started out with better key words at their disposal?

When you work with rev share you’re really only as good as your worst social networker. If you work for a company who does a rev split, and 10 of you bust your asses social networking, promoting, and writing top notch posts, while the other two bloggers mess around, AND still get a fair cut of wages, people are going to get angry. In my experience you’ve always got a couple of writers who feel that they should be writing, not social networking, and nothing will convince them to up their game.

It creates too much competition and a feeling of favoritism. Say your editor pays bonuses for the most popular post of the week. Which post do you think will get more traffic – post one: WIN A New Bike Worth $300 or post two: Best Baby Onesie of the Week? I hope you picked the bike post. Now, what if your editor assigns you the onesie post and your co-worker the bike post. Is that fair? Probably not. Hot topics will always be fought over in the blogging world and some of these topics you won’t win. This creates a very poor dynamic among writing co-workers and in my experience networks and blogs that function like family vs. war do better because everyone is more invested.

You won’t ever love the blog as much as the client. Clients, in my experience, seem to think that you and all the other people they hire should be just as invested in the long-term success of the blog as they are. As a writer, I am invested in a client’s site to a point, but never as much as the client. Why? Because frankly, the client could sell the site at any time and I’m out of a job. The client could fire me. The blog could tank. Anything could happen and I don’t have the time or energy to care as much as the client. I’m hired to write, to network, but often clients always want more, more, more and since in the end I’m not going to benefit as much as said client I don’t give too much more than what I was hired for a struggle sometimes erupts.

The two biggest cons…

It’s impossible to schedule your time efficiently: You can promote a post til the cows come home but sometimes it just won’t be the sort of post that draws big traffic. You can also promote a post for about 5 minutes and by some stroke of luck that post will go viral and score you huge traffic hits. So, how much time should you invest in a blog where you’re paid revenue? One hour a week? Three? Fifteen? It’s hard to say. Any time you put in can end up paying off differently. I’m a big advocate of calculating your hourly rate to figure out if a job is worth it but with rev or performance pay this is an almost impossible task. End result, you’ll never have set hours.

It’s impossible to budget: I have rent to pay, a water bill, internet fees and groceries to buy. Bill collectors could care less how popular I am online from week to week – their bills stay the same regardless. Non-base pay changes from month to month. How do you budget? Well, you don’t. Instead you live in a constant state of hope and become obsessive about checking your stats. It’s not a fun way to live, especially when you’re doing it to promote a blog or site you don’t own.

Coming up I’ve got some links to some actual studies that have looked at whether or not pay for performance actually works.

What do you think? Are performance based pay scales fair and/or worth it?


  1. says

    Ugh, Hell no. I mean, I write for Examiner, but I a) don’t consider it a source of income and b) don’t spend a lot of time with it. Anything I earn from Examiner is just icing on my income cake.

    .-= Wendy Sullivan´s last blog ..This is who I am =-.

  2. says

    Good coding is as important as good content, and it is something a writer has no control over. This is one of the key drawbacks to performance-only jobs, in my opinion. Why pour your heart and soul into great content if the Google spiders scan the first hundred lines of code and find it to be full of messy imagery and error-filled code? They’ll never even get to your piece. Revenue-based gigs are a sideline, in my opinion, rather than a staple. I’m experimenting with Suite101, as they seem to put a great deal of effort into ensuring their code is clean and extremely SEO-friendly. We’ll see how it goes.
    .-= Imogen´s last blog ..Joint Venture: Christ and the Twilight Saga =-.

    • says

      Well, I don’t know about Suite 101 (no personal experience with them) but you nailed a key point I totally forgot. I have worked for some truly icky sites in terms of design and coding, and it does make a difference. One site I worked for would have been great, if it hadn’t taken 50 years to load. As a reader, I get sick of that and won’t even visit sites like that anymore, so I know it can affect visitors big time. I actually worked for a network that was banned on Google – it was a mistake, i.e not the network’s fault, but man, performance pay dragged down a lot. Plus there are better SEO themes and just a slew of other issues. Thanks for bringing this point up. Sometimes it’s a total background issue.

  3. Bill says

    If you’re a good writer who knows how to market his services, there are tons of gigs that pay dramatically more than this type of thing. I would never take one of these gigs, partly because the web site would never agree to my terms. I figure if a client is paying me I am providing a service and will provide the writing he wants to buy. If we are sharing revenues, we are partners and I would require total control over what I write, ownership of the material I produce, and other things. My interest in his overall site would be minimal except to the extent that it affected and profited me.

  4. says

    Base pay + bonus perks is my favorite. What can be better than a few extra dollars on top of what you would get anyway? Revenue pay only is one I do avoid. I like to know how much income to expect, and I know I don’t have the Digg friends I would need to earn a decent living off just revenue pay-based work.

    One comment on your “WIN A New Bike / Best Baby Onesie” comparison. Since “baby” is searched for more frequently than “bike” (and “best baby” is also a more popular search than “new bike”), Best Baby Onesie of the Week would be the topic I would want if I were working on a bonus pay scale. You have the better keyword(s) to work with and Google traffic is more apt to score you the bonus pay compared to on-site reader traffic. :)
    .-= AuroraGG´s last blog ..A Cloud Computing Dictionary =-.

    • says

      Actually, that bike vs. baby deal wasn’t made up. It’s from a real gig and the bike post did win. In fact, at this particular blog we always have posts with the word baby in it, and if these posts are up against a giveaway there’s no contest which will win – not to be punny, but the bike will. Contests always get more traffic on a short term span.

      The issue is that when you win a bonus for traffic from a client it’s based on a week or month, not overall for the year usually. So in the grand scheme of things, yes baby would get more hits annually and prob for all time BUT place that bike post at a good sweeps site and promote like mad and it’s going to get bigger views for the week which is when the bonus counts.

  5. says

    It would be nice to have a base pay + bonus, since it can take time to analyze just how well your article performs. In my opinion, it’s better to get into any freelance sites out there and get paid per article or by hourly work on your writing gig. You can do it full-time or part-time – with the right rate that your writing skills truly deserve. Just my $.02. Thanks for the sharing.
    .-= Issa´s last blog ..AjevaCom: Is it really time to outsource lab and hospital management? ^MS =-.

  6. says

    One thing I’ve found is that most performance pay sites are run from the US so, for someone from the UK like me, you’re not eligible for any advance pay assignments. My experience suggests that the really big sites can be likened to writing on a chalk board in a stadium full of chalk boards. It’s good writing experience but that’s about it! I’ve posted on associated content and on allvoices.

  7. says

    Those cons alone make considering profit-sharing a ridiculous idea for people who make a living writing. If the base fee was extremely high, and it was the only thing you were doing, maybe… but I think it’s a pretty bad idea for writers to get sucked into.


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