I can picture it right now: you’re propped up on the couch, beer in hand, television set to something hypnotically mindless, and you haven’t even showered. You’re clicking away at the screen that asks your demographic information, your choice of deodorant, and who knows what else. None of this matters, of course, because you’re making millions with little effort…
If this sounds like your fantasy for filling out paid surveys, allow me to be the first one to burst that fantasy. Well, keep the beer, but hear me out:
Is there money to be made by filling out paid surveys?
The answer is yes and no. Slightly yes and mostly no, that is.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at filing out paid surveys for freelance writers.
What Exactly is a Paid Survey?
According to the Wikipedia page,
A paid or incentivized survey is a type of statistical survey where the participants/members are rewarded through an incentive program, generally entry into a sweepstakes program or a small cash reward, for completing one or more surveys.
That’s a fairly-straightforward definition. Websites like Mechanical Turk, Swag Bucks, Cash Crate, and an almost-endless slew of others offer the ability to start clicking and start making money, simply by answering questions. Who doesn’t like to answer questions about themselves?
From my personal experience, there is very little writing actually involved—most of the writing-related portion(s) of surveys I have filled out have been empty text-boxes on the survey’s nature, elaboration on responses that you feel that are necessary, and the occasional X word-count essay relating to a particular portion of the survey. For instance, it is not uncommon to see, “How did this survey make you feel? If you have any additional comments, feel free to provide them below,” in more or less the same wording.
How Much Money is Actually Involved?
Let’s just state this from the beginning: Essentially, you’re making “beer money“. Most surveys pay in the range of $0.15 – $1.50. While your avaricious tendencies may perk up at the $1.50 surveys, realize that these are usually very rare and discriminating (based on your particular demographic). They also are more time-consuming and demanding.
The reality of paid surveys is that you’ll end up clicking on radio buttons and check boxes until the cows come home, survey after survey until your inner voice screams “there must be a better way!” It is incredibly monotonous work that soon erases the image of making oodles of loot while lounging on the couch. In fact, if you plan to make any money, you’ll soon start creating your own scripts, Tab’ing through the buttons, memorizing the verification questions that are thrown in every now and then to make sure that you’re not just wildly clicking and hoping for the best (or that you’re a bot). You will have to answer similar questions asked in different ways, which can cause more mental fatigue than actual freelance writing work. And while you may have a frenzied hour of activity, the most I’ve made per hour from filling out surveys is around $8. They pay more at McDonalds these days…
There are also hidden dangers of online surveys. Some websites link you to other surveys, acting as the middleman where you have to resubmit your personal information over and over and over again. Now, I don’t know about you, but for me the less information I have to provide, the happier I am about things like identity theft.
There’s also some surveys that masquerade as legitimate enterprises, only to ask you for your personal email and other info in order to “qualify” for further surveys and more lucrative payments. If you ask me, these are phishing scams designed to part you from your hard-earned money—not the other way around.
Finally, the amount of spam I continue to receive to this day just isn’t worth the measly amounts that I “earned.”
My Experience with Paid Surveys
I hate to admit, but I once thought, many years ago, that online surveys could be a legitimate supplement to my freelance writing income during slow periods. This was especially tempting since I wouldn’t have to use my critical faculties that were often withered by complex assignments. I could relax and make money, right? Wrong.
As for the subject matter of the paid surveys that I’ve participated in, they’ve ran the gamut. From collegiate studies to opinion polls for consumers on a company’s branding — there was no telling just what types of questions would be asked of you. Most asked to give your emotional response to images, videos, or text.
There is very little way of confirming that you are who you say you are online, especially with the ability to make burner email accounts and adjust your demographics according to what you believe the survey is actually asking for. I found that if I could guess what the “target audience” of the survey was, I was more likely to qualify. This remained true, even if I answered one preliminary survey as a 30 year-old single mother and then the next one as a geriatric old man interested in Florida real estate. For instance, a tampon survey was usually targeted at women; studies on couple-relations were looking for older participants. Did I forge these details? Yes, I needed to meet my monetary quotas, after all. Screw them!
During one such online survey I was filling out for a college, the participant was primed with the opening scene of Vertical Limit. Have you seen it? I hadn’t, and after watching the clip with my palms sweaty, I was usually asked how I felt. My real answer was “cheated,” but I managed to answer “anxious and agitated.” The funny part is that different surveys used the same material, so that I eventually just muted the sound on the Vertical Limit clip and resumed after the climbers fall to their death.
“How did watching that clip make you feel?” Bored.
If You’re Still Not Convinced…
I’ll admit that I’m not the sharpest paperclip in the electrical outlet, as a sudden realization hits my mind: Could the proponents of these surveys actually be paid stooges? I’ve cruised the forums, read the articles, and seen people rave about how it works as supplemental income, but for me, it’s digital slave labor.
Considering how much money can be made with illicit-gained data hidden in the fine print or just the clandestine maneuvers of identity thieves, could this be a con? Perhaps. It does generate some cash for the participants, but with the carpal-tunnel and eyestrain, is it really worth it?
There are better ways to make money online and there’s better ways to work that can directly benefit your freelance writing career. Answering paid surveys isn’t one of them.