It’s that time of year—and decade—when every blogger and their uncle makes predictions. So, what the heck. Here are my top 4 predictions for the future of user-generated content sites.

A little background first, in case you are wondering what even qualifies me to make such predictions: As a web content writer for several years now, I have been writing for user-generated content residual income sites like Examiner, BellaOnline, Info Barrel and eHow for only six months. But in that time, I have collaborated with other writers to compile and analyze our statistical data gathered by writing for some of these sites.

Before I began writing online, I spent a year in graduate school majoring in database technologies. I taught database engineering for a corporate education center at a local college, while also working as a data analyst and database developer.

Don’t get me wrong—I am no math whiz. Data analysis is about knowing how to get the computer to do your math for you, to learn things you may otherwise not have suspected were true.

But enough about that. Here are my top 4 predictions for the future of content sites and content writers who write online to build residual income, based on my research and first-hand observations:

1. The law of supply and demand will prevail. More content=less demand. Consumers can be pickier with more to choose from. And when Internet consumers are pickier, search engines must follow suit, so online content quality will improve, and soon. Articles will be pre-screened by qualified editors, or their content sites will fail.

To meet this demand, how will the search engines deliver better results from content sites? For one, search engines are beginning to learn to understand that valuable, relevant content is fresh and is surrounded by related valuable content. They also observe and analyze traffic patterns.

When consumers search for medical advice online and find an eHow article at the top of the results page with a Mayo Clinic article below that, and theck click on the second site instead of the first, how long can it be before the search engines realize that it means eHow is not a generally trusted resource for medical advice? Thus, Mayo Clinic’s site will rise to the top and eHow’s medical advice will go where it belongs.

2. Those user-generated content sites that treat their writers well while maintaining quality content, will gain substantial traffic. Greater readership traffic will follow greater quanitities of top-quality content. And those sites that don’t appreciate their writers will fall off the face of the virtual earth. Quickly.

The economy is improving, or so “they” say. Many writers who flocked to content sites in the last year or two in hopes of paying for groceries with residual income, will go back to work as job opportunities grow. Those left will be writers who publish valuable content and can make a living doing so.

When now-plentiful web content writers become a scarcer commodity, the supply-and-demand pendulum will swing back, and presto. The only user-generated content sites that continue to profit will be those who treat their writers well.

3. This is a biggie. Search engines will begin ranking individual writers, rather than entire sites. I am pretty sure that Google already knows whether user ID Herbs4U on site XYZ writes lame articles with spammy affiliate links, or whether they write timely, relevant alternative medicine articles.

The search engines’ ability to determine who that writer is across several content platforms will increase, especially as that person builds backlinks and leaves various tracks across cyberspace.

It’s possible that someday—probable, even—that when a searcher finds a Squidoo lens offering medical advice at the top of their search results, it will be because the search engine trusts the writer’s reputation, and knows that their content is more relevant to your query than anything Johns’ Hopkins or Mayo Clinic offers.

4. Plagiarism will get worse. Much worse. So plan for it. There are many sites, in many countries, that exist to steal your content, and it’s becoming more rampant. Google can take three weeks now just to look at a copyright violation complaint,  so imagine how long it will take as this problem continues to increase exponentially—and it will.

What does this all mean for you? If you write high-quality, relevant content online, you will have more and better options in the future. Sites that are transparent about their revenue-sharing model will force other content sites to do the same if they want to compete for the best writers.

Some strategies to consider:

1. If you specialize in any niche topics, especially if you also write about other, unrelated topics, then build separate IDs for each niche on each platform for which you write. Create user IDs with keywords to tell the search engines what your articles are about. Stay on topic. That’s one reason Examiner plays well with Google.

2. Build a blog for each of your niches to reinforce your brand. Own your blog. Do your homework. Invest in yourself.

3. If you do not want to delete your existing articles from sites that are having PR issues, leave them up. Re-write those articles and publish them on sites that treat you better and reward your investment and trust in them. You can probably optimize them more effectively the second time around, anyway.

4. Protect your content. Watermark your videos and graphics, and learn how to monitor for others plagiarizing your content. Learn how to enforce your rights. Educate yourself and take the time to protect your source of residual income. Supply and demand, again—if there are 20 copies of your article online, how much is your original worth? Not enough.

Another way to protect your content is to edit your articles and videos before you delete them from content sites to say, “Deleted by author.” I did this with several of mine before deleting them from a content site, and they were unaccountably reinstated later by that site’s staff. I had already re-posted a few on other platforms, so it is clear to anyone reading the deleted articles that they are the obsolete versions, so there are no duplicate content or perceived plagiarism issues for me to contend with.

And by the way, there is one additional, crucial step I recommend before deleting your videos. First create a small .txt file on your computer, type, “video” in it, save it, then rename it with a video extension such as, “.flv” and upload it to replace your original. You’ll thank me for this when In(dot)com can only show a black screen in place of your video that they claim as theirs someday!

And finally, stay informed by monitoring user forums of the content sites for which you write, or plan to write. Keep in mind there will always be a few disgruntled members on any site, but when you spot consistent forum themes of non-payment and non-communication…well, you’ll know what to do.

Here’s wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season, and a profitable New Year!

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