Are you a whiz when it comes to finding out what were the first quarter 2012 revenues for Sturm Ruger (answer: $112 million) and how much the average U.S. wedding costs (answer: $27,021)? If you answered correctly on both the shotgun and wedding questions, then you may have a lucrative future as an Internet (online) researcher. If however, you stumbled onto the following 1941 ad for wax-fortified paints, online research may not be your forté.
What is Internet (online) research?
Many publications are moving from print to digital format, placing a significant amount of information online for users to sift through and try to make sense of. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of Internet research (categorized under Information) is expected to grow 16%, a trend that will continue into the future. However, despite the rise of powerful search engines such as Google, online information is not always readily accessible. This is particularly true of technical and scientific data that are often restricted to subscription-based journals and esoteric publications that aren’t listed on page one of Google’s search results.
Likewise, finding correct and relevant information takes time, a luxury that many companies and businesses do not have. For example, a law firm may wish to provide its readers with an article documenting traffic accident statistics state-to-state but not have the time to research every state. Alternately, a debt consolidation company may wish to know about the most common sources of unsecured debt so that it can offer services tailored to those debts. The solution to such dilemmas has been to hire freelance Internet researchers who are adept at finding online information on such different topics.
Internet research is much more complicated than simply looking up answers on Wikipedia (which is NOT recommended, by the way). You will be sifting through some esoteric journals and textbooks, assuming that the business has paid subscriptions to them. You will be perusing the websites of government and national organizations. You will be looking at business earnings reports and cash flow statements. You may also need to contact scientists, statisticians and professors directly in order to obtain the most relevant information for your assignment. The bottom line here is that, for every claim made, you will need to back it up with hard data and references; no educated guesses are allowed.
How can you get started as an Internet researcher?
You can perform “generic” Internet research for various third-party answer sites by simply going online and reading up on a requested topic, then submitting your results and getting paid by the client. Unfortunately, such work is often low-paid because it is considered unspecialized. Also, the tasks often require a significant amount of time to complete because their subject matter may not be familiar to you and thus involve a steep learning curve. However, the benefit of such work is that it’s not hard to obtain clients. Here are a few sites that offer generalized Internet research:
Experts123, Web Answers and Yahoo! Answers: All of these sites operate on a revenue-share platform where page views amount to a specified amount of money; for example, you might earn $1.50 for each PPM (i.e., thousand page views). The exception here is Experts123, which does offer upfront payments of $10-$20 per approved article for more seasoned researchers.
IMShopping: Answer questions like what computer games are appropriate for 8-14 year-olds, which cell phone has the best camera, and where can customized T-shirts be purchased. Payout starts at $20.
More specialized sites offer higher pay scales and work opportunities:
WeRLive: This chat and videochat site pays from $0.98 to $9.80 per minute of chat/videochat, with WeRLive keeping half of your earnings. You can make additional money by referring other experts (who end up joining and earning) and by creating video/Web tutorials that are viewed by clients.
JustAnswer: This place offers subject matter expert positions in the fields of medicine, law, veterinary science, math tutoring, etc. To become a subject matter expert, you must show proof of a relevant degree (e.g., M.D.) and/or professional experience.
Smallbiz Advice: If you are a small business owner or expert, this site provides numerous opportunities for you to put your knowledge to use. Projects pay anywhere from $10 to $10,000 or more and involve advertising, web development, accounting, consulting, etc. You can even become a business partner and command a sizeable salary.
Make extra money while you research
We’re big believers here at optimizing your earnings while you spend time online. We highly recommend clicking here to create a free account at SwagBucks. They pay you to use their search engine and the results are provided by Google. It’s a great way to pull in a little extra cash while researching without changing any of your online habits.
How to become an independent Internet researcher
What if you want to strike out on your own and/or don’t want to give up a portion of your earnings to a third party site? Although it is more challenging, you can start your own Internet research business. For example, Carol Tice offers her own freelance writing research and expertise through The Freelance Writers Den as well as private mentoring and coaching. Todd Tresidder offers personal finance and investment coaching via his website FinancialMentor. In both of these cases, Internet researchers who could have continued to sell their services through third-party sites decided to start their own businesses- and reap all the profits (and risks) as a result.
Winning new clients will probably be the trickiest part of starting your own Internet research business. You will need to create a professional-looking website and business cards. You will also need to network- heavily. AdSense and Facebook ads may spark initial interest but in this line of work, a personal approach works best. Consider joining your local chamber of commerce or civic association and marketing your services to local businesses. Attend some professional happy hours in your chosen area(s) of expertise. Cold calling may also succeed if you’re comfortable speaking on the phone to business owners who could use your services. You simply can’t be shy about tooting your own horn in this line of work- and putting an actual face on your business.
If you still find yourself stuck, The Association of Internet Researchers offers plenty of useful advice and networking opportunities for would-be Internet researchers. The AoIR also organizes several yearly conferences that enable you to hone your skills and make vital contacts. For example, you could benefit by partnering with other AoIR members, gaining their client lists, and expanding your business offerings through them.
Internet research is what you make of it
You know that saying “you only get out what you put in”? Internet research certainly holds this saying to be true. The more expertise and experience you accumulate, the more money you will make as an Internet researcher. The more you market your services, the more clients you will gain. Alternately, if you are satisfied with just making a few bucks by answering Yahoo! Answers questions, then that’s exactly where your online research business will remain even after several years. On the other hand, if you like helping people and are willing to learn, grow and on occasion even take a few hits to your self-esteem, then this line of work could eventually become your calling.