I only learnt what a Kindle was when I wrote my first article about one.
I was a still a paperback guy, largely oblivious to the digital wizardry of Amazon's now-ubiquitous e-reader.
The brief hit my inbox, asking for a range of articles comparing features, perks and specs of products I had never even held in my hands.
Eager to develop a copywriting portfolio, I obeyed the "never say no" golden rule and delivered what was asked of me.
The payment for my services: $3 an article.
The work kept coming, as did the slow drip of payments into my Paypal account, which eventually swelled to more than $600 in just over a year.
It certainly wasn't money for jam, but by the end of the stint I had a pretty decent spread of work to appease my future employers.
The fake reviews and expertise weren't limited to electronic products. I also provided extensive DIY advice, including half-arsed instructions on how to build a pergola.
As a soft-handed city dweller better versed in the subtleties of deconstruction (think coffee) than construction, I still worry about the DIY-related injuries my enigma of an instruction manual may have caused. Then again, it probably also provided hours of laughs among those who actually knew what they were doing.
Despite my flagrant ignorance, the positive reinforcement kept coming. One review from my gig provider (just don't call them employers) went as far as calling me the best writer he had ever hired. Given my pensive shillery made its way through the red mist of wine-filled evenings after work, I imagine the standard of the other $3 articles he was getting wasn't exactly the highest.
As I became more experienced in the art of the bull**** prose, the complexity of the topics increased.
From the history of QR codes to the use of the subjunctive in English, I quickly graduated to mesothelioma.
Don't worry, it also took me a Google search to learn that this mouthful is a form of cancer often brought on by exposure to asbestos.
It was years before I discovered the reason I was writing on this topic was because it was one of the most in-demand and valuable Google keywords.
Given the massive lawsuits associated with asbestos-related illnesses, lawyers eager to win clients would bid high on words such as "mesothelioma attorney", pushing up the value of these keywords on Google.
Suing a company on behalf of sufferer could earn a law firm millions in the United States, which is why they do what they can to own keywords related to the illness. These lawyers were some of the first to understand that the number of clicks you earn aren't necessarily as valuable as who's clicking. And if you're the type of person to punch "mesothelioma attorney" into the search bar, there's generally a good – and potentially lucrative – reason for it.
The point in telling this story is that Bachcare isn't alone in finding interesting ways to play the system online. It's been the case since the beginning of the internet, and it's still seen today in the shoddily concealed efforts of Instagram influencers.
Looking back at the decision to write hundreds of random reviews, blurbs and guides, I'm starting to question whether I really should have trusted the advice to build up a portfolio of online writing.
In retrospect, the person behind those words was probably also being paid $3 to feign expertise where there were none.
- The author agreed to tell this story under the condition of anonymity.