What exactly is a blog? Ever since the term first emerged (derived from combining the words “web” and “log”), it has had sort of a squishy definition. Is it a personal diary online? Some are. Opinion and analysis on current events, or what used to be called an op-ed column? In some cases. The rantings of political extremists and other idiots? Often.

For us freelancers, several different types of blogging opportunities have emerged. Here’s my breakdown, including a definition and, when I know it, the rate they typically pay.

The professional blog: For freelancers, this is more of a combination of personal and professional. A blog on your website is a way to market your talent. The website is an online portfolio with a summary of your experience and clips of your best work. A blog gives you another way to showcase your writing, but in a way that maybe clips don’t highlight. Many writers pick a niche and blog only about a particular topic. For example, my colleague Howard Baldwin blogs about the aggravations of being a Baby Boomer in his “Middle-Age Cranky” blog. I picked a more general name for my blog: “A Company of One, A Blog on the Freelance Life – Both Professional and Personal.” That gives me latitude to expound on just about anything I want. Personal blogs usually contain some fact, some analysis and lots of opinion, and hopefully reasonably informed opinion. Personal bloggers don’t get paid for blogging; they do get satisfaction (never underestimate the appetite of a writer’s ego) and sometimes good exposure.

The shill blog: When freelancers get paid to promote a company, products or political agenda. They might do it on their own personal blog (which I find really seedy), on their benefactor’s website/blog (more upfront) or on a competitor’s website/blog (downright nasty). A closely related activity is “community threading,” wherein a writer is paid to try to create and maintain a buzz about a company by posting on Twitter and in the comments sections of news articles and blogs. Part of the job usually also involves countering bad press in those venues as well. They contain some fact but also some marketing spin. I have not done this type of work, but a friend of mine makes about $500 a week doing it.

The ghost-written blog: This is just as it sounds – writing a blog that will appear under someone else’s name. Companies sometimes use ghostwriters for corporate blogs and perhaps even the personal blogs and tweets of their executives. These blogs can be informative and entertaining, with a mix of fact, analysis, opinion and wit, assuming that the writer has a chance to interview the executive and capture his or her voice. In the worst-case scenario, however, it seems it would be more like the shill blog – a dull drumbeat of the corporate message. I’ve not done this type of work, either, but imagine it could be lucrative.

The news blog: Blogging for a news publication about a recent event or trend. Based on the facts, but imbued with analysis and informed opinion. Most of them are actually just short news or news analysis pieces, and more and more editors seem to be trying to sign up freelancers to write for them on the cheap by asking them to write such blogs on a regular basis. Sometimes, they try to entice writers by promising additional payment based on the number of hits (usually an insanely high number). I’ve recently noticed several new Web publications that consist of nothing more than blog posts by freelancers. But rather than pay a decent rate for a 500-word news story, they offer only $50 or $100 because “it’s just a blog,” which they presume can be whipped off in an hour or less. I have done some blogging for publications, but usually charge $200 to $300 a post, which is still a bargain for the publisher. The key to keeping it profitable for me is limiting the amount of time I spend on each blog, because I usually get so interested in the topic that I want to do lots of research and sometimes even some reporting. I have to constantly remind myself it’s a low-paying blog and not a decent-paying news story. On the flip side, searching for and researching tidbits for blog posts sometimes prompts ideas for longer features I can then pitch to the higher-paying publications.

Are there other types of blogging opportunities out there? Would love to hear from my fellow freelancers about their experiences, both good and bad. Post your comments here or e-mail me at tam@tamharbert.com.