I have not always been a writer. Most of my life I've built and repaired things. At some point in time, the writing about building and fixing things became more attractive than the actual building and fixing (old age can do that). As I made the transition from busting knuckles to putting ideas on paper, I started to think it might be nice to get paid for writing. Naturally, I went straight to Craigslist and dove into the "Writing / Editing" classifieds.
The first thing I noticed on Craigslist was the alarming preponderance of unpaid writing positions being solicited. Submit my articles for free? Were they kidding ?! I put a lot of time and effort into that work. I surprised how successful the ads were. Did writers actually respond and give up their exclusive content? Why would anyone do that? The answer did not blip on my radar for another two years.
It was not until after I had written a short book and wanted to promote it (read that, Search Engine Optimization or SEO) that I discovered the value of giving away exclusive content. What I discovered is that there is a wonderful symbiosis in the internet community between web sites that have already built a large following (read that, LOTS of site traffic) and writers that seek exposure to new readers. That symbiosis being, of course, that the site needs content and the writer needs eyeballs. It's the barter system in all its naked glory. Not rocket science, but effective. And cheap!
Here's how it usually works. The site that publishes your work gets copyright to the article you submit and in return, they provide an author bio page wherein you are allowed to place link to your own site or sales page or whatever. In addition, you get to link your site to theirs. That web of links is an important method of driving traffic to your site both from direct viewer participation (read that, Social Marketing) and by increasing your relevancy with search engines. An important piece of the SEO puzzle.
Too often, writers feel that they are giving away content for free. In reality, they are trading their articles for what should be considered advertising and branding services. There is no free lunch and trading content for exposure and links is definitely a low buck way of driving traffic to your own web site. In a nutshell: Giving away content = Increasing site traffic.