If you've been in the “make money online” space for a while, there's a good chance you've heard of Amazon's Mechanical Turk program. It's one of the most well-known micro job sites around.
I first heard of MTurk a long time ago but quickly passed over it after trying it out half-assedly. It just seemed like a confusing waste of time.
Recently though, I started looking into again.
Well, after discovering a guy called TSolo315 and his site MTurk Guide, I realized there was a lot more to Mechanical Turk then I first realized.
As it turns out, there are entire communities of “turkers” (MTurk workers) who share tips and tricks with each other on making money with MTurk. One of the most popular communities is MTurk Crowd, which you can find TSolo on.
Browsing these communities showed me that I really knew nothing at all about Mechanical Turk. I knew the basics, but that was it.
Intrigued, I reached out to TSolo for some expert advice. I also did a lot of my own research, eventually morphing everything together to create this massive MTurk review and earning guide.
Below you'll learn more about what MTurk is, how the platform works, how much you can expect to make, and most importantly, how to make money on Mechanical Turk as efficiently as possible.
Get ready cause there's a lot to learn!
Mini-Interview with TSolo315: Turker for 6+ Years
Yep, you read that right. As of writing this, TSolo has been working on Mechanical Turk for over 6 years.
While he used to do it full-time, his primary income now is through freelance web development and scripting work. MTurk is just a supplementary side hustle.
Here's a bit of backstory on how he discovered MTurk, and why he's stuck with it for so long:
When and why did you start turking?
I started turking around February of 2014. I had rent to pay and wanted to find a way to do so working online.
I had been writing part-time for various content mill sites (primarily the now-defunct Associated Content/Yahoo Voices) and had tried several other methods, including many Swagbucks-esque survey sites, without much success.
I wanted to find something better, and so for what was probably the twentieth time, I typed “How to make money online” into Google and browsed through the results. I ran into an article that mentioned Mechanical Turk and decided to sign up and give it a try.
I wasn’t expecting much at first, anticipating more of the same: a small selection of poorly paid work. After browsing the site for a while however, I realized that MTurk was a little different from what I had experienced up to that point, offering a greater volume and wider selection of work opportunities.
What are your stats like on MTurk now?
After six years of turking, I have completed a total of 616,216 HITs (jobs on MTurk) and have earned a total of $66,928.
Here is a screenshot from my MTurk dashboard:
While 600,000 HITs may sound like a large number, and it is, the majority of those jobs were short tasks that only took a few seconds to complete and only paid a few cents. I know a few Turkers who have submitted over a million HITs.
I spent around four years working on MTurk full time, during which I completed most of these HITs.
What was it like when you first started on MTurk? How were your earnings?
Starting out on MTurk was rough. There is a large learning curve and a lot of the tools and methods turkers use today to increase productivity and efficiency were either nonexistent or still in their infancy.
I spent my first month working on relatively poorly-paying audio to text transcription work. A lot of thick accents, annoying background noise, and technical terminology made this especially painful.
I’m not sure exactly how much I was making an hour but I would guess it was around five to six dollars.
It wasn’t until I discovered the HITs Worth Turking For subreddit a month later that I realized I could be doing less painful work while maintaining the same pay rate, and it wasn’t until several months after that upon discovering the MTurkGrind (now MTurkCrowd) forum that I realized I could be making more.
How much did you earn per hour (on average) in your prime turking days?
During my absolute best turking period I was making $14-$18 an hour.
This was around two years after I had started turking, and while I had definitely become a much more efficient turker at that point, the primary factor was the quality of the work available.
On my best day, I was able to make $400 over a twenty-hour period. This definitely isn’t typical; I would estimate most experienced full-time turkers make closer to $8-$12 an hour on average.
Is it possible to get consistent earnings on MTurk or does it fluctuate quite a lot?
MTurk is very inconsistent. While you can set a (reasonable) daily earnings goal and hit it relatively consistently, the amount of time it will take you to reach that goal will fluctuate.
There can be significant downtime between quality work being posted, and people who work on Mechanical Turk full time will often resort to working on tasks with lower pay rates during these lulls.
Because of downtime and time spent searching for work, quantifying an hourly pay rate can actually be a little difficult.
In my opinion, Mechanical Turk is better used as a supplemental source of income so you can work on the best work available and not feel pressured to work on tasks with lower pay rates.
Without experience, however, it can be difficult to easily differentiate between the two.
What are your favorite benefits of working on MTurk?
Many of my favorite benefits are shared with other online working options. You get to work from home, set your own schedule, be your own boss.
What I think sets Mechanical Turk apart is the variety and volume of available work.
What are the biggest drawbacks of MTurk?
It’s inconsistent. You can be working on a certain type of task for a month, making good money. Then the project will suddenly end and those tasks will disappear. You’re left with scraps, searching for the next good project.
Communication with requesters (people who post work) is also a problem. Many will simply ignore emails asking questions or looking for clarification. This can be especially problematic because a requester is allowed to reject work for any reason without recourse. Luckily, although most turkers will occasionally run into issues because of this, it’s not a particularly common occurrence.
Is MTurk worth it? Even for a beginner signing up now?
I will answer with a qualified yes.
While I wouldn’t recommend it as a full-time job (unless you are out of other options), if you take the time to learn how to turk efficiently you can still make decent money – especially compared to similar platforms.
There are a lot of tools available these days that lower the learning curve and make finding work easier for beginners, but starting out is still a significant challenge.
Ok, Dylan here again. Now that you have an idea of who TSolo is and his experience with MTurk, it's time to get into the real meat of this post.
Starting with the basics (and with TSolo's help), we're going to go over everything you need to know to start making money on MTurk.
What Is Amazon Mechanical Turk?
Told you we were starting with the basics.
In it's simplest form, Amazon Mechanical Turk (aka MTurk) is just a massive micro job site. An online marketplace where businesses and individuals (aka Requesters) hire temporary workers (aka Turkers).
It's similar to a crowdsourcing site like Kickstarter, except instead of businesses looking for investors, they're looking for workers. Some call it crowdworking.
Fun fact: The name Mechanical Turk comes from a fake chess-playing machine (pictured above) that was constructed in the 1770s. The full story around it is pretty funny. Read more here.
Why Was MTurk Created?
Jeff Bezos came up with the idea for MTurk (source) after realizing the need for a marketplace where businesses could pay humans to do simple tasks that computers (or AI) suck at.
For example, finding text in photos is easy for a human, but pretty darn difficult for a computer.
How MTurk Works
The image above describes the basics of how MTurk works:
- Requesters post work
- Workers accept and complete that work for money.
Behind the scenes though – specifically as an MTurk worker – there's actually a lot more going on. And a lot more you should know.
This part is super important because signing up on MTurk and going in blind is what caused me to quit the platform early on. It's a confusing place for beginners.
Take the time to learn the ins and outs and follow the advice below to learn how to make money on MTurk more efficiently (and with fewer headaches).
Here's a breakdown of the 6 key things you should learn about before getting started on MTurk:
- Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) – These are what jobs on MTurk are called. Some are better than others.
- Batches – These are groups of similar HITs. The tasks in them typically pay less each, but they're quick and easy which can lead to higher hourly rates.
- Qualifications – You need these in order to work on certain HITs. Getting them can mean access to less competitive, higher-paying work, so they're highly coveted.
- Approval Ratings & Rejections – Your work on MTurk can be rejected by requesters. Keep your approval rating high for access to better work.
- Getting Paid – There are a couple of ways to get paid on MTurk. Make sure you know how you want to be paid before getting started. Also, don't forget about taxes.
- Scripts – These are third-party tools (not provided by Amazon) that provide extra functionality on MTurk. They'll help you earn more and struggle less.
Every piece of work that a requester puts on MTurk is known as a HIT or Human Intelligence Task. These jobs are first come first serve, pay varying amounts, and each task has its own set of instructions.
Here are some questions I asked TSolo about them:
What are the different types of HITs offered on MTurk?
There are several types of HITs available on Mturk:
- Academic surveys
- Transcription jobs
- Data capture
- Data entry
- Voice recording
- Database cleaning
- Writing jobs
- Content moderation; and more.
Because Mechanical Turk allows requesters to create their own tasks from scratch, pretty much anything a requester can think of can be posted as a HIT.
I’ve seen HITs asking for people to record themselves singing the requester happy birthday or asking for people to send pictures of their feet.
(Sounds a bit like Fiverr.)
Are certain types of HITs better than others?
This largely depends on the skillset of the individual worker. However if you are flexible and willing to learn, the best HITs will be whatever pays the best rate.
Most people prefer working on a good batch to working on surveys, and tend to prefer HITs that don't require too much brain work to help avoid burnout.
How should Turkers decide which HITs to work on?
Many requesters require you to have completed a certain number of HITs before allowing you access to their work.
When you have completed under 1,000 HITs your goal should be to get your HIT count up. This means working on batch HITs that don’t take long to complete and that you can submit a lot of, even if they don’t pay particularly well.
Afterward you should keep your eye out for qualification opportunities while keeping track of what requesters regularly post well-paid work.
Is there a minimum number of HITs workers have to complete each day/week/month?
No, there is no minimum HIT requirement. However when you are first starting out your account will be under a “probation period” during which you will only be able to submit a maximum of 100 HITs a day. Afterward you will be able to submit up to 3800.
TSolo: A batch is a set of HITs grouped under a single assignment, of which you can do several.
How do they work?
Requesters will break a large project into a number of small tasks to be submitted one at a time.
For example, imagine a requester who wants to collect information about the latitude and longitude of a large list of landmarks. They can put up a batch of HITs, with each HIT containing the name of a single landmark, and ask workers to find and submit the latitude and longitude of that landmark.
What are the pros of doing batch work?
- You can quit anytime.
- You quickly get a feel for how well you are being paid.
- Can often be optimized for a better pay rate.
- The best batches tend to pay better than the best surveys.
Are there any downsides?
Good batches are highly competitive and the HITs can be taken by other workers very quickly.
How do you spot a good batch from a bad one?
It’s normally easier to tell a good batch from a bad batch than it is to tell a good survey from a bad survey.
If what they are asking you to do seems like a ridiculous amount of work for the reward offered, avoid! If you can’t tell, you can do one to test how long it will take. If it doesn’t seem possible to make the batch pay well, close the tab!
Sometimes you can work faster after some practice on a particular batch, or a batch can be made faster with a script or macro to help automate repetitive tasks.
TSolo: A requester can create a qualification and require that workers own said qualification before working on a particular HIT.
Having a qualification that allows you to work on quality work is prized by experienced turkers as there is much less competition for work that is behind a qualification. Only workers with the qualification can work on it.
This allows you to do many more of those HITs than you otherwise would have been able to do.
How to get them:
There are two primary ways a requester will hand out a qualification:
The first is through a “qualification test” – a test the requester will put up with qualifications handed out to people who pass.
These can be in the form of a HIT, often with “qualification test” or something similar in the title, or in the form of a test published using Mturk’s built-in qualification test system.
The second is by randomly being handed one after working on a batch that was not originally behind a qualification. Sometimes a requester will post a batch that is open to everyone as a test run and then give qualifications to people who submit good work.
Approval Ratings & Rejections
TSolo: It's important to keep a high approval rating as many requesters will only allow people over a certain threshold to work on their HITs.
In essence, the lower your approval rating, the less work that will be available to you.
Luckily, in my opinion, keeping a high approval rating is actually pretty easy. If you work on batches, you will be submitting HITs by the hundreds. The vast majority of these will be approved, and you will end up requiring a very large number of rejected HITs to bring you to a low enough level for them to hurt.
The people who are most vulnerable are beginners who have not yet submitted many HITs, in which case you should be extra careful to submit quality work and to work for established requesters.
In general, if you submit good work, you don’t really have to worry about approval rating, especially after you have a decent number of approved HITs under your belt.
Tip: If you feel your work was rejected wrongly, send the requester a friendly email asking for more feedback. They may allow you to re-do the work or they may reverse the rejection completely if it was an accident.
Once you get an approved HIT you'll have earned your first bit of money on MTurk. Congrats!
How you can withdraw that money depends on whether you're in the US or not…
If you're in the US, you'll need to create an Amazon Payments account. You can then transfer your MTurk earnings to your Payments account, and then to your bank or a prepaid debit card. You can also get paid by Amazon.com gift card.
For non-us workers, you won't be eligible for Amazon Payments so you'll have to get paid to your Amazon.com gift card balance instead. That being said, I've heard they're slowly rolling out bank transfers for international workers, it's just a very slow process.
Remember that as an MTurk workers you're technically a self-employed independent contractor so you're required to report and pay taxes on all MTurk earnings.
*Insert obligatory contact a tax professional for more info on this.*
TSolo315: In regards to turking, scripts are tools that provide functionality that makes turking more efficient in some way. They are normally installed directly in your browser.
Why should Turkers use scripts?
Mechanical Turk provides very few quality of life features. Navigating the main HITs page in an attempt to find good HITs can be difficult and involve a lot of clicking on bad HITs, reading how much work they expect you to do for a nickel, cursing under your breath, and closing the tab.
Scripts provide a variety of features that help to ease this pain. These include:
- Displaying available HITs in a more scannable format
- Auto-refreshing the available HITs for you
- Displaying information based on review aggregates
- Allowing you to block requesters you know only post bad work from showing up; and more.
Are there downsides to using scripts?
On rare occasions if a script was made for a particular type of HIT but the script author didn’t correctly stop it from running on different HITs, problems can occur. This can normally be avoided if you’re careful and I’ve personally never had any issues.
I would recommend spending the time to fully understand what a script is doing before using it.
Any must-have script recommendations?
There are two scripts I would recommend all beginners start with:
1. Mturk Suite
The default HITs page looks something like this (white by default, I’m using a dark theme):
When using HIT Finder HITs will be displayed like this:
HITs are color-coded based on info pulled from review sites (green = good pay, red = bad pay, etc), with more information available at the click of a button.
You can add requesters or HITs to your “block list” stopping them from being displayed and can add them to your “include list” to highlight them and alert you when they are posted.
HIT Finder also automatically refreshes the available HITs for you and can interact directly with the next tool I’m going to talk about…
HIT catcher is all about sending Pandas (learn more about those here).
It allows you to repeatedly send a request in an attempt to catch a specified HIT at a custom time interval. You can add the HITs you are trying to catch to HIT Catcher manually or you can do so by clicking a button in HIT Finder.
This is what it looks like:
To learn more about MTurk suite, check out the wiki.
Turkerview is a review platform allowing turkers to leave reviews on HITs and requesters.
The Turkerview script will display review information directly on Mechanical Turk and will allow you to leave your own reviews.
Here is an example of what it looks like:
Disclaimer: You may need to purchase a TurkerView API key to access full functionality.
How to Get Started on Amazon Mechanical Turk
Ok, you've learned how MTurk works. You know about HITs, batches, scripts, qualifications, how payments work, all that good stuff.
Now it's time to get started.
More specifically, it's time to learn how to make money on MTurk while wasting as little time as possible.
Here are the 5 beginner steps you should take:
Step 1. Create an MTurk Worker Account
This is easy. You can sign up here.
If your application gets rejected (it's common), just wait it out. Many have reported getting an invite email days, weeks, or even months after applying, so it seems Amazon places workers on a waitlist when they have an overflow of applications. It sucks, but it's just how it is.
Note: You have to be at least 18 years old to work on MTurk. There are no other restrictions as far as I know.
Step 2. Download the Beginner Scripts
Once you have access to the MTurk dashboard, download the scripts mentioned above and get used to them. They'll help you with the next step.
Make sure to actually use the scripts too. Check reviews with TurkerView before working on a HIT and play around with the HIT Catcher to learn how it works. The more efficient you are, the more you can earn.
Step 3. Connect with Others
One of the best ways to learn more about MTurk is to connect and socialize with other turkers. There are a ton of helpful resources and people out there willing to answer any questions you may have about the world of turking.
A few good places to start are the MTurk subreddit, the MTurk forum, and MTurk Crowd. Check them out! You'll find people sharing HITs worth turking for, tips, and more. As you have questions going forward, you can ask them there as well.
I've listed more MTurk forums and communities below.
Step 4. Get to 1,000 Approved HITs
As mentioned above, when you first start out on MTurk you'll be on a probational period for 10 days. You'll only be able to submit 100 HITs a day during this time rather than the typical 3,800.
To get access to better, higher-paying work, you want to focus on getting to 1,000 approved HITs as soon as possible. It will be a grind, but a necessary one.
To speed things up, work on batch HITs that are quick to complete, and don't worry about pay too much at first.
The most important thing to do while building up to 1,000 HITs is to keep your approval rating high. Since you'll have barely any approved HITs at this point, just a single rejected HIT could affect your approval rating quite a lot.
Here are a couple of tips to help avoid rejections:
- Provide high-quality work, read instructions carefully, and contact requesters if you're unsure of something.
- Be wary of working with requesters who have high rejection rates (you can check this with TurkerView). You want to work with requesters who rarely hand out rejections, at least in the beginning.
Of course, some rejections are bound to happen at some point. When they happen, send an email to the requester, learn from it, and keep grinding.
Step 5. Practice, Optimize, and Qualify
After (and even during) the 1,000 HIT grind, you'll want to do two main things:
- Look out for qualification opportunities
- Start keeping track of requesters who post good work
For qualifications, follow the tips above. Here's a summary:
- Try looking for HITs you aren't approved for, see why, and see if you can take their tests.
- Request qualifications when you see a “Request Qualification” link. Most of the time this does nothing but it only takes a second.
- Keep an eye out for qualification HITs (they'll be labeled with things like “qualification” or “qual”).
You can also complete Amazon's qualifications, which ask questions about your demographics, lifestyle, skills, etc. Not really sure if these will help out much though.
Here's what they look like:
You can find the qualification tests pictured above by searching them up in MTurk and setting minimum pay to 0. (A lot of qualification tests pay $0.)
For finding good requesters and HITs worth turking for, head over to this subreddit. Other MTurk forums can be helpful too.
Of course, not every good HIT or Requester is going to be shared by others. Look out for them yourself too as you work.
Also, keep in mind that what works for others might not work for you. Figure out which HITs you enjoy and earn well with, and roll with it.
In most cases, batch HITs will be the best route to higher hourly rates, but some also find a lot of success with survey HITs. Don't be afraid to experiment.
If you find a requester that pays well and offers good work, add them to your include list on the MTurk Suite HIT Finder script. Also, keep track of WHEN they post, so you know the best times to turk.
At this point, you should have a pretty good understanding of how to make money with Mechanical Turk.
Be sure to keep setting milestones for yourself. 5,000 approved HITs and 10,000 approved HITs can unlock even more exclusive work.
You can start optimizing your hourly rate now too. Decide the lowest amount you'd be happy with per hour, and don't settle for less.
If there's no good work on the platform (and assuming you're doing this for side cash), log off for a bit and do something better with your time. For example, learn a high-income skill, start a blog, or take a paid walk.
There are many good ways to use your precious time. You could even practice writing your own scripts, as TSolo mentions in the MTurk tips below.
One other thing: Now that you have more experience, feel free to help other beginners on the MTurk forums below…
If you're looking for some communities to join where you can socialize, learn from other turkers, and even provide your own knowledge, there are a ton of different Mechanical Turk forums you can join.
Here are some of the popular ones:
- MTurk Crowd – One of the most well-known MTurk forums. Find resources, discussions, and more.
- MTurk Forum – One of the first Mechanical Turk forums created, still active to this day.
- TurkerView – Tons of guides, MTurk HITs, and more.
- /r/mturk – The main subreddit for MTurk questions and discussions.
- Turker Nation – Another subreddit for general MTurk tips and discussions.
- Reddit HWTF – This is the HITs Worth Turking For subreddit mentioned above. HITs submitted pay at least $0.10/minute.
MTurk Tips and Tricks
We've gone through a LOT of information on how to make money with MTurk so far in this review. Here are some more tips from TSolo that should help out even further:
- Get a review script ASAP – Review scripts allow you to rate and review your experience working on a certain task as well as to read the reviews from other workers. Aggregates of these review scores are then displayed directly on Mechanical Turk. This will help you avoid investing time working on poorly paying work. The most popular option at the moment is Turkerview.
- Always be looking for qualifications – Work that requires a qualification is often more valuable to have access to because instead of competing with the entire Mturk worker base to complete that work, you are only competing with the other people who have the qualification.
- Join a turking community – Turking communities are places where turkers gather to share quality work opportunities, helpful information, or to just socialize. Frequenting these communities and asking them any questions you may have is a quick way to break through the learning curve.
For more beginner MTurk tips, check out this helpful Reddit post.
- Master the art of the panda – To turkers, panda stands for “Preview and Accept.” It is a way to repeatedly send a request in an attempt to catch a particular HIT. Learning how to best utilize this will immediately increase your earning potential.
- Learn how to write simple scripts – Many tasks on Mturk involve doing something menial over and over and over again. Learning how to write scripts to at least partially automate these tasks can save you a lot of time and effort (and make you more money.)
MTurk Review Summary
Mechanical Turk Review Breakdown
- Earning Potential
- Ease of Entry
- Earning Consistency
- Work Availability
Working on Mechanical Turk can be a nice, flexible way to earn extra money, but don't expect to earn a full-time income from it. The platform is pretty competitive and high-paying work is inconsistent as is, so your earnings will fluctuate quite a lot day by day.
- Flexibility – Work from anywhere with internet, whenever you want.
- Variety – There are a lot of different types of work available on MTurk.
- Volume – For now, many businesses are using MTurk and hundreds (if not thousands) of jobs are posted per day.
- Inconsistency – Good HITs on MTurk come and go. This makes it hard to achieve a consistently high hourly rate.
- Low earnings – While you can theoretically earn a decent income on MTurk, the average earnings are still pretty low. There's a lot of underpaying work on the platform.
- Bad communication – As TSolo said, requesters often aren't the best communicators, which can cause problems.
Another good way to increase your average hourly online earnings is to have multiple sources of income. When one source is dry, milk another.
Here are some MTurk alternatives to check out:
- Clickworker – Micro jobs similar to MTurk.
- Prolific – More focused on surveys, paying a minimum of $6.50/hour.
- Appen Contributor – Tons of small tasks similar to MTurk.
- Respondent – High paying focus groups.
- Test Websites and Apps – Full post of opportunities.
Those are just a few, I'll try to expand the list soon. Check out these ways to make extra money on the side for more ideas.
Mechanical Turk FAQs
It's understandable to be a bit skeptical of ANY online earning opportunity, but MTurk is definitely one of the legit ones. For one, it's run by Amazon. For two, there are thousands who have earned with it and continue to earn with it to this day.
In the beginning, your earnings on MTurk will start out pretty low. As you rack up approved HITs and gain more experience, you can expect to earn at least $6/hour, potentially more. The more you practice and optimize your routine, the more you'll earn.
That depends on which tasks your doing. The really low paying tasks definitely aren't worth anyone's time. If you learn how to use the platform efficiently though, and you only work on high paying tasks, the time trade-off can be well worth it.
Is MTurk a high earning side hustle? Nope, not really.
Will you most likely earn minimum wage or less? Yep, probably (especially in the beginning).
All in all, Mechanical Turk is probably not a platform you should try to earn a full-time income on. It's a side cash opportunity.
Just remember that like any other money-making opportunity, experimentation is key.
Figure out the types of HITs you're good at and enjoy, try different work setups, learn how to use scripts to their fullest potential, and follow all of the other MTurk tips listed above.
As you work on the platform more, your earnings will increase.
Try using MTurk on the side while you build up a high-income skill or home-based business.
Have you used MTurk? How has your experience been on the platform? Let me know by leaving your own mini MTurk review in the comments below.
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