Way back when, before the web, before google developed algorithms for search and before marketers discovered they could (sometimes) improve search results by seeding key words and phrases into articles and advertising, submitting an article to a print magazine on spec was an honored and honorable tradition.
It still is, as a matter of fact. New writers or writers new to a magazine can safely submit an unsolicited article and, assuming they include an SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) be assured they will receive payment (or other compensation) if the magazine decides to publish it.
Such a submission is called “over the transom.” Rumor has it writers used to hurl their articles through open doors or windows, not a recommended practice today.
Geri J. asked, in comments:
I have sent resumes to some people who have asked me to do a sample piece of work for their site before deciding on hiring. It seems to me that this might be a way to get a lot of free material for their sites. Anyone else have any experience with this type of potential client?
It is, in my opinion, risky to send samples to unknown sites for just this reason; your article is likely to be published without any compensation to you and probably without any credit. Once that happens it’s next to impossible to try and collect or even to claim your work.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all such ads are ripoffs. There are legitimate websites who want articles and ask for samples because they don’t know enough not to.
Probably the best way to sort these out is to have a website with several types of articles on it – either those that have appeared elsewhere or just as original samples. This way you can respond to those ads that interest you by pointing to the links to the articles. Those sites who are legit and want your talents will be happy with those; those trying to get something for nothing will just ignore you. Either way, you win.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu