Leaving Work Behind

Should Freelance Bloggers Work For Content Mills?

Written by Tom Ewer on November 13, 2014. 39 Comments

MillI recently read a post over at Be a Freelance Blogger by Razwana Wahid rather controversially entitled Deception Revealed: 6 Bullshit Blogging Myths Created by Famous Bloggers.

When I look back at the advice I have doled out over the years, I found that I had avoided all but one of Razwana’s ‘bullshit blogging myths’. The one piece of advice mentioned in the post that I have supported in the past is not to work for content mills. With that in mind, I was interested to read about the author’s reasons as to why one might consider working for content mills.

In this post I want to explore the author’s reasoning as well as my own, and then open the topic up to discussion for you in the comments section below.

What is a Content Mill?

But before that, perhaps I should first clarify what I mean by a ‘content mill’ (or ‘content farm’ as they are sometimes known).

This is the definition of a content mill according to Wikipedia:

…a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines.

I can go along with that broad definition. We’re talking about the likes of Text Broker and Demand Media. You can work for these companies and get paid a few bucks to write an article on just about any topic imaginable.

Why You Shouldn’t Work for a Content Mill

My advice in the past has typically been to avoid content mills like the plague. My reasoning was twofold:

  1. You can get paid more for even the lowest-paying jobs sourced independently (i.e. from job boards).
  2. Because you are ghostwriting, you can’t use the material you write as samples.

To put it another way, it’s far better to be paid $5 to write a published article under your own name that you can link to than $5 for a mystery piece of content that you’ll never see ‘in the flesh’.

My reasoning historically started and finished there, because it seemed pretty bulletproof to me.

However, over the years I have heard arguments for content mills from freelance bloggers, and the BafB article I recently read piqued my interest to the extent that I am now writing this post.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the reasons as to why you might choose to work for a content mill.

Why You Should Work for a Content Mill

The writers over at Be a Freelance Blogger have already done the work for me on this front.

Razwana skimmed the surface of the argument for content mills in her post:

As well has having the opportunity to write about a variety of topics, content mills also teach you discipline. You write to strict criteria, and to a deadline – two crucial skills to build early on.

And what’s more? Content mills are great for your skin – a thick skin, that is. Because their requirements are so specific, they’ll take no time to ruthlessly reject you. Rejection early on toughens you up and makes you realise these are the rules of the game.

But that’s not all. Her post linked to another article on BaFB by Shannon Cutts in which no less than six different benefits to writing for content mills are explored. I’ll summarize my four favorites here:

  1. You’re expected to research and write about a huge number of topics (giving you confidence to do so in the ‘real world’).
  2. It requires discipline and organization (two of the most important assets for becoming a successful freelance blogger).
  3. It teaches you to act on instructions and react to criticism constructively.
  4. You can get paid to write!

There’s something missing here though – alluded to in the article but not explicitly stated – writing for content mills can give you confidence. And there is no understating the importance of confidence as a freelance writer. It can be the difference between sending a pitch and not, or reacting positively to client feedback or giving up.

What Do You Think About Content Mills?

As you may have guessed by now, my attitude towards content mills has changed. That change has been taking place over the past year or two; ever since someone made the point that while working for content mills will not earn you much, it can do a lot in terms of building confidence.

So from now on, my advice is that you should consider working for content mills if you feel that you are not ready to work directly with clients and will benefit from a more ‘sterile’ working arrangement. You’ll never earn enough from content mills to make a decent living (unless you work yourself into the ground), and you should always be looking to take the next step up when it seems feasible, but perhaps content mills would be a good way for you to get on the ladder.

But what do you think? I’d love to hear from people who are both for and against content mills. Fire away in the comments section below!

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39 Responses to “Should Freelance Bloggers Work For Content Mills?”

  1. Jackson Anderson
    November 13, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Hey Tom.

    Interesting post!

    Funnily enough I completely agree with your new views, especially the line “can give you confidence”.

    Admittedly, I’ve been applying for jobs on the “content mill” that is Elance, maybe not as bad as Demand or anything like that but still can be seen in a negative light due to its affiliation with oDesk and majority of crap jobs.

    But I can say I landed my first client through Elance to write 4 pages of web copy, 350 words per page and managed to charge $35 AUD per page. Not a terrible rate in my opinion + the confidence + testimonial I have now are priceless and moving forward I will be working with him regularly away from Elance.

    I’d like to add that I definitely get rejected or hear no reply from a lot of jobs due to offering my services at a price I see above content mill standards but at the same time it’s just a number games and pitch practice is always welcomed!

    Good post and food for thought for a lot of beginners!

    • Tom Ewer
      November 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Hey Jax,

      I wouldn’t say that Elance is a content mill in the same vein as Text Broker, etc – there are good opportunities to be had. You still have to fight against low ballers, but if you find the right client who values the quality if your work for a reasonable price, you’re golden; as you’ve proven!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  2. Mon
    November 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I would speak from a perspective of a writer who had written for these content mills for more than 2 years of his freelance career. While I agree with the pros of writing for these content agencies, I don’t recommend working for them for more than 6 months. The time that you spend in creating contents that would never be yours could have been spent in your personal branding and establishing yourself as an expert in a specific niche.

    It’s also one of the factors that lowers the quality of contents online. It would be best to specialize in one niche where you can charge $100 per article than spending your entire week working on 5 articles per day assignment and earning the same amount. Been there, done that.

    Another point is, instead of working for these people who would monetize your content, why not work for yourself? Start a blog. Review different products and services. Start networking. That would let you earn a better living.

    I learned my lesson, I don’t accept any gig that’ll pay less than $30. The time that I would consume in creating that piece can be spent in creating a quality content for my blogs which would give me better exposure, referrals, and different opportunities. (Just this morning, I received an invitation from a startup community inviting me for a podcast interview:)

    After 6 months, leave that agency because they won’t do anything that would significantly improve your career in the long run.

    just my opinion 🙂

    • Tom Ewer
      November 13, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      I’ll go along with that Mon – I wouldn’t advise anyone to work for a content mill any longer than six months. Probably quite a bit less in fact.

  3. Sophie Lizard
    November 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Hey Tom, glad you found the posts on BAFB so thought-provoking! 🙂

    When there’s a choice between content mills that pay $5 per post, or other sites that pay $15 for the same post, I’d always say go for the $15 gig. But at the same time, if you’re a new blogger with little experience and you value the extra pocket change, writing a *few* posts for a content mill will do no harm.

    What I can’t stand is to see perfectly good bloggers going to waste — still writing for content mills after months or even years, believing they can’t step up to earn more. I always encourage my students to view low-paying blogging projects as short-term, totally optional steps on the way to more lucrative gigs. (And I’m guessing you do, too!)

  4. Nick
    November 14, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I work with a number of freelance writers who contribute regular articles to my website. One thing I’d add to this debate is that, as a potential client, if a writer applying to work on my site cites articles contributed to content farms as examples of their work, then I don’t really take them seriously. I’m far more impressed by candidates who have built confidence and experience by running their own blog.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Hey Nick,

      I’m glad you’ve brought this up, because having your own blog is something I preach to freelance bloggers. So many clients have told me the same thing: they want to work with writers that have their own blog, not just content dotted around the web.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  5. Jamie Alexander
    November 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    I think one of the best things about content mills (at least some of them) is the fact you get paid automatically every week to Paypal.

    I’m going to start writing for a content mill site because I need a very modest income to live a decent life, so it means I only need to write 2-3 articles at any point during the day.

    I could always contact companies asking for work (and I’ve had success doing that in the past), but why bother when I can just write a few quick articles per day and spend the rest of my time working on my own projects?

    It’s a hundred times easier than reaching out all the time, dealing with different people, waiting for invoices to be paid, etc.

    I do agree with all your other reasons if someone wants to work their way up the freelance food chain. When someone accepts your articles it can definitely boost your confidence.

    But I’ve got to admit, with a few years of experience under my belt I wouldn’t touch them with a 10ft pole if I was living in the UK or if I wanted to become a full-time freelancer.

    6 months (or maybe less) is a good shout. Writing 8+ articles per day would have eventually driven me insane. After a few years it got to the point where I was so depressed I couldn’t even bring myself to open Word and write the first sentence.

    Who knew it took so much mental energy to write, specifically about topics you’ve got no interest in?

    • Tom Ewer
      November 14, 2014 at 5:19 pm

      Tell me about it Jamie! Writing is surprisingly mentally taxing when you’re doing more than 2-3 hours per day on a regular basis. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.

      Funny you should mention getting paid; not getting paid has almost never been an issue for me with freelance clients (just once, for a $400 job, not bad given how much I’ve been paid over the years!).

  6. Tim Soulo
    November 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Hey Tom… I’ve known about content mills for a long time, but I always thought they exist for 2 reasons:

    1) cheap content for SEO sites (MFAs, Link Wheels, PBNs & stuff);
    2) content for lazy website owners who don’t believe they can write content for their business website on their own.

    And the niche of this content is dominated by low quality writers who have the guts to write boring low quality (sometimes not even readable) articles every single day.

    I really don’t see how writing this content can help you become a better writer.

    Want to become a great writer? Find a blog where the quality of the articles will seem doable to you. And pitch the blogger to accept your guest post for free. Didn’t work? Ask the blogger to give you an honest feedback on your content, learn from it and improve. Worked? Then ask blogger how much he is willing to pay for articles like that? Ask what you can do to increase your rate. Once you settle with your first blogger, go pitch a better blog. Rinse and repeat.

    That’s my personal opinion.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 14, 2014 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Tim,

      Having higher standards demanded of you can make you a better writer, but if you’re just starting out, I definitely think you can improve by writing for content mills. Learning to write on a wide range of topics for various people with varying editorial demands is definitely enough to keep you on your toes!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  7. Michaela Mitchell
    November 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    When I first went freelance, it was because I’d gained a couple of clients. But what kept me going were the content mills that I found when I learned (the hard way) that businesses weren’t going to flock to me just because. The content mills have done everything for me that was outlined above. The confidence boost has probably been the most beneficial thing (well, second only to semi-consistent pay). Thanks to writing for them, I figured out my specialty and niche. After several months, I’m finally ready to put my own marketing plans in action in order to slowly wean myself off of the mills and work to gain my own clients.

    I probably won’t give up the mills completely, simply because they’re an excellent source of cash during slow times.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks for sharing Michaela! Sounds like you’ve really benefited from content mills; I’d love to know how you transition goes!

  8. Catherine Rees
    November 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Hi Tom!

    I’ve been registered with Demand Studios since 2008. Back then, it was a good opportunity to practice the craft and get feedback from editors. I haven’t done much work for them in the last five years. During that time I worked as a writer for a brick-and-mortar and picked up a couple freelance clients. I never concentrated on building a real freelance career; my financial situation was such that I didn’t have to earn much money on my own.

    Things changed last summer and I took a job working for Veterans Affairs in the disability compensation department. I love helping veterans, but the job is tough. The VA has a crisis line, but sometimes veterans call my office when they’re suicidal. Every day in the United States, 24 veterans commit suicide, and I was taking about 3 of those calls per week. I quickly started to burn out and realized it was affecting my personal life as well. I needed to be writing for a living. I also needed the income, however. I tried for awhile to develop a freelance career on the side, after work. But honestly, my job left me so drained that I had no energy to do anything when I got home. My solution was to switch to part time at the VA. Now I have an extra 2 hours every morning, and two full days off each week. I devote all of that time to my freelance career.

    I started working for Demand Studios again this month. They’ve raised their rates—$25 for a 400 word article. It’s worth it to me to work for Demand because I can quickly replace the lost income and am able to devote time now to building a real freelance career. Once I pick up a few better-paying clients, I’ll ditch Demand again. In the meantime, I’m earning $25 an hour and there’s tons of work available.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 18, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      Hey Catherine,

      $25 per hour is nothing to sniff at – I was earning $20 per hour when I started. It’s a great platform to build from. To be honest, I didn’t know you could earn that much with Demand Media!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  9. Paulette Eaton
    November 18, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Tom,
    Some people would say changing your mind is flip-flopping, as if our minds are inanimate objects that should keep their original decisions and thoughts.

    You demonstrated through thoughtful and careful analysis that the idea of working for a “content mill” may be worth looking at, and admitted your original thought might be worth changing.

    That why I read your posts when I can, and trust your word.

  10. Norma Roche
    November 18, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    As a newbie to writing online content, I not only gained confidence, discipline and the ability to work to deadlines, I learnt a lot about good writing. The editors at Demand Media were amazing. They gave me endless advice and encouragement. Plus I got a real buzz from readers’ comments, saying how the information in my articles had helped them. While I agree content mills are a starting point, I still enjoy doing some articles for Demand.

  11. Bethanny Parker
    November 18, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Writing for content mills can give you a confidence boost, and it’s nice to get paid reliably every week or every other week, even if the money isn’t that great. However, doing it long-term can cause some major burnout, especially if you are spending eight hours per day or more writing because you have to in order to make the amount of money you need. Unless you are writing about something that excites you, you can only keep that kind of pace up for so long.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 20, 2014 at 11:32 am

      This is the side of content mills I’m all to familiar with Bethanny (albeit second hand). However, the general consensus does seem to be that content mills can be beneficial in moderation.

    • Tammy Dylan
      May 29, 2016 at 6:07 am

      Yes, once you hit burn out, you are just as good as done. Content Mills are a trap. You need so much money to pay bills and live, but you practically kill yourself just to do it. Eventually, the resentmeant grows and you get to the point where you almost hate the act of writing.

      The freedom that you thought that you had is not there anymore, as you do revisions and write about stuff that you do not care about. Your self-esteem drops and you feel bad about your work.

      The worst part is that you want to quit, but you need more and more money. You get stuck with not enough time to look for other things. You say that you will find other jobs, but you do not have enough time and energy.

      You try to think of tricks to keep you going, such as thinking of content mills as “an experiment” or “money for what you really want.” The tricks only last for so long. Depression and irritation set in.

      You wonder what happened to that “great life” that you planned. Writing was supposed to be so much fun. Where did you go wrong? You have to be doe TODAY.

      Eventually, you just have to quit straight out- deal with the lack of money and discomfort and find people who will pay you well.

      At least, you finally have your dignity.

  12. Julie Perrott
    November 19, 2014 at 3:15 am

    Thank you for this post, it’s helped me come to a decision about the ‘content mill’ debate.

    I’d being mulling over submitting to Scripted.com and couldn’t decide if it was a good idea, or not. Reading your views as well as the comments from a lot of talented people, made me realise that it can be, an excellent, if temporary solution to earning an income, whilst still working toward’s your own endgame…..thank you again.

    • Tom Ewer
      November 20, 2014 at 11:33 am

      Our pleasure Julie! Please let us know how you get on…

    • Linda Endicott
      December 27, 2014 at 7:15 pm

      I am actually writing—and editing—for Scripted, and my experience thus far has been good. They pay more than most of the content mills I’ve looked at; their average pay rate is $24.50 for a 400-word article, or 6 cents per word. Some jobs pay more, depending on their complexity, and I have seen some jobs that are as much as $350 for 1200 words.

      Once your initial writing sample is approved, you are asked to apply to “industries”, or different areas of expertise, and this is where you should take care. Choose your industry carefully. If you are rejected for an industry, you can never apply for it again. Also, the travel/lifestyle category has constant work, closely followed by business, while the other categories are very hit-and-miss.

      Once you are approved as a writer in an industry, you can also apply to be an editor. Editing pays a fraction of what writing pays–$6-$14–but most edits can be done in 10-15 minutes and the money adds up quickly.

      As a new freelancer, I agree with the ideas put forward by this article. Writing for a deadline is a very important thing, and writing for mills will definitely hone that skill. It also allows/pushes me to write on topics that I might never consider on my own, which has really forced me to grow as a writer. Also the extremely short format of most jobs—400-500 words—has been a very good lesson for me; I was primarily a fiction writer before I hit the mills, and writing short content has forced me to tighten my writing up. That may be the biggest benefit I have found. Other than the extra income, of course.

      My opinion, though, is that no one, no matter how inexperienced they are, should ever write for 1 cent per word. Ever. There are plenty of places that offer much more.

  13. Bree
    November 19, 2014 at 4:12 am

    Something I didn’t see people mention here yet is that content mills aren’t horrible options for college/university students wanting to earn some extra cash in their spare time. Many of the jobs offered on those sites are short-term, which is perfect for students who simply can’t take on long-term freelance clients while they’re in school.

    And, you know, being able to afford a few drinks out on the town with friends is always a plus when you’re a broke college kid!

  14. ketef hanifi
    November 25, 2014 at 7:43 am

    In Holland there are many contents mills around farms,of course working for content mills will not earn us enouph but I think that we have all contents mills into heads however the sole purpose is to be productive and efficient in order to work with clients.

  15. Pamela James-Long
    November 30, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Hello,

    I am new to content writing and definitely want to take things to the next level as a freelance writer. I just don’t know how to get started. One thing about content mills is the work is already created and guidelines and in place so you just follow instructions. Learning the steps to becoming a freelance writer while content writing is where my focus is. Your blog information is quite helpful.

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    November 20, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I recommend the all visit this site and you will discover huge benefits: http://mykomms.go2cloud.org/SHAZV

  17. Meg
    January 3, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I just finished ghostwriting an article of 2,400 words that I was paid $65 to write (took about 5 hours) as well as several 1,000 word articles I was paid $41 each to ghostwrite (2 hours each). There were five total.

    I also write and edit for another client and earn approximately $80 weekly. In November I wrote a webinar script which was basically a combination of blog posts previously written by the client and was paid $150 (about 8 hours work).

    I’m currently working on my second batch of website content and meta tag descriptions ($112 for about 5,000 words) for a regular client.

    I charge anywhere from $1.75 to $3.25 per 100 words for my writing, depending on what the job is, whether it’s a repeat client, and how much time I feel it will take me to finish. Clients with more than 3 articles typically receive a discounted rate.

    I currently get all of my clients through UpWork and I have for over three years now. I’m a top rated freelancer and clients approach me. I turn decline several interviews each week.

    You can make money through those sites but you have to be willing to sort through the people who want to pay very little and have tons of requirements. I did my time years ago writing 10x articles on keyword topics and I pulled my hair out, but I learned a lot from those.

    I spent 2 years working for one client as a VA and just recently came back to writing. But I now pick and choose what I want to write and when and for how much.

    If you know what you’re doing, you can find the clients on sites like UpWork who do want quality writing and are willing to pay for it. I have about eight clients now that I write for when they need me. I take on additional one off projects, like editing and rewriting, around those regular clients.

    I work from home and will never go back to a brick and mortar job so it works for me. I’ve always been happy ghostwriting, but I got my first articles published online under my name this past year and I like it.

    I’ll be looking to do more of that.

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