When starting out in your freelance writing career, you may hear about content mills. New freelancers may even start writing for a content mill without realizing they're writing for one.
Content mills are also known as content farms. These companies depend upon volume sales of mass-produced content.
The content produced is in the form of articles and blog posts. However, the writers who write this content are paid very low rates. This is because these content farms sell content at very low rates themselves and are looking to make a profit through publishing a ton of content.
Content mills are generally on the lowest rung of quality in the writing industry. They care only about the quantity of the content and not about the quality.
What are the two different types of content mills?
Content mills or content farms come in two forms:
1. Individual websites
These types of content mills produce a large volume from multiple freelance content writers. They work like a writers mill disguised as a job board. Their main goal is to rank their content high on Google and other search engines.
2. Freelance marketplaces
These content marketplaces connect writers who create cheap, low-quality content with independent online publishers.
Many content mills give themselves the cloak of legitimacy by disguising themselves as freelance marketplace. But, in reality, they exploit writers by paying very low rates for their writing work (as low as 2 cents per word).
Additionally, most of the writing work is published anonymously. A writer is considered a ghostwriter for these websites.
The journey of the content mill
We started to see content mills about 15 years ago. At first, there were the likes of guru.com that paid a pittance to writers in lieu of cheap quality content.
Then, around 10 years ago, the site Content Media was launched by a former MySpace executive. It, too, offered a bare-bones pay rate to writers in return for very cheap quality content. They then stuffed the content with keywords to get high rankings on Google.
This strategy worked, and content mills clocked in huge returns. But then several crucial updates made by Google to its algorithm put a stop to their dream run.
Now you have content mills in their new avatar as mass writer platforms. Thankfully, a handful of these upgraded content mills offer pro rates to writers for good quality writing work.
The best content mills
If you are a beginner and just starting out as a freelance content writer, here are some of the best content writing sites to look into:
You set your own rates.
Pays through various payment gateways, including PayPal and direct bank transfers. Once payment is made by the client, you have to wait for 6 days before you can withdraw money.
You can find high-paying gigs of freelance writing work through this website. Upwork allows freelance writers to work directly with clients and apply for the jobs of their choice. The fees charged by Upwork are high initially, but as the volume of work increases, the percentage fee comes down to only 5%.
You can set your own pricing for articles.
Pays through PayPal on the first week of every month.
Only articles can be listed for sale on this content website. Clients can post orders which can then be fulfilled by the writers.
This site focuses solely on selling articles. The writers keep 65% of the sale price. However, there is no guarantee that your writing work will sell. So first post a few articles and then wait and see. If they're not picked up, you can post them elsewhere. The best part about Constant Content is that a writer can set their own rate per article.
Pay is $0.012 cents per word for blogs and articles and $1.75 cents per social media post.
Hires from any country where English is the native language.
Pays through PayPal every Tuesday and Friday.
On Crowd Content, the quality of your application determines your rating. If your rating is high, you get access to higher-paying gigs.
This content writing site offers varied work, such as blogs, articles, technical writing, copywriting, etc.
Pays up to 5 cents per word.
Hires from native English-speaking countries.
Payment is through PayPal, but you should have at least $10 in your account.
To write for this site, you need to have US citizenship or permanent residency. You will be asked for a writing sample. Based on the quality of your sample, you're allotted a rating. The higher the rating, the more pay-per-word you'll receive.
Problems with content mills as a freelance writer
Most content mills are full of problems that are not easily spotted by new freelance writers until too late. Here are the problems of getting involved with content mills.
The only goal of many content mills is to get their content ranked high on Google.
Content mills generally source writers working at very low pay rates. Because these writers need to write in bulk to make money, there is less focus on quality control, and many will publish badly written copy.
Most writers of this type of content don't do any research and don't add their original viewpoint. They just change the order of words or phrases around as they don't have time to do a good job.
This can also lead to plagiarism, which is taking someone else's ideas and passing them off as one's own.
Plagiarism is a serious offense. College students can get kicked out of college and many writers out of their job. If you publish plagiarized content on your own website, Google can penalize your ranking. The original content publisher may even sue you as you copied their content.
Poorly paid freelance writers who become 'stuck'
Because of the volume of writing required to make money, writers working for content mills are caught in a vicious cycle. They are barely paid a living wage, so they churn out low-quality content.
This, in turn, results in a sorry-looking portfolio. High-end clients on the lookout for quality content won't bother with hiring these writers. So they're stuck working for these content mills as they can't find clients independently.
Many writers are then frustrated, give up on writing and look at other income streams.
If you have a decent income goal of earning $4,000/month, and you are being paid only 2 cents per word by a content mill, you'll have to write 200,000 words per month (or 200 blog posts of 1,000 words each).
Can you write that much? Not if you want to preserve your health and your sanity!
Stunted freelance writing career
If your goal is to become a freelance writer with a thriving freelance business, then working for a content mill is not for you. You can only work as a ghostwriter and remain anonymous. Your content will be considered as mere ghostwritten content. All the credits and the profits from your labor will go to the content mill you're working for.
A freelance writer has to first work at building their portfolio and reputation. Even if you are an experienced writer of 200 articles, you don’t have ownership of those articles. And when you sit down to write an author bio, you'll have nothing to show.
If you want to earn good bucks as a legitimate freelance writer, you have to build authority and show evidence of your expertise as a professional writer.
When you write for a content mill, you're writing purely for SEO, which means you are basically writing for an algorithm. You're not writing to inspire people or to showcase your creative skills.
Later on, when you make your career as an independent freelance writer, you will have difficulty finding connections who recognize you for your writing skills. You will have to start as a freelance writer from scratch.
Creates a terrible market for other high-quality writers and content
There are experienced writers who can write amazing pieces of content but are starving. Why?
Inexperienced clients don't realize the low-quality of content churned out by a content farm. They see that 2 cents per word is the going rate and think that's what they should pay.
Who wants to $100 per blog post when they think $30 is the market average?
When you're stuck with content mill writing, you're not only hampering your own freelance writing business, you're hampering other writers' businesses.
Little or no code of ethics
When you write for a content mill, you may find you take on unethical work.
For example, can you write an honest review for a baby food product when you don't have young kids? How fair is it to the readers?
You may write a fully SEO optimized 2,500+ word review on a baby food brand without knowing if it's good or even safe.
You can start an online writing freelance career writing for content mills. It can be a good move for writers wanting to gain experience and make quick money or a supplemental income. Just make sure you pick one of the reputable ones under 'The best content mills' above.
But, if you're looking for more money and want to make a serious career out of freelance writing, forget about writing articles for content mills and focus on building your own portfolio by writing for one or two reputable publications.
Once you've gained a reputation as a freelance writer who writes quality content, you'll earn a lot more, and you'll attract satisfying freelance writing projects.