If you’re new to the joys of freelance writing, or if you’re not, or if you’re just looking to make some money online, you may have heard of content mills. I’ve been writing for one for about seven months and during that time have changed my mind about it several times.
What is a content mill?
Ok, just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about or you’d like it confirmed, a content mill is where a company hires writers to create content for not a lot of money. That’s the short version. The long version is…
Back in the day of young Google when SEO was about keyword stuffing, companies took advantage and charged businesses money to have loads of content written for them. These have evolved since but generally, as a writer, you have to pass a test or two to be allowed to write for them, then you’ll be able to choose your topics and write. These submitted pieces get approved, criticised or rejected by editors. Once approved, you get paid.
Then there are the other version of content mills where you bid for work. These are very common these days, particularly in the UK. Individuals or companies sign in and place an ad for their project, stating what they want and their budget. Freelancers then flock to it, often outbidding each other by going lower and lower. If you win, you do the work and get paid (often not a lot), the content mill through which you’re communicating with your client will take a cut.
Did you notice I mentioned a few times there that the pay is low? Yeah, that’s one reason why lots of writers are against content mills.
The arguments against content mills
There are lots of arguments against content mills but maybe the main one is that businesses see these platforms as a place to get cheap labour. This doesn’t help those writers who want to get paid what they’re worth.
How about some personal examples. The mill I currently write for is an American one and one of the better paying ones. Once you’re in at Writers Domain, you can choose a keyword from the list, write the article according to their guidelines and wait for it to be approved. You get rated by stars, so three stars and you get $15, four or five stars and it’s $17.50. Anything less and it’s rejected. So that’s between £9-10 an article.
Great! Well, not great but fine! Except that I have no access to the clients, it’s ghost-written so I can’t use the articles in my portfolio and they don’t have many British clients so I’m actually writing for Australian clients and I’ve never been to Australia. After a few months I’ve gotten a pattern figured out. I can now write an article in half an hour. So that’s at least £9 including research and writing, but I don’t proof or edit the pieces. My name’s not attached and the clients don’t know me, so meh. (See? Businesses aren’t paying for my best work.)
It may sound like easy work but the keywords are BORING! I’ve written more dentist articles than I care to admit, purely because I know that Australians and I probably have the same dental issues so it requires less research. You burn out quick, and some of the editors comments are tedious. I’ve actually been registered there for nine months, but I’ve taken two months off so I didn’t go insane.
Another example. People Per Hour is a British version of a content mill. It’s where I got my first client after I started freelancing full time. It was a really interesting topic and the client was lovely, but the job I won from her on PPH was two blog posts for £6 each. Yes. Seriously.
And the work involved wasn’t just writing those two blog posts. That £12 covered pitching myself to her to win the job, chatting with her about what she needed, coming up with ideas, researching, writing and editing those posts. And then PPH took their cut from that £12.
It’s a certain type of client that uses content mills. When I announced to my family that I was going to start freelancing full time, it came up in conversation with my brother-in-law that he owns a business that requires marketing and copywriting. Nope, he said, he used PPH because it was cheap.
So what about my first client from PPH? She became a regular client for a year and it was great. But when I put my prices up – still not close to what I should have been earning but high enough so I felt it was worth it – she felt uncomfortable about it and those were the last posts I wrote for her. Chances are you can’t get high paying clients on content mills, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get things out of them.
The arguments for content mills
What did I get out of that relationship with my first PPH client? Well, I got a client for a whole year. We agreed to move away from PPH so they would stop taking my money and she agreed to pay me a little more, now that she could see what I could do.
I got to use those posts in my portfolio, I got a testimonial from her and she recommended me to a work colleague, so I got another client out of it. Sadly, because she got my services cheap, he expected them low too. But, again, I used his work in my portfolio and got another testimonial. It all adds up. But it doesn’t pay the bills.
Writers Domain, and other similar mills, don’t have those great advantages. They’re less work and you’re anonymous. But they can help you understand SEO, help your skin thicken up for criticism and teach you how to write quickly.
Is it worth it?
The answer to this is individual to everyone. If you like, give it a try. It’s quite hard to get registered with some content mills and don’t let that knock your confidence. A scan on writing forums will tell you that English graduates, teachers and academics have ‘failed’ their grammar tests. Content mills have their own version of grammar.
Lots of forums and websites will tell you that content mills aren’t worth it and that there are better paying clients out there. But over the last month I’ve been doing some research into blogging jobs and doing some maths. I’ve been working out how much I actually get paid, or could get paid. Good blogging jobs pay on average $50 (£30 ish) for a 1000 ish word post. Wanna see?
Writers Domain: 2.2p
Private client: 5.8p
Blogging job: 2-3p
By the hour
Writers Domain: £20
Private client: £17.50
Blogging job: £15
So yes, the majority are right, private clients do pay the best. But actually some content mills aren’t that far behind and it’s easy money when you don’t have enough private clients to fill your time.
Should you write for content mills? It’s up to you. But don’t rely on them, don’t let them burn you out and take them for what they are. What’s your experience of content mills?