Content mills, also known as content farms, are operations that hire numerous freelance writers, and sometimes freelance editors, to produce large amounts of content.
They’re like word factories. And the primary objective is to make money.
The content they distribute is usually shallow and only requires quick internet research.
Content mills aren’t concerned with depth and research. They care about quantity and keywords.
The goal is rank high in the search results for keywords, to have vast numbers of webpages generating ad revenue or to supply companies that buy content in bulk.
At one time, no matter what you Googled, there was likely an eHow article on page one of the search results.
eHow was run by a mega content mill company called Demand Media, now known as the Leaf Group. The company made money cranking out thousands upon thousands of low-quality, often outright silly articles, that gamed Google’s SEO algorithm.
How To Identify A Content Mill
A lot of companies may display one or two of the traits outlined below. But if a company meets several of these criteria, there’s a good chance it’s a content mill.
Large amounts of work
Content mills tend to request a large number of articles or posts, such as 10 to 20 a day or 50 to 100 per week. Or they’ll offer as much work as you can handle, unlimited work, or something similar.
Remember, volume is important.
Jack of all trades
Ads often request that writers be able to cover any topic. Journalism is one of the most varied yet reputable types of writing jobs out there. And even journalists leave some topics—sports, weather, food—to specialists.
Content mills don’t care because quality isn’t the main priority.
You’ll often be required to write according to strict guidelines.
Content mills may place limits on the number of words per sentence, the number of sentences per paragraph and the number of paragraphs in the article.
Guidelines may include specific instructions on wording, such as requiring paragraphs to start with action words or to end with commands.
There’s usually limited or no leeway for creativity or the writer’s voice.
There will be a strong focus on using keywords. You’ll be given the keyword and often told how many times it must be used and where it must be used.
SEO is usually very important to content mills.
You’re commonly asked to submit a specific number of links to references you used to gather information on the topic.
Often those links are displayed on the webpage with your article.
No matter how much experience you have or how many samples you can provide, you’re required to take a writing or editing test to get hired.
This is partly to ensure you can stick to the formula discussed above. The companies also expect to attract a lot of people entry-level skills.
Points, Scores, etc.
Content mills commonly issue grades, scores, points or something of the sort.
The system is used to determine which types of projects you can work on. The numbers may rise and fall based on your work and may be used to determine if you can continue taking assignments.
The way content mills operate tends to feel elementary because it is.
Limited interaction with editors
There’s generally limited to no direct interaction between writers and editors.
If you have issues, you’ll communicate through forums or generic online forms. Your problems will be addressed by individuals who will forever remain anonymous.
You’ll never develop a professional working relationship with anyone on the staff.
Pay is often a low flat-rate, such as $10, $15 or $25 per article. Sometimes low per-word rates are offered, often ranging from about one cent to a nickel.
Consider a nickel the high end.
Payments are often issued weekly, and in some cases, multiple times per week, such as on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Citing writers stats
Content mill job ads tend to include statements such as, Our writers typically complete 2-3 articles an hour, averaging $25-$30/hour.
In all my years writing, I’ve never been asked for or voluntarily reported how much work I complete hourly.
These stats usually prove impossible to consistently meet, and that’s because they’re made up to put an appealing spin on the low rates.
Working For A Content Mill
Content mills usually have low requirements and a fast hiring process.
The work is often tedious yet unchallenging. And sometimes it’s repetitive.
For example, pet writers for eHow would be presented with a list of assignments that included titles, such as
- The Advantages of Feeding Bowls for Dogs
- The Advantages of Feeding Bowls for Cats
- The Advantages of Feeding Bowls for Rabbits…
So essentially, you’re writing almost the exact same thing over and over. But, the company will often insist that you make each one original.
Content mills usually don’t want to be responsible for the accuracy of the information they spread. So generally, every statement you make must come from a documented source.
Your knowledge and personal experience don’t matter. Your ability to analyze and draw conclusions will not be appreciated or allowed.
Working for a content mill often boils down to finding material from multiple sources—to reduce the risk of plagiarizing—and weaving it together with a different assortment of words.
Because of the low rates, you’ll need to complete a WHOLE lot of those assignments to survive.
A lot of freelancers who stick with writing for content mills end up burned out. It’s long hours in return for poverty-level wages.
And I mean that literally.
Think about it, if you write one article per hour at $10 or $15, that’s $80 to $120 per eight-hour workday.
Freelancers often look at the net figure. But writing is a business, whether you do it full-time or part-time.
When you deduct expenses, such as your taxes, Internet service, monthly payments on your computer, etc., your gross income will probably leave you qualifying for welfare and your child(ren) eligible for free lunch.
That’s not a jab at anyone’s financial circumstances. It’s a real-life warning of the circumstances you’re likely to face if you try to make a living working for content mills.
The only ways you’re likely to witness financial liberty is if you’re not supporting children and someone else pays your bills, allowing you to keep what you earn.
I’ve worked for content mills. But most of that time, I was overseas where the cost of living is a lot lower. And, I was only responsible for a small fraction of my household expenses. Still, I knew I had to get out of that pot.
See My Experience: About Those Low-Paying Jobs
But, If I’m writing several articles per hour, I’ll make double or triple that, you may think.
Don’t believe the hype that content mills are pushing.
The work usually isn’t as easy to produce as they make it seem. And rarely will people consistently make the attractive rates the companies advertise.
Should You Write For Content Mills?
My philosophy is that what you should do depends more on your circumstances than on the offer.
If you’re an experienced freelancer and you get into a bind where you’ve lost a client or some unexpected expense pops up, writing for content mills is a quick way to make extra cash.
All careers have entry-level positions. And content mills have been a valid starting point for a lot of writers and editors. If you’re a new freelance, the same could be true for you.
Working for content mills can show your ability to string coherent sentences together, or to edit them. Your work is proof that you’re able to follow guidelines, and the work history you establish shows you’re reliable.
But there’s a limit on the value of this type of experience.
Don’t expect to stick with the average ole’ content mill for five years then get hired at a reputable publication that’s looking for writers with five years of experience. The kind of experience that you have matters.
Known content mills often have a bad reputation and may do little or nothing to help you advance. So, make it a mission to build your resume with higher-quality work and better clients ASAP.
Bottom line: Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced, recognize content mills for what they are—a stepping stone.
Related: Should You Take Low-Paying Jobs?