I don’t write for content mills (or sites that I consider to be on par with content mills). That means sites that just crank out content on every imaginable subject, typically hoping to make some money by putting ads next to articles that have been optimized for certain keywords. I did write for such sites in the past, but at this stage in my career, content mills aren’t the right places for me to work.
But I don’t necessarily think that content mills are a bad thing. I also don’t think that they’re a new thing. While the SEO aspect is new, companies that hired writers cheaply to turn out mountains of content certainly aren’t. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were hundreds of magazines that looked for formulaic stories they could buy for next to nothing and then print on the cheapest paper available. Ever heard of a penny dreadful? There were plenty of concerns when such magazines were becoming popular that they drove down the wages writers could earn and many ‘professional’ writers decried both their content and appearance.
3 Things That Are Wrong with Content Mills
I’ll admit that there are some things about the average content mill that do bother me. I know that these don’t necessarily match up with other freelance writers out there and it’s definitely worth checking out some of the commentary that other bloggers have posted before you make up your own mind.
- There’s very little mobility. If you write for a magazine or a blog, rather than a content mill, you tend to have some options to move forward. You can often get a higher pay rate after you’ve been working with a publication for a while or may be able to take on an expanded role like contributing editor. But few content mills offer a significant chance to move forward. In my opinion, this is a big problem — provided that you want to keep your freelance career moving forward.
- The guidelines aren’t always clear. With many content mills, an assignment consists of keywords the writer is expected to use and not much more. That means that it’s not unheard of for a writer to have to do a couple of rounds of rewrites in order to meet unstated requirements. Not only is that an incredibly frustrating way to work, but it reduces the actual amount of work that a writer can do.
- It’s an easy way out. There are plenty of people who pick up assignments through content mills who do it simply because it’s the easiest option. It’s also the easiest option to keep working on assignments from content mills. It’s not a question of ethics or anything like that, but merely a personal opinion that this sort of easy way out is not useful for freelance writers looking for a career — only for writers looking for a little money (and little is really the operative word).
3 Things That Might Just Be Right
For some freelance writers, though, content mills aren’t necessarily a bad thing. There are certain factors that make them appealing, at least in some situations.
- There’s always work available. Especially when you’re first starting out as a freelance writer, having a steady source of work can make the difference between whether you’ll pay the bills in any given month. If something happens to a big client, it’s not usually out of the question to pick up enough work to get by if you’re willing to put in the hours on a content site.
- Payment always comes through. It’s relatively rare that a content mill doesn’t pay its writers. These days, at least a few content mills are owned by major corporations like Yahoo and AOL, meaning that freelancers have at least a little less to worry about in terms of getting paid. Even those not owned by big corporations are typically paying thousands of writers every month, making it a better bet than some clients who work with only freelancer.
- Writers can pick and choose. First of all, writers don’t have to work for content mills in the first place — but even if you do write for one, you have a huge level of choice about what you take on. You can take an article or two to fill in the gaps between work from your main clients, or you can take on every assignment a content site offers. You can write about a whole list of different topics. You can decide to stop working for a content mill at any time with no contractual obligations.