It's a fact–every remote writer has to start somewhere.
In the world of freelance remote writing, this means many must take on extremely low-paying gigs to:
Build a portfolio
Hone writing skills
Pay the bills
In cases such as these, it’s definitely a dry desert land, not a tropical island. The new remote writer pushes hard and activates “survival mode”.
As a result, remote writers and digital nomads may look for opportunities to increase their freelance income by finding a source of high-volume article writing opportunities—regardless of the per article price. Even $10 for 1000 words seems agreeable when your fledgling business is not yet earning enough to get by.
And where do starving writers go to find these opportunities? Well, most of us know of them as “content mills”.
What is a Content Mill?
A content mill serves two groups:
Writers looking for consistent work
Businesses in need of a large volume of generic content
Once you do some research, you'll discover most content mills do not specialize in any particular type of content (or niche). They tend to be fairly generalist, accommodating many types of writers and an assortment of businesses in need of writers.
As highlighted, there are many freelance writers who are satisfied with taking on low-paying (high-volume) writing projects in order to build their portfolio. Unfortunately for these freelancers, that’s not even an option when working with most content mills.
Most content mills are selling ghostwriting services, which means that the end client can use their own byline associated with your work. It also means that the freelancer who wrote it can’t use it in their portfolio. Of course, there are exceptions but this is the rule when it comes to content mills.
Many writers will agree: content mills can devalue writers’ hard work. Just as important, there are also several business reasons not to use content mill services.
Let's underscore three that may matter the most to both remote writers and businesses.
1. Content Mills Can't Consistently Cover a Writer's Living Expenses.
If you’re thinking of using a content mill, first consider the experience of more than a dozen writers who have worked with a plethora of well-known content mills:
Yahoo Contributor Network (Associated Content)
Why the Pay Rate Results in Burnout
Most of these jobs offer less than $0.10/word—with many under $0.05/word.
PayScale puts this into context when sharing a freelance writer’s yearly earnings: a median of just $38,872. Let’s not forget that anywhere from 20-30% of that goes to taxes!
One of today’s most popular content mills is Verblio, formerly known as BlogMutt. Their Writer FAQ states that pay starts at $0.35 – $0.45/word.
Side Hustle Inspiration shares the following information about writer levels:
Level 4 – 600 words at $19 (just $0.03/word)
Level 5 – 900 words at $40 (just $0.04/word)
Level 7 – 1,200 words at $72 (just $0.06/word)
Basically, you become eligible to write for increasingly higher-paying pieces of content. Side Hustle Inspiration mentions that the highest-paid level 7 assignments are few and far between.
If freelance writing was like working on an assembly line, where each result required equal, predictable effort, this might be an agreeable situation.
However, no matter how technical the topic, writing involves a lot of creative effort.
The more articles you have to spit out each day, the harder it is to get excited about what you’re doing.
Each new article drains you at a rate that grows as you continuously add more on top of an already overflowing pile.
By accepting low-paying jobs, the resulting cycle that becomes your life is a surefire path to burnout. Sure, you can come back from it by going cold-turkey, but there’s no guarantee you’ll still be able to enjoy writing.
If there was a positive benefit associated with writing for content mills, it’s that the cheapest clients are the pickiest. This doesn’t mean they’ll be particularly enjoyable to work with but they will certainly be critical enough to help you to refine your craft (and fast!).
The better you become at anticipating needs and asking questions up front, the more efficient your writing process will become.
But instead of relying on a content mill to be your teacher, you could also learn many of these lessons by:
Taking a creative writing class (and using your teacher as a resource)
Reading essential writing resource books like The Elements of Style and The Copywriter’s Handbook
Finding a fellow writer accountability buddy who you can trade edits with
Unethical Practice = Unsustainable Business Model
For any positive benefits content mills can provide, consider the psychological manipulation involved in attracting writers to their platforms.
Content mills act as if their ability to send long-term work to freelancers makes them great but it’s important to understand that freelancers can’t make a living wage by offering discounts over the long-term.
Content mill recruitment ads implore writers with questions like,
“Are you looking for work in your spare time?” and
These ads should really be taken as “There’s no money to be made here and you shouldn’t expect there to be based on your own inexperience”.
Speaking of which, content mills don’t run their businesses with a lot of margin up for grabs. During a recent quarter, a popular content mill, Demand Studios, made just $1 million in profit from $97 in revenue.
The old school tactic for blog monetization involved a Google AdSense-like situation, earning money based on simple impressions. Since Google’s search algorithm has evolved, these generic articles can be considered low quality, with a negative impact on the ability to rank your website in relevant search. Even if Google doesn’t catch on, your readers will—and you’ll be able to see it happen when looking at user engagement metrics on Google Analytics.
This state of the industry has driven down the demand and lowered the price for content mill content—without a change in fees paid to writers. They simply don’t have money available to increase rates: in many cases, a content mill is an underperformer in an investor’s portfolio of otherwise successful businesses.
And since content created for content mills is technically considered ghostwriting, freelancers can’t use their work in their own portfolios. This also means that they can’t use work created for content mills to act as samples to apply for better, more high-paid opportunities.
2. Where's the Writer/Client Briefing Process?
When you acquire a new client, particularly an SEO writing client, you need a sales and onboarding process. This may include the following:
(1) The potential client contacts you (or you contact the client). Regardless of how you connected, the potential client gets the opportunity to learn about you beforehand by checking out your website or portfolio and reviewing your samples.
(2) Take the time to learn more about the business in question, inviting questions, and making sure to detail your process for their understanding. This should be done via email, a phone call, or video meeting.
(3) Both of you should decide on one or multiple blog topics to get started with. As a writer, you should support the creation of relevant articles with keyword research.
(4) All clients should be offered the opportunity to approve an outline before you write the full article.
(5) The completed article is sent for approval and up to two rounds of edits. Most clients may not ask for revisions after start consistently working together.
When you work with a content mill, you might be able to see a profile and relevant samples from individual freelancers but there’s not much opportunity for back and forth before starting an initial assignment.
Freelancers on these platforms either bid on assignments or accept available assignments based on their approval to write about certain subjects or at certain levels of perceived writing experience.
Next, the order is placed and the freelancer gets to work on their best guess as to what a client is looking for.
Part of the issue is that the businesses using content mills either:
Don’t value quality content writing or
Don’t have experience effectively delegating this type of task
In many cases, the writer is expected to understand exactly what a client is looking for in a final article based on nothing more than a proposed article title.
No Briefing = No Good Earning Potential
The other side of the issue is that content mills tend to favor the person paying over the person doing the work, which can cause for very frustrating resolution options if there’s any dispute over an order. A freelancer/client misunderstanding can result in public-facing negative feedback—hurting their ability to rise up in this system and possibly their ability to book future jobs.
This lack of process also means that an already underpaid freelancer will also have to factor in the possibility for multiple revisions when calculating their total time spent on a given article (and their resulting ROI calculation).
They also have to factor in the possibility that their article will be rejected with no payment. Even in the situations where a freelance writer does get paid, getting a bank deposit could still be weeks later after delivering an article—especially if editors take a lot of time approving content.
In some cases, businesses may be able to work with the same freelancer over and over again to help reduce the need for edits but that’s not necessarily the standard when it comes to content mills.
3. Lots of Generic Articles that Will Need Editing—with major SEO Issues.
When you can’t afford to pay writers a living wage, there’s no real motivation to do good work, so most freelance writers on these platforms just push themselves through the day to make it to their next paycheck.
Besides a general lack of motivation and generic articles with no real-time SEO strategy involved, the comically low price per word offered by content mills means there’s really no time to do proper due diligence with regards to fact checking and self-editing. Basically, the idea for finding content mill “success” is to knock out as many articles as you can per hour and cash in on your quick efficiency.
This sloppy work justifies paying another writer more to do it right the first time, which also reduces the time from commissioned article to publication.
First off, most content mills focus on churning out a volume of low quality, short form content.
Though Google refuses to reveal their exact metrics for measuring content quality (at least in terms of content length), it’s more than fair to state that, in general, long form content will rank over similar short form content. Part of this has to do with the likelihood that long form content will have more opportunities to incorporate semantic keywords. Semantic keywords (related keywords) help Google make sense of topics and their relationships to other topics.
The other issue with content mills is that many businesses use them to create spammy content for black hat backlink building efforts. Though that may not be your intended purpose for commissioning content, the writers won’t necessarily know the difference when it comes to writing for you.
Here’s the thing: in order for blog content to do anything for your business, it has to be written with a certain persona in mind. Writing content for content’s sake is something Google has proactively started to protect searchers from, so why even bother?
So , what's the alternative? Here's some tips to help both freelance writers seeking consistent clients/ valuable opportunities and businesses seeking quality writers/dependable content:
Reach out to your favorite authors on your favorite industry blogs. Not only will they be easier to work with: their reputations (and followings) can also help to bring additional/relevant traffic to your blog.
Ask for referrals from colleagues who manage blogs with awesome contributor content. Referrals make the world go round and involve built-in accountability.
Hire writers from content writing platforms that value their freelancers. Some content writing platforms pay fair and even premium wages, while facilitating the management of your commissioned tasks.
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If you'd like to learn how to be an epic client and leverage the most impactful content for your next high-volume writing project, RWJ invites your business to connect with us for an optimized experience and proven referral program for businesses.
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