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Freelance Writing: The Hard Truth About Content Mills

Updated on August 2, 2012

What is a Content Mill?

The definition of a content mill - also sometimes referred to as a farm - is different everywhere you look. In the most simplest of terms, a content mill may be defined as a place that:

  • Hires large numbers of writers, regardless of actual writing skills
  • Is continuously hiring new writers
  • Churns out massive quantities of articles on a daily basis for the sole purpose of increasing site traffic
  • Has a poor editing process
  • May have unqualified editors
  • Provides low pay for editors and writers

Basically, content mills are the sweat shops of the writing world.

Pitfalls and Traps

Let's go over the unfavorable facets of content mills first. As the name may suggest, content mills are the online writing version of a mass production factory held in a developing country with lax child labor laws. Okay, that might be a bit dramatic, but you get the picture.

  • Many of these places are concerned more with churning out as many keyword dense articles than actual quality. In fact, many writers who solely depend on content mills for work rarely ever improve in their writing.
  • Most content mills do not pay a lot of money. Some pay as little at $1.25 for a 300 word article. The "lucky" ones make about $15 an article that requires an hour or more to write. When you are offered so little money, of course you aren't going to spend a lot of time researching or editing. you want to get that article done in as little time as possible.
  • You typically do not work with any one editor and most places do not allow you to have any recognition for your work. If you leave, no one will notice because they are constantly bringing in more writers.
  • They trap new writers. Since the requirements are so lax and opportunities for improvement are so little, writers begin to think that the pay they are getting is all they are worth. When writers realize they could make more money once they stop using content mills, they usually feel unable to since content mills usually become their only source of income.

Silver Linings?

Despite all the negative hype around content mills, they do have some good points that deserve acknowledgement.

  • May help novice writers gain an understanding of basic SEO. Many content mills have basic SEO practices they expect their writers to use. It may be as little as having a specific keyword density, but new writers, especially those freshly out of college, benefit from the practice.
  • Gets your foot in the door. Most people who want to become freelance writers do not know where to begin. Sometimes you have to work your way up to better and higher paying work and content mills are a sufficient way to get started. Once you find one place to work, you can occasionally find other people who write there who can recommend better places.
  • They are an okay place to fine-tune skills. The standards of content mills vary significantly. Even working with a place with low standards can help a new writer get in some practice while also getting some sort of payment in the process.
  • There are more and more places that are considered content mills that are continuously improving standards. These companies have longer and more thorough review times, sometimes going through two qualified editors before reaching the client. They also hold regular chats and webinars to help improve skills. Pay is higher and many have several opportunities to increase their income. Any new writer who still believes that content mills are the place to go for their first taste of freelance should find these places.


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    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Very useful hub. Great effort in putting them all in the simplest, most comprehensible way to understand the subject. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

    • ThisisShe profile image

      ThisisShe 5 years ago

      Indeed, there are an increasing number of "content mills" that not only have high standards for writers, but also pay them fairly well. I write for a few of them too. It is so hard to find these places, which is why I try and get the word out about them as much as I can while also trying to keep the good writers out of the traditional content mill trap. We writers have to help one another out, right?

      Thanks for your input, jm72writes!

    • jm72writes profile image

      jm72writes 5 years ago from Missouri

      I agree about the content mills being low-paying and having low quality articles as a rule. However, there are good jobs on there if you know where to look. I recently wrote several articles for a client who was willing to pay me $100 each. It's hard for new writers to know how to find them, but if you are diligent, you can make money even on content mills and still write quality articles.

      I do think your warnings are valuable to those just starting out so that they don't get taken advantage of.

    • ThisisShe profile image

      ThisisShe 5 years ago

      Jainismus - Thank you for your comment. I try to help and inform new writers as often as possible. I remember how overwhelming it can be just starting off as a freelance writer!

      Patty Kenyon - Thank you for stopping by!

      Vegaswriter - This is another good point! Sometimes content mills are a great place to find inspiration for articles of your own. I sometimes see plenty of interesting topics that I am tempted to write - just not at the prices they are offering. Thank you for your input!

    • vegaswriter profile image

      vegaswriter 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      I do use those as practice but I usually just pick one of the articles and write it before accepting any job. They are usually gone by the time I am done but I have a hub / article to post.

    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting and Useful!!! Thank-you for sharing this information!!!

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 5 years ago from Pune, India

      Interesting an useful information, useful for new writers. Thank you for sharing.