The pros and cons of writing for content mills

Written By: Farhan Musavi

There are numerous issues in the writing world where people disagree about numerous things. One such issue is whether or not it’s okay to write for content mills.

There are two schools of thoughts here. One school tells you to do it, the other doesn’t. Both sides have their arguments which I shall analyze below briefly.

But first a definition is in order.

Image courtesy of Ryan McGuire

Definition: A content mill or writers mill is a slang term used by freelance writers and given to a company, website, or organization designed to provide cheap website content, usually at a significant profit to themselves, and usually by paying very low rates to writers.

Content mills are not interested in the quality of your writing. They are more interested in things like keywords and anchor text which will help the content rank better in search engines.
Since writing for bots is different from writing for humans, these articles are of an inferior quality and any Tom, Dick, and Harry can sign-up and start making money as a writer.
I haven’t written for content mills but I have written for SEO companies which is more or less the same thing.

However be aware that if you’re looking for a personal account of a writer experienced with content mill writing then this article is not for you.

The pros of content mill writing

You can get a lot of work
Writers who write for content mills claim there is a lot of work available there. Though the pay rates are meager, if you are prepared to put in lots of hours every day you can generate a decent income because the total ads up.
Although the exact rates depend on your writing skills (they have editors who’ll evaluate your writing style from time to time and appraise you accordingly), you can expect to get $5 per article.
Having said that, I’ve also seen writers claiming they have made up to $25 per article. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Also, $5 per article is considered a pittance by many Americans but for us Indians is that really too bad? It’s up to you to judge.

You can practice a lot
How many times you must have heard the advice that in order to become a writer you should read a lot and write a lot.
Content mills allow you to do the latter i.e. write a lot and earn some money in the process.
I feel it’s much better to write and get paid for it, even if it’s a meager sum, than write tons of material for practice and then junk it altogether.

You’ll get disciplined
One of the biggest issues for me when I started freelance writing was a lack of discipline. Working from home and being your own boss is not free from its disadvantages.
Some of the things I kept doing again and again were checking Facebook, watching YouTube videos, reading an article online and then following an external link in it, then reading that new article then following more links, … you get the picture.
However when you are given assignments to complete and there is a virtual boss siting on the other end expecting you to deliver on a deadline, you can’t waste your time like that.
Working when you’re answerable to somebody inculcates discipline.
“Writing at its best is a lonely life” said Hemingway and you need to be very disciplined to pull it off.
Content mills will help you achieve that.

The cons of content mill writing

The rates are poor
I said that above but it’s important enough to be mentioned again. Content mills don’t pay you much.
Many newbie writers start working with content mills because of the reasons I mentioned above. But they’re only able to garner a proper income if they write too much.
What I’ll advise is there’s nothing wrong in working with content mills when you are starting out. But keep trying to build your portfolio by contributing to some reputed publications.
Once you start getting better clients from other sources you can leave the mill and graduate to better rates.

It’s ghostwriting
Most of the writing a content mill will ask you to do will be ghostwriting which means your name will not be published along with the article. Thus you can’t add it to your writing portfolio.
However this feature may also be an advantage, if you think about it. As I said above these are very poor quality articles and some freelancers churn out three such articles in two hours.
So will you really want to put your name on something as terrible as that? I won’t.

It’s addictive
In my early months of freelance writing I was working with an SEO company. They gave me a lot of work and though the rates per article were inadequate, it certainly added up to a total.
I had plans to do guest posts on popular blogs, read good books on writing, write a book myself, shift my blog to a better platform, but all of it kept pushing down in my To-do list. Why? Because after writing so many articles per day for that SEO firm, I was left too exhausted to focus on anything else.
And since I was able to pay the bills with the money I was making, I didn’t ever feel an urgent need to shift gears.
I have read similar accounts of many other freelance writers who kept working for content mills for months or even years before they realized they could have done something better with their time.

So what’s the verdict, you ask?

I feel if you are a new writer just starting out into freelance writing—give content mills a try. But treat it as a crash course.
Don’t allow yourself to get addicted with them and keep doing other better things on the side like learning new skills, marketing your freelancing business, etc.
And then when high paying clients start to approach you directly, you can quit the mill and focus on better quality writing.

What do you think about content writing mills? Have you ever worked with them? What has been your experience? Come tell me on Twitter (@majorjournal).

Farhan Musavi has just published his book Concision: A No-Grammar Guide to Good Writing which costs $4.99 on Amazon. You can download the PDF version of the book for free from his website Major Journal.

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