Any experienced freelancer will tell you: run from content mills. Rates are low, jobs can be boring, and you’re anonymous in a sea of thousands or more. How do we know this? Because we’ve been there, tried it, and lived to tell the tale. Today I’m going to share what I learned from writing for a content mill. Also, I’ll share why I don’t recommend trying it yourself!
What I Learned Writing for a Content Mill
Discipline, creative thinking, and research skills.
Writing for a content site forced me to be disciplined in my writing.
Those low rates I mentioned? Even lower when it takes you an hour to research. And that’s before you even begin writing. When I started out on a content mill site, I quickly learned that to actually be making money, I had to churn out content quickly. For jobs between $4.00 and $8.00 an article, even $10.00 an hour seems daunting to achieve. I’m a perfectionist, so I would always want to edit and re-edit and keep working on projects. Had I hit submit sooner, I would have made a tad more money, but still, nothing like a full time wage.
But, dealing with this type of time crunch gave me the framework for managing my time writing for personal clients. Now I plan out the steps for each process (writing web copy, editing a resume, crafting a blog post), and make sure I stick to a timeline that is realistic and makes an actual income.
Content mills demand that you think outside the box.
All writers have experienced creative block at one time or another. We’ve sat staring at our notebook or computer screen, ready to punch something (or maybe cry). What else could we possibly say that hasn’t been said already? (I do have some ideas, 7 Simple Strategies for Breaking Through a Creative Block)
A lot, actually!
Writing content on assigned topics can really get those creative juices flowing. When faced with a red car, you make it a maroon vehicle, a cranberry automobile, a burgundy set of wheels. There is always another way to say what needs to be said. That is one valuable takeaway from my content mill writing days!
Now, part of my product description writing process involves brainstorming topical words related to each item or area (woo SEO!). I’ve got content mills to thank for that technique. Rather than reusing the same words over and over again, I incorporate synonyms or related terms (this was even before I knew much about SEO or long tail keywords) and have a list ready for when I (inevitably) hit a wall.
Writing articles on new topics required me to dive back into research reminiscent of college paper requirements.
The main difference between college research and content writing research is that now hyperlinks are in! While this makes it easy to link back to your source, finding reliable sources in the first place can take up a lot of your pre-writing minutes (or hours, but hopefully not!). In writing for the content site, I was reminded of how necessary it is to skim an entire article before citing it as a source, and practice paraphrasing without plagiarizing is valuable too.
Fortunately, the majority of my current writing clients don’t require scientific or technical resource citations for articles. Still, I’m often required to watch videos (and take notes), peruse multiple websites (including the competition), and deduce important information from existing webpages or posts. Getting back into the habit of sourcing information and organizing it in an effective and engaging way is definitely a plus.
But (and it’s a big but), I wouldn’t do it again.
Sure, I honed a few important skills. I did survive exposure to the dark side of content writing. But I wouldn’t go back.
Yes, the money is terrible. But the worst part about working for content mills is the anonymity. I have a list of recurring clients who regularly tell me how helpful I am for their businesses, and it’s amazing to have that kind of relationship with a customer. You just don’t get that with the penny pinching article sites. You might know who your client is, and it might be a big name in the online biz world. The problem is, you can’t take credit for the work or earn long term gigs from it. Plus, no matter how much you impress a client, it’s the content broker’s evaluation of your writing that dictates the rate you’re paid and the jobs available to you.
So as tempting as it might be to drop in and churn out two bucks a pop articles for a little latte money, there are better ways!
Job boards, cold pitching, even Craigslist will get you higher paying jobs than content sites. Not to mention a whole lot more respect! If you’re considering writing as a career, jump right in and slap a value on your service from the get-go. There are plenty of writing gigs for us all, content mills included!
So tell me, have you ever written for a content mill?
What was your experience? Do you have any advice for others considering it?