Whether you're looking for a writer to produce content for your website or you're a writer looking for work, you've probably come across the phrase "content mill." What are content mills, and what should you know about them? Read on to find out more.
First, let's dig into what, exactly, a content mill is. There are two schools of thought on this and two sites that illustrate it.
The first definition is this:
Typically, a content mill serves as a middleman. They provide several value additions to justify their position, such as:
At the same time, content mills skim some money off the top. A site that pays writers 1.4 cents per word might charge clients 2.1 cents per word for that same project. The disparity in prices goes in small part to the editors but in large part to the platform itself.
This is all the more generous definition of a content mill.
They do this by:
To illustrate the point, those rates (the 1.4 cents per word and 2.1 cents per word above) are real rates from Textbroker at their 4-star level. This is the "top tier" level of content that casual writers can reach. There's a better-paying 5-star level, but writers must pass a grueling set of tests to reach that level, and it's precarious enough that they can be demoted at any time.
Above, I mentioned that two sites illustrate this dichotomy. One is Textbroker, which is broadly considered to be the bottom of the barrel in terms of content mills that are even vaguely acceptable (anything worse than Textbroker is less of a mill and more of a scam.)
The second site is Writer Access. Writer Access operates in the same way as Textbroker, but with generally higher pay rates, more communication and fewer restrictions, and an altogether nicer atmosphere. It's still low for industry rates, but it's more acceptable and more balanced. Talented or prolific writers can make a good living through it, which would be virtually impossible on Textbroker.
These two are just examples of content mills; there are many more out there, some which have far fewer active writers and clients, and others that have various twists to the basic format. Writer's Domain, for example, is even more locked down. Writers have zero idea who pays for the content or where it's published, they just write brief SEO-focused blog posts that mostly end up on private blog networks, content never meant for the light of day. Pay rates are low, but so are the expectations of quality.
Regardless of which definition you use, content mills share some similarities.
So, now that you know more or less what a content mill is, you have to decide: is it worth using one? Let's dig a bit deeper into that. Let's look at it from both sides of the coin.
Writers are always in a tricky place online. There are tons of companies out there looking to hire writers, but there are virtually no standards. One company might have extremely different expectations from another. It's also extremely difficult and time consuming to try to find work, pitch yourself, write on spec, and hope you land enough paying work to survive another month. It's no wonder so many writers only do writing as a side gig, a few hours each week in between their day jobs.
Content mills offer a few benefits here:
All of this sounds great! It also makes content mills a good place for many writers to get their feet wet and decide if they want to pursue content writing as a career.
There are, of course, some downsides to content mills for writers.
Content mills can be acceptable as an introductory way to get writing experience down and a way to make some beer money, but they aren't viable for a primary income.
Let's flip the coin. You're a business owner, and you need content. Should you go to a content mill?
On the one hand, you can post an assignment and be virtually guaranteed that it will be written. You'll get something back. It will adhere to most or all of your requirements, particularly if you use systems to guarantee keywords. You can usually pay more for better content or pay for a managed team to give you additional oversight, though that's usually limited to the big spenders.
The content will also be pretty cheap. 1,000 words at the basic 4-star level on Textbroker costs you $21 flat.
That's more or less where the positives end.
The quality of the content you get will vary a ton. Unless you find one good writer and hire them directly, you will probably be getting different writers every time. Your style and tone will vary from post to post, and you may need to do some work to polish them up to be suitable for publication.
You also don't have the opportunity to expand beyond the platform. Again, content mills have a strong interest in preventing clients from poaching writers and vice versa, and some of them are litigious about it.
It's not uncommon to have to try several times for a given assignment to get something usable, as well.
On top of all of this, more and more writers are turning to tools to help them write faster because the pay rates are so low it's not viable for them to work otherwise. That means there's a non-zero chance that you'll be getting content written by an AI these days. You can do that yourself!
Are content mills worth using? Maybe, and only if you're using the higher-quality content mills and the mid-to-high-tier writers on those mills. Five-star writers on Textbroker aren't terrible, and five-star writers on Writer Access can be pretty good, even subject matter experts themselves.
On the other hand, you're giving a lot of money to a platform on an ongoing basis to avoid some work you would only have to do once; namely, searching out a talented writer and hiring them properly. Instead of that, why not just browse my guides or post a job and let talented writers come to you?
Yes, there are fewer protections here, and you have to put more work in up-front. Creating a job listing, finding and vetting writers, giving writers a test, evaluating their content, checking it for plagiarism, and negotiating a contract is a lot of effort, and if a relationship falls through, you have to do it all again.
On the other hand, finding a good writer and treating them right can be an exceptional way to have a loyal and effective writer for years to come. They can grow and change with you, something you can't get from a content mill.
Mills can work if all you need is filler or placeholder content or content that isn't meant to see the light of day under your brand. Anything that undergoes more scrutiny than that, though, is best found elsewhere.
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