Have you ever wondered if there is a content mill out there somewhere that’s better than all the rest?
I get this question a lot, from writers hoping that if they can just find the right content mill, they will finally be able to easily earn a living from their craft. Maybe there’s one where the editors are nicer or the assignments easier?
The thing is, I’ve never written for a content mill, but I’ve heard horror stories from plenty of writers who have.
What I’ve Learned about Writing for Content Mills
Back in the day, I used my business-reporter skills to analyze the now-defunct Demand Media’s financials, so I’m aware that the “stuff site with junk content, put up ads, and hope for revenue” business model popular with content mills isn’t doing that well, especially as Google continues to change its algorithm to penalize these sorts of sites.
I’ve also asked content mill owners why they don’t pay more. Basically, see the previous paragraph. This business model isn’t very profitable, so there isn’t a lot of pay for you.
My sense is debating the differences between different mills is a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But I wanted to find out more…
Writers Share Their Experiences…
I asked my Freelance Writers Den community to share their experiences writing for content mills.
Some of these writers have worked for mills in the past, and others are still using them as they market proactively to find better clients. I think this provides a frank look at the real life of content mill writers. I’ve bolded some of the key reactions and feelings about writing for mills that the writers shared.
Here it is, in their own words, organized by mill. Mills are in no particular order:
I wrote one piece for Textbroker at $.05 cents per word. I have never gone back to write enough to meet the minimum threshold for payout, so they still owe me $1.50. I chalked it up to a life lesson and went on to find real clients that pay real money.
My strategy is to take assignments from all of my favorite categories and write the very best article I can. Eventually, a client “clicks” with me and starts requesting me at my “personal rates.” I almost never need to accept job board prices anymore.
I wrote for Textbroker for a couple of months when I first started, and the work was easy. The pay was usually around $0.02 per word, depending on your level as a writer. There were seldom any requests for revisions and the pay was regular. That being said, you couldn’t get any clips from the work and I never got any regular clients. The problem with all of these sites is you can get so used to them that you don’t get motivated to get better work… until you burn out.
With Textbroker there’s no bidding, no resume, I just did a writing sample, submitted it for review and waited on my rating. Little did I know I would be toiling away at a penny per word until I broke my comma habit and propensity for dangling participles.
In order to move up in pay, your articles must be reviewed and rated on a scale of two to five. The article review takes place once per month. Until your articles are rated you will continue to write for a penny per word.
However, there is a very wide variety of articles to choose from at or below your approved level. Everything from automotive to movies to sexual dysfunction. Articles are approved, typically within 48 hours and the money is deposited into your Textbroker account immediately upon approval.
The nice thing is Textbroker payments are made weekly provided you have $10 in your account. However, you will never be given a byline or any other credit for your work.
There was still a writing test for a rating and a rather arduous application process [when I applied]. You are able to select assignments based upon your writing level. The pay was usually $0.01 to $0.05 per word for Level 3 writers. The variety of articles is unfortunately, rather mundane. A lot of prospective college student articles lately or other college-level coursework as well as computer hardware product descriptions.
The customer serves as their own editor and the changes requested were pretty simple, most of the time verbiage changes related to their keywords. The biggest drawback — WriterAccess only paid once per month by the tenth day of the following month, painfully slow in the content mill world. There were no bylines or credit for your work.
Writer Access – pay between $.01 and $.15 a word but most assignments pay between 1 cent and 3.2 cents. Very few revisions and you deal directly with the client, so your experience varies widely based on who hires you. There is a feedback system so you can get a heads up if a client is difficult. No bylines. Lots of work available. Topics can be interesting but usually aren’t.
Verblio (formerly Blogmutt)
The pay at Verblio/Blogmutt was $8 per article if approved [when I wrote for them]. Customers sign up to have blogs written for their business based on a selection of keywords. Articles are typically 300-400 words and do not require an extensive amount of research in an area you’re familiar with.
However, when you get out of your expertise area, providing blog topics on such things as battery backup systems, real estate in Alaska or IT management you can get bogged down in research in a hurry. Customers edit their own articles and at times, can be arbitrary from “too short” to “just didn’t like the post.”
The site owner was very good about keeping the customers in line with their demands. Customers rate their own posts on a star system. The drawback is when there’s a small set of keywords from which to derive an article. Payment is made weekly upon article acceptance by the customer but as blogs go into the customer’s queue, the customer can pick and choose which blogs to post which weeks. This can cause your blog to slide down the list.
While content mills are a good place to see if your writing is commercially acceptable, staying in the mills is nothing more than intellectual slavery. If you can write with very few spelling or grammatical errors and can sell or product or engage a person’s interest in a business niche then you, too, can be a business blogger.
I wrote for CopyPress starting in 2011. The best people I worked with are now no longer there.
Their pay started at $2 dollars per 300 words and paid out once a month. They later paid $30 for “sharebait” articles, $7 for product descriptions, $4-$6 for regular blog posts.
CP also pays out twice a month, but with the little work they have available, you’re likely to bring in $150 – $200 every two weeks. But, because it takes an additional two weeks for clients to approve anything, you’re not likely to get your pay on time during the two week payout. Waiting for this little pay is particularly unfavorable.
Only one editor was ever helpful there. She was awesome, to say the least. Later, they changed how they want their content, which in my opinion is way too high for even $30 dollars. I believe they had a lead editor who was useless and didn’t point out anything to improve in your work due to “far too many mistakes to begin with.” These comments are mysterious and non-constructive because some editors I’ve worked with at CP in the past were extremely helpful, unlike the mess it became later.
Also, any mistakes, even minor ones are immediately reported to the content manager. The CM will kick you out of the system if the lead editor complains to her.
Forget about getting enough assignments for gas money here, unless you want to put in long hours for a measly $30 dollars. Work was never consistent since they had lost two seriously generous clients. And, if your work is not up to par, CP will cut your pay by half.
Now, there was a huge variety of topics when they had work. I wrote on gambling, technology, property management, business, product descriptions, education, law, and more. There were always so many different topics I was never bored. But, like I said, work was scarce.
I loved CP when they started. The team they had was genuine and awesome. Now, they are beating down on writers to produce great content, which I’m sure many of my fellow writers do, but for pennies. I’m learning I can make $50 and more per blog post on my own without their help.
I started Copypress as an advanced writer. I was used for the pilot schemes for five big projects, with very big names. Three of them we won. One was my project alone, and paid $20 per post, two were expanded to bring in other writers. Pay has always been low-ish. The editors were relatively friendly, and the community was awesome. CP constantly promise higher pay.
Later, they lost the three big clients in the same month. All said that they needed higher quality work. CP’s response was to ask the writers if they’d write for lower rates. It put most of the writing down to $5 a piece. I refused, but some writers continued.
They then brought in a certification program, where writers needed to take training and submit original samples to get work. All writers were now responsible for their own work. Any mistakes equaled being sacked.
The biggest issue with CP is the pay. They promise the earth, and many people fall for it. The new big thing in mills seems to be promising the earth, and delivering a pittance.
Other Content Mill Experiences
[The content mill I wrote for] paid per page view and you don’t really have editors. You could write about anything you want. I have one friend who wrote 5-10 articles for them a week about fairly popular topics like celebrity gossip. She got a lot of page views, but the most money she ever made was $18.
Most of my content mill experience was with [the now defunct] Yahoo! Contributor Network, known as Associated Content when I started writing there.
I was a Featured Contributor where I made $15-$18 per 400-500 word article. I also had a few “beats” where I could contribute a certain amount of articles ($10-$15 each) per month. Each topic in the Featured program (Pets, Movies, TV, etc.) had a designated editor who you could contact. But I never received feedback once the article was submitted or got any rewrites, so there wasn’t any sort of real writer/editor relationship.
I did get bylined articles placed on Yahoo’s Movies, News, and OMG! platforms. I’ve used my Yahoo Movies clips to get paying gigs on non-content mill sites, which in turn got me a few private clients who found me via those sites, but no clients who found and contacted me directly from my Yahoo work.
When I started writing for them, it was a way for me to learn about web writing, not to make a living. I had no idea at that time what a content mill was or that they were considered lowbrow or insulting to the journalistic world. On a positive note, I did learn a lot about web content and how to apply SEO tactics in a non-spammy way, write catchy headlines, and use social media as a marketing tool.
I’ve also written for [several other mills] — from what I observed, all of them require a lot of time and effort for little pay.
Rachel Beavins Tracy:
I did a short stint with [the now defunct] Suite 101 several years ago when I wanted to break into travel writing. At the time, I was working as a travel planner.
To start, you had to write a sample article, a few hundred words on a topic of your choice. Editors then approve you as a writer, at which point you were required to write seven articles a month, I believe. I only did it that first month before I saw the writing on the wall. Articles went through an approval process before being posted, but I don’t recall the process being too terribly arduous.
I wrote for Examiner.com as a TV Examiner. I was lucky that I had a built-in audience since I already wrote for a TV Magazine site (for free, sadly).
Anyway, at first, I was doing great. I made $350 my first month, which was a nice supplement to my day job income. I did even better the second month, but I was writing over 100 articles.
Later, Examiner decided that it was no longer going to pay for international page views so an article that would have gotten me $10 the month before was suddenly only paying $3 or $4. It was very discouraging and it made me slow down how many articles I was willing to write for them each month.
Editor-wise, it was a crapshoot. They’d forget their own rules and sometimes they’d dock you for dumb things and other times, they’d miss glaring errors. It just depended on which volunteer is editing the copy that day. But if they did dock you, you’d lose your status and have to start over from zero.
There was zero communication. They’ve made it very difficult to talk to a live person and sometimes you need to email five or six times before you get a real response.
I wrote for Examiner, too. You could write anything you want. They forced you to stay within a niche, which I guess is good if you don’t know how to write in a niche. But I never got paid a cent from them. For all those pay-per-click sites, you have to write a ton of pieces before you see any return.
I did learn a lot of valuable things from working at the mills, but you don’t need them to get a writing career off the ground — and they’re so easy to get sucked into and so difficult to pull yourself out of. Eventually you reach the point where you realize what a huge waste it was and that you’ll never get those hours of your life back (and that those articles are on the internet to stay and haunt you for the rest of your life). I’m there right now and it’s not a pretty place to be.
The Sad Truth About Writing for Content Mills
What do I take away from all this?
I’m struck by how many stories are about sudden changes in pay and working conditions.
It’s also shocking just how much work writers have to churn out to earn a barely-livable wage.
If you write for mills, remember it’s writer beware — especially if you have all your eggs in one mill basket.
Ready to Break Free from the Content Mills?
If any of these stories about writing for content mills sounds all too familiar because you’re going through the same things right now, I want you to know there’s hope.
You can break free from the content mills and start earning what you deserve.
The grass is greener outside of the mills. You can find clients who are willing to pay you legit rates for quality work that’s way more fulfilling to create than the low-quality, filler content you have to churn out when writing for content mills.
I’m happy to announce I’m putting on a 4-week class called Escape the Content Mills that lays out the step-by-step blueprint for getting out of the mills and growing a successful freelance writing business where you attract quality, lucrative clients you’ll love working with and who will help you achieve your freelancing dreams.
Click here to learn more about this course, and sign up before it’s too late (registration closes midnight May 5, 2021!).