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What are content mills and why can they be bad?

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Some parts of the world of online writing haven’t changed. One of those is the use of content mills. What are they, and are they bad for writers?

Some parts of online writing have changed over recent years. There are sites that I would write at back in 2010 that don’t exist anymore; sites that new writers have never even heard of. If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will!

Yet, there are some parts that are still around. Content mills are still popular ways for people to start writing. While I still have a couple in my back pocket just in case, I don’t recommend them for growing your business. If you really want to use them for quick cash, only use them in emergencies and learn from them.

You see, they can be bad for writers. Here’s how they become a bad thing.

What exactly are content mills?

Before we get started in how they’re a bad thing, you need to know if you’ve found one or not. Wikipedia (yeah, yeah, but in this case it’s right) defines one of these as:

In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines.

In many cases, writers are paid very little for their work, with some being paid less than a penny a word. However, there are better-paying options. Places like Writers Domain and Media Shower pay between $15 and $25 for 400-500 word pieces of content. That was the last time I checked. Things could have changed since.

Most of the time you’re a ghostwriter. That means you don’t get any rights to the content, and it’s really just “work for hire.” You can’t use the work as samples for new clients. But there are the odd cases where you get a byline. I’ve found that with Skyword, Media Shower, and a handful of others. If you get a byline, there is nothing wrong with sharing the work with clients to show what you can do.

Why can content mills be bad news?

The major downside is the fact that you’re getting paid very little. This is multiplied when you don’t get a byline, so can’t use the work to your advantage. Some content mills are also known to offer bad terms to writers in the way of compensation when asking for more work. One writer I know said that she constantly had to do extra revisions for one mill without extra pay. The requirements for the standard grew, but the pay remained the same.

This is why so many writers are against content mills. They don’t want writers exploited, and believe that it is not a living wage.

This really depends on the reasons for becoming a freelance writer, and where you live. If the cost of living is low in your country, $5 for a 500-word article could be the equivalent to $25 for somewhere where the cost of living is much higher.

It’s all relative.

But you do need to think about the amount of effort you’re putting in for your work. Consider how long it takes you to write something, along with the research and any revisions. Is it really worth your time for that money? Would you be better off finding somewhere else to write?

Can content farms work for you?

It is possible to make money writing at the content mills. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently. If you don’t mind the rate that you’re paid and it puts food on the table, is it something you should really give up? I’m not one to judge anyone for their choices, but I will say that I don’t recommend the mills.

The trick is to learning when to move on. You need to keep an eye on the terms and standards that the mills have. If they get worse over time, move onto somewhere else.

You can rework the content to suit your own needs. Use the research that you gain from your writing and create your own article or blog post out of it. That way the work is all your own and you can share it with potential clients. The benefit of ghostwriting something else is that potential clients won’t know that you’ve written it, or that you got the work through a mill.

I’ve written about content mills in the past. I’ve shared the positives and negatives about them, and encourage you to read them if you’re still not sure about them. However, I always believe that we should make our own decisions.

I don’t judge others for where they write—unlike some bloggers and writers. Pick something that you can make money from, but know the pros and cons and understand the way they work.

MORE: 5 things I’ve learned from writing at content mills

How are you making money writing online? Have you used content farms or found one you like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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