Megan Grant

Content Mills: What They Are and Why You Should Avoid Them

Published on May 25, 2021 by Megan Grant in Freelance Writing

If you’re getting started as a freelance writer, then you’ve probably heard of using content mills (sometimes call “content farms”) to find paid work. For reasons I can’t comprehend, “experts” are still advising writers to go to these sites to earn money for writing.

I’ve probably already made clear my stance on content mills, but let’s get into more of the details and talk about a better way to land clients as a writer.

Wait, What Are Content Mills?

Great question! A content mill is a platform that provides content to businesses for very cheap by paying writers incredibly low rates to produce it. Because the rates are so low (for both the brands and the writers), the goal then becomes for the content mill and its writers to churn out as much work as possible. This is the only way to make any money.

By the way, it’s not even good money. Keep reading.

Why You Should Steer Clear of Content Mills

You might be so eager to start getting paid to write that you’re thinking, “I don’t care if the rates suck!” You should care. Here are just a few reasons why content mills aren’t worth your time.

Very Often, You Won’t Get Credit for Your Work You Submit Through Content Mills

I know not every content mill is the same. However, much of the time (if not most), you won’t get credit or a byline for the work you produce. This is because you turn it into the content mill, not the client. Then, the content mill sends it to the client.

No, you don’t need to receive credit for every piece of content you produce as a writer. I certainly don’t. For some of my clients, their name regularly goes on my writing, and that’s OK because it’s something I agreed to.

However, to never have your name on a single piece of work is going to get old really fast.

woman working for content mills on laptop

On Content Mills, it’s Harder to Form Long-Term Relationships With Clients

Like I said earlier, many times, content mills turn the work into the clients. They communicate with the client — not you. In fact, you might have zero contact with the client. You might not even know who the client is.

I’m always saying that one of the best things you can do as a freelance writer, hands down, is form long-term relationships with your clients. Your goal should be to work with brands on a monthly basis, turning in a consistent amount of work. This is how you build stability and predictability with your income.

With content mills, the likelihood of being able to do this is slim to none. This means you’re hustling 24/7/365 to find new clients. Just like never receiving credit for your work, this will also get really old really fast.

You’re Forced to Produce as Much Work as Possible, as Fast as Possible

It’s not uncommon for content mills to pay rates as ridiculous as a penny a word. And unfortunately, writers will accept this. So, how do you think you’re going to earn an actual living on content mills?

The only option you have is to churn out as much work as you can, as fast as you can, and not stop for a single second. And even then, the money you earn is going to be depressing.

This also means that you have zero time to dedicate to producing quality work. Quality goes out the window. You don’t have time to research or put your heart and soul into your work. You just need to finish it and turn it in, all to make a few dollars.

Is this what you thought of when you were dreaming of becoming a freelance writer? I’m going to guess not.

What’s even sadder is that low-quality work is actually content mills' MO, although they’ll never say that. Very often, it’s about producing shallow work that exists for no other reason than to get attention in Google, by any means necessary — like clickbait, black hat techniques, and keyword stuffing.

I probably don’t need to tell you this, but just in case… These tactics do not work anymore. Google is too savvy and getting smarter by the day. Not only will Google not notice this work, but it’ll actually penalize you for it.

This is no way to make a living as a writer. And I have no qualms going so far as to call it unethical. Content mills are unethical for paying professionals so little and operating at such low standards. It’s unethical for writers to knowingly produce content that Google will penalize you for. And it’s unethical for brands to publish this kind of content on their websites.

Even if you’re brand new to the world of freelance writing and you’re simply looking for experience, this is not the kind of experience you want. To make money as a writer, you need to be obsessed with producing quality work. You’re not going to have that opportunity on content mills.

freelance writer working for content mills

So, what can you do instead?

How to Land Freelance Writing Clients Without Content Mills

If you thought that content mills were the only way to make money as a writer, you’ll be thrilled to learn that there are other options, that also happen to be a million times better.

I’m going to share one simple process with you.

1.) Find a website with a blog that you’d like to write for. 2.) Find that company on LinkedIn. 3.) Connect with an employee that works with the blog in some capacity, or who can point you in the right direction. 4.) Start a conversation with them about working together.

Essentially, you’re first finding a relevant lead by only reaching out to companies who already have a blog. Then, you’re using LinkedIn cold outreach to connect with that lead and start communicating.

Are there a few extra steps involved compared to finding work on content mills? Yes. Is this still a far more effective approach? Yes. You get to hand-pick who you work with. And you get to avoid your competition, which is incredibly overwhelming on content mills. Because you bypass your competition, you’ll be able to charge way more for your services.

This is a very condensed version of what I teach my students in Revenue Spark, and it’s the process that’s helped me build a six-figure business as a writer. Plus, my clients stick with me long-term (as in five years and up) because I hand-selected them, spent time nurturing a relationship, and then deliver by consistently creating high-quality, optimized content.

When you have a solid strategy for sourcing leads and turning them into clients, you can grow your business beyond your wildest dreams.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Quality trumps all. Focus on sourcing quality leads. Have quality conversations with these leads. Product quality work.

If you prioritize quality, everything else falls into place.

Looking for more help? You might be interested in these:

What are you waiting for? Get to work! :-)