I often hear business owners marvel at the idea that they can hire freelancers(I’ll be referring to writers as freelancers in this post), specifically copywriters and content writers on content mills or online marketplaces to create the results they want for dirt cheap. While it may have not been intended, it now seems the goal of content mills and online marketplaces is to find someone to do quick work for a small fee, as these sites often pay freelancers a fraction of the actual price or take a hefty sum for using their platform.
What are Content Mills?
Content mills are websites or companies that produce large amounts of written content for clients in different industries. They hire freelance writers to create content on almost any topic, often at really low rates of pay. The content produced by these writers is then sold to businesses, who use the content to improve their search engine rankings, use as shareable content and to provide information to their audience. Online marketplaces offer freelancers the ability to set up profiles and post services for a specific fee, and when a service is purchased the marketplace takes a cut from allowing the freelancer and business to find each other on their site.
The first issue with content mills is that they can pay very low rates and often don’t provide fair compensation for a writer's work. Some mills pay as little as a few cents per word, which is absurd. Because unless you’re a bot, you can’t write fast enough (or good enough that fast) to sustain a viable monthly income. I actually wrote for a content mill in the very early stages of my freelance writing career. It was awful. They were rude. They didn’t understand the value of the work I was doing, assignments kept changing, they wanted the work done within minutes (that’s not possible!). Oh, and they paid $0.003 cents per word.
Leading to my next point. Content mills often require a large volume of work to be completed in a little amount of time. These companies can put undue pressure on writers to produce low-quality content quickly, which can not only be detrimental to the writer’s reputation but also the client’s. This may become an issue as there is a higher chance for poor converting content, content that could be plagiarized and content that’s not strategically crafted which doesn’t do much but sit on your website collecting dust.
Guidelines for Quick Content
Content mills sometimes have a standardized process for creating content, like specific guidelines for topics, keywords, and word count. While this makes it easier for writers to quickly produce content that meets the client's requirements - the keyword here is quick. We know quickly isn’t always efficient. We know the content produced by content mills may not be high quality, since writers are often paid a low rate and have to produce ridiculously large amounts of content to make a living. Content mills often take a large part of the fee when the writers should be paid appropriately which creates a high turnover rate and influx of writers with little to no experience writing your content.
This is similar to freelance digital marketplaces. Although those seem to be a little better in terms of quality and pricing, a lot of business owners will try to stay well below their budget when they see they can do so on these platforms. Business owners don’t take into account the limited experience these freelancers have compared to freelancers who stay away from these sites because they only work with clients who value what they do, and in turn, create amazing work for the appropriate price.
Here’s a tip, when a writer knows they can produce quality work that increases revenue for a company, a writer will charge what they’re worth and then some. So when you see a writer charging a sweet deal it’s likely because they’re just starting out or they’re not confident in their ability to produce results.
Another issue is some of these sites give the most basic English reading, writing, and comprehension tests that a 9th grader could pass, which means someone without experience can pass the test and charge for services they may be terrible at. Although there are some great writers on these sites, there are often many bad writers.
Content mills and freelance sites are notorious for low pricing. Imagine experienced writers lowering the cost of their services to compete with the low prices inexperienced writers are charging. A writer isn’t going to be able to make a full-time wage off of $25 blogs. But someone who has little experience and is working a full-time job hoping to transition into content writing and creating a portfolio can do that easily.
Inexperience isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t want to work with an inexperienced doctor when they’re doing a surgical procedure.
Don’t get me wrong, inexperience isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t want to work with an inexperienced doctor when they’re doing a surgical procedure. I’d rather opt for the professional, seasoned doctor who’s more experienced and will get the job done right. If you need a specific job done make sure the freelancer knows how to do it and how to get you the results. I’ve seen people make a very large profit teaching other people how to become a copywriter when they themselves weren’t experienced in the least. It’s frustrating but it happens.
Another problem is a lot of writers and freelancers on these marketplace/content mill sites are focused on speed, not quality. Going back to a $25 blog - you’d need 4 a day, 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month without any taxes or site fees taken out to make $2,000. I live in New York. $2,000 a month can’t even get you a studio apartment. So, what some freelancers do on these sites is hustle fast to get your work back, which increases the chance of plagiarism, incorrect fact-checking, grammatical errors and typos, and a not-so-thought-out piece of content that may not do what it’s supposed to on your website or to your email list. And what some freelancers do is hire cheaper writers to write the gigs for them. I’ve seen a lot of get-rich-fast “influencers” on social media who brag about doing this but they miss a key point - they were interested in profiting only, not getting the client the best value. Because hiring someone for even cheaper than $50 to write a blog is pimping out your work to an even less experienced person. But I guess when a business isn’t willing to pay the appropriate rate, it leaves them susceptible to getting scammed.
Speaking of scammy, back in the day before I knew how to find clients I wanted to work with, I had signed up for some of these sites and one in particular, which is still in business today, felt super scammy. Something didn’t sit right with me that you had to pay, as a business owner, to have access to a writer’s profile. While writing this post, I went back to the same site to see what they’ve done over the years and noticed they advertise some of their writer’s profiles. One particular writer has 1,781 reviews, yet when you search the writer’s name on Google there’s literally nothing except their writer account on the site that’s locked behind a paywall, which seems scammy to me, still. No LinkedIn page, no website. No social media. A quick review of the site on Google shows that the writers make around $0.007 cents per word yet the site boasts writers can make thousands of dollars per month. Sure, if they never sleep!
The site also claims they have had billion-dollar companies work with their writers found on the site, but I doubt that a billion-dollar company would go to a content mill for marketing services when they could hire an ad agency to do all the work. Make it make sense!
A lot of business owners are misled when they look on these sites hoping to find copywriting services under the content writing guise. And although content writing and copywriting can be done by one person, a person who strictly writes blogs probably doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to draft copy for email campaigns, website sales pages, and so on. So, finding the right fit is important rather than just looking for a quick resolution.
As a copywriter who writes both copy and content, I want to watch your business grow.
I want to be in your life for a good amount of time, generally more than a week 😅. I get satisfaction from knowing that my work and ideas are helping people grow their businesses, reach more people, and sell more products and then I see how your services and products are helping those who have purchased them. It’s an all-around rewarding experience. Very rarely can the writer work with the client outside of the content mill’s system because many companies have keywords that get flagged if a client or freelancer takes their business relationship to the next level…off the site.
And while it’s said to protect the business owner and the freelancer, it’s more so for the site to make revenue every time the business owner purchases a service from the freelancer on the site. While some sites let the freelancer charge their own rate and take a low fee from it, some don’t. And fees add up. The only way to make sure the business and freelancer are legit is to have a conversation on Zoom, look at their website or LinkedIn profile, and always have a contract in place. Many copywriters ask for 50% upfront to make sure they’re paid for the work because it’s much harder as a freelancer to get your money from a client who flaked on the bill than it is for an employee of a company who receives a W-2.
So, at the end of the day, if you really don’t have much of a budget and need content in a pinch, a digital marketplace is a better option than a content mill, but truly working with an experienced copywriter who can strategically plan out your content and copy and show results during your business partnership is always the best choice. If you’re in need of copy or content services that aren’t pimped out to some rando, email me to chat about your goals here.