Today we have a philosophical question. It’s about content farms, also known as content mills: What is a content farm, and should you ever consider working for one?
The short answer is like most things in life: It depends. I do have strong feelings about content farms, but I’m also only one person. And we have to remember that I’m in the U.S., based outside of Boston, and that I have been doing this for a long time, since 2002. So this is my perspective. Have I ever worked for a content farm or a content mill? Nope. So mine is also an outsider’s perspective. But it’s also a strong and educated perspective (I think, anyway!) because I understand the copywriting business. I want writers to be aware and to think about everything that goes into the work that they’re doing and the value they’re creating for clients. I don’t want writers, especially younger writers or newer copywriters, to undersell themselves. I think that’s my biggest concern—that writers will be taken advantage of.
So if you decide to do some work for a content mill for whatever reason, and you’ve thought it through and you know the pros and cons and you still decide to do it and it’s working for you, that’s great. But if you’re thinking “Oh, I can make a lot of money at a content farm” or “This is the only consistent way I can make money as a copywriter” or “This is as good as it gets . . . “ Well, I want to be that little voice in your head that reminds you that’s not necessarily true.
So let’s get into the nitty-gritty, shall we?
What is a content farm?
Okay, so first of all, what is a content farm? What is a content mill? You’ll find different definitions. Below, you’ll find my definition.
Content makes the business world go round. This is something you’ve probably heard me say if you’ve watched enough of my videos or if you’re a regular blog reader. So, businesses need content. They need blog posts, web copy, eBooks, and other types of downloadable offers. They need social media posts, they need videos, they need content because that’s what engages visitors. That’s how you attract prospects, that’s how you keep customers engaged. You need someone to create that stuff. And if a business doesn’t have a staff to do it, or if they want to pump out a lot of content and their staff can’t handle the volume, the business will turn to other people to do the writing, like a freelance copywriter, or marketing firm, or sometimes a content farm or content mill.
Content farms position themselves as a cheap alternative to getting content done. They don’t use the word “cheap,” but I’m using that term. They might go with “affordable” or “budget-friendly.” But their whole approach is, “Hey, we’ll give you 10 blog posts for $699, and they’re 500-word blog posts.” So it’s basically $69 a pop. And that’s a really good deal for the business, but not the writer. So if I’m the business who’s hiring the content farm, now I’m thinking, “Hey, that’s a great deal. I get 10 blog posts, 500 words, for only $699.”
But the famous adage usually holds true in these situations: You get what you pay for.
So the quality of these 500-word blog posts probably won’t be at the same quality you’ll get if you pay more to someone like me or many other copywriters out there. That’s just how these things work. When you buy something that’s really cheap, the quality usually isn’t there. And here’s the thing. Not all of these content farms or content mills are bad businesses run by evil people. I don’t think they’re necessarily run by people who are malicious or who are trying to take advantage of writers. But I don’t think many are truly thinking about the writers or the writers’ best interests (because if they were, they’d be paying the writers MUCH more and likely charging their clients much more as well).
I think content farms think of themselves as filling a gap.
They’re operating as the go-between. They work with the client, they manage the content production, and they manage the writer who’s writing those 10 blog posts. Some content farms even have an editorial review where editors edit the content. (Many of the editors are freelancers who aren’t getting paid all that much, either.) The content farm delivers the work to the client and facilitates payment.
The problem I have is that the person who gets paid the least in these situations is the writer. It’s the writer who’s making pennies per word. And that’s not hyperbole. It’s pennies per word. And I have a problem with that because the writer is the one delivering the thing that actually matters. And that’s the content. It’s the blog posts, it’s the web content, it’s the ebook. That’s the thing that’s gonna help attract people to the business and convert the prospect to a lead and possibly a customer. Bottom line: Great content has enormous value.
The writers do all the heavy lifting and there’s value to that, and they should get paid accordingly for that. I’m not saying you need to get paid a million dollars, but you shouldn’t be getting paid pennies per word.
Again, this is MY take, MY opinion on content farms.
And I absolutely acknowledge that I’m coming from a place of privilege. I’m in the US. I’ve been doing copywriting since 2002, so I’m well-established. So I definitely realize and appreciate that people just starting out in this business and/or people outside the U.S. might be in a very different situation from mine. And they might be perfectly okay with the money that they’re making from content farms. And that’s absolutely okay if that’s what makes sense for them and it works. I would still argue, however, that even in those cases, you should get paid more. I don’t care where you are located. If you’re writing great content that gets results, there’s HUGE value to that, and you should be paid accordingly.
But again, I understand that there are situations where someone might be perfectly happy working for a content farm. Maybe they’re writing a few articles a day or week and they’re getting paid for it, and they’re making bank and they’re happy and it works for them. That’s great, if that’s the case.
And if you are a new writer, meaning someone who is new to copywriting and you’re trying to develop that all-important copywriter portfolio, which I talk about in this video, and you’re trying to get those clips to populate your copywriter portfolio so you can show examples of blog posts and eBooks and webpages . . . well, maybe writing for a few months for a content mill makes sense because you can quickly get all those different types of content.
You won’t get paid well for it, but you’ll get the examples and maybe that’s enough to put on your copywriting portfolio. And then from there, you can start courting clients who are willing to pay more. And maybe you continue to write for the content mill, just to have it there to fill the gap as you’re quoting bigger clients and going after other clients and bidding on things.
I get it. We all have to start somewhere. So I understand that and am willing to accept that, just as long as you know that the content you produce is worth more.
This is why I don’t do hourly rates or even per-word rates because the cost should be related to the value that’s being delivered. (Check out my blog post where I talk about how to charge for your copywriting services.)
For example, when I quote a blog post, I’m thinking of the overall value that I’m delivering and the value that that blog post has beyond me.
That blog post lives forever for as long as it’s published and remains live. And it can be bringing in prospects and leads and customers and doing all that heavy lifting. It’s probably gonna pay for itself easily, many times over. So that’s how I think about it, and that’s how I recommend other writers should think about it.
I’m not saying you have to think of it that way. That’s how I recommend you think about it.
So, to recap: What is a content farm? It’s a business that produces lots of content in bulk for low money.
And it does this for many businesses, including big-name businesses that you would recognize who use the services of content farms and content mills. And they do that because they need lots of content and they either just don’t have enough people in-house to do it, or they’re looking for low-cost solutions.
A bunch of years back, one of the marketing firms that I work with . . . we used a content farm once just to experiment with it. And the quality was just not there. I mean, I don’t blame the writer for writing something really quickly because they’re getting pennies on the word. But I basically had to revise and rewrite everything, which took a ton of time. It would’ve cost a lot less if I had just written the stuff to begin with. So that’s something else to keep in mind.
If you’re the owner of a business and you’re thinking of using a content mill . . . I’d recommend using a marketing firm that you know will pay their writers well or working with someone like me and paying directly. You’ll likely get better quality. Yes, you’ll pay more, and you might not get as much content, but you’ll get better-performing content. Remember, more content isn’t necessarily better if it’s just adding to the mountain of crap that’s already out there.
If you do use a content farm, look for ones that are legit where they pay their writers promptly, and their business model isn’t malicious. Try to look for the ones that have integrity. And you can read reviews. And this goes whether you’re a writer, too. If you’re thinking about working for a particular content farm, read the reviews, talk to other writers who write for them, and see what the experience has been like, and make sure you’re working for ones that at least treat the writers decently and seem to be legit.