A content mill or writers' mill is a slang term used by freelance writers and given to a company, website, or operation that provides cheap website content by paying very low rates to writers.
Writing for Content Mills
Freelance writers often start out writing for content mills when they are just beginning their careers because these opportunities are among the easiest jobs to get in online writing. The mills (i.e., the companies) are often in short supply of writers because they pay below the going rate. It can also hurt a writer's reputation with legitimate media companies to have their name associated with a content mill.
Experienced writers (especially those with a large portfolio) command substantially higher rates. There is usually a lot of turnover at content mills, in part because of the low rates; but also because these writers need to work at a breakneck pace to churn out enough work to make the job worthwhile.
Content Mills in Decline
Content mills are also known to be inconsistent about what they want from writers and provide little true interaction with editors. Writers can spend time researching a piece that is never accepted, with no compensation for that time.
Content generation work (sometimes known as "clickbait") is often very shallow writing that is used to get the attention of Google (and other search engines, as well as social media platforms). More often than not, it does not explore topics in depth.
The content mill business is becoming increasingly ineffective because Google has begun to penalize articles that are written clearly for purposes of search engine ranking. Writers should not bank on this as a way to make a living.
What Is the Purpose of Content Writing?
Content marketing, on the other hand, is the act of marketing products through different kinds of online content. It has evolved and moved out of the realm of content mills. Simply put, content marketing is a plan that focuses on creating interesting and engaging content to attract prospective buyers to a product, often for new product launches.
This particular kind of content generation would be a good fit for writers who have a passion for, or skill in, marketing writing and who like to engage with products or audiences. Increasingly, this content is journalistic in nature with no overt sales pitch.
Should Freelance Writers Write for Content Mills?
It depends. Beginning freelancers may want to cut their teeth on content mills, just to get a taste of writing for the web, and to beef up their writing resume. In addition, you may decide to spend some extra time (off the clock) writing a particularly well-written, well-documented article that can then serve as a writing clip, to help a move to better-paying gigs.
Also on the plus side, content writing is a job to snag if you're straight out of school and you're up against stiff competition. Plus, you can create your own hours—whether it's evening hours or weekend hours.
Another positive is that content mills often have decent online systems set up for their writers with interfaces that are easy to learn and use. In a way, you're being given the opportunity to learn another skill set.
And, although the pay leaves a lot to be desired (as low as 2 cents per word), it is often regular work and timely pay. You won't be waiting 90 days (the general rule of thumb) for your payment to arrive. Many of the net's content mills use payment management systems that have a reputation for paying on time.
However, despite all the positives, it's always best to continue to actively seek better paying, higher quality work, maybe within a niche topic that you're skilled in. The prospects for content mills are not getting better.