They’ve been called content mills, content farms, bid sites, broker platforms, and many other less kind names, too. But whatever you call them, websites that pit loads of writers against each other in a race to the bottom on price have been around nearly since the birth of the internet. Historically, rates were rock-bottom low and writers were unhappy.
I wanted to check in on the content farm scene again now, because a lot has changed in this neck of the freelance-writing woods. It’s been exactly 4 years since Google’s Matt Cutts declared junk content dead. Google began actively penalizing sites that used the sort of short, semi-literate, SEO-focused ‘articles’ that have long been content farms’ most common product.
That change was like a Category 5 hurricane for content farms.
Over the past few years, many mills have merged or folded. I recently reopened a survey of content mill writers I first did several years ago — and discovered many of the popular mills back then are now gone.
Which made me wonder what life down on the content farm is like today. To find out, I asked my blog readers, Facebook followers, and Freelance Writers Den members to check in with their personal experiences of today’s rates, working conditions, and opportunities on these mass platforms, where thousands of writers are still signed up.
Many of you responded. Below are stories from 13 writers:
1. Stay away from Writing Bunny
I was signed up with Writing Bunny. It’s your typical content farm. They have a system in which articles are dropped to you, but your queue is decided by them and other writers also have a shot at the articles. I wrote a couple for them a month ago, both approved, and received 5 stars.
Yesterday, a month later, the queue was suddenly full. I had some time, so completed several for them. I received a revision request for the first, which I did. This article was rejected with some of the nastiest, most arrogant wording I’ve ever read from a professional editor, and I’ve been freelancing for years now.
I complained, but that only prompted them to tell me to ‘post in the forums to get advice about writing’. The editor’s rejection was abusive and extremely rude, one of the most unprofessional things I’ve ever seen. I’ve done my time in content mills, so I’m used to rejections, but this was beyond the pale.
I’d recommend that anyone stay as far away as possible from this site.
2. Morale slipping at VeryWell
I’ve been writing for Verywell.com (formerly About.com) for about 10 years. I earn $600 to $1,000 a month for 10 to 15 hours of work writing articles. In 10 years, I’ve earned about $100,000 on this platform.
But things are changing. I get paid via a combination of per article pay and residuals. But newer writers get only a pay per piece contract.
Overall, my experience has been positive with a good community of writers and responsive staff. However, communication could be better at times. And morale has also slipped in the last few years as many long-term writers have been let go.
3. Copify paid enough to buy sushi rolls and beers
I found Copify on a Google search for SEO agencies at the beginning of 2015. I wrote approximately 30 articles through the site, and earned about $500 total from it.
The site has a Dashboard where clients post jobs for all writers. For one post that was on a topic that fit well with my background, I received $20 for 15 minutes of work. That works out to $80 an hour. Not bad, but most jobs on Copify are SEO-posts that pay $30 per 1,000 words.
I no longer write for them as I found higher paying work off the site, but at the time it was a good thing to have. I was living in Taiwan and China, and $20-30 buys quite a few sushi rolls and beers.
4. Extremely low pay at BKA Content, but good experience
I’ve been an English writing teacher for more than 10 years, and when my adjunct position at a university seemed to be waning, I decided to try my hand at earning a little extra by freelance writing.
Since I started working for BKA Content, I’ve written just over 100 articles and blog posts. I’ve also edited another 100 posts by other writers. I’ve made about $2200 for my efforts but gained far more in the intangibles of understanding (for starters) the writing business, AP style, and SEO optimization. I now write primarily for the legal content team.
The highest paid writers earn $0.03 to $0.05 per word, while new writers start out at $0.013 per word.
With the exception of the extremely low pay (I’m a mindful writer with a bent for thorough research), I’m really happy with the experience. It’s given me basic tools of the trade and a boost of confidence to push forward toward making a living writing.
5. Writer Access on the low side for professional wages
When I initially signed up for Writer Access, I didn’t try to find many assignments. I was making more through my private clients at the time and didn’t really work with the site for the first few years.
Then I managed to improve my rating, so I could access jobs that pay $0.07 to $0.10 a word, or $70 to $100 per assignment. But at a lower rating, the writing jobs pay half that or less.
I have to admit, before working with this site I was completely biased against any type of content mill. The highest star rating is still on the low side for professional wages. But, the benefit is that the admins at this site are exceptionally easy to work with and do help the writers.
6. Never got paid by Freelancer.com
I wrote 60 articles for Freelancer.com for $1 per article. The process was easy: bid on a job, receive an inquiry on availability, accept.
But it turned out to be too easy, at least for Freelancer to stiff me. I did the work, but I never got paid.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I discovered that two prospective employers were committing mail fraud and tried to get me involved.
I left. But the site is still operating.
— Chris. H.
7. Top-ranked writer banned by BlogMutt
I connected with BlogMutt when I was looking for work I could do from home. Trying to work in an office environment with a chronic illness was difficult. Working from home and getting paid to write seemed right up my alley.
I started writing posts for clients on BlogMutt for $8 per assignment. Within a year and a half, I was a top-ranked writer earning $72 per assignment. I earned about $6,000 writing blog posts for this content farm.
At first, you can only write posts between 250—499 words. You choose the articles you want to write from the boards and post them up. But it’s on spec. You never know when or if you’ll get paid for an article, unless a client sends you a note saying that they chose yours.
I loved BlogMutt, up until I had a submission error. I had written a three-post selection for a client, and when attempting to submit it, the system gave me a red flag. The submission system can flag an article for anything that it thinks is plagiarized.
These were recipe assignments. And there’s no way to not run up a red flag, because so many recipes share the same or similar ingredients. Rather than manually reviewing the article, or letting me talk to someone about the issue, BlogMutt immediately banned my account. And all articles that I’d written became “freebies” for the clients that I had written them for.
8. Left Upwork after weird, unethical assignments
I started writing for Upwork in 2015. I set up a profile, and before long I had my first client. Write 5 to 8 articles (500 to 1,000 words), in 24 hours, and get paid $3 per article.
These assignments varied from product reviews (which I felt a bit bad about as I had never used these items), lists posts for industries I know nothing about, tips and tricks on a variety of topics, etc.
Pretty soon, I realized this client didn’t care if writing fake reviews was unethical, it just had to sound convincing.
Then it got weirder. I got an assignment to write about a cult video game I’ve never heard of. Pitch the game. Talk about how great it is. Explain the game in detail. All within 24 hours.
The next assignment was even crazier. I sat staring at the computer screen for 30 minutes, completely frustrated. I declined the gig, quit Upwork, and decided to go find my own clients writing video marketing scripts.
— Eriko Alexander
9. Content farms filled with writers who work for cheap
I started looking for work on PeoplePerHour and Fiverr, because I couldn’t land a regular job. That’s what my freelancer friends said I should do.
But joining content farms wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made. It took a couple months to get my first assignment. And even after I had some experience, the most I made was about $15 per hour.
Overall, I had a bad experience, and I could not find enough work. I realized I was really frustrated with being in an environment where people are actually ready to work for low rates.
For example, I once received an offer to write 20 1,000-word articles for a total of $10. I was so infuriated, I just didn’t respond. But somebody else took the job.
Fortunately, I realized that content farms are a poor place to look for clients. So I started looking elsewhere: LinkedIn, Facebook groups, Glassdoor listings, and Indeed. And I have some great clients now.
10. Expect crazy bidding wars for low rates on Fiverr
I needed a new source of income when a client contract wrapped up, so I set up a Fiverr account to write articles.
It’s not my only source of freelance work. But right now, I’m earning about $120 a month writing for Fiverr clients.
It works like a lot of other content farms. You have to either wait for people to pick you or bid on certain projects. Usually buyers go with the cheapest bid, and they don’t seem to care much for quality. And it’s not uncommon for buyers to negotiate down to get a lower rate.
It hasn’t been terrible writing for Fiverr clients. But out of every gig, Fiverr takes a commission, and the rates seem to be dropping everyday. Buyers want people to work for peanuts. For example: When a gig for 50 articles (500 words each) that paid $2 per article was posted, people went crazy bidding over it.
I still get the odd gig from Fiverr, so I’ve continued, but it’s not the only place I look for work.
11. People Per Hour penalizes writer for getting sick
I made about $7,000 from writing gigs I found on People Per Hour in about a year and a half. I built a profile. I bid on writing jobs. I did a lot of client work, and improved my ranking.
I was reasonably content with the work I was getting, and then I got sick. I unexpectedly found myself in hospital and unable to work for 5 weeks.
When I eventually got back to People Per Hour, I discovered that the commission rates for new members had gone up to 18 percent, plus the value-added tax the first $680 you earn per month.
That equates to a massive 24 percent tax. I thought I’d be OK, as I was an established member. But People Per Hour told me that because I hadn’t done any work for a while, my commission rate was going to be permanent. Meaning, no matter how much work I do or positive reviews I get, I won’t be able to earn more. I related my circumstances, but they refused to consider a reprieve, saying the rate couldn’t be changed.
I don’t bid there anymore, but I’m finding it a bit of a struggle to find clients on my own.
12. Work ‘makes me want to punch my own spleen out’
I’ve worked for Freelancer, Hubstaff, and Upwork. I started getting writing jobs there a few years ago. I have some ongoing clients, and few really good jobs.
But I mostly write about so-so topics. So much that it makes me want to punch my own spleen out.
I usually get paid about $1.00 per 1,000 words. A lot of the work is boring. But I just recently wrote a bunch of jokes, tongue twisters, and riddles for a kid’s book. Another favorite was writing product descriptions for an online cat-lover’s store.
Some of the work involves a lot of research, and I have been ripped off more than once. I also connected with a client outside of Upwork, did some work, and never got paid. The fees can be high too.
I’m starting to realize, I can’t earn as much money as I would like at a content farm. So I’ve just recently started to branch out and look for clients on my own.
— JoAnne Garries
13. Left Upwork to find better paying gigs elsewhere
I thought Upwork would be a good place to gain writing experience. A little while after I got started, I was earning about $50 to $60 per assignment. But that was for 2,000-word articles for a travel site content mill with no byline.
I kept the client for a long time, because it was a fun topic and consistent, reliable income. But I only stayed active on Upwork for about two years.
If you try and connect with an Upwork client off line, you can be kicked off the platform. There’s a lot of competition for jobs with other writers. And there’s plenty of scammers on Upwork who want to rip you off, and even try to steal your personal information.
I left because I was getting better work elsewhere. I might still consider Upwork if I have a hole to fill, but you have to work really hard, and there are no guarantees you’ll get the assignment.
Takeaways on today’s content farms
We received a total of 22 submissions via email and the Freelance Writers Den from writers about working down on the content farms. Some are still there. Some are making the transition from chasing work on content farms to finding their own clients. And others have sworn off content mills for good. After sifting through all the repsonses, a few takeaways emerged:
- Despite its drawbacks, writers still like Upwork. This bid-style content farm is loaded with low-paying gigs, takes a 20 percent cut on new client work, and requires you to rise through the ranks with positive feedback, to access higher paying gigs. Smaller content shacks seem to be falling away and more low-paid work is consolidating on this bid-site leader. However, some writers report landing regular work that pays $50 an hour or more.
- Perception of content farm wages distorted. Some of the writers we heard from have spent months, and even years at a content farm. They’ve painstakingly built a profile and played the game to rise through the ranks, only to be satisfied with getting paid pennies per word.
- Writer/content farm relationship uncertain. A few writers said their content farm experience includes working with talented writers and editors. But others shared tales of offensive behavior, unprofessional conduct, ethics violations, illegal activity, and no-recourse terminations.
- It’s still a race to the bottom. It’s no secret that some content farms have folded, and others have attempted to reinvent themselves. But it’s a flawed model. Most writers we heard from said these sites create an environment for a race-to-the-bottom bidding war that drives down rates and the value on quality work.
Do you write for content farms? Take my survey for mill writers, and I’ll send you a useful free report on how to earn more.