How Content Site Writers Can Avoid a Bad Reputation


There are many sides to the content site debate and I understand them all, even if I don’t always agree. One popular argument for the anti-content site contingent is that the writers are unskilled laborers turning out crappy content. While I have seen some cases of truly bad content,  I know this isn’t the case for all content writers.  Some content sites take great pains to find experienced writers to create quality content, but there are also sites that don’t even check writing samples or credentials before hiring. To generalize and lump every single content writer in the “crappy content” category is wrong and shows ignorance. There are some incredibly talented people writing for content sites.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t writers turning out poor content, either. Because content sites don’t pay on the high end of the spectrum there are writers who don’t feel it worth their while to put out their best results. My problem with this is that they’re only adding to the “hack” writer stereotype and they’re creating to their own bad reputation. Writers who don’t give their best effort will have their names associated with poor writing. A potential client may come upon this and pass.

If content site writers want to avoid the “crappy content mill writer” reputation and show the world they’re indeed capable of putting out quality content, here are some points to consider:

Writing isn’t rewriting

Going through the motions only looks like you’re going through the motions. Don’t put your name on anything unless you’re sure you want potential clients to see it.  Your byline should always be above your best work. In this business reputation is everything. Writing and researching doesn’t mean Googling other people’s work and rewriting their stuff. Whether you’re writing for a content site, a magazine or a Fortune 500 client, a thoroughly researched, unique, creative effort is required. Anything else is just copying from other writers. Also, take some time to proofread your work and correct any errors. Don’t give anyone a reason to call you a “hack.”

If the gig isn’t worth the money, find a new gig

The complaint among some content site writers is that the money isn’t enough to give a best effort piece of writing. To that I say, “then find something more worthwhile.” If the money isn’t worth the job, don’t do the job. A content site is a client and clients expect your best. If your best costs more money, then you’re writing for the wrong client. Everything you write is part of your portfolio. It has the ability to be on the web forever. Do you really want people finding your worst work? If you can’t do it for $20, find someone who will pay more.

Branch out

Working for content sites day in and day out is fine, but it can also lead to burnout. It also puts you in a comfortable spot. The work is always there so you don’t have to troll for gigs, you can count on a regular payment and you don’t have to deal with phones or emails. The problem with this is that it doesn’t necessarily aspire you to go for higher paying markets and goals. Branch out now and then to stay fresh, try something new and jump start your creativity. Take a break from quick content once in a while to try something different. You might find some interesting higher paying markets and use the lower paying stuff to supplement in between.

Fighting for you…

I want you to know I’m on your side and I will always fight for you. However, I can only do so much. If you don’t want people to see you as someone who puts out poor content, put out your best effort every time. Show the naysayers their arguments don’t hold water.


10 responses
  1. Kathryn Lang Avatar

    My goal is to write something that I would put my name on even if I am not putting my name on that paper. If I can’t use it as a future sample then I shouldn’t be writing it!

    Thanks for sticking up for content writers while reminding us that we need to always put our best foot forward.
    .-= Kathryn Lang´s last blog ..Real or Fake Freelance Writing Jobs =-.

  2. LIsa Avatar

    I’m still baffled by the whole Content Site phenomenon. It seems incredible to me that writers can churn out multi-hundred word articles on obscure topics in under an hour, and keep at it for hours on end… making, apparently, a good living in the process. But if it works, I guess it works.

    Not sure, though, what the difference is between Content Mills and, say, the old fashioned piece work that was completed in the home by impoverished immigrants a hundred years ago.

    Yes, you could and can keep body and soul together… but isn’t this why unions were formed in the first place?

  3. Fledgling Freelancer Avatar
    Fledgling Freelancer

    I’ve done some writing for a content site. I will admit that the style is not my favorite kind of writing; I find it pretty dry, although the topics are interesting enough. But I think I can use that to my advantage later: I’ll be able to demonstrate my ability to adapt my writing style to my clients’ needs, rather than forcing my own style on them.

    Also, while this might not be true of some other sites, this particular site is known to have pretty tough editors. Writing there shows that I can work with an editor, follow a style guide, and produce work regularly. Having been on the editorial side of the fence, I think those are all good things in a writer. It isn’t just your writing that builds your reputation, after all. 🙂

  4. Kathryn Lang Avatar

    Hey Lisa, did you ever take debate – you know, where you had to aggressively argue an issue, either for or against depending on the draw. I kind of view content writing that way. I have to find a way to make the info interesting enough to me and sometimes its simply the thrill of the hung – being able to find those unique pieces of information that will make the content stand out. It’s actually a creative outlet because I am forced to write, both deadlines and topics.
    .-= Kathryn Lang´s last blog ..Real or Fake Freelance Writing Jobs =-.

  5. P.S. Jones Avatar

    I agree that if the work isn’t worth what you’re getting paid that you should move on to some other work. And of course, you want anything that’s not representative of your talent to be associated with your name. That said, content writing is never going to get the same treatment that higher paying work does. It’s the difference between being a five star chef and working the grill at Wendy’s. You feed people at either position but what you feed them and how fast you are expected feed them are completely different.

    I’ve written for a few content sites in between regular client gigs. Demand Studios is probably my favorite because they really do offer their creators more perks than the other ones. (I personally don’t know how the editors are treated.)At $15 or $20 for 400 words, I don’t take on work that I can’t write in half an hour. That means that I know the material so minimal research is required. That’s how I make that work. If it’s a topic that I have to do a lot research for, it’s not going to be profitable, so I don’t do it. It keeps me from slapping copy down in an effort to make money and ruining any reputation that I have built up over the years.

  6. tess Avatar

    It seems as though other freelance writers are the biggest critics of their peers. I’ve seen more so-called “corporate” writers campaigning against “content mills.” If they are not writing for the mills, and they already have so many great clients, why do they care?

    It’s troubling to me that, as this article implies, there are people out there making a concerted effort to discredit other writers.

    Believe me, there are a lot of business people out there who have no clue what good writing is, and they are not the ones complaining — except when they want you to spend 40 hours marketing the press release or article you wrote for them.

    Writing something that produces results means follow-up marketing, not just slapping a story on an obscure website or in an email and expecting people to see it. This is what full-time public relations people do and corporations are expecting freelancers to do it for free.

    Now do the math and tell me what actually pays more — a content mill or a corporate client.

    Sad but true.

    I’ve seen comments here and there about these wonderful freelancers complaining about other freelancers and they usually come from the same chorus — a handful of people with overblown egos. By the way, their writing is not anything to shout about.

    I’ve visited the websites of some of these so-called stellar writers and found their copy to be either dull, difficult to understand or practically non-existent.

    Writing for 2-3 corporate clients once every five years or so does not make you a productive or successful freelance writer. Any writer knows to use their most current work in their portfolio, whether via an email query or on the web.

    I’ve read a lot of the stuff Deb puts out and I think her heart is in the right place. BUT there seems to be a a group freelance writers out there are who are just being bullies. I don’t know why people feel it’s necessary to make themselves out to be more successful than they really are….or aren’t.

    Who cares? I don’t. Wages are being cut across every industry. Get over yourselves.

    Having said all of that, it certainly is difficult to write 200 articles a month and have it be your best possible quality, just as it’s equally difficult to live off of 2-3 larger projects a month that pay $300-$400 a pop.

  7. Anne Wayman Avatar

    Deb, branching out is your best advice here. As you may remember I was originally opposed to the low pay content site until a writer earning money from them put me straight… but I’d sure like to see some of them branch out, and I’ll bet they are doing just that.

    Nice article.
    .-= Anne Wayman´s last blog ..Your Way Or The Client’s Way? =-.

  8. JulieF Avatar

    Many of the writers that rail against content mills and the writers that work for them use ‘crappy’ writing as their focal point. This is where they find the horrible articles on eHow and such. Most of the unedited junk articles are not written by any DS writer. eHow allows anyone to join and sign up for their Writer Compensation Program. Associated Content allows anyone on site. Suite 101 will take writers that may have great samples, but then forget to check their facts.

    My thing is- if you don’t like a place, just do not work for them. Instead of wasting time going off on writers that are taking half-way decent rates, why not point fingers at the writers that churn out hundreds of articles for rates like $1 for 500 words. $1 per hundred words. .30 cent for product descriptions. If anyone is devaluing our work, it is these writers and clients that will take absolutely anything for a few cents.

  9. Danny Donahue Avatar
    Danny Donahue

    OK, OK, I have seen the comments about content site writers all over the place and I just have to jump into the conversation. I have been writing full time for a couple of years now. I first got started on a bidding site (… The pay absolutely sucked! But, I was writing. And, because the pay was so bad, I had to write A LOT to make my money. But, while I was writing for clients on that site, and others like it, I was looking for, and landing other gigs. I wrote and struggled and kept on writing some more. I was putting in 20 hours of research and writing every day just to make a couple hundred bucks. I didn’t do it for the money though. I did it to be able to write. Then, I ran across Demand Studios. I applied and was accepted by them. Today DS is one of my best clients. That’s right, they are just another client. But, like I said, they are still one of my faves. Why? It’s not for the money or the respect. It is because I am contributing something. I may not be producing prize winning material for them, but, I am doing something special and useful. I have accumulated a great deal of knowledge through the years about certain subjects. One of those subjects is construction. Do you know how to build a deck? Fix your toilet? Paint a door? Hell, you may not even care about things like that. But, my readers care. They want to know things. They want to learn new things. They want someone to lay out guidelines for a job so that they can do it themselves. Young people who are just starting out and older people who just want to try something new all read and use the material that I write. So, am I a writer? Hell Yeah I’m a writer! I may not have sold a novel yet. But, my work helps people all over the world do what they want to do and that is a far more satisfying to me than money ever could be. So, you guys and gals out there keep your noses in the air so you can look down them at me and my colleagues. I’ll keep producing content for my clients in print and online while I laugh knowing that instead of being negative I am making a positive difference in the lives of people everywhere — my readers!

  10. Debra Stang Avatar

    I make the vast majority of my freelance money doing keyword/SEO work. I got so frustrated by the bad reputation that keyword writers have that I even retitled my blog: “Confessions of a Keyword Concubine.” Sure, I know I’m never going to get rich writing for the content mills, but I’m pulling in a respectable income, learning a lot, and having a great time. Not bad for working two or three hours per evening.

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