Writing for Content Mills – Revisited

 

Recently, I pitched the following article idea to WritersWeekly:

“Unexpected Sites Where You Can Market (and Profit from) Your Freelance Writing Skills: “Content Mills” (e.g., Squidoo)”

The response I received back was a bit of a shocker:

“I’m sorry but we never suggest writers write for content mills. They are horrible.”

Needless to say, I didn’t win that article pitch.

What I had failed to realize was that content mills are a big source of debate and contention among freelance writers. Some writers’ organizations refuse to even speak about them. Other freelance writers take a difference stance and view working in content mills as a kind of internship.

What are content mills?

In essence, content mills are low-paying online writing sites that either pay you an up-front free for your submitted content and/or make you a part of their revenue-sharing program (based on your content’s page views).

Some example content mill sites include HubPages, Yahoo! Voices, Infobarrel and, as mentioned above, Squidoo. Other sites, such as Textbroker and Constant Content, post specific writing requests from individual clients that are paid on a per-word basis. Unless you are writing 20+ articles/day for these sites, you will probably NOT get rich from content mills. At most, you’ll be able to purchase groceries or holiday gifts from earnings deposited into your content mill kitty. Oh, and don’t forget that even these piddly monies are still considered taxable by the IRS.

Why write for content mills?

While many freelance writers would disagree, there are several benefits to writing for content mills, especially if you are just starting out in your writing career:

  1. Practice, practice, practice. You get to practice on your writing, make your mistakes and learn from them. You see what works- and what fails- in terms of reaching your target audience and getting page views. You certainly become a better writer.
  2. Learn. Content mills like Examiner offers tutorials and lessons on how to write better through its Examiner University. HubPages asks writers to produce content on demand with the “30 Hubs in 30 Days” challenge. Obviously, improving the quality of your writing is of benefit to the content mills since they achieve higher traffic and ad revenue by doing so. However, these same benefits also trickle down to you, increasing your up-front pay and page views over time.
  3. Benefits. When I first started writing for Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices), I had to be satisfied with earning $5 per article or fewer. However, as my seniority with the site increased, so did my opportunities to write for specific content niches such as personal finance. This increased my pay rate substantially. I was also offered partner assignments that were published on big-name sites like The Huffington Post, Oral-B, AT&T and CreditCards.com.
  4. References. As my content mill library grew, so did outside interest in my work. I gained one full-time client because of my work with Textbroker. Another client liked the fact that I was submitting content to sites like Yahoo! Finance and MSN Money and asked me to write financial articles for him too. In short, although content mill work wasn’t paying me all that much, it was certainly getting my name out there.
  5. Confidence. I knew the kind of praise some of my best work had won for me and I used that praise as impetus to approach potential clients. Thanks to various partner assignments, I also had actual “outside-of-mill” work that I could show off in my resume. Clients starts noticing- and hiring.

Why you should NOT write for content mills

So, if “working in the mill” helped launch my own writing career, why are content mills looked upon as “horrible” by many freelance writers? Here are a few quite valid reasons that I’ve received:

  1. Slave wages. Content mills ask for stellar, SEO-qualified and interesting content- and then pay you a penny per word or even fewer for something that takes all day to produce. Many writers end up earning below minimum wage for their work. Others work 12+ hour days in order to eek out a somewhat decent living from their writing efforts.
  2. Low quality writing. Let’s face it: You simply cannot hope to produce your best work when you’re hustling through 10 or more writing assignments each day. The quality of your submissions will suffer- and so will your reputation as a writer. High paying clients may pass you by once they review your articles and see them riddled with spelling errors and/or mindless drivel.
  3. Wasted time. Writing for content mills uses up the time and energy you could’ve put forth to attract big name clients and budgets. Many content mill writers never send out a query letter that might help them land a better job. Others never have the chance to write for charity and other free publications that at least build up their writing resume. “Penny-wise and pound foolish” becomes the underlying motto of many content mill writers as they chase after a few dollars here and there and miss out on five- and six-figure writing incomes.
  4. Lack of respect. The French author Jules Renard stated, “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.” Some writers won’t work in content mills simply on a matter of principle. In essence, they view writing as a job, and no recruiter in this day and age would expect an employee to work for 50 cents an hour with no benefits. If corporate writers receive $30-$50/hour, then so should freelance writers doing the same type of work. Settling for anything less sets a bad norm for writers and makes other professionals lose respect for them.

The Bottom Line

In the end, is working for content mills a worthwhile venture or a waste of time and effort? It depends. If you can look upon your “time at the mill” as a proving ground for honing your skills and talent, then your efforts are not in vain. If you make sure to allot some of your time towards sending out query letters and courting potential clients with free articles and blog posts, then at least you are making some headway into a more stable and lucrative writing career.

Unfortunately, the biggest mistake that most content mill writers make is to have no exit strategy in place. Year after year, they settle for less money than they’re worth and miss out on valuable job opportunities. Some content mill writers who have sent out query letters and been rejected feel that “the mill” is the only place that they’ll ever find work, a feeling that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy once they stop making plans to find anything better.

Personally, I never had an exit strategy in place during my time at “the mill”. In fact, I still submit content to various mills from time to time- especially now that I have clients willing to pay me additional money for that option. However, had I started reaching out sooner to private clients, I would be much better situated today. I also would’ve been able to quit my “real job” sooner to start my freelance writing career. Knowing what I know now, I certainly would’ve taken a different approach earlier on. Alas, my hindsight has always been about 18/20.

How to Create Your Own Online Scam

“…if the just man is good at keeping money, he is good at stealing it.” Plato, Book I, The Republic

Pretend for a minute that you want to create an online scam that will line your pockets with a significant amount of money. How would you create this scam? Who would you target? Would you involve your friends or keep it to yourself? And perhaps most importantly, when would you end it; i.e., take the money and run?

I’ve Tried That is a site dedicated to spotting and reporting online scams. Since 2007, the scams that have been featured on this site include everything from classic Nigerian “you’ve got cash!” emails to data entry to even colon cleansing (complete with a photo you don’t want to see while eating). As different as all these scams are, however, they all take advantage of one or more of the following six elements to lure you in:

User ignorance: Faecal encephalopathy is a serious medical condition that may be affecting you and your family members, but our associates have the cure.

Voice of authority/experience: Dr. Homer J. Simpson, who studied nuclear engineering at the prestigious Saint Regis University, has worked at a nuclear power plant for 10+ years. He is nationally recognized as a nuclear power plant safety expert.

Emotional appeal: Still stuck in that low-paying job while your boss buys a flashier car every year? What would you do with an extra $1,000 every week? Our system helps you make money while you sleep! “Stick it to the man” and quit your job today!

A hint of truth: Smoking leads to almost all cases of small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a very aggressive form of cancer. Luckily, our retinoic acid products inhibit lung cancer, allowing you to smoke without worry.

Exclusivity: It took years for our senior officers to learn how this revolutionary system operates. However, its secrets can now be yours when you join our VIP members-only club.

Limited time: Act now while supplies last. We have only 30 cases of iron pyrite jewelry on hand. Operators are standing by.

Given the information provided above as well as my constant exposure to all kinds of online scams, I’ve come up with the following five scam ideas and how they could be perpetrated. Keep in mind that this information is only theoretical and is meant to help you learn about and spot scams.

Do not attempt the following ideas at home!

1. The new and improved Nigerian email scam.

Send people emails giving them a sob story about some person who is orphaned and can’t withdraw his/her money- but add a contemporary twist. For example, make a plea for a young girl who is being held against her wishes by the Taliban and can’t withdraw the huge sum of money she has inherited in the U.K.- money that would help free her. Or, decry a dog slaughter operation here in the U.S. that would be instantly shut down if some groups could just gain access to their locked funds.

The possibilities are endless- and someone is bound to bite. Once you accumulate a few interested parties, have them forward you money for bogus expenses like taxes, processing costs, legal fees, etc. At some point, you might even gain access to a bank account or the personal information of your email recipients. Drain those accounts and/or steal identities.

2. Fake services company.

Create and purchase a domain name that resembles a high ranking services site. For example, Seomoz.org is a rather well-established SEO services company. Working off of this site, you could create the domain name Seomoz.org/business. This allows your site to be easily found online and establishes credibility. Then, you start emailing small business websites and offering them a service package for only $499/year. Be sure to have the business click only on a special “discount” link that you provide through your website or email correspondence.

Once you collect a sufficient number of Paypal payments, transfer all assets to a bank account created especially for this purpose (using someone else’s personal information that was hopefully gained from scam #1). Sit on your bogus website for a month, sending out periodic emails to your “clients” asking for specs about their websites (e.g., what keywords they want to be ranked for) and other filler newsletters and company announcements. After that month has passed, close down your website and bank account.

3. Compromised account scam.

Send emails to people notifying them that their Paypal, eBay, Amazon etc. account has been compromised and the company needs to re-verify critical account records like the person’s name, log in information, password, etc. The few emails that come back to you with this pertinent information will be worth their weight in gold.

Alternately, if you have some programming skills, create a spyware link that leads the user to a fake account site resembling what would be seen on Paypal, eBay, Amazon, etc. On this site, the user inputs all his/her personal information and transmits it to you. In such a case, you would gain valuable information and be able to install a spyware program on the user’s computer, enabling you to monitor all his/her future keystrokes.

4. Sell a bogus product.

Create a fake product and sell it online. Some examples include diet patches/wraps, miracle creams and nutritional supplements. Making such products at home is easy and all you need is a merchant account that accepts credit cards. Make the refund time at least 6 months or longer, thus lulling customers into putting aside their purchase receipt and eventually forgetting about it or losing it. Testimonials and referrals can be gathered from your friends.

You could even go all out and schedule a webinar or seminar where you hand-pick audience members for questions or praise about your product- audience members that just happen to be your friends. Making and selling a fake product is perhaps one of the easiest scams to perpetrate because many individuals will actually benefit from the product thanks to the placebo effect (i.e., improvement in health through simple belief that the product is working).

5. Sell a bogus product- and create an MLM around it.

Why make money on a bogus product alone when you can also make money from member recruits? Create your own multi-level marketing scheme by recruiting people to buy and sell your product directly. Use your friends for testimonials about how this product and business changed their lives. Your friends can also be used as downline (customer) decoys so that the MLM recruits start making a little money and keep buying bulk product from you.

Learn How to Make Legitimate Money Online Instead

Sure, the allure of a windfall of cash at no work is enticing, but there are much better ways to spend your time. I’ve developed a free step-by-step plan of action that will help you build a real business online. You’ll learn the ins-and-outs of setting up real streams of income that don’t come from deceiving others. Best of all, our guide is absolutely free.

The Bottom Line

In summary, always remember that scammers rely on your vulnerabilities (e.g., ignorance, lack of time) and vices (e.g., greed, laziness) to make money. Before clicking on a web link or providing any personal information, do your homework or call the company directly. Install a spyware/malware protection program on your computer as well. Limit what you reveal online while at a publicly used computer. In short, being vigilant and aware of what scammers might do online protects you from losing your money, time and personal information.

Oh, and don’t create your own online scam.

I’m Getting Married!

Right now, I’m sipping my coffee, writing this post, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of 14 family members. These past few month have been a whirlwind of meetings, flowers, cake tastings, and appointments, but it’s all coming to an end in a few days because…

I’m Getting Married on Saturday!

I have a wonderful best friend who I’ll be proud to call my wife (that word is going to take some getting used to) in just a few days. We met six years ago in college and have been together ever since. I’m very blessed to have found someone so supportive. She is truly awesome.

We are going on a honeymoon to Hawaii for two weeks on Monday. We’ll be visiting the islands of Maui and Kauai. I absolutely cannot wait to sink my feet in the sand, kick back, and have absolutely nothing to do but relax and enjoy those soothing ocean sounds.

As you may have guessed, my email response time is going to be awfully slow these next few weeks. I hope you understand that I will be limiting my laptop use as much as possible while honeymooning in Hawaii. I will get to the email, but it may take a few extra days to do so.

The lovely Halina has written a couple of extra posts for the next two weeks. I’ll be away, but I’ve Tried That will still update as usual.

Okay, I think that’s it! Wish me luck!

-Steve

8 Online Research Jobs Currently Hiring in 2020

Two quick question before you start looking for online research jobs:

1. What was the first quarter 2012 revenues for Sturm Ruger?

2. How much does the average U.S. wedding cost?

If you answered $112 million (surprisingly, NOT the wedding cost) and $27,021, then you may have a lucrative future as an Internet (online) researcher.

If however, you stumbled onto the following 1941 ad for wax-fortified paints, online research may not be your forté.

What are Online Research Jobs?

Many publications are moving from print to digital format, placing a significant amount of information online for users to sift through and try to make sense of.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of Internet research (categorized under Information) is expected to grow 16%, a trend that will continue into the future.

WIkipedia online research

However, despite the rise of powerful search engines such as Google, online information is not always readily accessible.

This is particularly true of technical and scientific data that are often restricted to subscription-based journals and esoteric publications that aren’t listed on page one of Google’s search results.

Likewise, finding correct and relevant information takes time, a luxury that many companies and businesses do not have.

For example, a law firm may wish to provide its readers with an article documenting traffic accident statistics state-to-state but not have the time to research every state. Alternately, a debt consolidation company may wish to know about the most common sources of unsecured debt so that it can offer services tailored to those debts.

The solution to such dilemmas has been to hire freelance Internet researchers who are adept at finding online information on such different topics.

Internet research is much more complicated than simply looking up answers on Wikipedia (which is NOT recommended, by the way).

You will be sifting through some esoteric journals and textbooks, assuming that the business has paid subscriptions to them.

You will be perusing the websites of government and national organizations.

You will be looking at business earnings reports and cash flow statements.

You may also need to contact scientists, statisticians and professors directly in order to obtain the most relevant information for your assignment.

Internet Research Process

The bottom line here is that, for every claim made, you will need to back it up with hard data and references; no educated guesses are allowed.

How do you get started as an Online Researcher?

You can perform “generic” Internet research for various third-party answer sites by simply going online and reading up on a requested topic, then submitting your results and getting paid by the client.

Unfortunately, such work is often low-paid because it is considered unspecialized.

Also, the tasks often require a significant amount of time to complete because their subject matter may not be familiar to you and thus involve a steep learning curve. However, the benefit of such work is that it’s not hard to obtain clients.

8 Online Research Jobs to Try

Here are a few sites that offer online research jobs:

1. Wonder

Wonder is a resource site for researchers in need of instant feedback for their studies and it’s easily the most prolific site on this list.

As part of the Wonder team, you’ll receive questions directly from customers and your job will be to find the best available information on the topic.

Jobs typically take around 3 hours to complete, making pay range around $15-$25 per hour, depending on your speed and expertise.

Wonder prides itself on answering questions within 24 hours. Be prepared to work under heavy deadlines.

2. Ether

Ether doesn’t really advertise itself as a question-and-answer site, but it works in a similar fashion.

The main difference is that experts create their own listing, showcasing their set of skills and knowledge along with rates for their services.

Ether gives each expert an Ether phone number (1-888 plus a unique 8-digit extension). Ether takes 15% commission from your rate per call, per minute or per hour.

Payment is sent via Direct Deposit or as a check.

3. Maven

Maven

Maven, like Ether, allows you to advertise your services as a consultant in the fields of your choosing.

You will receive contracts to answer questions and provide insights from some of the world’s most prestigious companies, like Boeing or Intel.

4. JustAnswer

JustAnswer offers subject matter expert positions in the fields of medicine, law, veterinary science, math tutoring, etc.

To become a subject matter expert, you must show proof of a relevant degree (e.g., M.D.) and/or professional experience.

5. Experts123

This site operates on a revenue-share platform where page views amount to a specified amount of money; for example, you might earn $1.50 for each PPM (i.e., thousand page views).

Experts123 does offer upfront payments of $10-$20 per approved article for more seasoned researchers.

6. PrestoExperts

This company also serves as a platform for those in need of answers to questions in the field of medicine, business, technology, social media, law, and so on.

When invited to join, freelance experts are given a profile where their education, work experience, specialization and rates are displayed. Clients could then contact you directly (via phone, email or online chat) for a job.

You are in control of your fees, so you may set it by the hour, per project, or so on.

7. Studypool

Studypool invites students around the world to submit questions from every type of subject imaginable.

All questions are shown publicly and you are given the chance to bid on the job in order to provide an answer.

You get paid when your answers are accepted.

8. Answeree

Earn money by answering questions.

You can make additional money by getting people to like your answer best of all.

Make extra money while you research

We’re big believers here at optimizing your earnings while you spend time online. We highly recommend clicking here to create a free account at SwagBucks.

They pay you to use their search engine and the results are provided by Google. It’s a great way to pull in a little extra cash while researching without changing any of your online habits.

Make Your Own Online Research Job

What if you want to strike out on your own and/or don’t want to give up a portion of your earnings to a third party site? Although it is more challenging, you can start your own Internet research business.

For example, Carol Tice offers her own freelance writing research and expertise through The Freelance Writers Den as well as private mentoring and coaching.

Todd Tresidder offers personal finance and investment coaching via his website FinancialMentor.

In both of these cases, Internet researchers who could have continued to sell their services through third-party sites decided to start their own businesses- and reap all the profits (and risks) as a result.

Winning new clients will probably be the trickiest part of starting your own Internet research business.

You will need to create a professional-looking website and business cards.

You will also need to network- heavily.

AdSense and Facebook ads may spark initial interest but in this line of work, a personal approach works best.

Consider joining your local chamber of commerce or civic association and marketing your services to local businesses.

Attend some professional happy hours in your chosen area(s) of expertise. Cold calling may also succeed if you’re comfortable speaking on the phone to business owners who could use your services.

You simply can’t be shy about tooting your own horn in this line of work- and putting an actual face on your business.

If you still find yourself stuck, The Association of Internet Researchers offers plenty of useful advice and networking opportunities for would-be Internet researchers. The AoIR also organizes several yearly conferences that enable you to hone your skills and make vital contacts.

For example, you could benefit by partnering with other AoIR members, gaining their client lists, and expanding your business offerings through them.

An Online Research Job is What You Make of It

You know that saying “you only get out what you put in”? Internet research certainly holds this saying to be true.

The more expertise and experience you accumulate, the more money you will make as an Internet researcher.

The more you market your services, the more clients you will gain.

Alternately, if you are satisfied with just making a few bucks by answering Yahoo! Answers questions, then that’s exactly where your online research business will remain even after several years.

On the other hand, if you like helping people and are willing to learn, grow and on occasion even take a few hits to your self-esteem, then this line of work could eventually become your calling.

You may also want to consider looking into getting paid to answer questions online. It’s a very similar field, but with more opportunities and higher pay rates. Although, you do need a little more specialized knowledge to get the big bucks.