What is a Content Mill? The Complete Lowdown

Content mills have different rates and different names, but they’re all the same. Basically.

If you aren’t familiar with the term content mill, there’s no need to worry. I worked for content mills for years without knowing what they were. For the most part, content mills offer writing services at bargain basement prices. This is the main selling point and the top drawback of these sites. They appeal to customers with their low rates, but the service suffers because the prices are too low.

In my opinion, these companies should be avoided because they pay their workers insultingly low wages. These companies are the writing equivalent of sweatshops, so you know who is making the real money. Here are a few of the pros and cons of content mills.

Pros:

The cost is low.

It’s easy to sign up.

You’ll have access to a large pool of writers.

You can experiment with different “quality” levels.

You can add a la carte editing and proofreading.

Cons:

Workers are underpaid and disenchanted.

Less than one percent of writers are in the top tier.

Unless you place an order directly, you don’t know who will write it.

Editing services have additional charges.

Companies charge hefty fees.

Content mills pay their workers next to nothing, and they add on hefty surcharges of 30 percent or more in some cases. One particular company takes a full 30 percent on all tips and “bonuses” that their authors receive for doing a good job. Whether that’s $3 off of a $10 bonus or $30 off of $100, it’s terribly unfair. Content mills have a fundamental challenge that’s coming to light as more companies require quality web content. Unfortunately, it’s not the low prices that put customers off. It’s the quality of these super-cheap levels that makes them go elsewhere. Sadly, few content mill clients even know how much their writers receive after the brokerage company takes their cut.

Another fundamental problem associated with content mills is their editorial process. A lot of these companies cut costs by eliminating editors. These same companies will review their authors as part of a ghastly quality assurance process. Speaking as a person who made it to the ceiling of content mills, the “editors” at these sites are paid even less than the writers, who are also grossly underpaid. There is also a stereotype that these authors are young grads who think they know everything. Regardless of age, content mill editors are prone to applying grammatical rules recklessly and in a way that degrades the final product.

If you’ve ordered articles from a content mill, your writer may have been better than the editor. Today, up-market content mills are popping up, but the problems are all the same. We started Write On! because we wanted a better alternative to content mills, an alternative where writers and clients work together and develop lasting partnership. Get off the content mill bandwagon, and see the light!

Developing a Style and Voice For your Web Content

Got Tone? Tips for Developing a Writing Style

Developing a writing style that appeals to your readers is an art. The tone of your copy is the key to the success of your marketing strategies. Your returns rest largely on the quality and style of your text. For companies in the healthcare, legal and financial industries, this means their text needs to be clean, clear, concise and competent. In fact, the four Cs are favored by most if not all Fortune 1000 companies. For a company that sells sports tickets or toys, a much lighter, conversational tone is the better option. We’ve had clients express concern about matching their tone when their website is completely toneless. This goes to show that tone is a sensitive and important topic. Here are a few tips for developing a voice for your web content.

Who is your target audience? This is the most important factor. A personal injury attorney who is targeting people who have been injured or lost a loved one needs to use a voice that is strong, compassionate and effectively illustrates their strengths. For example, “Contact us today to speak with a compassionate personal injury attorney who can protect your rights and act as a legal advocate.”

Now, let’s consider a restaurant that makes the best barbeque in the city. Restaurants are part of a leisure market. People dine in their free time using disposable income. To appeal to consumers, we must create a tone that actively promotes their delicious food and the lively ambiance.

“At Judge Bean’s Bar-B-Q, we make the meanest barbeque sauce east of the Mississippi and the best pulled pork ya’ll will ever taste. Stop by for a plate-clearing, finger-licking good time.”

On the other side of the spectrum, a gourmet catering company that uses local produce might need a more conservative tone. For a high-end caterer, we might use a more sophisticated, erudite tone.

“From fresh, tender arugula to locally produced cheese, we partner with local farmers to procure the finest and freshest ingredients. We use the highest-quality products and artisan cooking techniques to produce slow-food for large events.”

There is an entire spectrum of literary tones. I like to think of it like a rainbow. On one end, we have a straight-ahead, no-nonsense corporate tone. On the other, we have zany, edgy, off-the-wall. This means that there are subtle differences in tone that are comparable to the visual differences between teal and blue-green. Once you have the right tone, you’ll know it.

You wouldn’t believe how many content mills suggest the most banal and generic tones. Informative and interesting, sales driven and promotional, light and conversational or educational and informative. These are the options that a mass-market content mill will give you. They might as well as say meaningless and bland, boring and stale or light and fluffy. We’re not talking about comfort food or ice cream. Let’s get real. Don’t be tone deaf. The success of your website depends on the quality and style of your content, so you’ve got to make it good. As up-market copywriters, we collaborate, we work with clients, and we infuse our writing with creativity to match our customers’ goals. That’s why our copy is effective.

To develop the right style and tone, consider who your target market is, what you’re selling and what your goals are. Words represent your company, its personality and its products. That’s why it’s important to have a tone that accurately portrays your company’s strengths. On our own website, we like to have a little bit on fun on your text. For clients, we develop a tone based on their individual needs and goals, which are rarely the same from company to company.

You’re welcome to share your perspective on the challenges of developing the right style and tone for your web content.

The Pronoun Breakdown: Which One’s Right For Me?

Pronouns are back, and it’s time to understand what they can do for your writing once and for all. In digital writing, choosing the right pronoun is a challenge. When we’re crafting web pages and home pages, the clients requesting the content don’t always know what voice they should use. This isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s something that needs to be explained better.

First of all, there are three choices, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. We’ll talk more about that later. The choices we have for choosing personal pronouns are:

First person

I

We

Second person

You

You

Third person

He/She/It

They

Back in foreign language class, teaching materials broke down plural and singular pronouns in a nice, simple way. All singular pronouns, I, you, he, she and it are in the left-hand column. The plural pronouns we and they are always in the right-hand column, and they progress in the same order: first person, second person and third person.

For more info about grammatical persons, visit Grammar Girl for an in-depth explanation.

First Person

Let’s start with the first person. Although the name is odd, everyone is familiar with the first person. We use the first person when we’re talking about our day at the office. In books, the first person is traditionally used as a narrative. First person has several cases (nominative, objective and possessive), but it always uses some form of I, me or my.

If we’re writing for a company, the first person “we” is a great option. If Bob owns a one-man show landscaping company, the singular first person “I” would be the best choice. As a general rule, first person is ideal when speaking directly as a company.

Second Person

Here’s where the second person comes in. If the company is “we,” who are the customers? For most content that is appearing on a company website and addressing the reader directly, the answer is you. In English, you is a singular pronoun, but we also treat it like an informal plural pronoun, so there is some mixing and matching going on.

Third Person

Now, it’s time to talk about the third person. This one is tricky. Third person writing is best when content is designed to be general, impartial and non-promotional. This adds credibility, and it doesn’t single out the reader. Third person is also valuable when we’re talking about sensitive topics, but we don’t want to judge the reader. Things like payday loans and insurance are easier to discuss when we use personal examples and direct the user to take action. If we’re talking about an infertility clinic or an attorney who specializes in foreclosures, addressing the reader directly can be uncomfortable.

Third person requires the pronouns he, she, it or they. We can also use generalizations like customers, homeowners and clients. Although these aren’t pronouns, addressing clients or homeowners directly is a much nicer alternative than using he/she, it or they.

Which One’s Right For Me?

Professionally, the “we/you” setup is ideal for company web pages. Third person should be used in informational content, encyclopedia-style articles and journalistic pieces. Press releases, for example, must always be written in the third person. The only exception is when quoting a company representative. For most marketing materials, it’s a great idea to address your target audience directly by using a combination of first and second person pronouns.

If you’d ask me “which grammatical person is right?” I would have to say that there’s no definitive answer. But, I can say that if you choose the wrong one, writing will be more difficult, and if you choose the right one, the words will flow more smoothly. The right grammatical person will emphasize your key points and address the reader in a comfortable and clear manner.

If you have any questions about choosing the correct grammatical person, just ask!