SEO Content Mills Are (Almost) Dead. Now What?

You’ve probably heard the buzz that Google was going to start treating content mill articles much differently. A post on the Official Google Blog states,”…We hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.

Can I get an “Amen?”

I’ve railed on content mills before – companies that focus more on quantity (paying writers low-dollar for keyword-stuffed SEO content) and how dangerous they are for the industry. Good for Google for taking action and (hopefully) pushing the “delete” button on these poor-experience pages. Hopefully, this means that the concept of content mills really is (almost) dead in Google’s eyes – and we can expect better quality results.

But that brings up another question: How do we help companies understand that, if they want good SEO content (you know, content that isn’t going to cause problems in Google and Bing,) that means paying for it.

The thing is, content mills did so darn well because they offer cheap copy (don’t believe that they’re doing well? Check out Demand Media’s IPO.) Clients choose cheap over quality because, well, they can. If you have a choice of paying $25 an article, or $500 – and you don’t know any better – which would you choose?

And it’s not just clients. Many SEO companies pay their writers peanuts, expecting them to churn out optimized sales pages for less than $20/page. Low rates encourages writers to work fast, work sloppy and churn out sub-standard work. It’s copywriting for SEO at its worst.

Sadly, in the end, it’s the client that loses. Because many times, they don’t understand that the SEO copy is bad. They think it “has” to read this way. And heck, if you’re going to have crap content on your site, you don’t want to pay very much for it.

I believe that now is the time to take action. We as an industry need to educate clients on what good SEO copywriting is – and what it is not. We need to demonstrate the value of SEO content, rather than just saying, “You need good content” and figure we’ve done our job. That means more education, more content-oriented conference sessions and clear quality content examples.

Lee Odden and the good folks at TopRank Marketing do an excellent job spreading the word. As does Joe Pulizzi from CMI, and Byron White at IdeaLaunch. Jill Whalen has discussed “quality content” since the beginning of SEO time. We need more evangelists like these folks.

Plus, we need to educate clients (and perhaps each other) on realistic prices for quality content. No, that doesn’t mean $2,000 a page (although it might, depending on the project.) But it could mean much more than clients expect – and perhaps more than the SEO company was paying previously.  It’s funny how some SEO companies (and the majority of agencies) will charge our clients five or six figures for site optimization, but skimp on content generation.

As a call to action to my fellow copywriting peeps, and I say this with the utmost love and compassion: If you are a writer working for $5 per 1,000 word article, stop it. You’re worth more. You really are. And I bet you would feel much better about your writing if you were compensated appropriately.

If Google makes it clear what quality SEO copy is not, we now, have a fantastic opportunity to discuss what quality web SEO copywriting is.

I’m pretty excited. How about you?

21 replies
  1. Amy C. Teeple says:


    I’ll add a “Hallelujah” for this line, “If you are a writer working for $5 per 1,000 word article, stop it. You’re worth more. You really are. And I bet you would feel much better about your writing if you were compensated appropriately.” Well said Heather!

  2. Yuwanda Black says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Heather on the $5 for 1,000 word article. Where many struggle though is what is a “good” SEO article writing rate.

    I get at least 3-5 questions a week about this. My pat answer is, charge what works for you.

    I’ve seen SEO writing rates slowly creep up in the last few years, so it’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go — and in the meantime, it pits some writers against others (eg, if you charge “x” you’re not a real writer and you’re bringing the rate down for all of us).

    It’s the nastiness I get tired of.

    Sorry to go off on a rant, but had an extended email exchange just last night about this very subject with another SEO writer.

    FYI, I’m a huge fan by the way!

  3. Heather says:

    Ywanda, thanks for posting!

    LOL – I’ve actually seen SEO copywriting rates go *down* over the last 15 years. Back in the day, some agencies were charging around $2500 per “optimized” page. Standard rate. No discounts.

    I hear what you’re saying about rates – it’s the same debate in SEO (if you’re not charging five figures per client, you’re not a real SEO.) What I would LOVE to see are more resources so writers can figure out what a “workable wage” really means. So many folks don’t understand the bite that self-employment taxes/office expenses take out of a gig. I think some writers charge so little that they don’t factor this “stuff” into their rates. Until they get hit with taxes and realize that they worked at a loss for an entire year…

    At the same time, all self-employed folks struggle with taxes and “what to charge.” It’s a learning curve for all of us!

    Thanks again for your comment! It’s great to see you here!

  4. WilliH2O says:

    As a former kayaking writer for Examiner.Com –
    Page views have tanked – – The writers were left to twist in the wind with lost pictures, jumbled slideshows, poorly formatted articles, broken links, etc., etc. Writers are disposable like Kleenex tissue. Examiner is a mechanism for Philip Anshultz to push AEG, OneRiot, etc to the masses; content from writers is definitely secondary.

  5. Wowie says:

    A lot of clients really under pay writers. Some are even only willing to pay $1 for a 500-word article, and they demand for good quality. It’s totally ridiculous. Quite sad for good writers who deserve a lot more than that.

  6. Laura Crest says:

    I am positively thrilled — albeit guardedly — about this development. And I love the idea of just saying “no” to cheap, cheap, cheap offers that you well know are, well, cheap. We’re all better than that and short of forming a union, we need to stick to our collective guns. The tide is turning in our favor – it is our responsibility to not be the “scab” and give it away for peanuts, as Heather said.

    Let’s seize the year of SEO content marketing and make it ours!!

  7. Darla says:

    I am not so sure that Google is being responsive so much to content farms that many are referencing or to the spammy sites they mentioned. I hope they leave many of the content mills and wild west blogs alone!!!! We need free thinking in the world. 10-20 years ago this could have affects Drudge report or Huffington Post.

    I think there are various opinions on what a content farm is. To me when I think content farm and Google search, I think of sites that have lists of links that lead to more pages with links, which yup, lead to additional pages of links. I OBJECT to those. I object to spammy websites that link to links to links.

    But to object to normal everyday bloggers and “content farms” IE: examiner, ehow, squidoo etc. is total BS.

    This move by Goggle could be the precursor to kill free press (many blogs) and keep us all as US citizens controlled with publicly correct websites. Government has been after web control.

    Mainstream newspapers as they are dying, move to the web and now it appears they will be the mainstream news result, pushing aside free thought by bloggers who may not know SEO or are reported as spammy. With built in readership we know the mainstream newspapers will have higher ranking and sadly I think that is not beneficial to people and the search for truth IMHO>

    I don’t think search engines should be in control of mainstream websites like examiner, ehow, associated content, suite 101 other sites that do provide some valuable content.

  8. Lew says:

    Hi Heather. I agree with you and the point that you are trying to get across. I would like to offer a different viewpoint to ponder though…you have to realize that as the ranks of the newly unemployed continue to grow, there will be many inexperienced people who will turn to these article mills as a place to start to build their chops so to speak. And I know this as I am one of those newly unemployed people. Being someone who has been a factory worker for most of his adult life,this is all very new to me. So as I continue to churn out articles at sites such as Textbroker and yes, Associated Content I also am trying to learn other things that are important to make all of this work. This includes article marketing, proper grammar and punctuation and SEO and slowly building a portfolio. I mean let’s be honest, someone like myself who is just a blogger at heart who has no real skills to speak at the moment, is not going to get hired by a company that has clients that are their bread and butter. So I have to do what a ,lot of others do which is learn this the hard way. In my case I need to really learn it quickly as I do have mortgage payments every month.I hope I do not upset anyone here with this response, but this is really the way it is for me at the moment.

  9. Heather says:

    Wow, what a lot of great comments and perspectives. Thank you, everyone!

    One comment that struck me – and Lew, thanks for your thoughts. If you are a brand-new writer, there is nothing wrong with taking a lower fee to learn the ropes. As Lew mentions, you have to start somewhere – and a newbie copywriter has newbie rates.

    The thing is, please know that content mill rates tend to be very low (some would say under market) rates. There’s no shame in taking a gig for under market rates. Just know when it’s appropriate to raise your rates. And also know how much cash you need to live – it takes a lot of $5/1,000 posts to make a mortgage.

    And Lew – being “Just a blogger at heart” doesn’t mean that you don’t have skills. OR experience. Heck, you’re already a writer by being a successful blogger. Now, it’s just refining your craft (and I know you’re learning everything you can) and choosing a client base.

  10. dcromwell says:

    I had commented on a similar topic before that you wrote regarding the content mills. I just wanted to add to the whole discussion Heather. Since Yahoo took over associated content, the traffic to that particular content source has grown quite a bit.

    Content seems to be indexing a bit faster and placing better. The traffic to my old articles and subsequently my performance payments for old content have doubled in the last 30 days.

    They’re content overall is definitely pushing its way into the upper deck of the search results.

  11. Gabriel says:

    Great post, I agree as a content writer we are seriously underpaid but we either conform or the client contracts writers from overseas or textbroker or elance.

  12. DALE HANSEN says:

    Well, who wouldn’t love to make $2.00 a word for an SEO article? I know I would! I am new to SEO writing and I am currently working articles on TextBroker. I signed in as a 3-star writer. Now, after only 4 articles, I am being re-rated, they tell me. I am offered only writing gigs for, at best, $5.00 for a 3-star rated article. That’s like a penny per word. Some offers are so low, I won’t waste my time. As I am so new at this, I look at it as getting experience, but some gigs only pay $0.46 for 50 or 60 words. It takes me, at this stage, maybe 15 minutes to look at the reference material just to decide if I would take the gig but TextBroker has a 10-minute timer to decide if you want to write the article.
    So some people here on this site recommend not stuping to write for these low prices. Then where do I go to find a place where I can get the kind of money you are talking about? I would be interested to apply to write for them.
    I feel that I’m not quite ready to do the Fivver, thing yet, as I have only 4 articles to my credit at this point. So what do I do to get more money for my efforts? Please point me in the right direction. It will be much appreciated. Thanks


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] week, I wrote a blog post called, “Content mills are (almost) dead. Now what?” At the end of the post, I included this […]

  2. […] week, I wrote a blog post called, “Content mills are (almost) dead. Now what?” At the end of the post, I included this […]

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  4. […] week, I wrote a blog post called, “Content mills are (almost) dead. Now what?” At the end of the post, I included this […]

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