Content Farms: The Wrong Way to Build Your Writing Portfolio

March 9, 2011


Work from the comfort of your own home. Set your own schedule. Choose the topics you want to write about it. Earn extra money on a per-project basis or as residual income for the rest of your life. The promises of content farms sound like the start of the ideal dream job, and for a green freelance writer or a subject matter expert looking to make a few extra bucks on the side, working for content farms seems like a good way to make money and get some exposure.

Although many freelancers claim to have made a decent living working for one or several of these content farms, the average person is likely to make pennies per article and likely feel they’ve put in a lot of time and effort for very little reward.

What is a Content Farm?

A content farm is a website that hires a large number of freelance writers, editors and – depending on the site – videographers to generate a significant amount of new content on a continuous basis. The business model is advertising-based, and content farms generate ad revenue by having freelancers create large amounts of content that will appeal to top search strings on search engines like Google.

The databases of articles on these sites are enormous, with thousands of articles being generated daily on a variety of topics.

Related: 207 Places to Find Freelance Writing Jobs

What’s in it For You?

All it takes is a quick Google search to find freelancers who claim they’re making a reasonable living off of writing for content farms, but it’s even easier to find freelancers who complain about wasted time and effort for what amounted to little better than beer money (and sometimes not even enough for a decent six-pack). Although many state they have writers who make between $2,000 and $4,000 per month based on pay-per-click view rates of new and old articles, such claims are overshadowed by those who have made a fraction of that in several months.

In testing out the waters with Demand Media and Examiner, I found the effort involved wasn’t comparable to the reward. With Demand Media, I was spending as much time scouring its database of topics for suitable topics than I was actually conducting the research and doing the writing. Although Demand Media lists pricing categories from $7.50 up to $25, it’s rare to find any topic above $15 (and even those $15 jobs require either extensive research or skilled knowledge).

The article submission guidelines are more detailed than most freelance contracts I’ve signed, and the copy-editors go over articles with a fine-toothed comb looking for any tangle of an excuse to send the piece back for rewriting.

The calculated hourly rate is low, but at least Demand Media pays a flat fee. Examiner offers payment on the pay-per-view principle. Contributors earn nothing for the actual writing, and they earn only pennies per page view. In six months of writing for Examiner, I wrote 19 articles (granted, not nearly as much content as Examiner would have liked). My earnings were exactly $9.10 (residuals for 2011 so far are $0.14). I use the word “earnings” loosely, as I’ve still yet to see a penny of them. Sites like Examiner and Suite101 don’t make pay-outs until a certain threshold has been met (typically $25). And even then, content farms only pay via PayPal, which gets its cut before you get yours.

Do the math, and the average Examiner writer would be better off flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Say it with me: “Do you want fries with that?”

So You Call This Lucrative?

Let’s not kid ourselves. Building a freelance writing business on the foundation of content farms isn’t going to make you rich, but it could put you in the poor house (but if you’re aiming for the starving artist lifestyle, look no further).

Related: Andy J. Miller: How to Break Through Creative Anxiety

Finding success in generating articles for content farms is going to take a lot of time and effort that might be better spent marketing yourself to clients that understand the value of good content and have the budget for it.

Additionally, Google has just made a major change to its search algorithm that is designed to reduce the number of content farm hits that appear on searches. If this has an impact on Internet users finding your articles, then content farming just got a whole lot less lucrative.


about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.