Monday, July 16, 2018

Flee the Content Mills: Why Bloggers and Businesspeople Need Each Other

When I was between gigs, working the content mill helped me get a little money in here and there. It was grueling and largely un-fun, but it was money. And it was a chance to write more, thus improving my writing for when I got to a point when there was a job opening.

But for all the hole-patching it did, the content mill life was... not awesome? Not awesome. Because for all the help it offers both businesses in need of content and writers in need of work, the fact that it's a third-party system means the setup isn't particularly ideal. And you don't necessarily realize that until you find yourself in particular situations covered in the fine print.

As an up-front -- content mills are a wonderful short-term solution. This goes for both businesses and writers. Sometimes there's literally nothing else, because finding and hiring a writer is a luxury. And sadly, finding a job as a writer is also a luxury in this day and age. (Believe me, I know.) But for long-term blog content, or for long-term writing work, it's worth it to start moving toward interfacing with each other directly.

Mills Don't Let You Talk One-on-One

One of the major points of content mills in general -- and one we all agree to because we rarely see a situation where we'd want to go against it -- is the idea that we are all numbers. The businesses are numbers, you are a number, and we all interface via the mill's website. If you're spending eight hours a day shooting out 300-word SEO-optimized pieces on how to use boat cushions for arts and crafts, this probably won't bother you.

But once in a while, a business and a writer make a good connection. This happened to me with a legal firm setting up a new department, and I handled a couple of press releases for them. They tipped me extra for my work, and they liked me specifically. And I was pretty cool with them. In a different scenario, I'd happily have stayed on board with them.

Remember, though: you cannot talk outside the mill's website. And that's because the mill gets a cut of the transaction.

That's simultaneously one of the most understandable business moves they could make, and one of the biggest deal-breakers for me. Basically if a writer and a business mesh, they can't take it outside. If they want to work together, it has to be through the mill or you've broken their Terms Of Service and God knows what happens then.

To be fair, as you're swimming through ghost-writing for mommy blogs and Russian mail-order bride sites, you're not entirely likely to make a match. But it can happen.

Writing for Someone Means Knowing Them

I do news and features for a bunch of websites, and amongst the news are things I've never encountered. Like, say, shows I'm not into. Shows that aren't even out yet. Bands I'm unfamiliar with. But I still write about them, and I write about them well, because that's a writer's job.

However. If you're looking at consistently updating blog posts for your business, you need more than people doing a quick read on what you do, plugging in the keywords, and hitting word count. Will that do the trick? Sure, it's fine. It's adequate.

But the best and most attractive business blogs radiate a love for the business itself... and that's something that's hard to get when you're sending out a dozen work orders to a dozen strangers churning out a dozen other work orders.

Ten or 20 years ago, this scene would have been extremely different. Even owning a .com back then was such a big deal that you got noticed. But nowadays, that's nothing. My family bought a .com just so they could have reliable email addresses. Ten businesses doing the same thing can exist at the same time.

What sets you apart when you're creating content for your company's site is personality. And yeah, you can set "personality keywords," ask for a faceless writer to write in a certain style. But you're much more likely to get what you want sitting across from them, telling them about your business.

And writers, you know it's a lot easier to write for someone's site once you've heard/seen them talk. You can get a better feel for their personality and the personality of the business (which can very much be its own entity), whereas with a numbered work order you can do your best but there's still a degree of guess work.

Businesses and Bloggers Grow Together

In my experience, the hardest part of setting up a content and social media campaign for a business is figuring out what they even want to do. How often do they want to blog? What kind of blogs are they going to write? How central will that be to the site? To their social media? It's rare, and understandably so, that a business owner comes in with a set image in their head of how things will run.

Having a professional writer there, someone who's worked for a variety of different sites in a variety of different styles, can help narrow down what this particular businessperson needs when it comes to an Internet presence. Or if nothing else, having that avid listener there serves as a good "rubber duck" scenario for the businessperson actually figuring it out.

Plus, when a blogger and a business work together, they can watch what works and what doesn't as it happens. And then they can discuss what will work going forward, using their personal experiences to tweak and create something useful together. When you go into a content mill, you need to know what you need, no (or few) questions asked. And for a business just dipping their toe into the Internet, that's rough.

If you are in need of quick and dirty SEO (if you're a business) or quick and dirty cash (if you're a writer), then content mills are absolutely the way to go. But if you're a business looking for a sustainable, friendly Internet presence, reach out to writers. Having someone who knows you and what you do is infinitely more beneficial. And there are tons of wonderful, trained, professional writers out there who could do just that for you.

Like me — at the risk of being tacky right here at the end. I've worked as a journalist for ten years, writing for everything from family news sites to geek entertainment sites, and creating original content for streaming sites, live events, and more. I price by the word and I'd love to hear about what you've devoted your life to. Get in touch using any of my happy little social media buttons... or, if you prefer, look through your own circle of friends and associates and make connections with one of the talented writers in your area. You won't be sorry.

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