Last night, a Facebook friend posted one of those ridiculous “You’re So [Insert City Here] If You’ve Done This” articles that float around the internet. The first of this listicle said you always go to Destin for vacation. That immediately threw people off since, you know, not everyone in Memphis can afford long weekends on 30A. Also? Not everyone wants to vacation next door to the people they live next door to. I’ve never understood that. I go on vacation to GET AWAY. But I digress.
The one that really got me was that people from Memphis are always on guard in “sketchier” places. And get this. We’re that way even when we aren’t in Memphis! I thought I was going to go on a rant about the millions of things wrong with that, but I just don’t have the energy. I’m tired of defending Memphis. In fact, I don’t do it anymore because I never seem to be making the argument to people who actually live in Memphis. And if you’re not in Memphis, it’s just more Jerry’s Sno Cones for me.
Since leaving the corporate world where I was forced to wear pants everyday and not refer to people simply as, “dude,” I have been writing content for websites. So, yeah. I freelance for content mills. I write short pieces (generally about 500 words) for business websites and blogs. There’s no money in it. Don’t let anyone or any work from home site convince you otherwise. I do it so I’m forced to write something every day. Pay can range from $.01 per word to .$45. Most sites rank you and your ranking determines how long your pieces are and how much you get paid. I like that I can be writing for a regional ice cream maker with an ice cream truck you can rent out for events, and then write a description for a sex toy. Not for the same client, obviously. But free business idea if any entrepreneurs are reading this.
One day, I’ll tell you more about my days in the content mills, but seeing that article last night made me think about how “fake news” is pedaled. After a small amount of digging, I found the site that published the Memphis piece was part of a marketing agency. I was not familiar with this company so I don’t know if they hire exclusive writers or use a content provider, but if they use a content provider, the author just picked the topic from a list. Here’s what happens.
The writer logs in to the provider’s dashboard. From here, we narrow down jobs by word length, price, and/or industry. My experience has been that doctors make liberal use of content mills. So let’s say a dermatologist wants to advertise a new procedure called TummyTuk5000. This particular doctor also sells skincare supplements. She may advertise that she wants the writer to do a Google search on the TummyTuk5000 (most dashboards have a handy built-in Google news search feature so we can search the topic from there) and a Google search on KinKashaGojiMori berries which are the new chia seeds. Please, you all know I’m making this up, right? Don’t contact me about how you can’t find KinjiMoriGoji berries at the Vitamin Shoppe.
We’re often asked not to make the piece promotional. At most, we’re asked to link to the client’s contact page. Usually in bold letters, we’ll have a request not to put anything negative in our pieces. I avoid these. If you have to ask specifically not to put anything negative in a piece, I figure there’s too much negative I could write about. I like pieces about general topics. A blog for a moving company might want an article for spring cleaning tips. A website for a spa might want something about how to shape your eyebrows at home. Often, if a piece isn’t picked up for the original client, it’s recycled for another. Many writers love it when a piece they’re proud of is picked up by a client after it’s been rejected by someone else.
If the title of an article you’re reading talks in absolutes, you can just about bank on the fact it was written by a mill writer. Did you happen to notice the title of this post? An article for Allure or Good Housekeeping, written by a staff writer, isn’t going to need to scream at you. Yes, it’s going to be provocative–the site lives and dies by clicks–but it’s not going to purport to tell you what the big soda manufacturers don’t want you to know, or that apple cider vinegar is the ONE THING that will keep you alive past the zombie apocalypse. If a piece is written by “staff”, I’ll give you my last piece of Beeman’s it was written by a freelancer. You may find that you’re looking up something and all the results you’re getting seem to be the same. I had this issue when I was trying to get advice about something weird our puppy was doing. All the “advice” in the results was very vague. Welp, it’s because the writer did a Google search so she could get that sweet, sweet penny per word.
How can you be more savvy? Stop being emotional. I’m certainly guilty of this. I get an idea and confirmation bias kicks in. I start looking for articles that will tell me I’m right. Know that many websites are like bridges: built by the lowest bidder. If mainstream media hasn’t picked it up, it’s probably not because it’s a conspiracy. Mainstream sites need clicks too. Read the “about us” section. If it’s vague, that’s an issue. Take time to see what’s being referenced. If a supplement site is referencing Dr. Oz, they want to sell you something. Also, one of the biggest ways bloggers make money are e-books or “whitepages” sold on their websites. If you come across this, the author isn’t likely to be an expert, but rather an entrepreneur.
Caveat emptor, y’all!