I hired 7 content mill writers and this is what I learned

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As a copywriter and content strategist, my expectations going into this content mill experiment were low. I understand the amount of work that goes into developing a great piece of content.

However, since some people are still buying from content mills, I wanted to conduct an experiment to see the level of quality that I could get for under $60.   

For the experiment, I spent $321 USD and hired 7 content mill writers from different platforms.

In this post, I’ll describe the experiment and analyze each post. I’ll also analyze how their content stacks up against the top three ranking pieces for this specific keyword. 

What is a content mill?

A content mill is a term used to describe a website or platform that exists to provide inexpensive content (often in bulk). Writers typically make less than $50 USD per post and are incentivized to write as quickly as possible. This leaves little time for research, interviewing sources, critical thinking or editing.

As a result, content mills typically attract inexperienced writers and anyone looking for high-volume, low-paying work.

About the content mill experiment

I started by crafting a basic content brief. The content brief asked for an article between 750-1000 words to discuss how email marketing could help tech startups generate more revenue. I made the topic intentionally broad allowing for more opportunities for critical thinking and creativity. The deadline was five business days.

Long Tail Keyword: email marketing best practices for startups.

I placed the exact same order seven times with six different websites. Those sites were:

  • Premium Content Writing
  • Crowd Content
  • Express Writers
  • Copify
  • Text Broker
  • Fiverr (x2) 

I used nine metrics to grade each piece:

The Content

Blog Post Headline 

  • Did it pique interest and clearly engage the reader?

Blog Post Introduction

  • Was it generic or compelling? Did it encourage the audience to keep reading? Did it match the intent and tone for the SEO keyword(s) targeted?

Originality 

  • Did the writer have a strong point-of-view or at least some original tips or examples to share? Or, was it simply regurgitated mirage content?

Expertise

  • Were the arguments they presented sound? Did they link back to credible sources? Did they include any quotes from experts?

Grammar/Spelling 

  • Did it read like it was written by a native speaker or someone fluent in English? Was it riddled with grammar or spelling errors?

Plagiarism 

  • Did it stand up to a service like Grammarly, Hemingway, Copyscape or Small SEO Tools when checked for plagiarism?

The Ordering and Delivery Experience

On-time Delivery 

  • Was the completed article delivered by the deadline?

Ease of Order 

  • How easy was it to place the order? Was it possible to check the progress?

Value for Money

  • Given the low cost, what level of quality was delivered?

Each metric was graded on a scale of 1 (terrible) – 5 (amazing). Then, all the scores were weighted to give a cumulative score.

Since quality content is subjective, I also analyzed the top three performing articles for this keyword – email marketing best practices for startups.

I’ll discuss these three articles in more detail after I’ve shared the results of the experiment.

Analyzing the results 

The sites are ordered below from lowest to highest-scoring.

For full transparency, I’ve included view-only links to each article so you can judge the scores for yourself.

Premium Content Writing

$45 for 750-1000 words, 3 business day delivery
Read the full article

  • Blog Post Headline – 2/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 2/5
  • Originality –  2/5 
  • Expertise – 1/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 2/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 5/5
  • Ease of Order – 1/5
  • Value for Money – 3/5

Cumulative score: 2.56

My experience with Premium Content Writing was bad from the start.

After you pay for the article, there is no official onboarding process or next steps. There was no dashboard or status updates. The website simply acts as a checkout page to process your order.

Within a few hours, I started getting messages on my company Facebook page with no introduction. I thought the person was attempting a cold outreach when they asked for my phone number. Once I realized they were from Premium Content Writing, I was told that I would get a document I needed to fill out.

When it didn’t arrive, I checked my spam folder. I found it along with my original “order placed” email, which prompted me to fill out the content brief again. In hindsight, the simple fact that this email went to my spam folder should have been a red flag from the start.

When they submitted the article 3 days later, the piece left a lot to be desired. It included “gems” like this:

This writer talks in circles throughout the piece. It’s obvious they lack an understanding of email marketing. They either struggle with English grammar or flew through the piece without a single edit.

From a quality standpoint, this article is simply unpublishable.

Crowd Content 

$80 for 750-1000 words, 3 (out of 4) star writer, 4 business day delivery
Read the full article

  • Blog Post Headline – 1/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 2/5
  • Originality – 2/5
  • Expertise – 2/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 2/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 5/5
  • Ease of Order – 3/5
  • Value for Money – 1/5

Cumulative score: 2.56

Crowd Content requires you to add a minimum of $15 to your account before you can hire a writer. They also hide the total costs until you submit your article brief. This means you have to go back into your account a second time to add funds once you know the final cost. This extra step created unnecessary friction. 

This was one of the most expensive content mill writers I hired, and the quality of the piece was terrible. 

The piece was boring and written by someone without a basic understanding of email marketing. They used the term email marketing campaigner right in the intro. What marketer has ever called themselves that?


The tips the writer suggested weren’t any better and were riddled with grammatical errors and typos. Email spams

Express Writers 

$80 for 750-1000 words, 2 business day delivery
Read the article

  • Blog Post Headline – 1/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 3/5
  • Originality – 2/5
  • Expertise – 2/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 4/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 2/5
  • Ease of Order – 4/5
  • Value for Money – 2/5

Cumulative score: 2.78

Express Writers, along with Crowd Content, charged $80 for an article. I expected slightly better results. Unfortunately, the article was generic with no insights, originality or examples.

Yes. Drip campaigns are important, but the writer didn’t give any examples. The reader is left with the tip to “automate” without a demonstration of how others have successfully done it or advice for applying automation to their own business. 

Copify 

$55 for 900 words, 3 business day delivery
Read the full article 

  • Blog Post Headline – 1/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 3/5
  • Originality – 2/5
  • Expertise – 3/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 4/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 2/5
  • Ease of Order – 4/5
  • Value for Money – 2/5

Cumulative score: 2.89

Copify is a UK-based shop, so if you’re an American business you’ll either need to specify U.S. spelling in the order brief or spend some extra time proofreading.

I could tell this was one of the only writers that did some basic research on the topic. While most of the tips were email marketing 101 and generic, he did include links to reputable articles. 

This was offset by the fact that the writer delivered the piece three days after the deadline.

Text Broker 

$27.40 for 750-1000 words, 2 business day delivery
Read the full article

  • Blog Post Headline – 2/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 1/5
  • Originality – 2/5
  • Expertise – 2/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 2/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 5/5
  • Ease of Order – 3/5
  • Value for Money – 4/5

Cumulative score: 3.0

This piece featured the worst introduction out of all of the posts. I read this intro at least a half dozen times and still couldn’t figure out what the writer was trying to say. 

The article had no structure in the form of H2 subheads. Like most of the articles from this experiment, it provided generic tips with no insights or examples. 

To make matters worse, Text Broker has a strange onboarding and verification process. After payment, they ask you to take a picture of yourself holding up your passport and send it into them so they can approve you. This slows down the process of hiring a writer.  

Fiverr

Given that Fiverr is such a big marketplace, I decided to hire two writers at different price points. I’ve scored the results for Writer #1 and Writer #2 separately.

Fiverr – Writer #1

$12 for 600 words + $5 for an additional 150 words, 2 business day delivery
Read the full article

  • Blog Post Headline – 1/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 2/5
  • Originality – 2/5
  • Expertise – 2/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 3/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 5/5
  • Ease of Order – 5/5
  • Value for Money – 4/5

Cumulative score: 3.22

Hiring this writer on Fiverr was easy and intuitive. I added the $5 keyword focus, but specified in the instructions to use that amount to take it to 750 words instead.

This article was generic and had tons of grammatical errors. Despite being poorly written, they included a mobile UX tip that showed a glimmer of critical thought.  

Fiverr – Writer #2 

$22 for 900 words, 3 business day delivery
Read the full article

  • Blog Post Headline – 1/5
  • Blog Post Introduction – 2/5
  • Originality – 3/5
  • Expertise – 3/5
  • Grammar/Spelling – 2/5
  • Plagiarism – 5/5
  • On-time Delivery – 5/5
  • Ease of Order – 5/5
  • Value for Money – 4/5

Cumulative score: 3.33

Given Fiverr’s reputation and the fact that it was one of the cheapest posts, I didn’t expect that a Fiverr writer would produce the best article out of the bunch.

However, the post still barely scored above a “3” and needs a lot of work to be publishable, especially with regard to the introduction. What is this writer trying to say here? 

Analyzing the top three ranking articles 

I also looked at the top three articles that rank for the same keyword used in the experiment – email marketing best practices for startups. These articles will give you a sense of what a high quality piece should look like.

Here, I’ll break down what made each of these articles great.

Coschedule

Coschedule decided to go with a specific, actionable guide by offering 20 best practices. This is the type of article that promises to stick around as evergreen content. They hook the reader and offer value immediately by giving away free templates before the article even begins. They include a helpful infographic in the beginning to pique interest and effectively sum up the article.

Coschedule uses soft calls-to-action embedded throughout the article. For example, links to their email subject line tester (and two more reminders after the first mention, including the last thing you see at the bottom of the article). They also include a field to download an email marketing resource kit. This crops up early in the article and then appears again as a sidebar “download now”.

Not only is the intuitive and easy to navigate with a double opt-in strategy, but the tips included are insightful. For example, “11. Add Alt Text to Images and Buttons” suggests adding text to pictures in case images are blocked in an email. This is a commonly overlooked technique that marketers can quickly implement in their campaigns.

This was the best of the pieces I researched. When you finish, you feel informed and motivated. This is important because the intent and context behind this keyword- email marketing best practices for startups-  would be indicative of someone who is newer to email marketing. 

Campaign Monitor

For those who prefer sleek presentations that look more like Flipboard and read less like an article, this piece from Campaign Monitor is for you. The writer relies on short bursts of text followed by beautiful and relevant graphic examples.

A great point of expertise was highlighted in a section regarding the importance of the header pretext and the use of the curiosity gap as a method to use when writing that pretext:

You have more opportunity than just the subject line. You also have a chance to engage readers with your header pretext. If the subject line is the hook, think of the header pretext as the reel.

 

Take the example from Glassdoor below. The subject line is “8 Secrets Recruiters Won’t Tell You.” To supplement the headline, there is additional header pretext that says, “Top wellness perks and salary advice, too.”


If you’re a job-hunting professional, this offers the complete package: recruiter secrets, wellness information, and financial advice. Instead of relying on a single strategy, Glassdoor is appealing to users through the curiosity gap and authoritative copy.

It’s no accident that Campaign Monitor is an email marketing platform. At the very top of the article, you’ll see links to “features,” “pricing” and “resources.”  

Yes, they are an email marketing platform, but this blog post leads with value, not with “look how great our service is!”

Email Monks

This piece from Email Monks delivers value right away by giving ten tips for those who want some quick advice. Check out this attention-grabbing introduction:

Startups do not start making billions overnight – it takes a great marketing strategy to do so. While ‘seed’ businesses have been actively using channels like social media, online and offline advertising; but nothing can beat email marketing when it comes to reaching out to your target audience.

 

At 33% less cost than other lead-generating mechanisms, emails generate 50% more sales.

Right away the reader can see how valuable just a small investment in email can be to their bottom line. 

They also highlight several case studies including Lyft and theSkimm. These case studies are the most comprehensive of any of the top ranking pieces I reviewed. They inspire you to apply the ideas to your business.

For example, theSkimm case study shows how to create a lengthy email that works. Short attention spans are catered to with short, snappy emails. It’s refreshing to see a long email that grabs your attention throughout. The email example from theSkimm demonstrates how to break up a long email in sections to keep the reader engaged until the last word.

Should you hire a content mill writer?

On a positive note, I was pleasantly surprised that none of the writers hired had plagiarized any content.  However, it goes without saying that the quality of content purchased for this experiment was underwhelming. The highest-scoring article in this experiment would still need A LOT of work before it could be publishable. 

For SaaS companies, hiring a generic content mill writer is worse than not writing any blog content at all. Why? Because the content lacks all three of the main components of Google E-A-T: Expertise, authority and trustworthiness. These are three pillars that Google’s algorithms are increasingly using to rank / display content. 

So what should you do if you can’t buy quality content for $50 a piece on a whim from a content mill? 

You have two solid options including:

  1. Writing the content in-house
  2. Hiring an experienced freelancer or agency

If you outsource your content marketing to a freelancer or agency, you want to find someone with a proven track record. Subject matter expertise is a bonus. However, a credible writer without industry knowledge can still produce excellent content by using their research skills, critical thinking, and interviewing expert sources. 

For example, a great writer is going to be able to do research in advance, jump on a phone call with your head of product, ask the right questions and dive deep into your new product feature. Then they’ll turn it into an amazing, educational marketing asset.

This is what I do. I specialize in working with SaaS companies, but I’m able to help businesses in a variety of industries because I have close to ten years of experience as a content strategist and copywriter.

A well thought-out content strategy needs quality content to work not the type of generic content you get from content mills. 

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About the author

Jessica Malnik

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