I used to work for a content farm (and I learned a ton)
Labeled under: Content Strategy
This is a story about working for a content farm. Yes, by content farm I mean those web-based companies that buy your written word for very little money. These companies then flip your content for a profit to other businesses looking to produce web content on the cheap.
You’ve probably read about these companies at some point while surfing the web. There’s a big chance that you’ve come across content on a site that was most likely written by someone who wrote for a content farm.
In other words, it could have been content that apparently expressed expertise or authority written by someone who had none of it. Sounds harsh, but it’s true in most cases.
If you work with content, I totally recommend working for a content farm just for a little while. It’s a grind. It also exposes how little many firms really care about the quality of the content that is delivered to their own clients. You can get away with some ridiculous stuff.
I recommend the experience as a way to illustrate how important it is to have advocates for quality content.
Don’t get me wrong. If you love writing and grinding out words for dollars, then more power to you. I have friends who enjoy writing to make a living. They are fast and talented. Like battle-hardened mercenaries, they do not claim allegiance to any industry or subject. Their raw talent gets the odd job done.
However, as an advocate for relevant, useful content, I need to inform the world of what it’s like to produce for these stale content behemoths. Through anecdote, I hope to give a glimpse of how little regard is held for content by these farmers.
If you are pro content farming, you probably don’t want to read the rest of this post. Otherwise, proceed.
This was an eye-opening experience for me. It happened a while back, a little after I graduated from the University of Oregon in 2007. Maybe I did it because I felt adventurous or curious.
Haha, no. I did it because I needed money. I was doing freelance task after task. A full-time job was hard to come by and I needed to save up. I chose to grind out some dollars via the written word.
After a very brief application process, I was immediately hired as a freelance writer for a west coast-based content farm. No interview, no background check. Oh, they did ask if I had a Paypal account. That was about as intimate as it got.
Excited to start, I turned in my required tax forms and got to work. I met my editor over the phone and she gave me my first assignments.
Ramping up into awkwardness...
The first subjects that I had to write about consisted of resume writing, pet care, and radars that go on helicopters. As a recent college grad, I wrote quite a few resumes so I had a little experience with that subject. The quality of my resumes was of course questionable. However, I had never owned a pet nor have I been on a helicopter. Radars? No clue.
Questioning my ability to finish the task properly, I asked my editor about swapping the pet care and helicopter radar subjects for more familiar topics. She told me that I could write generally about the topics using search engines and perhaps a trip to the library. Of course, the articles needed to contain the proper keywords in every paragraph.
It felt a bit strange when considering that quality content is useful to an audience and may persuade them to think or act a certain way. Would high school-like research articles cut it as content? In hindsight, hell no.
I took her advice and did a little research before writing up 400 word pieces on obscure topics that had little to do with my experience or skill set. My editor was pleased with my sub-par work and I received a little compensation for each piece.
Semi-precious stones, job interviewing, home owner’s insurance, and bargaining– all topics I had little to no experience with, but had to write about in order to keep the money coming. Awkward indeed.
My penny-pinching self didn’t mind the oddball article writing until the week I was presented with an ethically challenging article. My editor gave me a premium assignment to write about diagnosing broken bones.
I had never broken a bone in my life, nor did I have the experience to know what to do in the case someone else broke a bone, other than to take the person to the hospital. Feeling highly unqualified to write about such things, I once again questioned my editor about the relevancy of the topic to me. Sounding more irritated after every query, she again suggested that I try my best and rely on secondary research. I heeded the advice and produced the content.
A week after I produced the content, I received a call from my editor letting me know that I was terminated. Shocked, I asked why. The editor told me that the client thought that my content was filled with rudimentary research and too much common sense. He wanted more specialization as to how to treat a broken bone.
I’m a writer, Jim. Not a doctor.
I was fired for performing to the basic level of the content farm writer. Except I had the unfortunate experience of writing about a topic that really did need expertise and someone of authority. The joke is on the client if he thought that such expertise could be found inexpensively from a content farm.
I learned a good one. There’s basically a right and wrong way to do content. It doesn’t stem from tools or equipment either. It starts with the people in charge of both managing and producing content. How we as professionals manage institutionalized content will determine the impact it makes upon a given market or industry.
Crappy articles and keyword dumps go unheard. Gloriously collaborated studies and presentations shine. Inspirational, moving artistry will leave marks and turn heads. Hard work pays and it takes more than five dollars per article to do that. This is a lesson that many leaders have yet to learn.
We can all purchase content on the cheap to populate our sites with in some haphazard way to boost SEO relevancy. If we do this, how does it reflect how much we actually care about the customer on the receiving end of the content? Do we care so little as to push content solely for a sale?
It’s a much more informed world out there, especially for you and me the consumer. How about we push to create content to satisfy curious minds who can find real benefit in the messages, products, services, and ideas we have to offer?