An interesting debate is raging among copywriters and content developers about the differences, if any, between writing copy for the web versus writing content.
Prolific copywriter Nick Usborne conducted a survey with his newsletter readers to discover how many among them are copywriters, and how many are content writers.
The result was split three ways: one-third copywriters, one-third content writers, and the final third both.
Actual titles aside, I think the results may be misleading. Reason is, I believe all online copy is content but not all content is copy. Trying to distinguish the two is a problem.
Most web designers, webmasters, and content writers develop text for websites in a way to educate visitors. They hold the notion that “content is king,” “content increases search engine rankings,” “content makes a website sticky,” and so on. That's all fine and good.
But I believe content fails when it strives only at informing the reader, and thus lacks important elements that take her “by the hand” and compels her to do something — anything, including the simple act of reading the content in the first place.
While some websites may compel our attention, others fail to propel our actions.
Their owners are usually the ones who often end up screaming, “Why is my site not producing any sales?” “Why am I getting a lot of traffic but such a poor response?” Or, “Why is my bounce ratio so high and people are leaving so quickly?”
Well, if content is king, copy is the castle.
Some people say the Internet is just another medium. It is not. The Internet is not a traditional medium — at least not in the unidirectional, broadcast sense.
It is bidirectional. It is intimate, dynamic, and interactive. People are more involved when reading the content of a website than reading a conventional print publication, watching a show on TV, or listening to a program on the radio.
With the Internet, people have a powerful weapon they don't have with other types of media. A weapon that can actually kill entire businesses. And they usually never think twice about using it when the need confronts them: and that's their mouse.
So, the idea is this: forget about writing content, at least in the traditional sense. Think copy. Sure, focus on educating your visitors. But also think of words and expressions that compel the reader to do something, even if it's just to continue reading.
According to Answers.com, the word “content” is defined as “the subject matter of a written work, such as a book or magazine.” (There's no mention of the Internet, here. But I'd definitely include “website” as an example of a written work.)
But “copy,” on the other hand, is defined as “words to be printed or spoken in an advertisement.” “Advertisement” is defined as “a notice or announcement designed to attract public patronage.” So copy is content that's calling for some kind of action.
It's selling something, in other words.
But doesn't content do the same? Doesn't it sell an idea? Or, whether directly or indirectly, the idea that the reader should stay and read more?
Nevertheless, this is why I submit that, with its multitude of links, scripts, forms, and multimedia, the Internet transforms the passive reader into an active, responsive participant. (Or make that “response-able.”) That's why we often label them as “users.”
And she must therefore be treated as such: as a participant, not a reader.
Look at it this way: a book is limited by its front and back covers. When the book is done, it's done. A website, however, is not. It demands some form of interaction or response.
If your content does not strive at getting the reader to do something, whether it's to buy, subscribe, join, download, call, email, fill out a form, click, or whatever, then you need to seriously rethink your content and the words you use.
Here's my explanation of the difference between content and copy. Content informs. Copy invites. Even if content invites a reader to keep reading, it's still selling an idea. It's still calling for some form of action. And therefore, it's still copy.
If your website is only meant to inform people like some kind of book, then it's content. (And just like closing a book once it's read, the only action left is to exit the website or close the browser. And as we all know, that's rarely if ever the case.)
But if it contains more content or links to more content, or if contains interactive elements, then it's copy. And you need to write content with that mindset.
Ultimately, incorporate within your content a direct response formula that compels your readers to do something. Don't leave them hanging or force them to leave. Take them by the hand. Integrate a call for some kind of action, in other words.
Ask your reader to “buy now,” “join today,” “get this,” “download that, or…
… Better yet, simply “click here.”
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.