According to prolific copywriter Nick Usborne, a survey conducted among the readers of his email newsletter “Excess Voice”, offers some interesting results. They seem to be split almost three ways: one-third consists of copywriters, another content writers and the final third both.
Web Content vs. Web Copy
This is an important debate, I believe, since all online copy is content but not all content is copy. And that’s a real problem.
Most designers, webmasters and writers develop content for their websites in a way to educate their visitors. They also write it with the notion that “content is king,” “content raises search engine rankings,” “content makes a website sticky” and so on.
That’s all fine and good. But in my estimation, web content fails when it strives only at informing the reader, and lacks important elements that take the reader “by the hand” and compels them to do something — anything, including the simple act of reading.
In other words, while some may compel our attention, many sites fail to propel our actions, too. And their owners often scream, “Why is my site not producing any sales,” “why is it so heavily trafficked but getting such a poor response” or “why are people leaving so quickly (or after they got what they came for)?”
Well, if content was king, copy should be the castle.
The Internet is not a traditional medium in the broadcast sense. It is intimate, dynamic and interactive. People are more involved when reading the content of a website than reading a conventional print publication or watching a TV commercial. With the Internet, people also have a powerful weapon, and they usually never think twice about using it when the need confronts them: their mouse.
So, the idea is this: forget about writing content, at least in the traditional sense. Think copy. Think content that compels the reader to do something, even if it’s just to continue reading.
According to Atomica.com, “copy” is defined as “the words to be printed or spoken in an advertisement.” (And “advertisement” is defined as “a notice or announcement designed to attract public patronage.” It’s selling something, in other words.)
But the word “content,” on the other hand, is defined as “the subject matter of a written work, such as a book or magazine.” And keep in mind that there’s no mention of the Internet, here.
Nevertheless, this is why I submit that, with its multitude of links and hypertexts, the web transforms the passive reader into an active, responsive participant. (Make that “response-able.”)
A book or magazine is limited by its front and back covers. The web, however, is not. If your content does not strive at getting the reader to do something, whether it’s to buy, join, subscribe, call, email, fill out a form, download, 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 readers to keep reading, it’s still selling an idea. It’s still calling for some kind of action. And it’s still copy, in my opinion.
If your web page is only meant to inform people, like some kind of book, it’s content. (And like the closing of a book once it’s read, the only action left is to close the browser window.) But if it contains links to other parts of your website, then it’s copy. And you need to write your content with that mindset.
Ultimately, write your content by incorporating a direct response formula that compels and propels your readers to act. Don’t leave them hanging. Take them by the hand. In your content, integrate a call for some kind of action, in other words. Ask your reader to “buy now,” “join today,” “get this” or “download that …”
… Or better yet, at least ask them to simply “click here.”
Recommended Books on Web Content Strategy:
- Content is Currency: Developing Powerful Content for Web and Mobile
- The Web Content Strategist’s Bible: The Complete Guide To A New And Lucrative Career For Writers Of All Kinds
- Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works (Interactive Technologies)
- Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content (Voices That Matter)
- Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series)
- How to Write Well for the Web
- 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Sales Copy
- Take the Test: Does Your Marketing Copy Sell?
- Analyzing Your Website’s Copy and Usability
- How to Make Content Work For You