Friday, February 24, 2012

Content vs. Copy

I think the word “content” when applied to writing is a bit misleading. The way it’s used, it implies a commodity—like writers are just sitting on content warehouses and can just offer bulk rates on their inventories and still make a profit. No matter how much the web tries to commoditize writing, content-writing is still a service—content is not a product. But that’s another blog post. What I’m mainly concerned with today is content vs. copy—and the difference between these two projects.

There’s a distinct difference between what people refer to as “content” and copy. I’ve heard the word “content” used in a variety of ways to refer to writing, particularly writing online. And while some may define it differently than others, to me there’s a very clear divide between what’s called content and what’s actually sales copy. I quote and charge differently for these two types of writing, and I approach copy and content projects quite differently.

Content is information. Copy sells. The distinction I draw is that content is informational. It’ll tell you how to do something, or maybe provide commentary on a recent event. It could be speculative or factual, but it’s not trying to sell you something. It’s trying to tell you something.

Copy, on the other hand, is for sales. It’s about getting people interested in the product or service or company. It’s about drawing people in, boosting click-through rates, getting results.

Content is for the slow burn. Content (done right) is about building trust, positioning you as an expert, and making you credible. Most of the people who come to your site for the content are looking for information or an answer to a specific question. They may not be looking to buy—just yet. You can slowly convert these visitors to buyers over time. In addition, content boosts your search engine rankings—because great content draws visitors and inspires others to link to you. It’s unlikely sales copy will do that.

Copy is where the big money is. For the client and the freelancer alike. Copy takes more time, and is worth more. A hard-hitting sales letter can dramatically boost your revenue in a way that an informational article is unlikely to. Persuasive copy is more expensive to write, because often it has to be more tactical than content. It often takes more time and creativity. (And these are not hard-and-fast rules; just what I’ve found in my experience overall). I charge more for copy than content because it’s both more difficult and tactical to write and because it stands to earn more for the client than content.

Content isn’t a no-brainer. That said, content isn’t necessarily easy, either. When I build an article library for a client, I do my research. I check out what other people have written on the subject—and try to come up with a point of view or angle others haven’t thought of. I try to find out what the competitors aren’t addressing—where the holes in the available information are, and what the audience wants to know about. And I develop my expertise in the topic myself, so I can be sure I’m offering on-target advice.

Do you quote differently for content and copy? How do you define these two types of writing—for both clients and yourself?


Kimberly Ben said...

I like the way you distinguished the differences between content and copy. Some clients tend to confuse the two thinking they're interchangeable - especially when it comes to writing for online markets.

I also quote differently for each - more for copywriting. Although there's a strategy involved with writing both (if it's truly original and well written), copywriting involves more of a tactical approach to achieve a desired result (e.g. more conversions, more sales)as well as topic and target market research. You make a good point about considering the earning potential of copywriting projects too.

Jennifer Williamson said...

It's so true! I've had clients ask me questions about why I'm charging more for two different projects that were the same length, approximately, because one is copy and the other is content. It's crucial to be able to back up your pricing decisions to clients, in my opinion.

AnnaLisa said...

I completely agree with your definitions of the two terms, Jennifer, and I agree that it takes a very different approach to do one well than it would to do the other.

And in my opinion, it takes a different kind of talent, too. Some people are blessed with both kinds.

Myself, unless it's for a specific organization that I personally believe in and have a burning desire to see succeed, I almost never offer copywriting in and of itself. I do occasionally take on a project that has a small copywriting component within it, and I'm happy to proofread copy. But if a client needs, really and truly, a copywriter, I decline or make a referral. It just isn't my strong suit and isn't something I enjoy. (Perhaps those are related?)

Content, on the other hand--bring it on. I love digging into the research, unearthing details; love playing with all the possibilities and experimenting with phrasing and voice and format to match the subject and best reach the audience; even have been known to get caught up in rereading the final product long after all the work is done, check cashed, and dust settled.

It takes all kinds, I guess!