Content or copy: which do you need?

The word content seems to cause a lot of discontent. The term is so general that many people can’t agree on what it means. It’s become a catch-all for the “stuff” that fills the web. As a result, its usage leads to misunderstandings between copywriters and clients. The other day a client asked me if I could write some content for her new website. Having said yes, I then discovered that what she actually wanted is something I call copywriting.

Strictly speaking, I define copy as a certain type of writing that persuades you to buy something, or do something (for example, a public service announcement or political ad). Essentially, copywriting is advertising. It might be lots of words, as you’d find on a website, or a brand idea with just a few words, such as a commercial.

What about journalists though? Don’t they call the text of their story “copy”? Yes, but unless it’s a PR piece disguised as news, their copy is simply a report. It isn’t intended to make you do anything, unlike copywriting.

As for content writing, in its purest form it’s like journalism or feature writing. I knew an ex-magazine features writer who’d become an online content writer. In her new role she wrote informative “how to” home improvement videos and articles for IKEA.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos and other social media are almost always content, as opposed to copy that sells. Of course, social posts are often interspersed with copywriting in the form of “suggested posts”, promoted tweets, and other ads.

YouTube is a good place to see the difference between copywriting and content – and also where the two sometimes overlap. At the top of the home page, there’s usually a banner ad (copywriting). And when you select a video (content), you usually have to watch at least the first few seconds of a commercial (copywriting). Included amongst all the videos, though, are entertaining ads that people choose to watch (copywriting has become content).

Then, to confuse matters more, there’s branded content – The Lego Movie, for example – which entertains and sells at the same time.

You’ll find combinations of copywriting and content writing on many different websites. The main sections on such  sites are designed to inform, to a certain extent, but mainly to persuade you to take action. Meanwhile, blog posts – like the one you’re reading – are content, meant just to inform or entertain you, not sell you anything.

A good copywriter should be able to write at least some types of content – blog posts, for example. But without copywriting training and experience, a content writer is unlikely to come up with good brand ideas and strong selling copy.

As Aldous Huxley once said:

“It is far easier to write ten passable effective sonnets [a type of content], good enough to take in the not too   inquiring critic, than one effective advertisement [copywriting] that will take in a few thousand of the uncritical buying public.”

Perversely, a few words of hard-hitting copy – a great endline or slogan, for example – might cost you more than a thousand words of content. Why? Because it often takes a copywriter many hours of writing average lines before he or she produces a great one.

Do you have any questions about copywriting or content writing? Or an opinion about anything I’ve said? Feel free to comment below.





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