By Michel Fortin (c) 2008
An interesting debate is raging among copy writers, web designers and content developers about the differences, if any, between writing copy for the web versus writing content.
According to prolific copywriter Nick Usborne of Excess Voice, a recent survey conducted among the readers of his newsletter of the same name 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.
But it's wrong.
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 web designers, webmasters and content writers develop text for websites in a way to educate visitors. They also write it with 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.
In other words, while some websites may compel our attention, others fail to propel our actions, too. And their owners often end up screaming, "Why is my website not producing any sales," "why am I getting a lot of traffic but such a poor response" or "why are people leaving so quickly?" Well, if content is king, copy is the castle.
The Internet is not a traditional medium — at least not 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, watching a show on TV or listening to a program on the radio.
And with the Internet, people have a powerful weapon that they don't have with other types of media, and they usually don't 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 words and expressions that compel the reader to do something, even if it's just to continue reading.
According to online dictionary Answers.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 calling for some kind of action. 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, scripts and hypertexts, the Internet transforms the passive reader into an active, responsive participant. (Or make that "response-able.") 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. The web, however, is not.
If your content does not strive at getting the reader to do something, whether it's to buy, subscribe, join, download, call, email, fíll out a form, clíck 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 action. And it's still copy.
If your web page is only meant to inform people like some kind of book, then it's content. (And like closing a book once it's read, the only action left is to exit the website or close the browser.) But if it contains links or more content, 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. 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 "clíck here."
About The Author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, marketing strategy consultant, and instrumental in some of the most lucrative online businesses and wildly successful marketing campaigns to ever hit the web. For more articles like this one, please visit his blog at michelfortin.com and subscribe to his RSS feed.