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We tend to use the generic term ‘content’ for all the assets on a website. But understanding the difference between copywriting vs. content writing starts with knowing their different purposes.

At its most basic, copywriting is about persuading folks to buy your stuff by drawing a connection between their needs and your product or service.

The earliest approaches to this task, appearing in newspaper ads in the late 1800s, simply stated the company’s offerings or capabilities. Many websites today still stay pretty close to this model.

By the next century, the first advertising agencies were offering a more compelling and sophisticated approach to marketers. They had figured out that messages that made an emotional connection with the buyer actually moved more product than those that focused solely on practical considerations.

The classic example was a newspaper ad by an advertising writer named John Caples in 1927.

Given the assignment to sell music-lessons-by-mail, Caples instinctively understood that it wasn’t just about the printed Step-1, Step-2 instructions that the buyer received. It wasn’t even about achieving the skills to play a song or two.

It was about how that person feels when others are surprised and impressed by their new musical ability. Or, more accurately, how they would feel in that circumstance, once they had laid their money down of course.

Although the ad includes long-form text, the writer skillfully managed to tell an entire story in 15 words.

Here’s Caples’ game-changing headline: “They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano. But When I Started to Play–!”

Content writing, on the other hand, isn’t about selling people something. It’s about teaching them something. At least, that’s how it started out.

Company blogs, white papers, e-books and how-to videos were originally conceived to build that firm’s credibility by displaying their deep expertise.

Of course, there was always the chance that readers would buy into an approach that made sense, but realize they weren’t capable of executing it on their own without reaching out for expert help.

So businesses started adding brief blurbs at the bottom of their blog posts, perhaps set off in a colored box, with a soft-sell suggestion on how their paid service might be of help with whatever issue the blog post was covering.

These days, those sales-oriented messages have begun appearing right in the body of the blog, further blurring the line between information helpful to the visitor, and persuasive tactics helpful to the company’s bottom line.

The field of content marketing has grown up on the premise that people are more interested in helpful, relevant information than to being sold to.

Creating, promoting and managing ‘helpful content’ has become the world’s fastest growing marketing avenue, which is just a little ironic, since its earliest adopters saw it as the ‘anti-marketing’ approach.

Just as importantly in the digital marketing sphere is the value of blogging in an effort to rank for additional keywords in Google.

We also know that regularly adding to the volume of original written content on our site seems to help us score higher on the coveted yet mysterious scale known as ‘site authority.’

Does all that ongoing work actually drive leads, sales and increased profitability?

The best answer is that it can do so, eventually, if you’re absolutely relentless about it. But in the real world, even bloggers who are enthusiastic at first seem to abandon the effort long before the benefits start to appear.

The other problem is, the topics you’d really like to blog about often have nothing to do with topics suggested by keyword research, which would, at least theoretically, bring the most traffic.

I’ve thought a lot about copywriting vs. content writing. But when I look back on my own online behavior, I notice something interesting.

If I’m looking for information so I can do something myself, I find myself perusing blog posts. On the other hand, if I’m looking to buy something, I end up on the company’s core web pages: home page, product pages, etc.

But if I’m looking for information in preparation for making a wise purchase … I can end up in either place. But maybe this is where future opportunity lies for marketers.

In my own twist on the copywriting vs. content writing issue, I like to add helpful tips and ideas even on website selling pages, to aid the buyer in making smart decisions to reach their goals. It shows, I hope, that I’m here to help, not just here to sell.

As far as the commercialization of blogging, I’m okay with including, and even expanding, product tie-ins. After all, we should get something of potential value out of all those hours spent writing blog posts.

But for now I’m still more comfortable separating the persuasive copywriting from the helpful content writing. Otherwise, readers have the burden of sorting out what is objective and what is ‘sell.’

One other approach on blog posts is to drive readers next not to a sales page, but to another piece of content, to get them to stick around, and as a form of step-by-step nurturing. So here I go:

Explore key principles of copywriting – which also happen to apply to content writing – in An Atlanta Copywriter Shares 3 Surprising Secrets.

In any case, I don’t rely just on one blogger’s take on a topic. I try to read several points-of-view, and then settle on my own approach. And so should you.

So check out: The Unconventional Guide to Content Writing vs. Copywriting from Search Engine Journal, The Differences Between a Copywriter, Content Writer and Content Strategist from ConstantContent, and Copy Writer vs. Content Writer: Differences in Goals, Skills and Methods by Scripted.


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Tom TortoriciAbout the Author:  Tom Tortorici is an Atlanta copywriter and web content writer who helps companies make a genuine connection with their audience. His classes and conference presentations have focused on how writing, strategy and design can work together to grab attention and interest even among readers with short attention spans. In addition to working directly with businesses, Tom regularly partners with web designers and marketing agencies.

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Tom Tortorici Inc. | Tom@TomTortorici.com | 770-934-7861 | 3101 Rockaway Rd | Atlanta GA 30341