Content vs Copy

A lot of my clients ask for content when what they actually want is copy and visa versa. For most people outside the copywriting world, the difference between the two is not at all clear. This short essay aims to explain the difference in both process and value between copywriting and content writing, and how this figures into my rates as a freelancer.

Copywriting: When I first started my freelance writing business, I wasn’t clear on the copy vs content situation either. A colleague explained it to me simply by saying, copywriting is when you’re trying to persuade someone to do something. Even a string of text messages when you’re trying to convince your best friend to come out for a drink with you instead of staying home in their PJs… is copy. In the world of marketing, there are two types of copy. Branding: These are the words on your ad, your website, a bill board, or your tag line and Direct Response: Words meant to persuade prospects to do anything from clicking a link, to booking a call, to buying a product. A copywriter combines their writing skills with their understanding of human psychology to produce content that will move the reader further down the marketing funnel. Copywriting has specific goals for how the reader will respond, and the results (ROI) can usually be measured in the short term.

Examples: The words on an ad (print or online), landing pages, about pages, advertorials, sales emails, lead magnets

Content writing: Obviously content is used to refer to all different forms of media including images and words. In this particular context, content refers to writing that is used more generally to inform, entertain or simply attract attention. Content writing does not require an in-depth knowledge of human psychology, and the form is more open to creativity. Content writing is usually used at the top of the marketing funnel to bring prospects in and start to educate them about your product or service. Because of the top of funnel focus, web content writers require an in-depth knowledge of SEO. The results (ROI) of content are harder to measure so content writing should be just one part of an overall marketing strategy.

Examples: Blog posts, articles, social media posts, newsletter emails (can also be copy when part of a larger strategy), white-papers, books

Direct Response and Story Based Copy: I have been trained and work mostly in the form of direct response copy. This means rather than writing taglines and quirky ad campaigns, I focus on writing copy that persuades readers to take action immediately (click this link, listen to this podcast, seize this bonus).  Most of the time, I use story based copy. By using stories, and the story form, I get readers quickly engaged and feeling like they relate to the message and to ultimately follow along and respond to the final call to action.

My Rates: Because I have a background in copy, I approach all writing, including content writing, with these three copywriting principles:

  1. Know and write to a specific audience (involves research!)
  2. Story, or story-form writing
  3. Include a specific call to action

My rates for copywriting will always be higher than for simple content writing. This is because copy requires more work to get it right, but ALSO because my clients can measure the results of my copy and easily see the ROI they receive, even with higher rates.

I charge either per hour, or per project. I prefer per project arrangements because it gives me the flexibility to put as much time as needed into the research and editing stages rather than only focusing on the billable hours spent actually writing.  

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