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Debating Between Content and Copy? Here's How to Spot the Difference

Most likely, the distinction between content and copy doesn't keep you up at night. You don’t stare at the ceiling for hours debating the variations between the two. And you don't worry that you’ve incorrectly labeled your marketing material as one or the other.

For most of my life, I never gave it a second thought either. That is, until I decided to start a copywriting career. Since then, I’ve delved deep into the rabbit hole of what makes businesses succeed or fail. As you probably know, it’s all about marketing.

Enter content and copy. These are two similar types of marketing tools that are sometimes used interchangeably. That’s because the lines between them are often blurry. Both are vital marketing tools that provide incredible value to your audience. Both require research and use storytelling to deliver a clear, easy-to-understand message.

Though there is considerable overlap, there are also important differences between the two. Recognizing these differences allows you to correctly choose between copy and content when creating a piece of marketing.

I like to view content and copy as different phases of a relationship. Like a first date, content gives readers a chance to get to know you, to learn about you, to decide if a real relationship is worth pursuing. After you spend enough time together, copy steps in and gets serious. It asks readers to go deeper into the relationship. It wants an answer. Yes or no? Will you make a commitment or not? If content is the dating phase, then copy is the proposal.

With that in mind, let’s flesh out a few more differences between the two.

What is content?

Content is a piece of marketing that informs, educates, instructs, or entertains. Great content provides value to consumers and increases their trust in you and your brand. It’s a proven way to express your unique personality and voice while establishing authority in your chosen niche.

Your main goal in producing content is to introduce yourself and your company and show readers what you have to offer. Provide value via the information you share. The more value they receive, the more likely they are to start following your brand and engaging with you.

Types of content include blog posts, emails, web pages, e-books, podcasts, and videos, to name a few. Whatever you produce should directly address the most important pain points of your audience. Your goal is to provide solutions to their problems. If you understand what people are struggling with, you’re in a great position to explain how you can end those struggles.

Defining your clients’ struggles may take a bit of research. The easiest way to figure out their pain points is to ask. Send a survey out to your email list and ask for feedback. Post a form on your website that invites people to share their thoughts.

If you are starting your business and don’t have clients yet, hop into a few online groups within your niche. Listen to the conversations people are having. It won’t take long to understand exactly what they need help with. Now, all you have to do is show how you can give them exactly what they want.

Smart businesses also incorporate search engine optimization into their content. SEO allows search engines to find your site easier, which leads to higher online rankings. And the higher you rank, the easier it is for your target audience to find you.

Content is the first part of the equation. It sets the stage for the next phase: copy. With the right content by its side, your copy will be much more effective than if it was standing all alone.

What is copy?

Think of copy as content with a focus on sales. Effective copy targets a specific audience with calls to action that lead readers to make a move. To say yes or no to your proposal. A “yes” means increased engagement and possible sales. A “no” means your business may not be the best fit for them, or they need to consume more content before getting to a “yes”.

Copy is often incorporated in many types of content. It includes landing pages, sales letters, emails, and websites. It uses catchy headlines and clear text to convert readers of your content into consumers of your products. Copy is also more informal than most types of content. It’s the spoken word in written form. Keeping that idea in mind while writing is what allows you to engage in a dialogue with your readers.

Well-crafted copy persuades your readers to take the next step. This could mean someone opts into your weekly emails, requests more information, or downloads a PDF. The best copy ultimately convinces people to buy your product or service.

Creating a feeling of excitement is the best way to lead readers down the path to increased engagement. While content communicates with the rational part of your brain, copy lights up your emotions and unconscious desires.

Readers get excited if they know their lives will improve when they buy your product. Their excitement allows them to strip away the barriers that are currently holding them back from their goals. They start to feel hopeful about the future. They understand that buying your service will solve their problem. And life will be easier.

If your copy contains obvious calls to action, making a purchase is easy. Readers click a well-defined button or a link that takes them to a purchase page where they complete the transaction. Congratulations! You have a happy customer. Your copy has done it's job.

Now that you’re reaching expert marketing status, let's recap. Content begins the relationship with your reader and copy deepens the connection. The right content and copy will navigate you through the dating phase and lead you down the path to a long and successful marriage. Cheers to the exciting journey that lies ahead!


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