When it comes to marketing a business, there’s no question that you need copy – and lots of it. Copy for your website, your ads, your social media, blog posts, emails, and more. But did you know there are actually two different kinds of marketing copy that do two totally different jobs?
Copywriting vs. content writing is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, because the majority of my daily tasks involve strategizing, writing, editing, or coaching others on digital marketing copy.
I want everyone to understand the difference, why it matters, and to spread the word!
- Is copywriting dead?
- What is the difference between content and copy?
- Copywriting vs. Content Writing, Explained
- How to Get Great Website Copy
Is copywriting dead?
Let’s blast any doubts right now: NO. Writing is still a big freaking deal for your business because copy is a vital part of digital marketing.
It might seem like professional copywriting doesn’t matter so much anymore because viral content sites earn tons of traffic despite having crappy copy. Social media is spawning popular new terms every day. And what about the statistics that show that the majority of people scan pages and don’t even fully read them?
For starters, you’re not a content publishing site with hundreds of guest bloggers from around the world, aiming for quantity over quality. And understanding when and how to use new slang (if at all) in your content, or how to craft scannable content that still engages and drives conversions – that takes some special sorcery!
The words you put out into the world on behalf of your business directly impact your conversion rate, customer retention, and your overall brand reputation. Great copy can increase leads and sales. Bad copy, on the other hand, can lead to digital marketing fails.
I’m obviously biased, because I’m a writer. It’s what I do for work and for fun. So let’s look at a bunch of sexy copy statistics:
- Copy has twice the impact on landing page conversions vs. design (source)
- Pages with poor grammar have up to 85% higher bounce rates (source)
- People are 70% less likely to click a Google Ad with a grammatical mistake or typo (source)
- 80% of people only read headlines to get the gist of a page or post (source)
- Listicles can earn 80% more pageviews than other types of content (source)
- Personalized CTAs increase the likelihood of conversion by 202% (source)
- Articles over 3,000 words typically get 3x more traffic, 4x more shares, and 3.5x more backlinks (source)
- Websites with great writers at the helm can get up to 7.8x more traffic (source)…
- …Which is probably why 73% of major organizations hire someone to manage their content marketing strategy (source)
As you can see, copywriting is far from dead.
What is the difference between content and copy?
Now that’s a great question. Gold star for recognizing that they aren’t the same, even if you only got that just now from the heading. Knowing is half the battle!
When it comes to digital marketing, there are two key umbrellas relating to copy:
- Content writing is used in marketing, while copywriting is most often used in advertising – but advertising falls under the marketing umbrella, so both are technically marketing skills
- You can create marketing content without copy, but all marketing copy is content
Is your mind blown? We’re only getting started.
What is copy?
Copy is text. Yup, it’s that simple.
In content marketing, copy is written information used by a business to either hook a person’s interest, or to convince them to take an action.
And that is the difference in copywriting vs. content writing: the purpose of the words.
What is content?
Whether it contains copy or not, content is information that’s being delivered to an audience for a specific purpose. That purpose could be art, entertainment, education, awareness, advertising – there are countless types of content.
Content can just be copy, but it can also be illustrations, photos, videos, sounds, animations, or even all of the above. The Medieval Latin contentum means ‘to contain’, which is a great way to think about content – whatever it is you’re creating, it should always contain a purpose.
Otherwise you’re just adding more content noise to clog up the internet, but don’t get me started on that pet peeve.
There are lots of mediums through which to serve up your content. Content marketing usually refers to the information a business puts out into the world to attract potential customers. For example:
- Articles or case studies on a website
- Videos on YouTube
- Podcasts on iTunes
- Posts on social media platforms
- Emails sent through a marketing tool
Does your content need a boost? Read How to Write Great Website Content!
Copywriting vs. Content Writing, Explained
Now you know the basic difference (and similarities) between copy and content. But if you’re like me, it’s way more helpful to see examples. That will better illustrate whether you need copywriting or content writing for your specific task.
What is copywriting in marketing?
Copywriting is the art of weaving powerfully convincing yet concise phrases to convince a person to take a profitable action. Its purpose is to drive sales.
Here are common examples of copywriting:
- PPC ads
- Social media ads
- Really, all ads
- Also landing pages for ads
- CTA buttons on a website
- Product or service page copy
- Sales emails
- Website forms
- Video scripts
- Website menus
- Pop-up messages
- Chatbot scripts
Copywriting requires a strong understanding of your audience, your brand strategy, and the emotions required to get the job done. In some cases, like ad headlines and CTA buttons, you only have 2-5 words to grab that reader and make them believe – each word is vital!
Popular emotional hooks used in copywriting are fear, superiority, gratification, trust, and happiness. Being able to quickly convince a reader that their life will be immensely better with your product, or that they’ll be miserable if they miss out, takes a master wordsmith.
Copywriting does occasionally cross paths with SEO, such as writing headlines and menus. But for the most part, it’s used in advertising or microcopy.
Wait, what is microcopy?
In the world of user experience (UX) design, microcopy is all the little pieces of copy that are needed to help a user find their way around a website and complete actions.
The words might encourage a specific action, or they might simply tell the reader what to do next. It’s a huge deal, but deserves its own article. Read more on the power of microcopy in this post from UX Planet.
What is content writing?
The purpose of content writing is to subtly educate or entertain an audience, piquing their interest so they check out your business – and come back for more content. It’s not about making a sale, it’s about building up an audience of potential leads
Here are common examples of content writing:
- How-to articles
- Complete guides
- Case studies
- Op-ed pieces
- Social media captions
- ‘About’ website content
- FAQs pages (which should include keyword research!)
Content writing incorporates storytelling, branding, emotions, and SEO. It also has the hardest ROI to prove; a person might be exposed to 10 great articles over two years, and then contact your business through a form that gets the conversion credit.
Content writers don’t do it for the glory, that’s for sure.
To get your content discovered and make people hungry for more, you need a voice that’s perfectly suited to your audience, an understanding of when to use logic vs. emotion in the funnel, and a strong knowledge of on-page SEO including search intent.
The best content writing focuses on being helpful – are you giving your target customer something they actually need or solving a problem? Does your content drive your business goals? If you can’t easily explain the purpose of your content, whether it’s copywriting or content writing, you probably shouldn’t publish it.
Is a content writer a copywriter?
When it comes to finding someone to craft words for your business, a content writer is not a copywriter because the purpose of content writing is totally different.
With that said, as with most professions, any writer is going to specialize in certain areas. You wouldn’t go looking for a children’s picture book writer to draft a horror screenplay, right? (Although, now I want to.)
That doesn’t mean a writer can’t do different kinds of writing; lots of us can do both copywriting and content writing well, but are especially good at one or the other. You want the specialist who can rock the exact kind of wordsmithing you need.
But what about SEO copywriting?
Yeah, there’s no such thing. Sorry.
The SEO community uses that term and it’s oozed out into the marketing mainstream, but nobody can agree what they mean by it. If you look at the online definitions, they’re all talking about content writing – optimizing pages and posts to rank better with search engines. And who writes pages and posts? Content writers.
This term comes from people who think copywriters write ALL THE COPY.
Which is best, copywriting or content writing?
The best kind of writing is the one that serves your content’s purpose. Are you trying to make a sale, or build your audience?
I fully admit that I picked this heading from Google’s ‘people also ask’ results because I’m an SEO content writer doing her job – but also because it’s so funny. Who is asking Google this question? Is it fellow writers? I need to know.
How to Get Great Website Copy
All of this information might have you worried about your marketing efforts, if you don’t have a copy wizard on staff.
Fear not! Copy is a big deal, and so is understanding your copy’s purpose – but I believe you can create great digital marketing copy with your current resources. And if not, help is only a few clicks away.
Learn Content Writing Skills
Writing marketing copy isn’t the same as producing a Nobel Prize-winning piece of literature. You don’t have to be an English major, or even regularly write for your business.
Knowing your brand can, in many cases, make up for any writing skills you lack. If you can talk to a customer about your business, products, or services, you can also write about them. Good marketing copy is going to sound like a conversation with a real customer.
Beyond that, you can hone your writing skills through a little online learning.
There are free online copy courses you can take, like all these courses from Skillshare and this one from Udemy. Just be sure that no matter what the title indicates, you confirm that your chosen course is teaching you how to write the right kind of copy!
You can also subscribe to content marketing and SEO newsletters, which frequently share articles that relate to copy. We’ve published quite a few articles about copy on the Forge and Smith blog. Here’s a selection of my favourites:
- How to Write Great Website Content
- Balancing Logic & Emotion in Website Copy
- 13 Tips to Improve Your Copywriting for Better Search Rankings (This is mostly about content writing, but I optimized it for ‘copywriting’)
- The 10 Commandments of Great Web Writing
- Search Intent 101: the Complete Guide
- How to Write a Business Blog (Even if You Think You Can’t)
- 20 Awesome Blog Content Ideas for Small Business
And of course, you should use writing tools like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor. Just read everything over carefully before publishing – those tools can make mistakes, too, especially when it comes to spelling industry-specific words like products, or the names of people.
Hire a Professional
I work for an agency that offers digital marketing services, so keep that in mind here. But even before I started, I’ve always been a big advocate for hiring professionals to do professional work.
Unlike small repairs or new recipes, I don’t believe you can learn to write through YouTube videos. And you don’t have to be a writer! The best way to drive business growth is for you to focus on running said business – not splitting your focus to learn all about marketing copy.
You can easily find digital marketing agencies and freelancers who have the writing skills you need.
The most important thing to keep in mind, whichever route you take, is that each piece of content your business puts out is an investment. Every time potential and existing customers encounter your content online, whether it’s your website or social channels or a text ad, they’re judging your business.
Make sure your copy is giving them a great impression
Small and medium-sized business owners tend to face a lot of confusion around the ideal word count for a piece of written content on their website or blog. Data from the past five years shows a steady increase in the length of published posts. And, it seems that the change is happening with good reason.
In 2017, for example, the average article length fell somewhere between 500 and 1,000 words, with less than 10% of bloggers investing in long-form (2,500+ words) articles.
Today, on the other hand, things are looking very different. According to research from Orbit Media, 63% of bloggers are publishing posts that exceed the standard 1,000-word count, with 30% to 36% of those who go above 1,500 words reporting “strong results.”
But while the data suggests that long-form content performs better in today’s digital marketing landscape, we can’t conclude that marketers simply need to write more in 2021. On the contrary – they must learn when and how to invest in long-form content to get the absolute most out of it without wasting resources on producing sub-par material that does nothing but run on and on.
So, how can you make the most out of your digital distribution platforms with long-form content that excites readers and delivers results? This guide looks at everything you need to know before you start making long-form an integral part of your digital marketing strategy.
- What Is Long-Form Content?
- The Benefits of Publishing Long-Form Content
- How to Create Winning Long-Form Content
- Getting Long-Form Content to Work for Your Business
What Is Long-Form Content?
Like a bunch of other digital marketing concepts, long-form content does a beautiful job of evading definition.
To some, long-form content is any piece of written content that exceeds a word count of 750. To others, the label is reserved for those articles that go beyond 2,500 or even 3,000 words.
In truth, there is no universal answer. Every single format adheres to different standards, which is only natural. After all, there’s no way of comparing a detailed case study with a simple “what is” blog post that gives readers a quick way to gather information and only scratches the surface of a topic.
So, before we go into the ways to get the most out of long-form content on your website, let’s agree not to use labels in the form of word counts. Instead, we’ll agree right here that the way to define long-form content is to call it any written piece that does justice to a topic by paying sufficient attention to every single detail, and successfully answering reader questions.
The Benefits of Publishing Long-Form Content
Although defining long-form content may be challenging, identifying its benefits is anything but.
Research has shown time and again that well-written (and well-researched) pieces offer a multitude of advantages for those ready to do the work.
One of the most significant gains you unlock when publishing long-form content on your website is that it helps you boost your brand’s visibility on Google.
In the simplest of terms, a longer article body allows for better search engine optimization, giving you the opportunity to:
- Fit in your focus phrase (naturally) without reverting to tactics such as keyword stuffing
- Optimize your copy for synonyms and long-tail variants
- Boost readability with multiple headings, internal and external links, and multimedia
- Win Google’s Featured Snippets position
Of course, you can do all of these things with short articles as well. However, research shows that the average word count for first page results on Google lands at 1,447 words, proving that taking the time to produce long-form content pays off in terms of SEO.
Generate Authority for Your Brand
Investing in high-quality content has been proven to be one of the best ways to position your brand as an authority in your field.
By focusing your production efforts on in-depth content, you’re effectively sharing your insights and know-how with audience members looking for value.
For example, imagine a person looking for an explanation of different email authentication protocols. If they land on this article by Sendinblue, they’ll walk away with the impression that the brand behind the piece knows what it’s talking about. (And, even if the reader is not yet looking for an email marketing platform, they’re sure to remember that they once read a helpful piece published on the brand’s blog.)
Get Backlinks and Boost Social Media Shares
If you’re still not persuaded about the benefits offered by long-form content, you’re sure to be convinced by the following two statistics from Backlinko’s analysis of 912 million blog posts.
According to the brand’s research, long-form content outperformed shorter pieces, both in backlinks and social media shares.
It turns out that pieces that are 3,000+ words long get an average of 77.2% more backlinks than shorter articles. Moreover, the sweet spot for maximizing social shares falls between 1,000 and 2,000 words, further proving the benefits of investing in long-form content.
Validate Talking About Your Product
One of the challenges of getting the most out of your content marketing strategy is that blog posts aren’t always the ideal place for a sales pitch – especially if you’re targeting search terms that aren’t directly related to your products and services.
Fortunately, with long-form content you can match the user intent, provide value, and squeeze in some space to call the reader’s attention to the benefits your brand offers. Plus, you get to do all of this without coming off as too sales-y.
This is what TimeTackle does with its guide to creating an editorial calendar. Explaining the process and highlighting the best products for planning a content strategy, the brand’s writers managed to find a clever way to mention TimeTackle’s app in a section that explores the benefits of Google Calendar to assign, track, and schedule content distribution.
It’s a logical continuation of the topic, which means that it provides readers with relevant info. Yet, it manages to create a space for the brand to pitch its products without coming off as pushy.
Win the Goodwill of Your Readers
Finally, as we look into the benefits offered by long-form content, don’t forget to consider that people love it when brands are helpful.
Studies have revealed that consumers choose to support the brands that offer the most value, which shows that sharing your knowledge and unique insights pays off in the long run.
If you have the resources (and know-how), investing in educational content, sharing your expertise, and empowering your readers is an excellent way to approach your content creation strategy.
How to Create Winning Long-Form Content
Now that you understand everything you stand to gain by rolling up your sleeves and getting down to some serious content production, it’s time to start writing.
Here are the five steps to producing long-form content that’s sure to get you noticed by your target audience.
1. Know What Your Readers Want to Read About
Before you start putting words to paper, you will have to go through a preparatory phase. That’s why your first step for creating content that cuts through the noise is to do your research and to do it well.
One of the best ways to ensure your content brings results is to optimize it for user search intent. And, it’s worth mentioning that long-form content works particularly well for informational search intent.
Informational intent refers to cases in which web users search for knowledge. They need answers to questions or guides to solving pain points. And while they’re still in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey (meaning that they’re not yet ready to make a purchase), serving the right content can efficiently capture them as leads and speed up their path from information-gathering to buying.
Understanding informational search intent and how to optimize content for it is a great way to get more out of your long-form articles:
- For example, you can obtain a coveted SERP position by using certain search terms in the article’s title, sub-headings, and body like “how to,” “guide,” “what is,” “best way to,” etc.
- By organizing your content in a way that gets to the point early on, then goes into detail, you’ll grab user attention. Additionally, you’ll encourage visitors to stick around on your page until the end of the article, signalling to Google that your content is a good match for the intended search intent.
- Finally, by providing high-quality, actionable information, you’ll have given your readers everything they wanted, effectively boosting your brand’s authority and helping you become the leading resource in your niche.
As a great illustration of a long-form piece that checks all the boxes, check out this guide on the best way to learn guitar by Play Guitars.
Understanding that it’s a complicated topic, the writer behind this article made the smart decision to optimize for search intent with the correct keywords, an outline at the beginning of the piece, and by visually organizing the post into scannable sections.
2. Don’t Hold Back on Detail
When it comes to the value that long-form articles offer, the thing that makes them relevant is the abundance of detail they deliver. When producing long-form content, creators should do their best to enrich their posts with as much new, helpful information as possible.
The fact is, most of what is found on the internet today is a remake – a sort of retelling of information found somewhere else. And while it is possible to turn such content into a tool for driving organic traffic and boosting brand authority, the effect it produces is nowhere near that of truly original content.
For a great example of how the perceived value differs between recycled and original long-form content, compare the following two posts by Semrush.
On the one hand, check out the brand’s overview of mobile marketing statistics collected through different sources already available online. On the other, look at the original study conducted by Semrush’s team on the difference between mobile and desktop trends in SEO.
A quick check shows how much better the original study performs compared to the roundup article. Despite a shorter word count, it has:
- Scored an Ahrefs URL rating of 44 vs. 30
- Earned 628 backlinks vs. 142
- Secured 318 referring domains vs. 90
This just goes to prove that detailed, helpful, and original information performs better than article length on its own.
3. Check the Readability
Okay, but what should you do if you have already written some long-form content and you want to update it to serve your audience (and your business) better?
Well, a simple hack would be to check and improve the readability score of your article.
It’s well-known that internet users prefer to scan than versus fully read content online. So, it’s only natural that creators should aim to produce articles, which are scannable, to the point, and successful at engaging readers.
Knowing that big walls of text alienate readers, writers should implement chunking techniques that effectively break up concepts into bite-sized chunks of information that are easier to read, understand and remember.
Great ways to do this include:
- Using bullets
- Implementing subheadings
- Shortening sentences and paragraphs
- Utilizing formatting to guide the reader’s attention (for example, by bolding for emphasis)
- Including multimedia to illustrate complicated concepts
For an excellent example of a page that does all this, check out this 5,000+ word guide on learning to code from Skillcrush. This page effectively manages to grab and retain user attention, despite the massive amount of information it covers, thanks to strategically using headings, a table of contents, bulleted lists, as well as a large font size coupled with generous negative space.
If you’re looking to improve the readability of your existing long-form content, the best way to go about it is to utilize free online tools like Readable, Hemingway, or the readability checker for WordPress by Yoast.
4. Supplement with Multimedia
Research shows that people respond much better to visuals than to words alone. That’s why multimedia is such a valuable addition to your long-form content.
Using the right photos, illustrations, videos, and even audio files can help your audience get more out of your articles. Plus, it can help you communicate information more effectively and offer something more than your competition.
A great way to present data is through infographics, which are an excellent tool for providing a visual dimension to the information you’re offering to your audience. A company that does this rather well is PWC, whose reports strategically use visuals to improve the effectiveness with which they communicate technical information.
If you’re looking for a slightly different approach, know that you can get equally beneficial results by simply including videos and screenshots in your long-form articles, as exemplified in this Google flights guide by Scott’s Cheap Flights.
The writers of this article understood that everyone processes information differently, leading them to produce a guide that works for both auditory and visual learners. This is achieved thanks to an abundance of annotated screenshots that instruct the reader on how to use the Google Flights app.
But, what’s interesting is that the content creators also knew that video had the potential of engaging more people. So, they created a video summary of the article on the page, allowing readers to consume all the contained information in just eight minutes. All the while, they can follow the audio instructions and go through the discussed steps in real-time.
5. Get Creative with Different Content Formats
Finally, as you look for ways to create winning long-form content for your website, remember that it’s not just standard blog posts that can get you the results you’re after.
By mixing things up – especially with various content formats – you can widen your offering and keep your audience interested, engaged, and constantly coming back for more.
Excellent alternatives to standard articles to explore for long-form content include:
- Information roundups – provide readers with an easily accessible resource for all the data relevant to their query, like this collection of remote work statistics from Flamingo.
- Inspiration resources – give website visitors ideas on how to resolve their pain points, like this Instagram captions article from Sixads.
- Step-by-step guides and tutorials along the vein of WikiHow’s guide on how to tie a tie (which expertly uses a combination of text, images, GIFs, and videos).
- Case studies – the one content format trusted by most people (60% according to Statista), giving you the perfect opportunity to present new information to your audience. HubSpot has an entire content section devoted to customer success stories.
- Definitions of niche terms and concepts – the perfect format for reaching audiences at the very top of the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey as well as for positioning your brand as the answer to all their future needs in your industry. B&H Photo offers a terrific example with their extensive glossary of photography terms.
Getting Long-Form Content to Work for Your Business
The great thing about investing your time and resources into producing high-quality, original, helpful long-form content is that it has the potential for impressive returns.
An exceptional piece of writing won’t just help you wow the people who land on your site or blog. If you consistently deliver valuable, insightful, and unique articles, you are sure to reap the longterm benefits for both your website and your business.
So don’t be afraid of giving long-form articles a try. Start with one or two – preferably by covering pillar topics for your site. You’ll see, the longer form factor won’t take long to get used to. But it’s sure to deliver results – whether you’re after a boost in your reach, increased sales, or simply engaging with more of your followers.