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Want A Sticky Website That Sells? Forget Content!

An interesting debate is raging among copywriters, web designers and content providers about the key differences, if any, between writing copy for the web versus writing content.

According to prolific copywriter Nick Usborne, a survey conducted among the readers of his email newsletter "Excess Voice," which is available at, 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.

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.

Real Content is King

Most designers, webmasters and writers develop content for their web sites in a way to educate their visitors. They also write it with the notion that "content is king," "content raises search engine rankings," "content makes a web site sticky" and so on.

That's all fine and good. But in my estimation, web content fails when it strives only at informing the reader, and lacks important elements that take the reader "by the hand" and compels them to do something -- anything, including the simple act of reading.

In other words, while some may compel our attention, many sites fail to propel our actions, too. And their owners often scream, "Why is my site not producing any sales," "why is it so heavily trafficked but getting such a poor response" or "why are people leaving so quickly (or after they got what they came for)?"

Well, if content was king, copy should be the castle.

The Internet is not a traditional medium in the broadcast sense. It is intimate, dynamic and interactive. People are more involved when reading the content of a web site than reading a conventional print publication or watching a TV commercial. With the Internet, people also have a powerful weapon, and they usually never 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 content that compels the reader to do something, even if it's just to continue reading.

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According to, "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 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 and hypertexts, the web transforms the passive reader into an active, responsive participant. (Make that "response-able.")

A book or magazine is limited by its front and back covers. The web, however, is not. If your content does not strive at getting the reader to do something, whether it's to buy, join, subscribe, call, email, fill out a form, download, click 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 readers to keep reading, it's still selling an idea. It's still calling for some kind of action. And it's still copy, in my opinion.

If your web page is only meant to inform people, like some kind of book, it's content. (And like the closing of a book once it's read, the only action left is to close the browser window.) But if it contains links to other parts of your web site, then it's copy. And you need to write your content with that mindset.

Ultimately, write your content by incorporating a direct response formula that compels and propels your readers to act. Don't leave them hanging. Take them by the hand. In your content, integrate a call for some kind of action, in other words. Ask your reader to "buy now," "join today," "get this" or "download that ..."

... Or better yet, at least ask them to simply "click here."

About the Writer of this Article

Michel Fortin is a copywriter, author and consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. His specialty are long copy, email and web sales letters. Subscribe to his FREE monthly email newsletter by visiting

Online Writing and Beyond: Writers Will Lead the Content Revolution


It is often thrown around loosely on the web that "Content is king."

If content is king, then what is a content writer?

Unfortunately, we are not yet royalty. We're never paid as well or considered as skilled as a web designer or our more technical counterparts. This is changing, however, with an influx of writing for the web courses and the frenzy of corporate training in writing for the web. Training an already overworked, understaffed web team to write specifically for the web is costly and distracts technical workers from updating their ever-changing, ever-evolving techie skills. And then there is the whole left-brain, right-brain trap. Technical workers usually work from the left side of their brain, programming ASP and javascript. Designers use the right side of their brain to apply design elements to the technical aspects, such as forms and web sites.

Good writers are already gifted in using a voice that reaches their audience clearly and effectively. Content writers work behind the scenes to help web sites retain and expand their readership, sales, and visits by offering articles, sales copy, email outreach, and other types of writing to enhance a web site's overall "stickiness". The basic premise behind content writing is that without content, a web site creates no reason for a customer to return. And it's much easier to get a customer to return than to visit the site in the first place. The web is still referred to as the "information superhighway", and millions of users expect their information for free.

Where Writers Fit In

Ultimately, it is not "Content is King." As readers adapt and change their uses and needs on the web, it is clear that really, the users are king and queen. Providing fresh and interactive content is simply the role content writers undertake. This is similar to the role of jesters, caterers, tutors, and playhouses to our royal readers. (Online books have failed thus far primarily for this reason; much of the content isn't uniquely informing and the format doesn't make an enjoyable read. How can somebody enjoy reading over 50 pages of boring, painful-to-read Adobe- Acrobat text?)

Content writers entertain, refresh, inform, educate and expand the world of their readers through writing. Those of us who write and love writing understand that the essence of writing is invoke emotion, take your reader "another world", inform them or prompt them to action. Combine the passion for writing with the need for content on the web, and a writer can have it all. Not only can a writer fulfill these needs, but also the web writer can achieve a coveted, long-lasting goal for every web site; compel the reader to interact.

Writers Engaging Readers

As more forms of entertainment move online, more unique ways of fulfilling their goals will surface. Some of the most popular web sites today begin with a little content and build a community. Community-based web sites not only have online writers, but also provide a forum for their users to interact to the content. Building conflict and community can engage your readers in such a way that they no longer feel like readers, but an audience. Members of an audience can applaud, converse, heckle and cheer when appropriate. By encouraging the use of a message board or other interactive media, readers return to see what the next day, week, or month will bring. They "get in on a piece of the action".

More and more web sites are creating audiences rather than readers, and writers are helping them through polls, feedback forms, and message boards. However, it seems that the web has not completely transformed the web into a completely interactive medium yet. Content writers will create a way to force the reader not to be an audience, but a part of the play. As a writer, I think that we'll give audiences more and more room to interact and influence actual events and mediums.

Where We'll Take Content Writing

In the future, I see nonfiction e-books allowing readers to pick and choose chapters based on their skill and knowledge levels. Students will be able to skip the grammar review in an online textbook if they feel their skills are up to par or took an online skill test to "test-out". Web designers will skip the HTML basics and move straight to HTML 5.0 new features and XML. Writers will be writing both for a general audience and a skilled audience, and readers will participate in the process by choosing the specific information they need. "Take what you need and leave the rest" will be the new online writing mantra. already did this (although they are now defunct) with a huge database of articles, thesis papers, and other formerly print media that readers pay a small fee to read. Others are following this pattern. This market will expand and readers will only pay for what they get.

In the fiction market, readers will be taken to the next level of participation by finding not only a choice of characters, plots, and settings through interactive web sites and media, but through a Choose- Your-Own Adventure type of structure. Similar to online games, users will be able to choose Jane's physical traits and John's personality, and set the story into sequence at a setting of their choice. They will choose their favorite outcomes in their online soap operas. (No more, "No! John! You should have married Mary, not left her for Margaret! She's evil!")

As for the writers? We won't have to choose the perfect beginning, middle, or end anymore. We won't have to decide on one specific audience. We'll be writing for all cultures, all ages, and all interest levels. Where content is king, we'll be the knights in shining armor, rescuing the reader from the boring, redundant, or irrelevant web reading and the writing of yesteryear.

Oh, yeah, and we'll be paid as well as the Duke of Earl.

*This article originally appeared in Web Writing Buzz Newsletter in April of 2000.

About the Writer of this Article

Melissa Brewer is a full-time freelance writer and author of The Writer's Online Survival Guide, available at She hosts a web site for professional freelance writers and she publishes a free weekly newsletter, The Web Writing Buzz, featuring articles on freelancing, writing jobs and publishing news from around the web.

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