It’s Not Copywriting! …or Is It?

“Remember, what we do is not copywriting…..”

Said the editor after reading my comments about a piece I had rewritten. “We do content writing.”

She lifted her eyebrows as if looking down on me, where she was probably seeing me on her computer screen.

“Sure,” I replied, “but you do want your readers to take action. I mean, you want them to click on one of the CTAs, right?”

Her eyes moved back to the second computer screen, where the text must have been displayed.

“But we don’t sell”, her tone of voice was dry and decisive. And before I could explain what I was getting at, she added: “We never want people to feel like we are trying to sell them something.”

At this point I, wished we weren’t on Zoom. Should I enlighten her and explain that she had just described the essence of copywriting?

“And are you happy with the conversion rates of your content pages?” I asked, instead.

She hesitated and said they all rank on the first page on Google. Then she admitted that conversion was something she needed to work on more.
I’ve come across this a few times lately: content managers or editors who don’t get enough conversions, on the one hand, on the other hand, are afraid to sound “salesey”.

The truth is, convincing the reader to take action is a form of selling. What you get in return may not be money, but a click-through to another page, an email address the reader leaves, a form he/she fills out, or a phone call. Sometimes the reward is them coming back to read your next blog post. It all depends where in the funnel your content is positioned and what purpose it serves.

What had tipped the editor off was me saying the content should concentrate more on the benefits for the reader and less on the features of the products. The text was a comparison of products. A click on either would generate money for the publisher.

To make that click, people have to understand how using a product, and its specific feature can improve their lives. No one cares how great or poor features are. Everyone cares if and how they could impact them personally.

Whether you sell something or want a person to like your page, in the end, the reader needs to reach a decision. Unless the reader understands if and what they are to gain, they can’t make that decision.

That’s why a copywriter needs to translate features into practical benefits. The skill involves being able to envision the reader with the product. The job is to create an image of the person who would benefit most and then write their story. A story that this same person can identify with and find him/herself reflected.

That’s when they’ll click. No matter if the click means a sell or something else.

Successful marketing copywriters have known for a hundred years that their texts mustn’t sound like they’re selling in order to sell. A copywriter needs to master the art of selling without selling, and so does a content writer.

Pretending to be in a casual conversation with the reader and using the second person wherever possible is not enough to engage the reader. And removing the passive voice as if it was a cancerous tumor doesn’t do the trick.

The secret is to show relevant personal advantages, without pushing or judging them.

I worked in the pharmaceutical market for a while. Advertising prescription medication is tricky because we were not allowed to sell them. This meant we had to choose our language very carefully to make sure we were not promoting the medication, but only presenting its potential benefits.

That’s where I learned the difference and the thin line between promoting and presenting benefits. It’s also where my direct-response copywriting training came in most handy. Copywriting is not about selling, it’s about convincing people to do something. Whether it involves their money or not is a different question.

Almost all content published on the web includes some element of traditional copywriting.

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