Content versus Copy: the definitive stand

“What do you do?”

This is every copywriter’s Thanksgiving nightmare.

For people that make our living writing clear, compelling words… we haven’t yet cracked the code on answering that basic question without rambling.

Even within our industry, there’s disagreement around what language to use to describe your profession:

There’s copywriters. Direct response copywriters. Internet marketers. Content writers. Social writers… with no real definition of each.

(I actually wrote A LOT about how this problem affects our clients here)

A few years, ago, I created this graphic for my clients.

The way I distinguished the two at the time was the following:

Direct response copywriters combine sales psychology, human behavior, and writing to make people take action. They write things like sales pages, landing pages, and ads. This writing has to convert.

A content writer is someone who writes things like blog posts, articles, and YouTube descriptions. This writing summarizes, engages, introduces, and educates. Often, these are the bulk of the business needs.

I got a ton of pushback from content writers who thought this wasn’t a fair representation of what they do. A great content writer, they said, also propels action.

This is a fair criticism, so let’s dig deeper.

Joey Coleman, one of the world’s experts on customer service and retention, illustrates the customer lifecycle this way:

Source: Never Lose A Customer Again, by Joey Coleman

In the online marketing world, we can sort using these buckets. It would look something like this:

In just about every industry, the closer you are to the money, the more you get paid. This is why investment bankers and commissioned-based sales people typically make more than receptionists and customer service reps in the same office.

When it comes to writers, we can divide the types of writing into these buckets too.

And when we look at the salary data from Indeed.com, we see that the people writing copy that is close to the decision point (or the money), typically earn more.

Here’s what it comes down to:

The level of action required of the reader determines how much your words are worth.

A content writer wants a reader to take action like opting in to an email list, sharing a post, etc.

A direct-response copywriter wants a sale.

And, a writer in customer service or product delivery has an ultimate business goal of reducing refunds. Meaning these writers want readers to take no action at all (just keep what they have).

The most difficult action to achieve is a sale, the easiest is no action. Which explains the salary differences.

Let’s get even more granular.

Recently, my colleagues and I conducted a survey of 513 freelance copywriters.

We got data about 14 different project types ranging from projects in the awareness phase to direct-response heavy projects in the consideration phase.

Note: we did not study product delivery or customer service projects, so for the rest of this article, we’ll just focus on content and copy.

Here’s what we found… the closer to the exchange of money your writing is, the more you can charge for it. And, there’s less competition.

This makes sense. High demand. High result. High price.

Here’s the numbers:

The lowest paid project is a blog post with a median price of $400 and the highest is a Video Sales Letter at a median price of $3,000. Direct response copywriters also can command royalties, or a percentage of sales. But I’ve never heard of a content writer who works on commission.

To summarize, The level of action required of the reader determines how much your words are worth.

If you’d like more, inside my Freelance Co-op program, I have over 3 hours of training on the nuances of pricing including how to price, how to state your price, how to answer common objections and questions like “that seems expensive” and where to find clients who need your level of writing (whether you focus on content or copy). You can get more info on the Freelance Co-op here.

Been a direct response copywriter since 7th grade when I wrote a 30-page sales letter asking my crush to the dance. freelancecoop.org