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If you’d asked me what I do for a living five or 10 years ago, I’d have said I’m a freelance copywriter. But if you ask me now, I’ll say I’m a content creator. The difference is subtle but understanding it is critical to successful content marketing.

The goal of copywriting is to sell products and services to customers. This is especially true for direct response copywriting. Direct response copywriters (both digital and print) are highly skilled when it comes to getting customers to take immediate action, whether this is clicking a link or making a phone call to learn more about or buy a product or service.

Content writing is different. The goal of content isn’t to explicitly sell a product or service, but rather to set the stage and “warm up” prospects to receive your offer. Or, in the case of a blog, e-newsletter or whitepaper, to provide free, value-added information to prospects that positions you and your company as subject matter experts.

When done effectively, content and copy work together hand in hand. Content is used to build a relationship and establish trust with prospects so they’re receptive to your sales message. And copy is used to seal the deal and close the sale.

Share Knowledge, Not Information

Keep in mind that publishing content is more than just publishing “information.” People today are drowning in information — the last thing they need from you is more stats or data. What your prospects want is knowledge that helps them solve problems or take advantage of opportunities. All of your content should be run through this filter.

Here are 5 tips to help you create great content.

  1. Narrow your focus. This goes back to the idea of sharing more than just information with your readers. All the information anyone could every want is just a Google search away. The value you bring is your unique perspective on a topic and ability to focus narrowly on a particular aspect that’s especially relevant to your target audience. The more precise your topic, the more practical and helpful your content can be.
  2. Target your audience. This is similar to narrowing your topic. The tighter you target your prospect audience, the better able you are to deliver content they find valuable. It’s the difference, for example, between targeting the broad audience of doctors, which includes dozens of different specialists, and the narrow audiences of orthopedists, dermatologists or internists.
  3. Determine your objectives. In other words, why are creating content? Ultimately, your goal is to sell more products and services, but as we discussed above, this isn’t the job of content. Your content should provide valuable information, not a sales pitch, to prospects that helps you build trust and relationships with them.
  4. Educate your audience. Again, the more specific and targeted your educational content is, the more effective your content market program will be. Generic educational content won’t cut it — there’s no value in regurgitating the same stuff readers can find on a Google search. Instead, share personal insights and stories about how you have benefited from the strategies you’re talking about.
  5. Deliver value. The best way to do this is to make your content as specific and actionable as possible. And don’t worry that giving away information for free means people won’t hire you — just the opposite is usually true. It’s why restaurants give away samples in the food court: A little taste often prompts passers-by to stop in purchase more.

The 5 C’s of Great Content

Robert W. Bly lists the following 5 C’s of great content in The Content Marketing Handbook. Keep this list handy as you write. Good content writing is:

  1. Clear — Clear writing stems mainly from clear thinking. The opposite is also true: If you don’t understand your subject, your writing will be “weak, rambling and obtuse,” says Bly.
  2. Concise — Concise writing communicates the thought or idea in as few words as possible with no rambling or redundancy. Reread and tighten you content, and then go back and tighten it some more.
  3. Compelling — Your content should be interesting and engaging enough that readers feel compelled enough to finish reading it. The best way to create compelling content is to make it about things that interest your audience — their problems, fears, desires and challenges — not things that interest you.
  4. Credible — We live in an age of skepticism that’s fueled by “fake news” and slanted reporting. Most people filter everything they read through this lens of skepticism, so strive for credibility by establishing yourself as a trusted expert in your field.
  5. Call to Action (CTA) — Tell readers what you want them to do after reading the content. This shouldn’t be hard sell — remember, that’s the role of copywriting. Instead, you might ask readers to download a free whitepaper or e-book, subscribe to an e-newsletter or just comment on your content (see below!)