Copywriting and content writing are two distinct forms of commercial writing used in sales and marketing. Although they’re often confused and conflated, they’re actually two very distinct disciplines. Understand the difference between copy and content to use them appropriately in your marketing strategy - attracting prospects and converting them into customers.
Put very simply, content writing exists to attract and inform readers. Copy exists to convert them into customers.
The primary purpose of copywriting is to persuade or convince the reader to take a specific action, such as making a purchase. To achieve this, it uses persuasive copywriting techniques and frameworks to encourage people to take a specific action.
Copy is typically used in marketing and advertising materials, including advertisements, product descriptions, sales pages, and email campaigns.
Content writing aims to attract, inform, and engage the reader. It plays a part in the sales and marketing funnel - but it isn’t as focused on converting interest into sales.
Content writing includes blog posts, articles, news stories, ebooks, thought leadership, and other forms of informational material.
2. Product focus and calls-to-action
In a nutshell, copywriting is always about your brand, product, or services. Content writing also includes written content that doesn't talk about you at all.
Copywriting is about your product or services. It is often used to make prospects aware of your product (for example, advertising copy), and when a prospect is ready to convert to a customer (sales and product copy).
Copywriting techniques - such as emotional appeal, sense of urgency or fear of missing out - can push purchasers over the line. Calls to action in copywriting tend to be transactional - pushing readers toward a purchase, contacting sales, etc.
Content writing is about topics of interest to your target audience - not necessarily just your product. Most content won't mention your product at all.
Content addresses common search queries that can attract readers to your website - such as ‘How to care for a new puppy’ or ‘Best toys for collies’. From here, customers begin to build awareness of your brand and products. Product-focused content can then help convert them into customers.
Calls to action in content writing vary depending on where the reader is in the customer journey - but all will encourage deeper engagement with your brand.
Early on, they may simply signpost the reader to another article or invite them to sign up for a newsletter. Later in the journey, they may be more transactional, as in copywriting.
When it comes to the difference between copywriting and content writing - as in many walks of life - length isn't that important.
It’s a myth that copy is always short and snappy. Some product pages can be 1,000s words.
However, it is true that copy can be very short. Think three- or four-word headlines or slogans in adverts. That’s copy. And it’s often the hardest copy to write.
This is why copywriters really shouldn’t charge by the word - as a single sentence can take as long as an article.
Content writing can range from a blog post of five hundred words, to ebooks that are 10x longer.
Typically, content writers have the luxury of being able to write at length about a topic. Their challenge is to strike a balance between covering a topic comprehensively, whilst structuring it to make it readable and engaging.
4. Skills needed
Both copywriters and content writers use their writing to support sales and marketing objectives. But they are two distinct disciples and require different skills and expertise.
Copywriters are ‘salespeople in print’. Copywriting is a specific skill that combines writing, marketing, and psychology. Copywriters are skilled at customer research to uncover their pain points and what motivates them to make purchases.
Then they use their creativity to craft these insights into marketing messages and ideas that excite and influence. Online copywriters also understand on-page SEO to improve the chance of their copy ranking in search engines.
Customer and market research
Content writers are more like journalists than salespeople. Like copywriters, content writers understand on-page SEO and aim to create online content that ranks in the SERPs. They also need to understand readers’ motivations, to create content that meets their search intent and answers all of their questions.
While copywriters conduct research to inform marketing messages, content writers conduct research into topics that interest the audience. They also research the best keywords to make their content most visible online. They may also be skilled in content strategy, such as how to build topical authority.
Topic and keyword research
Why does the difference between copywriting and content writing matter?
There's a school of thought that says it doesn't matter whether you hire a copywriter or a content writer. Hopefully, the information above has convinced you otherwise.
It's a bit like whether you hire a cook or a chef. An electrician or electrical engineer. A school teacher or a private tutor. They are equally skilled - in adjacent roles - but they serve very different purposes. And it all depends what you need.
Hire the right person for the right job if you want the best results.
Sales and persuasion. Product pages, sales literature, ad copy. Copywriter.
Attracting and engaging. Blog posts, ebooks, thought leadership. Content writer.
Both are key components of your marketing strategy - you just need to know how and when to use them.
About the author
Libby Marks is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. After 15+ years in marketing and communications, she escaped the 9-to-5 and started Write on Tyne.
Write on Tyne is a small content and copywriting agency dedicated to making marketing managers' lives easier.
We provide top-notch copy for campaigns, content marketing, and websites - underpinned by expertise in marketing strategy and SEO.