• Bonnie Rando Leys

What's the difference between copywriting and content writing?


They sound the same and many people use the terms interchangeably. Is there a difference? Put simply, yes.

Before you brief a writer to create one thing (when you really meant the other)*, read this article and learn the difference between copywriting and content writing.

More than words

More than just words on a page, copy and content are words with intent. They have a shared purpose and that purpose is selling. This might mean selling a particular product or service, a story or message, or a brand as a whole.

The main difference between copy and content is function – the way in which they sell a message.

Here’s a quick breakdown to help:

Copy belongs in the present. It wants the sale today. Content tends toward the long-game. It plans for the sale next month.

What is copywriting?

Copy is used to sell a product, service, business or promotion. It is possibly the purest form of advertising in the sense that it is a direct pitch to a potential customer.

Good copy appeals to the reader’s emotions and sense of desire. It should be compelling and to-the-point. It’s about promotion, enticement and persuasion.

Good copy persuades the consumer that your product/service is the one they have been looking for, and that your product/service is exactly the thing they need.

Good copy usually^ has a:

  • unique selling proposition (USP) – the thing that hooks the reader, entices them and turns them into a customer

  • call to action (CTA) – the direction given to the customer to continue their relationship with you (eg. buy now, request a quote, subscribe or call).

Where is copywriting used?

Copywriting is everywhere. Some of it is terrible, a lot of it is unremarkable, and sometimes there are absolute gems.

Copy is used in:

  • advertisements

  • marketing and promotional emails

  • web copy

  • product descriptions online or in-print

  • billboards

  • brochures

  • other marketing collateral

SEO and copywriting

In a traditional marketplace (read: a world without online shopping and services), copywriting doesn’t need to be written with search engine optimisation (SEO) in mind. However, traditional marketplaces are increasingly hard to find these days.

Websites and online storefronts are standard practice now, so your copy should be crafted with common online search terms considered – unless it is strictly printed material.

What is content writing (or content creation)?

Content brings a depth and credibility that short and sharp sales copy cannot.

Content can:

  • grow brand awareness in the marketplace

  • demonstrate expertise

  • build trust and credibility

  • show your business as an authority in a particular field, and

  • distinguish your brand against competitors.

Good content rarely includes a hard-sell. Instead, the goal for content is to educate, inform and entertain the audience so they develop a connection with your brand.

When an audience develops a connection with a brand, they engage with it more (leading to sales) and are more likely to become a brand champion.

Note: Content isn’t limited to the written word. It can also include video, images and social media content.

Where is content writing used?

Like copy, content is everywhere these days.

If it isn’t an ad, textbook or an entry in an encyclopaedia, you can safely assume someone created that content with the hope you might like it and think of them next time you’re in the market for … whatever it is they’re selling.

See content in:

  • blogs and articles (like this one)

  • web content (eg. ‘About’ and ‘Our story’ pages)

  • published opinion pieces and editorials

  • social media like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

  • e-books and white papers.

SEO and content writing

Like copywriting, there was once a time (read: a world without internet) when content only appeared in traditional media like books, magazines, brochures, flyers and pamphlets. That time has well and truly passed.

The internet and the number of websites competing for views means SEO is now an essential component of content writing.

Content writers should have a good understanding of SEO and the subject matter at hand. This will enable better seeding of SEO terms so that the content still reads naturally (in tone and style) and remains relevant to the audience.

* A good writer will ask you questions during the brief so they understand exactly what you want, whether or not you use the correct terminology. Still, it’s nice to sound all-knowing.

^ There will always be exceptions to the rule. Don’t be a hero and disregard the rules straight out of the gate. You have to know why it is a rule first, then when you’re familiar you will know when and how you can break it. Sincerely, the fun police.

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