People often use copywriting and content writing interchangeably. Yes, even us writers.
It’s hard not to at first, especially since these two forms of writing are closely related and superficially, they’re very similar.
But with the popularity of methods like blogging as a form of attracting potential customers, knowing the difference between content writing and copywriting is essential in the success of your business-to-business marketing initiatives.
What’s the difference between the two?
Content writing and copywriting are their own distinct disciplines, despite their visible overlap.
While both are strong marketing tools in written form, they use different styles and unique skills to get your prospects’ attention.
What is a copywriter?
Copywriting is the creation of copy-text to advertise a brand, product, or service.
A copywriter is someone who persuades an audience. They convince readers to take the business’ offer, whether to buy a product, use a service, or even just visit a website, through a call to action (CTA).
Copywriters produce print collateral, trade show materials, TV commercials, digital ads, landing pages, sales emails and much more.
So the main goal of a copywriter, ultimately, is to sell. Copywriting directly talks about the brand and/or the product to be sold. The most important skill that copywriters should have lies in forming powerful and memorable ads that will appeal to readers to get them resounding with a resounding ‘YES’.
You might think that it’s an easy task, but it’s far from it.
There’s a certain balance between friendly and forceful that copywriters need to master. Copy should have an interactive and conversational tone but should be direct in a way that gives the reader a sense of urgency to act on your CTA. Copywriters find the best way– including brand language and voice– to sell their products.
Good copywriters have excellent storytelling skills that they can pair with their understanding and application of SEO. They’re also good at writing short-form copy and ads that are free of jargon but are gripping nonetheless.
Writer Thomas Kenny gives an example of the difference the right choice of words can make in producing head-turning ads in Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead in Advertising:
- “A color printer for the price of black and white.”
- “Millions of colors for the price of two.”
These are both descriptions for the same product, but the second one, without doubt, is far more attention-grabbing.
David Ogilvy, known as the Father of Advertising, sums it up best, “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
Copywriters are wordsmiths who craft not the prettiest words, but the most compelling headlines and CTAs and put it all in writing.
What is a content writer?
While the goal of a copywriter is to persuade and sell, the mission of a content writer is to educate, instruct and entertain.
Content can best be seen in websites, blogs, social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, and emails.
As said earlier, the goal of copywriting is to generate sales. Content writing, on the other hand, has a more long-term goal than copywriting, as it is focused on building engagement with your audience over a period of time where they’ll eventually form a connection with your brand, trust it, and ultimately be interested in what you offer.
To put it more simply, it’s a more subtle way of telling your audience about your brand, products, or services.
So the best content writers can convert prospects without even mentioning the brand. That means that they are able to fully rely on the quality of their content to grab the attention and interest of their readers, enough for them to feel invested in the brand.
Content writers are more skilled in writing long-form content that is engaging to readers and has a clear purpose. Normally, the topics align with the brand’s strategic business and marketing goals. Topics relating to what your business does can give a hint to readers about who you are. But, content writers don’t need to explicitly mention their brand or products.
Content writers simply need to produce good reads, enough for your audience to want to know more about your brand, whether through subscribing to your blog for more content, checking your website to learn about what you do, or actually looking to buy what you sell.
The best skill for a content writer to have is the ability to relay information in the most effective and interesting way possible. In other words, content writers should also be great storytellers. Keeping readers hooked can be a challenge since not many readers have the patience to read through long form content these days.
That said, content writers must be able to produce content where readers can still pick up information that will be memorable for them even if they don’t read the whole thing.
What does a copywriter create?
Copywriters are sellers. Therefore, they focus on a more direct approach to presenting the brand, the business, and the products/services. Copywriters usually produce:
- SEO blogs. While SEO blogs also share the aim of informing and entertaining the target audience, these types of blogs are more of a copywriter’s duty, because its main goal is to be found on Google to generate leads faster. SEO blogs don’t necessarily have to be that creative. Rather, they are more direct and cover topics that are highly associated with the products or services of the business.
- Web pages. SEO services pages are a prime example of this. Copywriters create the text for web pages that show the “who we are” and the “what we do” portions of the website. With SEO, copywriters try to make sure that they include all the important keywords, so that related searches will lead users to these specific pages. They’re like a flag that says “We can provide you with what you need.”
- Press/media releases. Press releases are made to boost brand reputation. Talking about your business’ achievements or anything newsworthy about it not only makes your brand more well known, it also makes it more trustworthy and appealing to readers. If they can see testimonies of a business’ success, they will remember it and more likely take a chance with it.
- Brochures. Brochures are a very handy marketing tool, especially for emerging businesses on a budget. They’re an effective means to introduce your brand to potential customers and inform them of your business’ products or services, with concise yet informative descriptions of each.
- Social media posts. Everyone’s on social media now, so it only makes sense to make use of these platforms when selling to your target audience. Copywriters write short-form copy with a CTA, usually sharing a link to their website or inviting users to contact them on the social media site itself.
What does a content writer create?
Content writers focus on educating and entertaining. These pieces of content aim to get the readers to know, like, and trust your brand. Content writers mostly create one or more of the following:
- Online publication blogs/articles. Content writers normally answer questions and solve problems, and the easiest way to do that is to provide information through articles. For online publications, these could be in the form of thought leadership or opinion pieces.
- eBooks. Well-written eBooks are a ticket to converting your audience into customers. Josh Kaufman, the author of The Personal MBA, said, “Writing a book still tends to have a positive effect on your reputation: if you invest the effort to write a good/useful book, you’ve spent more time thinking about the topic than other people, which makes you rare and valuable to people who are interested in the topic.”
- Podcasts and video scripts. Technology is advancing at such a rapid pace, and with that comes the evolution of things people find interesting. Podcasts are becoming more popular, especially to the multitaskers who love to listen and learn while keeping their eyes busy with other tasks. With the age of high-resolution screens and cameras, marketers are making the most of this tech by showing, rather than just telling. Despite the addition of other senses to stimulate the audience, the value of a well-written script shouldn’t be underestimated.
- Electronic Direct Mail (EDMs). Better known as eNewsletters, EDMs are a very effective way to not only educate and entertain but also to spark conversation and build relationships with your clients and prospects, while also improving your brand reputation. It is one of the most powerful PR and marketing tools that businesses should make use of.
Why a content strategy is critical to inform content writing and copywriting
We’ve previously talked about the importance of having a content strategy for your business. We discussed these important steps in creating an effective strategy:
- Define your goals.
- Understand your customers.
- Assess the stories and content ideas you have.
- Identify what opportunities you have.
- Be consistent with your content.
- Review and assess what’s resonating with your market.
Since there’s a crossover between the skills needed in copywriting and content writing, it is important to follow these steps to identify what to produce and when to produce it.
As mentioned, the main difference between copywriting and content marketing lies in the end goal. Are you educating, selling, or both? Do you need a more direct and short-term approach to generate sales or are you after something more long-term? What opportunities do you have given your budget? Are you keener on creating brochures that directly state what your business offers, or do you have the means to record podcasts and upload them regularly?
Having a strategy in place makes decision-making a lot easier. If you have a strategy in place, you’ll be able to produce copy or content that matches what your business requires, and given the difference between the two types of writing, you can adjust your tone, your language, and the content of what you’re writing with the goal in mind.
Copywriting and content writing both require skilful use of storytelling. Their difference comes down to their main goal: Copywriting aims to sell, while content writing aims to inform and entertain.
There is no inherently better method. It all depends on what you want to accomplish, and this should be set by your content strategy. These two aren’t mutually exclusive either, so having the right mix of both is achievable: you’ll have an informative, memorable, and entertaining blog with a compelling CTA.