You’ve probably heard the terms copywriting and content writing bandied about a lot in recent years. With so much focus on our online output, it’s important to know the difference between the two. And when to use them. In a nutshell: copywriting sells you something, content writing tells you something.

While copywriting chats you up in a bar, content writing meets you for coffee and gives you the lowdown on what’s been happening. One is the art of seduction. The other is an ongoing relationship with a close friend. But what does this actually look like in written form, and which one do you need? In this article, we compare the two and their different purposes. 

person copywriting and content writing on orange typewriter with mug of coffee on white desk

What is Copywriting?

The ultimate aim of copywriting is to convince someone to do something. Want people to buy your product? Copywriting. Want them to sign up for your services? Also copywriting. Want them to download an ebook, join your mailing list, arrange a consultation, or request a quote? All copywriting. 

It generally takes a more direct approach. There’s less nuance and subtlety involved in persuading your audience. Think short, sharp messages that get across the what and the why without having to dig for it. If you’re scrolling through Facebook and an ad shows up in the sidebar, the text on it is copywriting. In a few words, it tells you what the brand is about, why you need it, and how to get it. 

Copywriting often uses SEO, although that’s more often associated with content writing. Copywriters might specialise in different types of copy or they might specialise in the industry they write for. What they have in common, however, is that their writing is intended to persuade and convince their readers to do something. 

What Makes Good Copywriting?

Good copywriting hones in on the message that will reach a specific target market. For example, take the latest iPhone. Think about all its features. Now imagine you have two distinct markets to sell it to. One is high-level management sorts. The other is teenagers. Would you use the same message to persuade both? The answer is almost certainly no. 

The key to copywriting is to pick out the selling points for the people you’re trying to reach. For the management market, you’d probably focus on the business uses for the device. Diary management, reminders, document sharing, and group FaceTime for meetings, for example. The teenage market would more likely be interested in social media, photo, video, and music features. Copywriting is tailoring your message to connect with each group. 

To produce great copy, you need to be able to:

    • Understand who your audience is and how to reach them
    • Write concisely and engagingly
    • Simplify the complex
    • Evoke emotions and reactions
    • Incorporate SEO into your writing
    • Convince readers to take action
    • Do all of the above while meeting your client’s requirements and using the brand’s tone of voice.

We didn’t say it was easy!

Man writing in notebook with laptop in the background

What is Content Writing?

Content writing is less concerned with selling you something and more interested in making friends. It can help you spark or strengthen a relationship with your audience. With a little time, research, and careful writing, it can also establish you as a trusted voice in your industry. If you’re looking to educate, entertain, or build brand awareness with your readers, then it’s content writing you want. 

This is a less forceful way of writing. You’re not looking for an immediate action as a result of the piece. You’re not in a rush, you’re drawing people in by writing interesting stuff that they want to read. It’s a slow burn approach. That’s not to say you won’t see concrete results from content writing. On the contrary, people are more likely to lower their guards if they believe they’re not being sold something. 

SEO is crucial to content writing. If people can’t find it, they can’t read it. It often involves keyword research and crafting your writing so that those same keywords don’t feel forced. Google knows the difference between a carefully written piece of content and one that’s merely stuffed with keywords. If you’re churning out the latter, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the search results pile. 

What Makes Good Content Writing?

Good content writing sees the connection it makes with readers as part of a long-term relationship. Broadly speaking, you’re looking to reach two sets of people: those who already know you, and those who don’t. For those who know you, your content will aim to progress the relationship and build upon your authority. For those who don’t, you need to be what they’re already looking for. 

Organic traffic comes when you answer the questions people are asking. These days, Google is more intuitive than ever. The more relevant and comprehensive the information you supply, the better your chance of being found. And when people are reading your content because it’s relevant to them, you’re already in a great place to start building that trust.

Whoever you’re trying to reach, your content should be informative, entertaining, and always accurate. To produce great content, you need to be able to:

    • Identify what your audience is looking for
    • Find original ways to provide this
    • Carry out keyword research
    • Incorporate keywords naturally into your writing
    • Write engagingly in a way that holds the interest
    • Structure pieces to make them easily scannable
    • Research your content so that it is accurate and credible
    • Proofread and edit to a high standard
    • Produce content on a wide variety of topics
    • Do all of the above while meeting your client’s requirements and using the brand’s tone of voice.

hand holding ballpoint pen writing in blank notebook

Which Do You Need?

Looking at the bigger picture? Both. Copywriting and content writing complement each other. They’re the co-codamol of the marketing world. It’s widely acknowledged that while copywriting is always content, content is not always copywriting. So, think about them as a tag team. Content writing draws your prospects in and copywriting takes them down. 

As a rough guide, however, here are a few examples of what’s generally considered copywriting:

    • Magazine and newspaper ads
    • Television, video, and audio ad scripts
    • Posters and billboards
    • Social media ads
    • Product descriptions
    • Landing pages
    • Emails

And for the following, you’ll usually be looking at content writing:

    • Blogs
    • Social media posts
    • Long-form articles
    • Ebooks
    • White Papers
    • Video or podcast scripts
    • Emails

As you can see, emails come under both. In this case, it would depend on your objective. Are you trying to convince the reader to do something or just keeping them informed? While copywriting and content writing have distinct and separate purposes, there is a lot of overlap. Which is why we’re starting to see a blurring of the lines in the two professions. Copywriter or Content Writer? Sometimes there’s no need to decide.