You might think that copywriting and content writing are the same thing. After all, they both involve writing, and they’re both used to promote brands online.
However, there is a key difference between the two: the purpose of the writing.
Copywriting is all about selling, while content writing is all about educating. Though there’s also a lot of overlap, too, especially in our modern advertising environment that includes bottom of the funnel content (often sales-oriented in nature), ostensibly educational webinars (that are actually designed to sell), and advertorials that look just like educational articles.
Let’s take a closer look at the difference between copywriting and content writing at large, as well as specific considerations for landing page copywriting, SEO copywriting, social media copywriting, and more.
Spoiler: my take is that all content written for marketing purposes is copywriting. Some of it is just explicitly more “sales-y.” But it lies on a spectrum and there’s no hard divide between copywriting and content writing.
What is Copywriting?
Copywriting is all about selling.
It’s used to promote products and services, and it’s typically short-form and direct. The purpose of copywriting is to get people to take action, whether that’s buying a product, signing up for a service, or taking some other kind of action.
People tend to view copywriting as shorter form than content writing.
Common examples of copywriting include billboards, taglines, marketing copy on the website homepage, call to action text, sales emails, product descriptions, sales letters, and video scripts for advertisements.
Mad Men’s “It’s Toasted” tagline is a great example of what people think of for copywriting:
What is Content Writing?
Content writing, on the other hand, is all about educating.
It’s used to provide information and answer questions. The purpose of content writing is to help people understand a topic or solve a problem. It’s usually longer-form than copywriting, and it often takes a more indirect approach.
Common types of content writing include valuable content living in your help center, email newsletters, content creation for search engine optimization, talking points for podcasts, organic social media posts, and long-form blog posts (for brand awareness or otherwise).
This blog post is a great example of content writing – educational in nature and used to establish authority on the topic.
Pop onto any random company blog and you’ll see an example of content writing:
The Difference Between Copywriting vs Content Writing
The key difference between copywriting and content writing is intent: copywriting is all about selling while content writing is all about educating.
This means that copywriters typically use shorter-form, direct language to get people to take action, while content writers use longer-form, indirect language to help people understand a topic or solve a problem.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule – but in general, this is how copywriting and content writing differ.
However, here’s my contrarian point: it’s all selling.
Think back to high school English class, my friend.
Remember when we had to write persuasive essays?
These were essentially educational articles with a point of view, and your job in writing them was to sell someone on your point of view or argument.
It’s pretty much the same thing with most content marketing, especially with premium gated content like ebooks and whitepapers.
That’s why it’s so hard to tell the difference between copywriting and content writing. It’s a spectrum.
For instance, this blog post I’m writing now is educational in nature. It’s search engine optimized, so at the very least, I’m employing SEO copywriting techniques.
But I’m also trying to convince you of my point of view: copywriting and content writing are closer in nature than most people think.
In addition, think about “advertorials” and sponsored content. It’s long-form in nature, but it is surely designed to sell.
If we’re being honest, a lot of journalism today is a glorified advertorial. So the difference is less apparent than it used to be.
The Similarities Between Copywriting and Content Writing
At the end of the day, both copywriting and content writing benefit from a deep understanding of the target audience, the buyer’s journey, and, well, good content and writing skills.
Whether it’s copy or content, they’re both designed to communicate a message.
And as any great communicator knows, you need to understand your audience and craft the right message to get them to take action. That’s why so many copywriters are also great content writers and vice versa.
In my opinion, it’s worth considering the audience and the action you’d like them to take when deciding which type of writing to use.
If you’re looking for an immediate response from your readers (sign up now or buy now), then copywriting might be a better bet. But if you’re looking to educate people on a topic or build authority in a space, then content writing is probably the way to go.
At the end of the day, most copywriters and content writers have skills that overlap quite a bit. It’s all about understanding your audience and crafting a message that resonates with them.
Copywriting and content writing have a lot of similarities at their core – and understanding those similarities can help you create content that resonates with your audience.
So don’t get too caught up in the differences between copywriting and content writing – focus on creating great content that helps people understand a topic or solve a problem. That’s the key to success for both forms of writing!
So, what’s the bottom line? Copywriting and content writing are two different types of writing.
Copywriting is all about selling while content writing is all about educating. Though the differences in goals and style can be murkier than we’d like, the writing skills required are certainly different.
I, for instance, am great as an SEO content writer. I can write long-form high-quality content to fulfill a content strategy and build trust with potential customers. This piece of content is a good example.
I’m not as good, however, at sales copy. Anything short form, witty, and designed to optimize ad conversion rates – well, I’ll hire a freelance writer for that.
Keep this in mind as you develop your own marketing strategy – choose the type of writing that will best achieve your desired outcome.