The biggest difference between copywriting and content writing lies in its purpose
What exactly is copywriting? Isn’t it an old-fashioned style of writing that no longer has relevance in today’s digital world?
What we know as copywriting in the 2000s is not what Don Draper and Peggy Olsen from Mad Men did back in the 1960s, although they (and their real-life counterparts) laid the foundation for today’s wordsmiths.
Copywriting is the act of writing text for advertising and/or other forms of marketing, like brochures, catalogs, magazine and newspaper ads, billboards, sales letters and other direct mail pieces, scripts for commercials. It’s written with the aim to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade someone – whether reader, listener, or viewer -- to buy the product or service being promoted.
Content writing is the act of writing text for blogs, on-line articles, digital press releases, white papers, e-books, etc. It’s written with the aim to attract potential customers to a website, educate them about the products and services of a brand and engage and possibly entertain them with useful and relevant information that keeps them coming back.
Content writers consider the user experience (UX), incorporate external links in the copy for SEO, and study technical issues, such as click-throughs and bounce rates. They are more likely to use statistics and facts rather than appeal to the emotion of readers.
The Same, But Different
The goal of copywriting is to persuade people to buy a product or service. Period. It is more straightforward than content writing in the way that it directly mentions the brand as the solution for a potential customer’s needs.
Copywriting is selling ideal customers on your brand; content writing is subtly educating them about it, while delivering valuable content they can use to make an informed buying decision.
Copywriting is like a call-to-action, but on a much larger scale. Copywriters are trying to get people to feel, think, or respond -- or, ideally, to Google the slogan or brand to learn more about the campaign.
And where a content writer has the luxury of hundreds of words with which to make a case, copywriters have only a few words to make their case.
The ultimate objective of copywriting is to sell, unlike content writing where the aim is not direct selling, but rather to help the audience understand your brand and generate interest.
In general, copywriting, unlike content writing, is aimed towards the short-term goal of generating a one-time transaction.
Copywriting is Intended for Branding
Copywriting is the art of selling people on a brand. The best copywriting combines the products of a brand and the ideology behind it. Its intent is to pitch customers to use a brand’s products.
Copywriters write for advertising, typically specializing in short-form copy, such as headlines or ads. They create words for advertising campaigns, where the material is used to persuade people to think or act a certain way using storytelling, evoking emotion and a forging a personal connection with the audience.
For Mad Men fans, think about Don Draper and Peggy Olson at Sterling Cooper. They weren’t directly selling. They were using words that tapped into people’s emotions and experiences to depict and illustrate the products they were promoting. Remember Don’s presentation? We could almost forgive him his lies and infidelities after watching.
Branding requires good copy, in the sense that it tells the audience why your brand matters. Copy must attract the attention of your audience, then entice them to take action.
How does this happen? Good copywriters
- Write attractive headlines
- Use clear, direct words
- Converse with their audience
- Aim to inspire their audience to act
- Avoid jargon, slang, clichés and technical industry-related terms their audience won’t know
- Don’t exaggerate
A copywriter specializes in producing compelling copy that drives people to take a desirable action using copy that is (usually) short and sweet, meaning that it uses fewer but more powerful and persuasive words.
Content Writing is Art and Discipline
Content writing is an art. It needs to inform, educate and/or entertain; it needs to have a clear purpose and/or reason behind it; it needs to represent the brand’s voice; it needs to be a good read/watch/listen. Further, the best content writing aligns with strategic business and marketing goals to attract audiences and potential customers.
Content writers create a variety of authoritative content, with long word counts (1000+ words). Their work is content rich and keyword laden for search engine optimization, and their writing considers how many likes, shares and links to the piece will boost their content.
Content writers also create “” -- articles, blog posts, newspaper pieces, magazine features, whitepapers and any other types of timeless content with information that won’t go stale or go out of date and can be re-used.
Content writing is a discipline of creating valuable content with a pre-defined purpose in mind. Whether it’s a business announcement, new PR material or industry updates and news, content writing is used to gain interest from a potential customer and help them gain more knowledge about the business and the product or services it offers.
Google has told marketers that the user experience (UX) is an important factor in ranking in search. Today’s consumers have become skeptical about the content they read on the web; they like to do their own research, read reviews and go through different sites, including those of your competitors.
How do content writers inform, educate and entertain? They
- Write with the correct elements of Composition 101. Remember? Purpose/Introduction, body/paragraphs/form, conclusion
- Aim for an educational, informative, possibly entertaining experience
- Are clear and straightforward
- Back up arguments with documented facts
- Use content to build trust with the audience
- Are genuine and sincere
- Focus on helping the audience solve a problem or fill a need, rather than selling
- Don’t assume people will understand. Rather, they assume readers don’t know anything about the brand. But they don’t “talk down” to the audience, either.
Instead of a one-time sale, content writing aims to keep the audience engaged and motivated enough to share the content on their own social media pages, stay in touch with the business and eventually consider the business in their purchase decision.
A content writer can be anyone as long as they have the ability to elaborate on a topic in a way that the audience can understand. With the internet providing more access to information than ever before, anyone can produce valuable content for almost any topic. The best content writers have at least some first-hand experience about the topic they are writing about.
Writing Style and Other Skills
A content writer must have a strong understanding of how SEO works, possess advanced research skills, have a good grasp of the language and be able to understand various publishing platforms and content distribution networks.
A copywriter is trained to create copy that appeals to readers’ emotions. They use a few carefully chosen words to get the audience’s attention. They have the flexibility to vary the tone of the copy to suit the their target audience.
Content writers can create various formats: blog posts, how-to guides, comparative analysis, articles, newspaper pieces, magazine features, white papers and e-books, email newsletters, social media posts, podcasts and videos.
Traditionally, copywriting was limited to advertising materials such as billboards, slogans and posters. In today’s world, copywriting has expanded to include a variety of copy, such as online and offline ads, direct response email campaigns, sales video scripts, online catalogs and sales letters.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Copywriting and content writing do share similarities. For one thing: goals. Both copywriting and content writing ultimately aim to convert a reader/viewer/listener into a lead or a sale.
Another similarity: they both need to be well-written. The definition of “well-written” for one differs from the other, but quality writing engages readers and keeps them reading.
Content writing needs to include elements of copywriting to achieve sales objectives. Although it isn’t about selling, it must educate, inform and entertain the audience to gain their interest and entice them to engage with the brand on its website using well-chosen words.
In today’s online environment, the lines between the two disciplines of copywriting and content creation are blurring: content writers are infusing elements of copywriting into their materials to get the best of both worlds.
The ultimate objective of copywriting is to sell something, whereas the ultimate objective of content writing is to create valuable content that nudges the audience into the sales funnel by capturing their interest and educating them about your brand and how you it can solve their problems.
Sources for further reading