Copywriting vs. content writing: what’s the difference?

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What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing?

Before you wait for the punchline, there isn’t one. What there is, on the other hand, is a fair bit of confusion.

Now, this isn’t surprising because both copywriting and content writing as definitions aren’t in themselves particularly clear. Throw in the fact that even those who work in the industry aren’t even in agreement on the distinction, and what is clear is that they need some explaining.

Coming from someone who does both, here’s my shot.

Same, same but different

First off, copywriting and content writing are not the same thing despite often being clumped together.

While they both involve a talent for writing, the best way often used to describe the split is that copy sells, whereas content entertains, informs, and educates. This is pretty good and true to a large extent. However, if you’re talking about intent, it isn’t entirely accurate as content writing also aims to sell, eventually (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Okay, so what is copywriting?

Copywriting is headlines and taglines and all the catchy advertising stuff. But that only scratches the surface. Copywriting is also writing for a whole lot of other on and offline marketing bumf – brochures, leaflets, websites, email newsletters, and point-of-sale material such as packaging.

While the format and writing style varies for each, and between industry, the task of copywriting is always to sell or promote a brand. Each word, sentence, or paragraph is carefully considered and crafted so that it plays a part (consciously or subconsciously) in convincing people that they should take a positive action towards buying.

Therefore copywriting is not just straightforward ‘I can write’ writing; it’s a bit more cunning. It involves researching the audience, tapping into the consumer psyche, and, with this knowledge, using prose as a tool of persuasion.

How about content writing?

Content is a form of communication to be digested by an audience. Now, in this respect, it encompasses all writing, including copywriting. But this isn’t really content as we talk about it today. The reality of content has become digital content – so for me, content writing is web content writing.

What kind of things do content writers write? Blogs, editorial articles, infographics, e-guides, case studies, social media copy – all of which not only require a different writing skill set to copywriting but in themselves are very different forms of writing e.g., journalistic, factual, snappy.

Essentially, the art of content writing is writing something people want to consume, like, and share. It’s not about persuading; it’s about engaging people – something storytelling does well.

Blurring the writing boundaries

Just to throw a spanner in the works, copywriting and content writing may be different for the most part, but they’re not mutually exclusive skill sets. Some copywriting techniques work well in content e.g., headlines, which are crafted to persuade people to read. Plus, copywriting, like content, can entertain and inform.

But don’t let this confuse things, all this means is that understanding the principles of one can enhance the other.

Information as brand bait

Now I mentioned earlier that like copywriting, content writing also sells. But how can it sell if it’s not using words to persuade?

This is how. If you can produce good quality content, you can position a brand as relevant, entertaining, and knowledgeable. This will not only make people sit up and take notice but is also intended to keep them coming back for more – and there’s the hook. By drawing people in, content builds awareness and trust and creates potential customers.

So content writing sells, just indirectly.

Clear as mud?

It’s all in the technique

Ultimately the differences between copywriting and content writing can be pretty fuzzy around the edges. Still, when you separate them by technique i.e., manipulating words to sell versus writing words which entertain, educate and inform (even though the intention is also to sell) – the distinction becomes a little clearer.

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