What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing? If I can do one, can I automatically do the other?
As a freelance writer, it’s important to have as many strings to your bow as possible. But what if you’re not sure exactly how each string is tied?
There can be a lot of crossover between copywriting and content writing – but there are also some key differences that need to be considered.
What does a copywriter do?
Copywriters typically write “words that sell”. Or, at the very least, words that persuade you to take action in some way – whether that’s to download information, book an appointment, call the business, or purchase a product.
This might include writing text for a website and other marketing channels. Think social media, advertising, emails and more. But this is not just any text. The purpose of copywriting is to grab attention and encourage action – to craft words in advertising material that will sell a product or brand and prompt a purchase.
Copywriters often have only a few words with which to hit their mark. Writing sales copy tends to be short-form – consider ads, social media posts, landing pages, video scripts, email campaigns, and billboards for starters.
As a copywriters, you need to understand not only the product or brand they are trying to sell, but competitors, target audiences and industry trends. It’s about creating a unique voice for that brand through the clever and eye-catching manipulation of words and ideas.
If you're interested in copywriting, check out the course Copywriting Essentials as a great starting point into this lucrative career.
What does a content writer do?
Content writers set out to educate, inform, entertain and, above all, engage existing and potential customers. Content is about encouraging a deeper relationship with a brand, inviting readers to stick around and come back for more.
In general, content is long-form writing. Think blog posts, articles, podcast scripts, ebooks, reports and more – anything that will help to establish authority for the website or brand and encourage readers to save and revisit.
If copywriting is all about getting out into the market and grabbing attention, content writing focuses on bringing the market home and keeping it there.
One of the roles of content is to boost the visibility of a brand’s website in the all-important Google search, driving traffic to that website and helping to generate business opportunities. In this way, while not a direct selling tool, content writing is an integral part of a business’s overall marketing.
Content writers therefore, often need to consider search engine optimisation as part of the process of writing their text, creating content that potential customers will actively seek out through search.
If you’re a content writer, you also need to understand the brand and its target audience – and know how to add value for that audience. You need research skills, the ability to create new angles on industry topics, and the SEO skills to incorporate relevant keywords in a natural ways. Editing skills are highly valued in content writing where authority is key.
This course in Content Writing is a ideal if you're a freelance writer or copywriter looking to upskill in this area.
How they differ – and where they overlap
So, what does this actually look like for a freelance writer?
As an example, a copywriter may be asked to write a web page about a new mattress that eases back pain. The aim of that copywriter is to persuade you to buy the mattress, discussing its features and benefits.
A content writer, however, might be asked to write an article for the same company’s blog along the lines of ‘how to choose the right mattress for your needs’. The aim of the content writer is to educate the potential customer and position the company as an authority in the industry. Of course, the article may also mention the brand-new mattress that eases back pain.
Which is not to say that the same writer might complete both tasks. The skills involved in copywriting and content writing are actually quite different, but most companies see it all as ‘writing’. So a company’s existing copywriter may be asked to write content and vice versa – often because that company wants to work with a writer who already knows their product or industry.
So, even though the words ‘copywriter’ and ‘content writer’ are sometimes used interchangeably, the roles are different and require different skills. As a professional writer, it’s important to understand the distinction – and know what you’re signing up for!
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al procrastinates by making reels. Find them at @allisontaitwriter on Instagram.