This post was updated on March 1, 2023.
When it comes to marketing a business, there’s no question that you need copy – and lots of it. Copy for your website, your ads, your social media, blog posts, emails, and more. But did you know there are actually two different kinds of marketing copy that do two totally different jobs?
Copywriting vs. content writing is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, because the majority of my daily tasks involve strategizing, writing, editing, or coaching others on digital marketing copy.
I want everyone to understand the difference, why it matters, and to help spread the word!
- Is copywriting dead?
- What is the difference between content and copy?
- Copywriting vs. Content Writing, Explained
- How to Get Great Website Copy
Is copywriting dead?
Let’s blast any doubts right now: NO. Writing is still a big freaking deal for your business because copy is a vital part of digital marketing.
It might seem like professional copywriting doesn’t matter so much anymore because of the massive rise in AI writing tools and viral content sites earning tons of traffic despite having crappy copy. And what about the statistics that show that the majority of people scan pages and don’t even fully read them?
For starters, AI can’t replace human storytelling rooted in experience and actual emotion. AI tools have also learned some terrible biases and even tell outright lies and aggressively defend them. We are nowhere near a world where AI tools can be trusted to write content without human participation. Understanding when and how to use analogies or tell personal stories to illustrate a point, or how to craft scannable content that still engages and drives conversions – that takes some special sorcery!
The words you put out into the world on behalf of your business directly impact your conversion rate, customer retention, and your overall brand reputation. Great copy can increase leads and sales. Bad copy, on the other hand, can lead to digital marketing fails.
I’m obviously biased, because I’m a writer. It’s what I do for work and for fun. So let’s look at a bunch of sexy copy statistics:
- Copy has twice the impact on landing page conversions vs. design (source)
- Pages with poor grammar have up to 85% higher bounce rates (source)
- People are 70% less likely to click a Google Ad with a grammatical mistake or typo (source)
- 80% of people only read headlines to get the gist of a page or post (source)
- Longer, researched blog posts tend to rank higher and earn more organic traffic (source)
- Personalized CTAs increase the likelihood of conversion by 202% (source)
- Articles over 3,000 words typically get 3x more traffic, 4x more shares, and 3.5x more backlinks (source)
- Websites with great writers at the helm can get up to 7.8x more traffic (source)…
- …Which is probably why 73% of major organizations hire someone to manage their content marketing strategy (source)
As you can see, copywriting is far from dead.
What is the difference between content and copy?
Now that’s a great question. Gold star for recognizing that they aren’t the same, even if you only got that just now from the heading. Knowing is half the battle!
When it comes to digital marketing, there are two key umbrellas relating to copy:
- Content writing is used in marketing, while copywriting is most often used in advertising – but advertising falls under the marketing umbrella, so both are technically marketing skills
- You can create marketing content without copy, but all marketing copy is content
Is your mind blown? We’re only getting started.
What is copy?
Copy is text. Yup, it’s that simple.
In content marketing, copy is written information used by a business to either hook a person’s interest, or to convince them to take an action.
And that is the difference in copywriting vs. content writing: the purpose of the words.
What is content?
Whether it contains copy or not, content is information that’s being delivered to an audience for a specific purpose. That purpose could be art, entertainment, education, awareness, advertising – there are countless types of content.
Content can just be copy, but it can also be illustrations, photos, videos, sounds, animations, or even all of the above. The Medieval Latin contentum means ‘to contain’, which is a great way to think about content – whatever it is you’re creating, it should always contain a purpose.
Otherwise you’re just adding more content noise to clog up the internet, but don’t get me started on that pet peeve.
There are lots of mediums through which to serve up your content. Content marketing usually refers to the information a business puts out into the world to attract potential customers. For example:
- Articles or case studies on a website
- Videos on YouTube
- Podcasts on iTunes
- Posts on social media platforms
- Emails sent through a marketing tool
Does your content need a boost? Read How to Write Great Website Content!
Copywriting vs. Content Writing, Explained
Now you know the basic difference (and similarities) between copy and content. But if you’re like me, it’s way more helpful to see examples. That will better illustrate whether you need copywriting or content writing for your specific task.
What is copywriting in marketing?
Copywriting is the art of weaving powerfully convincing yet concise phrases to convince a person to take a profitable action. Its purpose is to drive sales.
Here are common examples of copywriting:
- PPC ads
- Social media ads
- Really, all ads
- Also landing pages for ads
- CTA buttons on a website
- Product or service page copy
- Sales emails
- Website forms
- Video scripts
- Website menus
- Pop-up messages
- Chatbot scripts
Copywriting requires a strong understanding of your audience, your brand strategy, and the emotions required to get the job done. In some cases, like ad headlines and CTA buttons, you only have 2-5 words to grab that reader and make them believe – each word is vital!
Popular emotional hooks used in copywriting are fear, superiority, gratification, trust, and happiness. Being able to quickly convince a reader that their life will be immensely better with your product, or that they’ll be miserable if they miss out, takes a master wordsmith.
Copywriting does occasionally cross paths with SEO, such as writing headlines and menus. But for the most part, it’s used in advertising or microcopy.
Wait, what is microcopy?
In the world of user experience (UX) design, microcopy is all the little pieces of copy that are needed to help a user find their way around a website and complete actions.
The words might encourage a specific action, or they might simply tell the reader what to do next. It’s a huge deal, but deserves its own article. Read more on the power of microcopy in this post from UX Planet.
What is content writing?
The purpose of content writing is to subtly educate or entertain an audience, piquing their interest so they check out your business – and come back for more content. It’s not about making a sale, it’s about building up an audience of potential leads
Here are common examples of content writing:
- How-to articles
- Complete guides
- Case studies
- Op-ed pieces
- Social media captions
- ‘About’ website content
- FAQs pages (which should include keyword research!)
Content writing incorporates storytelling, branding, emotions, and often SEO. It also has the hardest ROI to prove; a person might be exposed to 10 great articles over two years, and then contact your business through a form that gets the conversion credit.
Content writers don’t do it for the glory, that’s for sure.
To get your content discovered and make people hungry for more, you need a voice that’s perfectly suited to your audience, an understanding of when to use logic vs. emotion in the funnel, and a strong knowledge of on-page SEO including search intent.
The best content writing focuses on being helpful – are you giving your target customer something they actually need or solving a problem? Does your content drive your business goals? Google’s most recent (late 2022) algorithm update focused on rewarding sites with ‘helpful content’ – defined as content written for humans, not as a medium to deliver keywords.
If you can’t easily explain the purpose of your content, whether it’s copywriting or content writing, you probably shouldn’t publish it.
Is a content writer a copywriter?
When it comes to finding someone to craft words for your business, a content writer is not a copywriter because the purpose of content writing is totally different.
With that said, as with most professions, any writer is going to specialize in certain areas. You wouldn’t go looking for a children’s picture book writer to draft a horror screenplay, right? (Although, now I want to.)
That doesn’t mean a writer can’t do different kinds of writing; lots of us can do both copywriting and content writing well, but are especially good at one or the other. You want the specialist who can rock the exact kind of wordsmithing you need.
But what about SEO copywriting?
Yeah, there’s no such thing. Sorry.
The SEO community uses that term and it’s oozed out into the marketing mainstream, but nobody can agree what they mean by it. If you look at the online definitions, they’re all talking about SEO content writing – optimizing pages and posts to rank better with search engines. And who writes pages and posts? Content writers.
This term comes from people who think copywriters write ALL THE COPY.
Which is best, copywriting or content writing?
The best kind of writing is the one that serves your content’s purpose. Are you trying to make a sale, or build your audience?
I fully admit that I picked this heading from Google’s ‘people also ask’ results because I’m an SEO content writer doing her job – but also because it’s so funny. Who is asking Google this question? Is it fellow writers? I need to know.
How to Get Great Website Copy
All of this information might have you worried about your marketing efforts, if you don’t have a copy wizard on staff.
Fear not! Copy is a big deal, and so is understanding your copy’s purpose – but I believe you can create great digital marketing copy with your current resources. And if not, help is only a few clicks away.
Learn Content Writing Skills
Writing marketing copy isn’t the same as producing a Nobel Prize-winning piece of literature. You don’t have to be an English major, or even regularly write for your business.
Knowing your brand can, in many cases, make up for any writing skills you lack. If you can talk to a customer about your business, products, or services, you can also write about them. Good marketing copy is going to sound like a conversation with a real customer.
Beyond that, you can hone your writing skills through a little online learning.
There are free online copy courses you can take, like all these courses from Skillshare and this one from Udemy. Just be sure that no matter what the title indicates, you confirm that your chosen course is teaching you how to write the right kind of copy!
You can also subscribe to content marketing and SEO newsletters, which frequently share articles that relate to copy. We’ve published quite a few articles about copy on the Forge and Smith blog. Here’s a selection of my favourites:
- How to Write Great Website Content
- Balancing Logic & Emotion in Website Copy
- 13 Tips to Improve Your Copywriting for Better Search Rankings (This is mostly about content writing, but I optimized it for ‘copywriting’)
- Search Intent 101: the Complete Guide
- How to Write a Business Blog + Secret Blog Formula
- 20 Awesome Blog Content Ideas for Small Business
And of course, you should use writing tools like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor. Just read everything over carefully before publishing – those tools can make mistakes, too, especially when it comes to spelling industry-specific words like products, or the names of people.
Hire a Professional
I work for an agency that offers digital marketing services, so keep that in mind here. But even before I started, I’ve always been a big advocate for hiring professionals to do professional work.
Unlike small repairs or new recipes, I don’t believe you can learn to write through YouTube videos. And you don’t have to be a writer! The best way to drive business growth is for you to focus on running said business – not splitting your focus to learn all about marketing copy.
You can easily find digital marketing agencies and freelancers who have the writing skills you need.
The most important thing to keep in mind, whichever route you take, is that each piece of content your business puts out is an investment. Every time potential and existing customers encounter your content online, whether it’s your website or social channels or a text ad, they’re judging your business.
Make sure your copy is giving them a great impression.