Copywriting Vs. Content Writing. Lots of people get into marketing because they have a creative streak. For many, that streak falls into the category of writing. And what’s better than getting paid to do what you love? But there’s a bit more to producing copy for marketing than plain old writing. Different formats and channels require different styles. So, if you’re starting out as a freelance writer or you’re not sure how to describe your skills, it’s important to understand when and where content writing or copywriting is required.
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Is copywriting different to content writing?
Copywriting and content writing both refer to the production of written material, usually for marketing purposes.
However, the two are different.
Copywriting generally refers to anything where high-intent or purchasing behaviour from the target audience is the name of the game. Typically, copywriting is short and punchy.You’ll usually find it in things like:
- Google Ads copy
- Social media paid ads
- Email marketing
- Website pop-ups
- Traditional marketing (TV ads, billboards, etc.)
Essentially, anything that requires a slogan or tagline usually falls into the copywriting category.
Content writing, on the other hand, tends to be long form. Its purpose is less about generating demand or inspiring immediate action and more about informing the audience. That’s why anything related to thought leadership marketing tends to fall into the content writing category. Examples of content writing include:
- Editorial features
Is there a grey area? Sure.
But there’s also an important relationship between the two. At different points in their buying journey and throughout different interactions with a brand, the target audience will be exposed to many different messages. Good content writers and copywriters know how to align their messaging so that, no matter the format, all content and copy remain on the message without compromising the quality of the piece.
Why it’s important to know the difference between content writing and copywriting
It can be tempting to just lump these two forms of marketing writing in together on your resume or portfolio. But, just like good writers, good clients know the difference between the two. So consider creating separate portfolios for content writing and copywriting before you seek out more work.
Apart from the fact that it gives you a clearer understanding of your role as a writer, understanding the difference between copywriting and content writing is important for:
1. Meeting Client Expectations
If a client has advertised for a freelance writer and specified content writing or copywriting, it’s a good indication that they know what they’re looking for in a writer.
This allows you to put your best foot forward with your work samples and increase your chances of securing a contract.
It also indicates to the client that you understand what’s needed for email writing and social media posts as opposed to long-form SEO articles, for example.
2. Understanding the Purpose of Your Writing
Keeping the objective in mind is critical to successful marketing writing. What exactly are you trying to achieve when putting words together on the page?
When it comes to copywriting, you know that the main purpose is to convert the target audience. The type of conversion may vary from one scenario to another. It could be a low-intent conversion, such as signing up for a webinar. Or it could be direct response advertising where a purchase is the end goal.
Either way, knowing what you want the target audience to take away from the message helps keep your copywriting concise, relevant, and successful.
On the other hand, content writing is typically for SEO or thought leadership purposes. Here, you know that the goal is (usually) less about conversions and more about things like building brand awareness and authority, informing or educating the target audience about a problem the brand solves, etc.
3. Understanding Target Audience Intent
Where will the target audience be seeing this message?
If you’re copywriting for direct response ads, for example, you need to craft copy that will instantly grab people’s attention. It’s all about being short and snappy. Generally, you’ll be inserting this message into the middle of their daily browsing or searching. So you need copy that makes them sit up and take notice.
On the other hand, content writing is generally far less pushy. You’re often crafting material that the end user is intentionally seeking out.
SEO writing is a good example of this. If users are entering an informational query into the search bar, you want to produce content that answers their question without inserting an annoying sales pitch.
While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, the general rule of thumb is that copywriting is short form and content writing is long form.
Good writers know how to squeeze their messaging into any length of content. But knowing what your word count limitations are before you start writing can help to sharpen your message, particularly when it comes to copywriting.
In fact, if you want to practice your copywriting skills, take a blog post you have previously written and write a one-sentence summary of the post that would make the target audience want to know more.
There’s no doubt that many assignments lie somewhere in the middle. Take social media posts for example. They’re usually considered copywriting, but long-form thought leadership posts on channels like LinkedIn are becoming increasingly common.
Regardless of whether you self-describe as a content writer or copywriter, developing the skill of writing sharp messaging across multiple formats is always good to have in your tool belt.
5. Calls to Action
This relates somewhat to understanding the target audience’s intent. Copywriting by nature often requires a very clear, concise call to action (CTA). The CTA also usually requires pretty high commitment from the target audience, such as making a purchase, booking an appointment, signing up for a subscription, etc.
These types of CTAs are expected in many copywriting scenarios such as email marketing or direct response ads.
But what about content writing?
Anyone who has landed on a blog from the search results only to be met with paragraphs of self-promotion from the brand and incessant high-intent CTAs will know how annoying it is. Instead, content writing is about subtly tying your brand’s solution to the problem a user is trying to solve when they land on your post.
In this instance, “in your face” calls to action are rarely a good idea. But how about providing a really in-depth, useful blog post and asking people to subscribe to receive similar content? Works like a charm and gives you an ever-growing list of marketing leads to nurture with emails.
Copywriting and Content Writing
Most writers will naturally gravitate towards a specific writing style. Some prefer expansive content writing and some enjoy the thrill of creating punchy, hard-hitting copy. If you’d rather stick to one or the other, that’s fine. The need for writing throughout different areas of marketing is wide enough that you can easily carve out a niche in one or the other.
However, expanding your skill range also expands your opportunity for picking up freelance work or growing into new roles if you work in-house. So, the best way to think about it isn’t copywriting vs. content writing. It’s copywriting AND content writing. Hone your skills in both these areas and you’ll be a well-rounded, sought-after freelancer in no time.
About the author:
Lauren is a digital marketing expert with Innovation-X Marketing, an SEO and PPC agency that maximizes your online marketing ROI by developing transparent, trustworthy, and business-focused SEO and PPC strategies to win you more leads and sales. She got her start in freelance content writing and regularly shares tips from her years of experience working in marketing as a digital nomad.