People confusing content marketing a copywriting is one of my pet peeves. The skills used overlap—and many writers do both—but they are very, very different. When you start to specialise, it’s highly likely you’ll focus on one or the other.
So, what is content writing?
Content writing is different from content marketing, because, well, it focuses solely on writing.
Content marketing also includes SEO optimisation, social media, video marketing, and more.
There are two key elements to content marketing that separate it from copywriting:
- It’s used to educate and help your readers
- If it sells at all, it sells indirectly. It can sometimes sell directly, but this doesn’t always sit well with your audience.
In other words, the main focus of content of any kind is never to sell right away. It’s to build long-term relationships that build to long-term, recurring revenue and sales.
Copywriting is different, because it’s main aim is to sell.
And sell right now.
Or, in some cases, it can be to teach someone how to make the most out of a particular product or service.
Examples of copywriting include:
- Landing pages
- Use cases
- Guides on how to use your product or service
- Long-form sales pages
- Email campaigns
Are there any overlaps?
Oh yeah. This is part of why people can confuse the two.
Let’s use email marketing as an example.
If you have an email campaign that’s designed to teach but doesn’t sell, it’s content marketing.
If it sells but doesn’t teach, it’s copywriting.
If it teaches and sells, in most cases, it’s still copywriting.
As soon as you get into content that’s actively encouraging people to sell, that’s when it becomes copywriting and not content writing.
Content writing is designed to build long-term relationships that lead to recurring sales. It very rarely goes in for the hard sell.
Copywriting is designed to drive action now.
That’s really the key different.
But if they overlap…are they really that different?
Content writing is teaching.
Copywriting is selling.
These are the differences you need to consider when hiring someone to do one, the other, or both.
Some people are great teachers but couldn’t sell magic to a wizard.
Others are amazing salespeople but don’t know how to teach.
And then you get the unicorns who come along and can do both.
Can someone learn how to do one or both? Totally.
I believe all skills can be learnt. But it’s on that person to learn it. You can’t learn how to do these things by osmosis. Most of the great copywriters and content writers out there have years of experience.
In fact, your average copywriter has eleven years of experience, according to ProCopywriter’s 2020 survey.
Many in-house writing/marketing jobs expect people to do both.
These are often advertised as copywriting roles, designed by people who think they know writing but mostly know marketing.
And of course, this is super frustrating. Because most writers have strengths or preferences. You’ll get far better quality copy or content if you hire someone who specialises, the same as you would if you get someone who specialises in Facebook Ads to run your Facebook Ad campaign, over someone who generally works in ads marketing.
What skills are transferable between content writing and copywriting?
- Planning processes
- Research processes
- Stringing a sentence together
- Editing and proofreading
- Promoting said copy/content
You see why the two are confused? The processes are the same. Even some of the surface skills are the same. But deep down, the nitty gritty isn’t.
Planning is a huge part of writing, and it tends to be unsuccessful writers who don’t plan. It’s not just about planning what you want to include in a piece—although that will mean you can write it faster—but also what the process will look like. Any research that needs to be done, how long each stage will take, and when the piece is expected to be finished.
Both require extensive audience research to understand what will resonate with the audience the most. Writers can only educate and sell to audiences if they really know what problem they need to solve, after all.
Copywriting often goes into more research, with most of the work coming from the research and analysis stage. Many copywriters get the majority of their copy directly from words or phrases audience members have used in surveys, reviews, or interviews.
While content writers can use interviews as well, these are often from subject matter experts instead. These give additional information and background to the topic at hand, lending some of the subject matter’s expert to the business the content is for.
Obviously all writers can write. That’s why you’re paying them.
That being said, the less you pay, the lower quality you can expect the writing to be.
You get what you pay for. Sorry 🤷♀️
Editing and proofreading
While nobody is perfect, editing and proofreading is a huge part of writing. As one wise person once said, most of the writing process is actually rewriting something, not actually writing it.
Great editing and proofreading skills are therefore key. But everyone is human, and the occasional typo may slip through. Some writers will be worse for this than others, but personally, I think this is a forgivable sin if their content offers enough value to the audience. It’s a lot faster for you to fix one typo than it is for you to write a 5,000 word skyscraper post to rank #1 on Google.
Both copywriters and content writers are marketers, so of course they know all about content promotion.
Different forms of promotion will be more or less successful depending on what you’re promoting, so keep that in mind.
Likewise something like SEO is less important for copywriters, but imperative in the modern world for anyone writing content.
Let’s use an online writing course as an example.
If you have an online course to sell, you’ll likely send email campaigns promoting it. Since these are designed to sell the course to your list, they’re copywriting.
If you also write a blog post on why you need to improve your writing, that’s content marketing, because you’re planting the idea in their head about the topic your course is about. But you’re not going in for the hard sell.
Janet Murray recommends creating this kind of content before you start promoting your course or masterclass. That way, your audience knows they have a problem. You’ve also started to build the idea in their head that you’re an authority on said topic, which means you’re perfectly positioned to help them fix it.
Then, when you come to sell your course, they’ll be more likely to buy it because they’ll see you as someone who can solve their problem.
Content writing vs copywriting
While content writing and copywriting are related, and some of the skills required are the same, they have different purposes.
Content marketing is designed to build relationships—it looks at the long-term game.
Copywriting, on the other hand, is all about inciting action now. It’s the short-term game with quick-wins.
To be successful at either, you need to be able to tap into what your audience wants and needs at any given moment. You also need an understanding of psychology so that you can use the right language to when writing for your target audience.