Pop quiz: Do you know the difference between copywriting and content marketing?
The terms “copywriting” and “content marketing” are sometimes used interchangeably, including by marketing specialists and new writers alike. While there’s definitely overlap between the two, it’s very clear to most professional copywriters or content marketers that they’re very distinct specialties.
It’s like “advertising” and “marketing.” They sit under the same umbrella, but “advertising” refers more to paid campaigns, while marketing might point more towards organic options.
That is not to say that one person cannot do both. A skilled writer can engage in copywriting and content writing, similar to how a marketing agency can use both advertising and marketing to achieve specific goals.
Understanding the differences can help you better find writers who can deliver the exact services you need, and it can help you ask for the right product upfront. And if you’re a writer reading this, knowing the difference can help you look professional and knowledgeable. Who doesn’t want that?
So it comes down to this: Copywriting vs. content marketing, and the differences between the two.
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Table of Contents
Copywriting vs. Content marketing
Some people use the term “copy” to refer to any writing created for a marketing purpose. That’s not necessarily incorrect, but there are nuances here that can sometimes be overlooked.
Copywriters inspire action with words. From making a purchase to subscribing to a mailing list, they encourage readers to convert.
Content writers also want readers to act, but the approach is slightly different. It’s less about making an immediate conversion, and more about providing value over a longer period.
Simply put, a copywriter sells while a content writer informs.
Let’s look at these definitions in more detail.
What Is Copywriting?
As mentioned, “copy” is often used to describe marketing writing that’s meant to sell. Think email newsletters, the offers you use to drive clicks on pay-per-click ads, and even the text on your site you use to get users to fill out a form or buy.
According to professional copy & content author Dimitar Karamrinov:
When you’re after meaningful copywriting aimed at user experience, the leading drive of a copywriter is not to market a product, it’s to help people, be it employees, clients, customers, app users, email subscribers or website traffic to satisfy the thirst of of knowledge, be it of theoretical or creative nature.
Examples of copywriting
Copywriting is all about concise, hyper-focused writing that’s persuasive in driving extremely specific actions.
This may include (but isn’t limited to) the following:
- Product descriptions. Copy that supports a product or service is vital. This is the text a potential customer will read when making their purchase decision, so a copywriter needs to craft a persuasive description. Here’s an example from Vistaprint, where it provides the key information alongside additional information with the goal of convincing visitors to make a purchase.
- Offers in emails, ads, and on social media. Copywriters will often write the text for discounts, sales, and promotions across various channels. This email from Clearly demonstrates the type of copy we’re talking about.
- Landing page text. Landing pages are often the first place potential customers visit when they click an ad or do an online search. For this reason, the text needs to be clear, engaging, and persuasive — all things that a copywriter is best at. This landing page from Mint Mobile demonstrates this pretty well.
- Calls-to-action (CTAs). CTAs are critical as the text used in a CTA could be the difference between a consumer converting or not. Copywriters will make sure that the copy encourages the user to act (most of the time they’ll use action words to motivate the user to click). Spotify has this down to a T.
Writers who specialize in copywriting often have experience creating the text for websites and associated marketing campaigns (like email newsletters). They are often found in a Lead Gen Agency.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is all about offering valuable content to nurture relationships with potential customers. You’re leveraging relevant information to put your brand on their radar, build trust, and eventually push users towards becoming customers.
Examples of content marketing
Content marketing often includes a combination of the following:
- On-site blogs (like this one!). Blogs (and other articles) are often part of a wider content marketing strategy, so the content marketer is responsible for their creation.
- Infographics and visuals. With their creative freedom, content marketers also create graphics to display across different channels. For example, branded images for social media or infographics for your website. Mailchimp does this pretty well with its social media posts.
- Video marketing. Unlike copywriters, content marketers have more creative freedom with the types of content they create, which is where video marketing comes into play. Content marketers will create videos featuring tutorials, helpful hints, and answers to customer questions.
- Lead magnets. Content marketers are in charge of creating lead magnets, which include ebooks, webinars, checklists, and sometimes white papers. Copywriters might have some involvement in this process, but a content marketer is the lead.
You can do your own content marketing, but if your business doesn’t have a writing team, you can use a content writing service for the best results, saving you time and effort.
What Are the Similarities Between the Two?
Both copywriting and content revolve around writing for marketing purposes. They require extensive research into your target audience and a solid understanding of what makes them tick. The goal of both is to put materials in place that lead to sales.
The copy creation and content creation processes should both be strategic, taking your branding and brand voice into account while being meticulous with typos and errors.
And the Differences between Copywriting vs. Content Marketing?
Their role in the sales process is a little different. The types of content and the approaches are definitely unique.
Copywriting is persuasive content that tells users to take certain actions and attempts to motivate them to do so right now. This is partially why every single word seems to count so much with copy. While there shouldn’t be a lot of fluff with either, there’s more room to share examples or elaborate on additional thoughts with copywriting.
Content marketing has a more educational focus, sharing information that your audience wants. It can encourage users to move through the sales funnel to become customers by offering value instead of trying to push specific actions.
You can see the differences in copy vs content even in these two emails from Zapier. The first is designed to get me to join as a paid customer:
The second is a newsletter to maintain relationships while showcasing its product’s value:
This is why you see some writers (like myself) specialize in content marketing and not offer traditional site copywriting services even though I am a marketing writer.
Similarly, you can find copywriters who specialize in site copy, ad copy, or even email copy, but who may not want to touch content. You can find content marketing agencies or writers who offer both (more on this later).
“Imagine a politician in a parliament saying: “Cats are more effective at curing depression than Prozac, by opening 100 cat cafes our country will be more healthy. Please vote in favor of the feline cafe Act.”
The above is copy.
The purpose is to convince someone to take a specific action.
On the other hand, a blog post on peacock dancing ritual is content.
It’s there to inform and entertain me. The article is not asking you to get drunk then dance like a peacock at 3:00 am in the middle of the street.
But could there be in an intersection between both content and copy?
Why you need both
In Sarah’s extremely colorful example above, she touches on something important: The intersection of copy and content.
You ultimately need both copywriting and content marketing to reach your full digital marketing potential.
It’s a little like trying to get healthier. You need to eat well to get the nutrients needed to be healthy and have energy, and it’s good to also exercise to increase your stamina and lose weight.
Can you get healthier just by making one change over the other? Sure.
But is it going to be significantly more successful if you combine both? Of course.
Since copywriting and content marketing go about the ultimate same goal (sales) in two different ways, combining them creates a powerhouse. There are countless copywriting classes you can take to improve.
How This Works with the Digital Sales Funnel
Content can help you draw in clicks and build relationships, while copy makes sure that your audience takes action when they arrive.
It’s important to think about how different elements of content writing and copywriting each work at different stages of the digital sales funnel. When used effectively, they strengthen each other and push users through to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
You can also use copy through PPC campaigns to drive users to your blog. This builds a relationship and sends users to a lead magnet instead of asking for a direct sale.
What This Looks Like
You can set up multiple distinct touchpoints designed to capture users however they come to your site.
A site using copywriting and content marketing for a SaaS startup may set up three lead funnels at once:
- User sees PPC ad for how to set up secure forms online — > Ad takes users to landing page where they can sign up for a webinar talking about importance of secure forms — > Lead magnet promotes secure form builder product with CTA to sign-up like 123formbuilder — > Mix of copy-focused sales emails and content-driven newsletters sent through email.
- User searches for information about “online privacy best practices for businesses” and blog post features a tip about secure form builders — > copy-based CTA informs users of free trial and features of this product — > account-based marketing copy is used by the sales team to nurture free trial to conversion.
- SEO drives users to site — > home page has copy designed to explain what features the nonprofit form builder software, with a video showcasing how the product can be used — > it can take users to YouTube, where it autoplays a content-heavy video about why online security and privacy is so important — > that video sends users back to the page to sign up.
Remember that customers are unique, and their journeys can be complex. Having the information they need at the right point of their journey is crucial to getting them from discovery to purchase.
How Copywriting and Content marketing overlap on-page
Copywriting and content marketing seem pretty clear-cut with distinct separations, right?
Well, we’re going to muddy the waters one more time. While they serve different purposes, there can be crucial overlap.
A blog post, for example, is almost always going to fall under the content marketing category. All well-optimized and strategic blog posts, however, will have short snippets of copy factored in. This is often called “microcopy,” and it might include a CTA embedded somewhere within or at the end of the post, a sign-up widget meant to generate email subscribers, or even a “click to tweet” call to action.
Sometimes great copy performs best with some content on the page, too.
A great example of this is a product page that has a video tutorial, like a video showing how to make killer Snickerdoodles that happens to use a certain cookie pan, the featured product. The example below features a video on how to make drool-worthy ribs.
This tutorial adds value for the consumer. As a result, the customer will trust you more and have a better experience on your site. The result? A higher chance they’ll make a purchase.
Do you need a separate copywriter and content writer?
It’s hard to say yes or no to this question. Ultimately, it depends on who the writer is and their experience.
Sometimes knowing whether to hire a content writer and a copywriter comes down to the writers themselves.
Because every writer has different professional experience and skills.
In fact, some might have experience with both content creation and copywriting. In that case, you might not need to hire both. It’s up to you to make that call when you start hiring and talking to writers.
The skills of copywriting and content writing are transferable. In some cases, copywriters are also skilled in content creation, and vice versa. Again, this comes down to the individual writer.
It’s up to you to decide whether you need both for your business. Yes, some writers can successfully do both. But to play it safe, you might want to hire both. That way, you know that you’ll be getting quality content across all your channels and throughout every stage of the buying process.
When to use copywriting and content writing
At this point, you have a solid understanding of the differences between copywriting and content writing. Now, let’s take a look at some situations where these skills are required — and how to implement them.
Email marketing requires a bit of copywriting and content writing.
A content marketer does the following:
- Writes the content for the email
- Designs the layout
- Creates an email marketing strategy
A copywriter makes sure the language is in line with the purpose of each email and that it encourages the subscriber to act. They’ll often be in charge of writing the CTA and any copy for offers or discounts.
Take a look at this example from Zendesk:
The content marketer would likely have designed this email and chose the topic based on the email marketing strategy. The copywriter may then have swooped in and added a solid CTA while making sure the email encourages action.
And voila — you have a well-written, on-brand, and purposeful email.
A copywriter usually writes all the copy for a website. This includes:
- Landing pages and product pages
- CTAs across the entire site
- Optimizations for SEO
The entire website will be written to engage with visitors and encourage them to convert.
So where does a content marketer come into the mix?
Content marketers often write blog articles and case studies for the website. Blogs are often part of a wider content strategy and their purpose is often to inform, so this usually falls under the remit of a content marketer (although not always).
The main focus for any copywriter is to create clear, concise copy that boosts sales. That’s pretty much exactly what you want from your paid ads, so it makes sense for a copywriter to craft ad copy.
But not all copywriters are paid ad specialists.
Sometimes, they have the skills and knowledge to craft excellent ad copy. But it could be beneficial to have a crossover with a paid ad specialist.
Someone who knows paid ads (or PPC) inside and out can make sure the copy is up to scratch. They’ll monitor performance and make changes to improve results. A copywriter without paid ad experience will struggle to do this, and it’s no surprise — paid ads aren’t their specialty.
To make the most of your paid ads, you need a specialist. A copywriter can create the copy, but a specialist can make sure it performs well.
While the differences between copywriting and content marketing may seem subtle at first, it’s crucial to understand the difference and their roles in the sales journey. Yes, there’s certainly some overlap. But you need to know how they function separately to use them to their full potential.
Then, you can start using them together — and that’s when you’ll get the best results.
Want more tips on getting top-tier results from the writing you’re doing for your business? Check out our blog for more.
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- How to Create a Mouthwatering Content Brief for Your Writers
- How to Create a Content Production Machine that Outpublishes Your Competition
- Pro Content Optimization Tips from Doing 300+ Articles per Month
- 5 Reasons You Need a Content Marketing Manager (+ How to Hire One)