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 the two are actually very distinct specialties.
It’s kind of like “advertising” and “marketing.” They’re under the same umbrella, but “advertising” refers more to paid campaigns while marketing might point more towards organic options.
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.
What Is Copywriting?
“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 conversion.
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.
Copywriting is all about concise, hyper-focused writing that’s meant to be persuasive in driving extremely specific actions.
This may include (but definitely is not limited the following:
- Product descriptions
- Offers in emails, ads, and on social media
- Landing page text
- Calls-to-action (CTAs)
Writers who specialize in “copywriting,” unless otherwise specified, often have experience at least in creating the text for websites and associated marketing campaigns like email newsletters.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is all about offering valuable and ideally actionable content for free to your userbase to nurture relationships with them. You’re leveraging information that they’re looking for to put your brand on their radar, build trust, and eventually hopefully push users towards becoming customers.
Content marketing often includes some combination of the following:
- On-site blogs (like this one!)
- Creating infographics to share on social media and your site
- Video marketing featuring tutorials, helpful hints, or answering questions
- Lead magnets like ebooks, webinars, checklists, and sometimes whitepapers
What Are the Similarities Between the Two?
Both copywriting and content revolve around writing created for marketing purposes.
The ultimate goal of both, of course, is to eventually put materials in place that will lead to sales.
They also require extensive research into your target audience and a solid understanding of what makes them tick.
And it goes without saying that the copy creation and content creation processes should both be strategic, take your branding and brand voice into account, and carefully checked for typos.
And the Differences between Copywriting vs. Content Marketing?
Their role in the sales process is just a little different, the types of content being written, 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 content either, there’s more room to share examples or elaborate on additional thoughts.
As long-time content marketer Stephanie Faris explained…
“A copywriting assignment typically involves far fewer words, but every word counts. The copy is designed to convert, so it’s important that the message is carefully calculated. In many cases, a piece of copy will go through extensive revisions before it sees the light of day, whereas 2,000 words of content will likely just need a few tweaks for readability before it’s ready to go.
Content marketing has a more educational focus, sharing information that your audience wants. It can encourage users to become customers, especially for bottom-of-the-funnel posts, but offering value instead of attempting to push specific actions is the key.
You can see the differences in copy vs content even in these two emails from Zapier. The first is copy designed to get me to join as a paid customer:
The second is a newsletter to maintain relationships while showcasing their 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. That being said, you can find agencies or some writers who offer full-service offerings if that’s what you’re looking for.
And for anyone who needs a better visualization of the concept, you can’t go wrong with this example from established copywriter Sarah Sal:
“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 is 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 potential when it comes to attracting customers and driving results.
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 heart-health.
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.
How This Works with the Digital Sales Funnel
Content can help you draw in clicks and build relationships that otherwise would have never found your site, and copy can ensure that your audience takes action once they’re actually there.
You can also use copy through PPC campaigns to drive users to your blog, which then builds a relationship and sends users to a lead magnet instead of asking for a direct sale.
It’s important to think about how different elements of content market writing and copywriting each work at unique stages and as touchpoints in the digital sales funnel, strengthening each other and pushing users through to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
What This Looks Like
You can set up multiple distinct touchpoints designed to capture users however they come to your site.
A single site utilizing copywriting and content marketing for a SaaS startup, for example, may intentionally set up the three following 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 —> 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 sales team to nurture free trial to conversion
- SEO drives users to site —> home page has copy designed to explain what features the form builder software, with a video showcasing different uses of 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
It’s essential to remember that customers are unique, and their journeys can be complex and winding. Having the information they need at the right point is crucial to getting them from the discovery point of the digital sales funnel through to purchase.
How Copywriting and Content marketing overlap on-page
Copywriting and content marketing seem pretty clear-cut with distinct separation, right?
Well, we’re going to muddy the waters one more time. That’s not always technically true. 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 when some type of content is on the page, too.
A great example of this is a product page that has a video tutorial that isn’t directly about selling the product, 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.
While the differences between copywriting and content marketing may seem subtle and technical at a first glance, especially considering the overlap between the two, it’s crucial to understand the difference and their roles in the sales journey.
Want more tips on getting top-tier results from the writing you’re doing for your business? Check out our blog for more.