Are you a writer who’s been asked to write some copy or content and you’re confused about the difference? Or maybe you’re in need of a writer for your website but you aren’t sure if you need to look for a copywriter or a content writer. Don’t worry. You’re not alone.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, copy and content are actually different types of writing. They not only serve different purposes, but they also require different levels of writing skills. Here, we’ll look at what each one is and what they’re specifically used for.
The key difference between copy and content lies in the purpose each one has. Let’s start with the purpose of content, which is to educate readers. A good content writer does this by providing answers or general information about topics the reader is interested in, usually in a factual way.
Good content writing will engage readers and express the information in a way they can relate to. For example, you may have found this blog post because you were searching for information about the difference between copy and content. You wanted to know how copywriting and content writing are different. Is the information you have read so far helping answer your question? Is this content boring the pants off of you, or is it engaging enough for you to keep reading? (Hopefully, it’s the latter.)
Typically, readers engage the most with content that is written in easy-to-understand language and has a more conversational tone to it, as if you’re talking to a friend. To see this type of conversational writing in action, check out the blog posts at Wait But Why. You’ll see that the content here is informative, engaging, conversational, and there’s even some humor thrown in for good measure.
When you’re writing content, the rule of thumb is to pretend your audience has a middle school reading level – meaning, keep it simple. Using big words and hard-to-understand terms can turn readers away. The whole point is to keep readers interested, establish a connection with them, and give them what they’re looking for so that they’ll keep coming back to your website to find answers to other questions they have.
Types of Content Writing
Generally, when people think of content writing, blogs are the first thing to come to mind. But content is also used in:
- White papers
- Social media
- Case studies
- Product guides
- Press releases
- User guides/manuals
Visual and Video Content
Another common assumption is that content is only words. In fact, it can also come in other forms too, such as visual aids, which include infographics, charts, and diagrams. Visual content is often provided alongside written content to further explain or break down information. Again, remember that the goal is always to inform and answer the question. So if you can say something better by using a visual, don’t hold back.
Another type of content is video, which is often used to repurpose written content. Many bloggers create videos in which they talk about the same information that can be found in blog posts on their website. This helps to attract viewers who may not like to read, or who may not have the time to sit and work their way through a long blog post.
Some people just find video content more engaging than written content. The video below from Hubspot is a perfect example of video content created from one of their own blog posts. Coincidentally (or not), this video is all about how to turn the written content in a blog post into video content.
Video content also includes:
- How-to videos
- Explainer videos
While video content may not be written, it still provides useful information to the people who are looking for answers and for more information on a particular topic. Whether the content is written or provided through visual aids and videos, the purpose remains the same – to educate, inform, and engage the audience.
The difference between copy and content is that, while content is all about educating the reader, copy is all about persuading them. The purpose of copy is to convince readers to take an action such as buying a product, signing up for a newsletter or email series, downloading an eBook, etc.
Copy is also used to increase awareness of a particular brand or product. It’s written in a creative and convincing way that often uses story-telling to pull at the emotions of the readers to get them to perform the action that you are aiming for.
You’ve seen sales pages before that tell a rags-to-riches type story that really gets to you. For example, someone who has lost a lot of weight by following a certain exercise program, or been able to send their kids to college because they took a great course that made their business more successful. It makes you feel both their original pain and their new-found joy. Maybe their ‘before’ scenario is a situation you find yourself in right now, so you can relate to what they were feeling, and you want to achieve the same success as them. All these emotions make you want to buy the product.
Copy Uses Attention-Grabbing, Compelling Words
The trick with copywriting is knowing the exact words to use. It’s really important that the words you choose for the headline are going to grab the reader’s attention and make them click through to your sales page or ad. Once you’re over the first hurdle, you also need to make sure you continue to use compelling words and phrases throughout the main body of the copy to hit the reader right in their soft spot. By the end of reading they should not only want to buy the product or give their name and email address, but they should feel like they need to do it.
Here’s a great sales page example. It’s for a course aimed at moms who want to become freelance writers. It was created by Abbi Perets, who is the founder of Successful Freelance Mom and who has also been a copywriter for the last 20 years. If you take a look at the sales page, you’ll see that Abbi speaks to moms directly. She talks about things moms everywhere can relate to. By doing this, she’s making a connection with her readers. She’s telling them: I know how you feel because I’ve been there and I have a solution. She’s giving them a reason to want what she’s offering so they’ll buy her course.
Writing copy requires a lot of skill. It’s not something that just anyone can do. This is often why copywriters are in such high demand. And this is where another difference between copy and content comes in – the pay for writing copy tends to be a lot higher than the pay for writing content.
Types of Copywriting
Copywriting is used mostly for business-related content such as:
- Sales copy
- Landing pages
- Website copy
- Promotional materials
Why the Difference Between Content and Copy Isn’t Clearer
You may have noticed while reading about the differences that there are actually some areas in which copy and content can overlap. This is one of the reasons why the two terms get confused so much. For instance, “emails” shows up both on the list of types of content and the list of types of copywriting. So it’s possible to have one medium that can be used for two very different purposes. These different purposes come to light based on whether you’re reading content or copy.
If you’ve ever gone to a website or a blog and signed up for an email series or a newsletter, then you should be able to spot the differences when those emails land in your inbox. Sometimes you will receive content-heavy emails with lots of information in. Other times (and even from the same company) you will receive more salesy-type emails with copy that makes you want to click and buy.
For example, the emails you get from your favorite pet blog that give you tips on how to keep your dog cool in summer or fun ways to teach your pup tricks are more likely to be information-filled content emails. Meanwhile, the emails you get from your local pet store about their current sales or a brand-new pet toy that’s just come into stock – those would fall under copywriting.
Spot the Difference Between Content and Copy
Content writing focuses on providing useful information about anything and everything that engages the reader. Copywriting focuses on persuading people to do something, whether that’s to buy a product or to sign up for something. It is almost always used to spread awareness about a particular product, brand, or business. Even though the two terms are often confused, the two have very distinct purposes.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to differentiate them, test out the theory. You can take a look at some websites or emails you’ve received recently, and try to work out which is content and which is copy. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to spot the difference between content and copy within the first few sentences.