Content vs. Copy: What's the difference?

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Published Aug 20, 2018 | Written by Jeremy Knight

shutterstock_523229500 (2) (1)It’s natural for most people to assume that content and copy are one and the same.

After all, if you can write a decent blog you've surely got the skills to write a good email subject line, a CTA (call to action), and a white paper. Writing is writing... right?

Unfortunately, this is the kind of view that impedes marketers from getting the full value from their marketing strategies.

Marketers must have a handle on the nuances of both activities not just to aid in their growth strategies but to understand what skills are required from potential writing candidates to fulfil their brand’s needs.

While content and copy are synonymous - and in some cases codependent - aimlessly switching between the two might be a bad move. In the digital world, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two, especially in the context of your website UX (user experience) and conversion processes. The two serve very different functions.  

As marketing and the digital world become even more closely intertwined, the importance of being able to distinguish copy and content is more crucial than ever. 

Let’s delve a little deeper into not just the difference between content and copy, but what aspects form each discipline, and what to look for in a writer to perform both activities effectively.

Content informs, copy sells

Content tends to be a continual growth tool which builds a relationship between the reader and the brand.

Content has no underlying sales mechanisms. Rather, it's a vehicle for delivering educative information and building a picture of how your product or service could help.

Content writing uses a broad narrative to deliver information that will solve the reader’s problems, answer questions and position the brand as a trustworthy authority. Businesses can utilise content as a tool to nurture their prospects through the sales funnel, and it’s down to the content writer to align the content to each stage of the buyer’s journey for the most effective response.  

Copywriting, on the other hand, is a strategic art form. It is the manipulation of words to generate a response, encourage an action, or plant a seed of thought - all in favour of your product or service. For example, "Download our eBook", "Subscribe to our newsletter" or "Request a free trial". Whatever behaviour you want your user to take, good copywriting is one of your most valuable tools.

Copy is functional, content is informative. Copy sells, content tells. We must remember that.

Forms of web content

  • News
  • Blogs
  • Video transcripts
  • Product descriptions
  • Whitepapers
  • eBooks
  • Case studies
  • Electronic product manuals

Of course, content comes in unwritten forms too:

  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Videos

Forms of web copy

What to look for in a great content writer

Now we’ve established the function of content, what exactly makes a great content writer? Well, a content writer will be able to research, interview, and relentlessly apply themselves to a topic, moulding and shaping the content so it is easily understood by your audience, and positioned in a way that provides value and answers questions.

Content is heavily influenced by journalism. And content writers are often expected to interview key influencers and customers to help build engaging content. They will have the capacity to acknowledge which stage of the buyer’s journey and which buyer person they are writing for, and position the content effectively to nurture the reader to the next stage. They will also be comfortable using SEO techniques within their writing, ensuring content is optimised for search engines.

What to look for in a great copywriter

The ability to capture your brand’s personality, manipulate language to make it memorable, and encourage a change in perception or behaviour are the key requirements of a great copywriter. A great copywriter will be able to engage the reader on an emotional level, address their value and objectives and resonate with them using linguistic techniques.

We hear his name a lot when speaking of copy, but as a pioneer of the art form of copywriting, David Ogilvy helped define copywriting as a creative selling mechanism, a skilful art form in its own right.

Take for instance the Rolls Royce print ad tagline: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the New Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”. Of course, print advertising in the early 60s is very different to online copy in 2018, but the concept remains the same. A great copywriter will effortlessly address the expectations, wants and needs of the reader in a way that convinces them that your product or service is just what they are looking for.

Since copy is the difference between a prospect opening or deleting an email, requesting a free trial or abandoning your landing page, a copywriter must be able to provide tangible and measurable results with their art form. When open rates, downloads and engagements begin to increase, it’s likely that there is an effective and talented copywriter on the other side.



Ultimately, it’s down to marketers to fully comprehend the different functions and utilise both content writing and copywriting to develop their inbound strategies to maximum effect. 

Understanding the difference is important because it allows you to define the function of your copy (or content) and decide which discipline needs to be applied to generate the desired result. 

Depending on the nature of your brand, your scope, and your audience,  you might not be able to rely on one writer to fulfil all of your writing requirements. Finding someone who can switch from technical subject writer to a credible and effective copywriter is a coveted skill set, but an experienced, confident and knowledgeable writer will be able to do so with ease.

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Published by Jeremy Knight August 20, 2018
Jeremy Knight