Content Writing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference and Why Does it Matter?

Claire Brucher

Content Marketing Specialist

Content writing and copywriting are two closely related, but distinct, disciplines. The difference between the two is significant. The success of any B2B marketing initiative depends on having the right writing skills in place to get prospects reading.

What Is Content Writing?

Content writing is the creation of content that serves a specific purpose. Content means a lot of different things to a lot of people. But in the context of business-to-business marketing, it’s generally focused on work that helps and informs readers. Examples of content include videos, podcasts, webinars, guides, webpages and blogs.

The goal of content writing is to answer a specific question or solve a particular problem.

Content creation is a huge part of SEO (search engine optimization). Content writers create content that readers want to read, with the goal that it will rank on search engines (primarily Google). If you do it right, this leads to more organic keywords, more traffic, and more leads.

As for the practice of content writing, it’s really about writing short- and long-form stories that help readers and further your company’s marketing goals.

Cartoon illustration for "Content writing vs. Copywriting"

Content writers come from a variety of backgrounds, and content writer salaries vary. Some are trained as content marketers. Others have experience in outlets like magazines, books, poetry and newspapers, then translate that skill to marketing.

Some companies have employees who aren’t “content writers” that still write content. They may be well-versed in their industry and can produce content themselves.

The ultimate goal of content writing is to be informative and helpful. High quality helps readers and is not salesy. With a blog or other content, you are not trying to make a sale right away. It’s a long play. You’re trying to make a sale a few months from now, as your content marketing and SEO efforts build momentum.

Content should be easy to read, keeping the reading level low. Ideally, it should be around a fifth- to eighth-grade level.

After reading a piece of content, readers should leave feeling informed about the topic and convinced by its thesis or argument.

What Is Copywriting?

Then there’s the other side of the content writing vs. copywriting spectrum.

Copywriting is the creation of copy- text for the purpose of advertising and marketing. Copy goes on a lot of things- radio commercials, print collateral, trade show materials, jingles … the list is endless.

Copywriting has a long and rich tradition. It’s been around as long as businesses have been trying to get people to buy things.

With the advent of the 2000s and new marketing channels, copywriting has evolved, taking on new mediums such as digital marketing, web development, display ads, search ads and landing pages.

What hasn’t changed is the practice behind it.

Copy needs to sell. With urgency. It communicates a product or service’s appeal quickly and effectively. And to do so, it needs to be interesting and memorable.

Copy often employs flash or clever framing to deliver a concept in the most memorable way possible.

For example, in Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead in Advertising, Thomas Kemeny gives a demonstration of two different lines about the same product:

  • “A color printer for the price of black and white.
  • Millions of colors for the price of two.”

Which product would you rather buy? The second one, right?

That’s a great example of copywriting because it accentuates the product’s features by framing it in the best possible perspective. Millions of colors is way cooler than a color printer. It also speaks more clearly to what the reader actually cares about. The second line succeeds because it ignores the printer and focuses on what the printer produces.

This is a copywriter’s job. It’s pushing past the obvious way of talking about the product to find the best way to sell it.

Copywriters will spend hours doing this, trying to write the perfect headline that will get stuck in readers’ heads.

In summary, copywriting is about crafting powerful messages that persuade readers and increase brand awareness.

Content Writing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference?

There are two big differences between writing content and writing copy.

The first difference is intent.

The purpose of content writing, in its simplest form, is to convince someone of your argument. If I’m writing a blog, my goal is not to sell a company’s product. No one wants to read sales content. What I will do is sell the idea that the reader needs the type of product or service I’m talking about.

Copywriting, in contrast, sells. It’s about convincing a reader that they need your product, then getting them to click that button, now. A copywriter’s job is to propel a reader towards a decision. If we do our jobs right, they enjoy every second of it.

The second difference is skillset.

Content writing and copywriting are two different, but complementary skillsets. The two trades require a different set of tricks, styles and training. It’s a different mindset and way of approaching a problem.

There’s a significant overlap between content writers and copywriters. Some writers create both content and copy, others specialize in one.

Why Does the Difference Matter?

For your business’s marketing efforts to succeed, you’ll need the right kind of writing, done by a writer with the necessary skillset. And for business writers to succeed, they need the right training and experience to get the job done.

That’s why you need to understand content writing vs. copywriting.

If you’re a marketing manager, you need to make sure you have writers and content producers that can further your goals. This also applies to hiring a marketing agency. Knowing the competencies of your team and/or agency and how they align with your goals is significant.

If your company is focused on blogs and SEO, don’t worry about copywriting. You don’t need it. You need to create great content.

If you have a huge ad initiative, you need copywriting skills. If you write your ads like plain old content, no one will read them.

At Altitude Marketing, our internal marketing initiatives employ a range of tactics, including blogs, ads, emails, whitepapers, etc. To meet this need, our writers specialize in both content and copy, because that’s what we need to further our marketing goals.

Content Writing vs. Copywriting: The Bottom Line

The difference between content writing and copywriting is significant. Content informs, with the goal of selling later. Copy sells, driving action while being memorable. Having the right mix of content and copy skills will drive the success of your marketing efforts.

Claire Brucher

Equal parts creative and analytical, Claire Brucher is capable of synthesizing complex concepts and datasets into messages that get results for clients. She is responsible for producing a wide variety of content that results in increased brand awareness, website traffic and leads. Claire began applying her educational experience at Altitude in the summer of 2018 as a marketing, PR and social media intern. Since joining the team full-time, she’s leapt headfirst into the world of content marketing and distribution.
Claire graduated from Lehigh University with a double major in marketing and finance and a minor in creative writing.