Ever heard of Twix?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or just aren’t British – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Crunchy, moreish, chocolatey goodness in a golden wrapper.
There also happens to be two kinds of Twix.
Right Twix and Left Twix.
According to Twix Headquarters, this:
That’s very subtle.
And sort of confusing.
It’s probably the way you feel when you think about copywriting vs content writing.
Lucky for you, there are actually some viable differences between the two.
Unlike Left Twix and Right Twix.
Which, let’s be honest, is probably just a really clever marketing ploy.
Ready to dig in?
It’s time to answer the burning question once and for all: What is the difference between copywriters and content writers?
The main difference between copywriters and content writers is purpose and intent.
Copywriters write to sell your brand. To reflect your persona. To give readers a taste of what you’re all about.
When you think of copy, you’re thinking of:
- Sales emails
- Landing pages
- PPC (pay-per-click) ads
- Social media ads
- Product descriptions
What do they all have in common?
They’re all focused on getting the reader from point A to point B.
That might be signing up for a newsletter, buying a pink cookie cutter, or clicking on a link.
Content writing, on the other hand, is a whole lot less focused on persuasion and selling.
Its main focus is on entertaining, engaging, and educating.
Let’s go back to the example of the pink cookie cutter.
A content writer won’t try to persuade the reader to buy one, but they may well write up a blog post or e-book that talks about the benefits.
Or why every baker needs one.
When you look at it that way, you can see that content writing piques readers’ interest in your brand, building up trust and engagement. It’s essentially priming them for the sell.
And one more thing…
Copywriting might be more focused on getting readers to make a purchase or take action, but it’s never hard selling.
The days of “Make millions with this amazing course” or “The best cookie you have ever tasted in your life” are over.
We’ve already established that copywriting is more about selling and persuading, right?
Well, that sort of plays well into my next point: Copywriting is usually on the shorter side.
Imagine you’re looking for the best coffee house in your area and you come across two copy ads.
One is short, sweet, and to the point.
The other is a ramble of words.
It lost you after the first sentence (probably because the incoming blizzard of words scared you off).
In these cases – when attention spans are limited and readers don’t have all day – a long, meaty ad just won’t work.
Now, this isn’t always the case.
Copy doesn’t have to be short to be good.
Take this example from Krispy Kreme – it’s an ad, it’s slightly longer than usual, but it works:
Because the copy is actually good. It’s not just a mountain of words placed in an ad.
It’s creative and it stands out.
In most cases, though, copywriting will be on the shorter side.
It has to be.
Not just because of its purpose, but also because of its medium. PPC ads, landing pages, and sales emails can’t be long. It just wouldn’t fit the format.
It’s the same with content.
A blog isn’t meant to be a one-liner or the length of a smooth radio jingle.
Just imagine stumbling across a six-word blog post.
It just wouldn’t feel right.
Remember when I said content writing was essentially “priming” readers for the sell? Warming them up to make a purchase?
Well, this ties nicely into yet another key difference between copywriting and content writing.
Content writing drives traffic while copywriting converts all that traffic into leads, and one of the ways that content writers do this is through SEO.
Search engine optimisation; it’s all those blue links you see in blog posts and web pages.
It’s also all the other moving parts that make up a page’s SEO ranking, including meta descriptions, headlines, and keyword frequency.
Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Copywriters can also make use of SEO (and they should).
But content writing – blogs, newsletters, web copy – is where SEO is going to be most important and most prolific.
As a meatier form of writing, it can pack in a lot more SEO without sounding too robotic or looking like a clutter of hyperlinks.
Try that with a PPC ad and it will look like a five-year-old’s just gone at it with a blue highlighter.
Not a good look.
Tactics and techniques
Ever seen an ad that really tugged at your heartstrings? Or a blog post that made you laugh?
Both content writing and copywriting play on a reader’s emotions.
The way a copywriter and content writer go about this is very similar. Almost as similar as Right Twix and Left Twix.
But there are subtle, teeny-weeny differences.
It’s meant to persuade, sell, and get the reader to take action. And one of the easiest ways for a copywriter to achieve all those goals is by playing on emotions.
Take this ad from WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature):
I don’t know about you, but that made me feel pretty weird.
And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
As an animal welfare and conservation charity, WWF’s main goals are to spread awareness and reel in lots of donations.
If you look closely, you’ll also notice that WWF’s ad didn’t just play on our emotions. It also wove in a popular psychological trigger: nostalgia.
As a kid, I used to love paper dolls.
I’d dress them up, cut out their clothes, and get them ready for swanky dinner parties.
So, WWF’s ad resonated with me and touched on a little part of my childhood. But I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy like I usually do with nostalgic marketing.
I felt strange. Icky. Frightened.
That’s because WWF paired that nostalgia – that sense of familiarity – with something shocking.
Even if you’ve never personally played with paper dolls, the ad still triggers that same “this isn’t right” feeling.
Content writing can also play on emotions and weave in a few psychological triggers, but it’s done slightly differently.
The whole purpose of content writing is to engage and keep readers interested in a brand.
So, while it might not provoke emotions or psychological triggers like urgency, shock, sadness, or FOMO, it will try to create a sense of comradeship and trust.
- Some of a content writer’s tried-and-tested techniques will include:
- Keeping the tone conversational (particularly in blogs)
- Infusing humour into content
- Playing around with descriptive language (metaphors and similes)
Tactics like these help bridge the gap between reader and brand, creating a greater sense of connection.
Does any of this even matter?
Now I know what you’re thinking.
There seem to be a lot of blurred lines when it comes to copywriting vs content writing.
Both use language techniques to (let’s be honest) manipulate readers.
Whether that’s to push them to take action or warm them up for the future sell, they both rely on clever wordsmithery and emotion to achieve their goals.
Even factors like SEO and length are a little blurry.
The point is, while there are definitely some concrete differences between the two, there’s also a lot of overlap.
I guess you could say what really separates copywriting from content writing is all the small subtleties.
Subtleties like the overarching objectives behind each writing form. How much a certain technique is used. And exactly what kind of copy or content writing is actually being produced.
So, how do you know which one is right for your brand? And do you need two separate writers for copywriting and content writing?
To put it simply, it all depends on your situation and the kind of writing you’re looking to create.
Of course, if you’re focusing solely on blog posts or long-form content, then you’re probably better off going with a content writer.
It is their specialism, after all.
If you find yourself looking for a mix of copy and content writing services, you might want to consider partnering up with an agency that specialises in content strategy or one that has a solid team of both copywriters and content writers at its disposal.
It really all comes down to your objectives and preferences.
What do you want to achieve?
What effect do you want to have on readers?
Answer those questions and you’ll be well on your way to making a decision.
Take a cue from Shrek
What was that thing Shrek said about onions?
Ogres have layers. Onions have layers.
The same applies to content writers and copywriters.
Both have layers, way beyond simple differentiators like “copy” and “content”.
Some might have an extra layer of experience within a specific niche or industry.
Others might write exclusively for B2B or B2C audiences.
Now that you know these extra layers exist, you can narrow down your brand’s “dream writer” even more.
By the qualities and skills they possess.
By their expertise in your industry.
By the audience they write for.
And remember, always do a little digging.
Check out their portfolio, have a chat over Zoom, invite them over for coffee.
Get a feel for their personality and writing style, and see whether it aligns with your brand.