Copywriting vs content writing: What's the difference?

Nick Harland
May 2022
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What are the differences between copywriting and content writing? How are they similar? Can you give me some examples of both? Yes, dear reader, yes we can.

Yes yes yes! We only cover the BIG questions here on the Big Bang Blog. And they don’t come much bigger than today’s question. What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing?

The simple answer, of course, is that there isn’t really that much difference between the two things. It’s probably why you’ll see these terms being used interchangeably on the interwebs - but the people who do that are wrong. WRONG!

Ahem. Yes, there are actually some subtle differences between the two things which are worth knowing about. But first, what makes them similar?

The similarities between copywriting and content writing

To be clear: most marketing jargon is total horseshit, and we don’t need about 90% of the terms that exist. If one more company emails me earnestly to tell me they’re ‘sunsetting’ their product that I have literally never used, I will scream. A loud, guttural scream that will be heard all over the world.

Anyway. That had absolutely nothing to do with this blog. Here are some similarities between copywriting and content writing. 

  • They’re both forms of writing - obviously. 
  • They’re both done for marketing purposes.
  • They could both appear, for example, in the form of an email. So they share some similarities in format.
  • Both require excellent spelling and grammar on part of the copy/content writer.

So far, so similar. But next time you see someone referring to copywriting and content writing as though they’re the same thing, these are the differences you can smugly point out to them to win your online argument.

The differences between copywriting and content writing

In a nutshell: copywriting is much more sales-focused than content writing. It is done to persuade the reader to take action; whether that be to buy a product, sign up for a mailing list or subscribe to an online service. That means copywriting is more likely to take the form of more direct stuff like ads, social media posts and landing pages.

Content writing, on the other hand, is done to inform and educate the reader. Content writers aren’t necessarily there to sell something to the reader. Content writing normally takes the form of business blogs, case studies, videos and podcasts.

So whilst the focus of copywriting is SALES, the focus of content writing is TRAFFIC. Copywriters want to get more dollars in their back pocket, content writers want to get more eyeballs on screen.

But yeah, that doesn’t mean all content writing is done innocently, with no sinister marketing intentions lurking beneath the surface. The end goal of both practices remains the same: SALES. Copywriting is just a bit more of a direct path towards that goal. Content writers hope you’ll read their content, find out about their website, and eventually become a customer. So it’s a longer-term approach.

copywriting vs content writing

Examples of copywriting and content writing

If you’re anything like us, then sometimes it’s better to have a cold, hard, real-world example in front of you to understand what the fudge we’re on about. So here are a few:

A footwear company sends out an email to its customers with a special 20% discount code to redeem on their website. There is a call-to-action button - ‘Claim Offer’ - and the email is less than 100 words long. This is copywriting.
The same footwear company writes a 700-word blog for their website entitled ‘How to find shoes that fit.’ It’s full of advice on how to test your shoes to ensure they give your feet enough room and don’t cramp them. There are no call-to-actions and no pleading to buy their own shoes. This is content writing.

A publishing company puts out some ads on social media to promote their latest books: reissues of Charles Dickens classics. The people clicking on the ad arrive at the product page, which features a book description. Both of these things are copywriting.
The same publishing company writes and records a podcast: ‘Where to start with Charles Dickens.’ It’s a look at where to begin if you want to start reading Dickens’ novels, and his five most approachable ones. As luck would have it, this company also sells Charles Dickens books. But this is still content writing.

A social media marketing agency has published a report into the state of social media in 2022. It looks at the latest trends, user numbers and predictions concerning social media. They create a landing page to sell the report. The report itself is content writing. The landing page they create to sell it is copywriting.

So there we have it. Copywriting and content writing are essentially two similar things, but they differ a little in terms of format, purpose and length. It’s worth knowing the next time you see them both being bandied around online. Anyway, time to sunset this blog and do some clear sky thinking as we look ahead to Q1. Thanks for reading, dear readers.

Nick Harland