‘Copy’ or ‘content’? At-a-glance guide for small business owners…

Do you need a Copywriter or a Content Writer? And what on earth is the difference?

When I started out writing, I didn’t know whether I was doing ‘copy’ or ‘content’. I didn’t even know the terms existed, never mind that there was a difference.

I’ve since discovered that the words I was putting on a half-page advert for the Landrover Owner Magazine 20 years ago were, in fact, copy; while the blogs I went on to craft were (usually) content. There is a difference. Sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious.

There are plenty of blogs and articles out there defining the two, but with our wonderful (hang in there) ‘small business owner’ clients in mind, I’ve whittled it down to a few key differences. This is helpful stuff when you’re trying to explain to your content writer what you want, and it helps your writer provide the service your business really needs.

Purpose difference between copy writing and content writing


Persuasive writing with a short-term goal.

Good copy will persuade your reader to take action. This might mean clicking the ‘buy me right now!’ button, downloading your free ‘thing’, or signing up for your unmissable (non-inbox-clogging please) emails.

This type of copy has a short-term goal and can be easily measured by successful purchases, downloads, or sign-ups.

Content writing

Educational, entertaining, or informative – with a long-term goal.

Good content comes in many formats, engages your reader and inspires curiosity. The writer could be an expert in the field, a satisfied customer, or – more often – a professional content writer. It tells a story that builds a world of comfort and trust around your brand.

Providing value through content – online or off-line – shows your audience that you actually care about their needs; providing evidence that you are qualified to provide the solution to their problem. It can even highlight a ‘problem’ they didn’t know they had, nestled neatly among opportunities to solve that problem.

Length difference between copy writing and content writing

Copywriter: short-form

Copywriting tends to be short, snappy pieces of text, designed to grab attention and persuade your audience to ‘do something’. This could be words on a landing page, a social media advert or a good ol’ billboard.

It can also be brand-building, like a tag-line or slogan for the brand in general, or a specific ad campaign. This type of copy is designed to ‘stick’ with the reader and becomes a part of the overall image they have of you. Crucial stuff!

Content writer: long-form

Content writing tends to be something your audience will enjoy reading over a cuppa. Longer, interesting or entertaining, and providing value without asking for anything in return. Of course, there is usually the main aim of driving traffic to your site, but it’s done subtly and with ‘giving’ rather than ‘taking’ in mind.

‘Long-form’ also has its degrees, from an easy-to-digest 400-word blog to a researched white paper or ebook at 2000+ words. Captions on social media posts are also important; generally only a few sentences long, but carefully crafted to draw attention to the post itself.

Style difference between copy and content writing

Copywriter: snappy, conversational, persuasive, brand voice

Writing copy is a skill that generates an emotional response, leading to an action of some sort. Copywriting uses analysis of customer ‘pain points’ to highlight a problem and offer a solution. It is focused on speaking in your ‘brand’ voice to a specific target audience.

The tone should speak to your customer easily, so conversational and natural is key – unless the brand itself deems otherwise. I’m thinking “Vorsprung durch technik” here – a genius twist that plays on the reputation of German engineering rather than worrying about whether customers can even understand it!

Content writer: storytelling, engaging

Writing content requires a different skill. Good content engages readers (or viewers of visual content) and leaves them feeling like they’ve received or learned something. It often uses storytelling techniques that take the reader on a journey, or maybe a format that provides helpful information (this article!).

It can provide context and weight to your product or service and can be more free with a ‘voice’ than copywriting. It often says more about your brand than your product by getting ‘behind the scenes’ or revealing what you care about, rather than what you sell.

Copywriter – Someone who might buy your product or service

A copywriter is often focused on reaching someone ready to buy, providing that final nudge. This could be the landing page from a social media advert or the email with the ‘buy now’ button. Those boxes that pop-up when you leave a website without buying the products in the basket? Few words, but powerful copy!

Tag lines for your brand or snappy captions for ad campaigns are designed to mesmerise speak directly to your buyers in your brand voice – often at the time and place where they are making a decision to part with their cash. Think of the catchy jingle in your subconscious when you’re choosing between brands in a supermarket!

Content writer – customers, influencers, everyone!

A content writer will be focused on how your brand is perceived in general…by potential customers, but also the population at large who might stumble across your content unexpectedly. Of course, the ultimate goal is to increase sales, but indirectly. Each specific piece of content is designed to build trust in you; perhaps showing what a good employer you are, your eco-friendly practices, or how well you know your industry.

It might help the potential customer decide whether your product really IS the right solution for them – and direct them elsewhere if not. This might sound like a crazy thing to do, but if you’re not right for them, you don’t want the sale. They will not be a satisfied customer (no matter how amazing you are) if it doesn’t solve their problem. And how refreshing to be told, “Nope, don’t buy from us!”? I can guarantee they will remember THAT piece of content when they DO have a problem you can solve…

There are always exceptions of course, and in today’s media-rich world the lines are often blurred. But hopefully, this is useful if you’re wondering how to attract the right people to your pages. Donna and I have different styles and strengths and work as a team to make sure our clients get exactly what they need – results!.

Give us a call if you need words.

Take care

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: