There’s no shortage of videos and blog posts talking about content writing vs copywriting. And most will tell you the two are different. In fact, I’ve seen 2000-word blog posts diving deep into all the (so-called) differences.
But here’s the reality: You can absolutely use the words content writing and copywriting interchangeably. And I will explain exactly why—and show you evidence to support my claim.
Now, if you’re a purist, you might not LIKE the fact these words are interchangeable. But that doesn’t change reality. Businesses use the words interchangeably. Marketers use the words interchangeably. Writers use the words interchangeably.
I honestly think all these blog posts about differences exist because aspiring freelancers are searching on “content writing vs. copywriting,” which gooses the search volume in SEO research tools, like Semrush. (Currently, people search on “content writing vs copywriting” 390 times per month.) And savvy, seasoned writers itching to get traffic to their blogs think, “Oh! There’s a great topic.” And the problem is with the “vs” since that suggests the searcher is expecting the two phrases to be different. So the savvy, seasoned writer wants to give the searcher their money’s worth and delivers an article that talks about the differences.
But the lines between content writing and copywriting have blurred to the point that any differences—if they ever truly existed in the first place—don’t exist anymore.
Don’t believe me? Buckle up, and I’ll show you . . .
Content writing vs. Copywriting: Why Is This Even a Thing?
Forty years ago, in 1983, copywriters existed. But content writers didn’t (at least not how we think of them today). Copywriters wrote things like sales letters and ad copy (think print ads and billboards). Picture Peggy on Mad Men.
But “content writers” didn’t exist because the Internet, as we know it, hadn’t gone mainstream. (January 1, 1983, is considered the birthdate of the Internet.)
Back in 1983, most people didn’t have email. Businesses didn’t have websites. Google didn’t exist. Amazon didn’t exist. Social media didn’t exist. We regular folks (I was 10 in 1983) had no idea what was to come. The Digital Marketing Era was still about 20 years out.
But then came the Internet. And Google. And AOL. And the concept of inbound marketing, which is all about attracting people to your website who are already conducting online searches for the things your business is selling. The goal is to draw those people into your site through optimization and keep them there thanks to engaging copy. Or content.
Wait, which is it?
If you search on “define: content” in Google, you have to scroll to the last definition on Dictionary.com to get to the one we’re talking about: “information made available by a website or other electronic medium. ‘online content providers.'”
The “other electronic medium” is what hangs up people, I think. Because content can be more than words, right? Visuals and videos are also considered online content.
But we’re specifically talking about content writing vs. copywriting.
As in words.
And both content and copy involve words.
Language evolves. And that’s OK.
Purists will tell you that “content writing” is about “engagement.” You’re engaging the readers, not necessarily getting them to “buy now.” Think longer-form content, like blog posts and white papers.
These same purists will tell you that copywriting is all about getting the sale. It involves persuasion. The goal of the copy is to get people to buy, buy, buy—and the copy is usually shorter and more focused. Think things like landing pages, sales emails, and digital ads. This is a carryover from the old copywriting days. It’s outdated, IMO.
(BTW, the “purists” tend to be other writers or marketers. Businesses—as in, your employer or client—aren’t debating whether these phrases are different.)
I say that you need engagement and persuasion in long-form content, like blog posts, and short-form “sales” content like emails. If I’m writing a blog post, my goal is to keep people engaged. But my job is also to get people to do something at the end of the article, most often reading another article related to the topic. Or maybe the blog promotes a piece of gated content, like a downloadable guide. Or it gets people to sign up for a webinar or another free, valuable offer. The conversion point isn’t a direct sale—but it could very well be the first step to a sale somewhere down the line.
On the flip side, in my harder-hitting sales “copy” (like an email), I absolutely MUST engage the person. If I don’t engage them, starting with capturing their attention with a solid subject line (in the email example), what’s the point? No amount of persuasion or other sales techniques will make a difference if I don’t engage them first.
Let’s discuss my journey as a freelance copywriter, content writer, content marketer, SEO copywriter, SEO content writer, case study writer, etcetera, etcetera, and so forth. You get the idea.
I started freelancing in 2002, on the cusp of the Digital Marketing era. I called myself a copywriter then. And I primarily refer to myself as a copywriter today. Or a copy bitch, as you all know. 🙂 However, I’ve also referred to myself as a content marketer, content writer, or freelance writer.
And the main reason why is precisely because the lines have blurred and most people—including clients . . . especially clients—don’t differentiate between copywriter, content writer, and content marketer.
They’re thinking, “We need someone to help with our website. We need someone to write blogs. We need a case study. Or a newsletter. We need a writer for our email workflows for the middle of the funnel. And bottom of the funnel.”
They’re NOT thinking about what “type” of writer they need.
Head over to LinkedIn, and you’ll see jobs for content writers and copywriters. The listings often outline the same tasks. In my video below, fast forward to 5:55 to see a screen share of LinkedIn where I review a couple of job listings, one for a copywriter and the other for a content writer.
We talk in synonyms. It’s natural.
If a client reaches out to me and says they’re looking for a copywriter to help them write blog content, I don’t correct them and say, “Well, what you really mean is a content writer. A copywriter focuses more on sales emails, digital ads, and other sales-y copy.”
Why on earth would I do that?
I know what they want.
And my approach for writing a blog post vs. a sales email isn’t all that different.
I’m a human writing to a fellow human.
In both cases, I want to engage them and capture their attention.
Sure, the content’s goals will likely be different. The sales email might be asking directly for the sale. And the blog post might be trying to get people to stay on the site longer by reading another article.
Persuasion, in various levels, is used in both cases, right?
Whenever I sit down to write something, anything, I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, why I’m writing it, what their questions would be, and what would help them.
I’m not going to sound “salesy” in a blog post because someone reading a blog tends to be at the top of the sales funnel, poking around, researching, and educating themselves.
It’s just writerly common sense.
Bottom line: Content writing vs copywriting. Don’t overthink it.
Guys, listen. We have enough jargon in marketing land (MOFU, anyone?) to worry about keeping one more set of definitions straight. So, breathe easy. Because you can use the words content writing and copywriting interchangeably. Clients do. Writers do. Purists don’t, but that’s OK. You’re not working for them. 🙂
And if by some chance you’re in school and your professor insists that content writing and copywriting are different, fine. Just remember that (they think) content writing is all about engagement and longer-form content, like blog posts, case studies, white papers, guides, and ebooks. And that copywriting is all about marketing and persuasion. Give your teacher what they want, pass the test, and then use the terms interchangeably henceforth as most people do. 🙂
The line is blurry, and good writers will know when to ramp up the engagement factor (like in an ebook) and when to ramp up the sales factor (like in an email series). But many of the principles overlap.
And good writing is good writing.
If you’re an aspiring freelancer, and you’re trying to figure out how to self-identify on your website, I recommend using the terms interchangeably because that will help you in Google search results and when prospective clients are looking at your site. You could even have service pages about long-form content (blogs, white papers, etc.) and services about advertising copywriting, email copywriting, etc. Let keyword search tools be your guide and use the phrases naturally and INTERCHANGEABLY without making a big deal about them.
And if applying to gigs, use the terminology from the job listing. If someone says they need a content writer and you typically call yourself a copywriter, but every task they’re listing is in your wheelhouse, then call yourself a content writer when responding.
Again, don’t overthink it!
Got a question for the Copy Bitch?
Get in touch or visit my YouTube channel and leave a question in the comments on one of my videos.