The Difference Between Copywriters and Content Writers
What’s the difference?
Is there a difference?
Does there NEED to be a difference?
Let us first make sure we have the right question.
For over 25 years, I have been hammering away at a keyboard in one fashion or another, about 10 of those have had a professional context to them. Paid to write, hired pen, stories on demand.
In those ten years, I have fielded countless inquiries of people who needed to hire a writer. They weren’t sure for what; other than knowing they had to put something in the box.
Isn’t that all we are to these machines? Put something in the box: blogs, articles, status updates, photos, advertisements, bios, about pages - and the grand algorithm in the sky will determine if you are worthy of an audience or customers or page views or whatever it is you desire most from the digital wasteland.
In the early days, I tried to save time, money and a bit of my sanity by responding to inquiries with one simple question:
Do you need copy or content?
Oh, how clever I was! How clever I still am? Why not show my vapidness to the world of copywriting by presenting the worst possible question? To this day I still joyfully recall the army of faces with a blank stare. Or those who said confidently, with gusto! “We need Content!” only to discover two weeks later they needed a copywriter.
Or vice versa.
Throughout the internet, I tag myself as a purveyor of “Copy and Content” or a “copywriter and content developer.” Whatever it takes to keep me from the one label no one seems to respect: Writer. Eck, writers. The lazy leeches of the freelance world - hopeless romantics with too much time on their hand and a pesky desire to be paid.
After all, writers are desperate enough to do anything you tell them to. Copywriters? Content Creators? Well, now we’re dealing with a special breed of creative the big-city folk are used to working with.
So, what will it be?
Do you need a copywriter or a content writer?
It depends on one answer: What do you want your audience to do?
Content Informs. Copy Sells.
If you put the sometimes-disastrous storylines to the side, Mad Men was a spectacle. I loved it. All of it. The offices of SC&P, covered in a haze dozens of cigarettes, receptionists with perfect hair clickering away at their electronic typewriters. Scotch at two in the afternoon, a mistress waiting in your apartment somewhere in the depths of the city
Throughout Mad Men we followed the stories of copywriters - men (and eventually, women) tasked with coming up with the angle. They created advertising, and advertising has a sole purpose: to sell. Products, ideas, companies, methods, politicians, whatever - advertising sells, and copywriters create advertisements.
They find the angle, decide how steep it needs to be, and figure out how to lead an audience down the slope and into the cash register.
Copy sells. Copywriters write the stuff which convinces audiences to do something. Buy, click, subscribe, read more, vote, protest, boycott, whatever.
Marketing folks like to call these things “calls to action.” Calls to action are not sales pitches. Anyone who tries to sell you otherwise should be fired on the spot.
Copywriters invest in your product. They know everything it can do, who it is for, and what it takes to get someone to buy it. From the handful of words you’re allowed in a Facebook ad to the 2000 word journey of the landing page designed to turn clickers into buyers - the copywriter calculates every word, every pace, every syllable to manipulate audiences into customers.
Landing Pages? Like, a blog?
Well. Maybe. Right about there is where we can draw a line in the sand between copy and content.
What does a content writer do?
They write content.
Content Informs, Copy Sells.
Blogs are, usually, used to dish out information. Same with articles, posts, status updates, and the elusive “About Us” page.
I’ve worked with countless clients to write blog posts which serve the function of landing pages. I usually don’t bring it up; it’s hard to swim in muddied waters. However, it should be said: tacking a call to action at the end of a blog post does not render it a “landing page.”
Many a blog post is left neutered and mute by attracting an audience with clever SEO terms, delivering half the information, and then promising the other-half in an email after they subscribe. I can’t tell you how many times this email never shows up.
A smart content writer will ask questions about the topic at hand. A brilliant content writer will consider how the blog post (or whatever they are writing) will fit into the overall sales architecture of the company.
By and large, though, content writers are dishing out the stuff that fills the pages. They are the ones who come up with the entries for the set of encyclopedia’s being sold door to door. It’s the copywriter’s job to give the sales rep the talking points to SELL the damn things.
Back to the line: Between Copy and Content: which one do you need?
It all depends: What do you want your audience to do?
If you want to inform them on a topic related to your company, go for a content writer.
If you want your audience to hand over money, get a copywriter.
However, it could be said: an informed audience is more likely to purchase, right? If engaging content keeps the audience interested, longer, aren’t they more primed to buy?
A great content writer keeps your audience interested and informed. A great copywriter informs audiences about the product in a way they will stay interested and eventually buy whatever it is your selling.
Lord, you might need to hire TWO writers.
Or, if you’re lucky, ONE who can produce both rather well.
There is no line between the two. There is a spectrum of haze between copy and content. They compliment, cohabitate, and if they are lucky, collaborate to do the ONE thing that matters: keep your audience interested and buying.