Splitting Hairs: The Distinction between Content Writing and Copy Writing

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Splitting Hairs: The Distinction between Content Writing and Copy Writing

It’s a tale as old as time. You applied for a position online, you were asked to come for an interview, you nailed said interview, you negotiated your compensation and you finally arrived at the office on your first day of work. And at some point, usually during during a lunch break, you realize that the position you thought you applied for and what you’ve been given is as different as a pub and a bar. Subtle, but still distinctive.

Now, we are going to delve into one of these subtly different positions that are essential in content marketing, that of content writers and copy writers. First, let me be clear that while they’re both quite similar, how they go about their writing is different. It doesn’t help that a lot of companies tend to consider these two terms interchangeable so for those still unaware of the distinction between the two, I’m here to help clear things up and help you identify which one your business actually need.

A primer on content writing and copy writing

Now, the basic distinction between the two lies in the purpose of the writing itself. Content writing is the type of writing used to entertain the audience, which is a pretty broad definition. It is essentially a way of delivering contents primarily through the medium of words. Copy writing is much more specific in that the writing is used solely for the purpose of marketing. This difference might seem small but in practice, this results in two vastly different types of writing.

The characteristics of content writing

Thanks to its relatively broad definition, content writing has a degree of creative freedom that copy writing simply doesn’t have. As such, content writing comes in a large number of forms and can vary in length, from short, 300 words breaking news to essay-length memoirs at a relatively long 3,000 words. When we’re talking content writing in the realm of marketing however, we’re usually referring to informational contents somewhere inside the 700 to 2,000 words range.

In marketing, content writing usually has three goals in mind, to inform, to educate and to entertain. It needs to be well-structured, written with a specific key point in mind and bolstered with sensible arguments that support said key point. The quality of the writing matters quite highly in content writing because the goal is to get more readers by having the piece shared and linked across the internet, thereby exposing the writer and the company to even more people.

Unlike copy writing whose subject revolves around a product, a service or a brand, content writing is usually centered on an actual topic. As such, content writing requires a certain level of knowledge and familiarity around said topic since more often than not, the writers would have to go in-depth on a topic. In this sense, content writing requires a lot of homework and preparation compared to the more spontaneous approach of copy writing.

The characteristics of copy writing

Unlike content writing, which aims to provide readers with quite a generous amount of information, copy writing aims to be as attention-grabbing possible in the least amount of words. Short-form copies are common, and so are posters taglines, marketing slogans and buzzwords-filled press releases. When it comes to copy writing, short and sweet is pretty much the name of the game.

Of course, that is not to say that copy writing is easier than content writing just because they’re operating in a considerably smaller scale. In fact some people would argue that copy writing is harder in that it is a somewhat more esoteric field than content writing. Think about some of the viral ads you’ve seen over the years, some of them can be so incredibly random that if you were asked to come up with one, you most likely wouldn’t know where to start from.

This is the kind of challenge that copy writers face on a daily basis, how to write things that could immediately capture people’s attention and prompt a reaction from them at the same time. If content writing in marketing has more in common with creative writing and op-ed journalism, copy writing is closely related to age-old marketing practices. In fact, some of the principal characters from the popular American series Mad Men are actually copy writers, indicating that marketing in the 60’s was not so different from how it’s done today.

Which one is right for your business?

Content writing and copy writing requires a different set of skills. The ability to string together words to form a witty slogan doesn’t always translate to the ability to string together paragraphs to form an engrossing piece and vice-versa. Based on the above explanations, you should already have an idea which particular slot your business currently needs.

If you feel that your website feels empty, then padding them out with more content should help which is why you should look for a content writer. On the other hand, if you feel that there are simply not enough visitors to your website, you should get a copy writer that could help garner some interest on your brand. It should be noted that with the advent of social media, where space is limited, copy writer could double as social media managers as well; delivering catchy one-liners to garner likes and follows for your company.