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If you want more sales you need the right writer. But how do you know whether you need a copywriter or content writer?
This guide will help you to:
- Understand the differences between a copywriter and content writer
- Identify the best fit for your content marketing strategy
- Judge who you need to hire according to where you are in your marketing funnel
- What is a content writer?
- Why long-form content help businesses grow
- What is a copywriter?
- Types of copywriters
- What content writers and copywriters have in common
- How your marketing funnel will help you decide who you need
- The verdict
1. What is a content writer?
Alan Smith gets it. “Content writing means creating content that markets well.”
A content writer aims to influence, educate and engage an audience. Their purpose is to create content that will attract potential customers and keep existing customers interested.
Content marketing is not about making a sale. In fact, it is not unusual for content writers to produce pieces without even mentioning the brand name.
Content writers specialise in writing in-line with your content marketing strategy. Some of the ways they achieve this is by:
- Creating SEO-friendly content
- Structuring content so that it is easy to scan and read
- Telling your brand story
Their work can be in the form of blog posts, articles, website content, eBooks, social media posts, press releases etc.
Unlike copywriters, content writers typically create ‘long-form‘ content. There is no strict word count that defines ‘long-form’. But typically it is high-quality and detailed.
2. Why long-form content help businesses grow
If you ask a consumer whether they would prefer to read a 200 or 2,000 worded blog post, they would probably choose the former. But longer pieces have been proven to:
- Get more hits
- Encourage readers to stay on a page for longer
Also, long-form content help websites climb the search engine ranking ladder. This is because search engines like Google, recognise that longer pieces demonstrate more topic-depth. In the eyes of a search engine, this makes long-form content more useful to visitors than shorter content. As you can see in the graph below from serpIQ, top-ranked content is well over 2,000 words.
Long-form content, however, is not the same as great content.
Regardless of the benefits of long-form content, quality should still trump word count.
- Be related to visitors’ intent e.g. answering a question, guiding them through a process etc.
- Provide an easy and enjoyable user experience e.g. links should be provided for them to quickly get to the right content
So although content that is over 2,000 words have been proven to perform well, it is because they contain useful, targeted and high-quality material. Their excellent performance is not solely due to a high word count. In fact, Moz shares some interesting examples of effective short-form content.
What is the moral of the story? That content is king.
3. What is a copywriter?
“A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.” I couldn’t have said it better than Judith Charles, President of Judith K. Charles Creative Communication. I took this quote from Robert W. Bly’s famous book ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’.
Think of an advertisement you have seen recently.
Now, ask yourself why that one, in particular, sprung to mind. Was it because it was funny? Perhaps it was so bad, that it was good. Maybe it had an annoying jingle that you couldn’t shake.
Regardless, the most important question to ask is – did it make you want to buy the product or service? If the answer is ‘no’ then it doesn’t matter how entertaining or clever it was. It didn’t do its job. Copy that sells includes elements like compelling headlines, straplines and calls-to-action.
Most copywriters are the people behind advertising – their purpose is to sell. Like content writers, copywriters want to attract the attention of a target audience. But the key difference is that:
Copywriters aim to encourage the audience to take action whereas content writers aim to generate interest.
Since you are not always guaranteed to sell, copywriting should not be prioritised at the cost of content writing.
4. Types Of Copywriters
Although copywriting is commonly associated with advertising, this isn’t a copywriter’s only purpose. Copywriters tend to specialise in particular areas – it is rare to find one person who can do it all.
Here is a breakdown of some of the most common types of copywriters.
These guys are storytellers. Great storytellers.
Good marketing copywriters will know how to get the attention of your customer. Excellent ones will take them on a journey. And exceptional ones will make the journey end with your customer feeling like they need what you are offering.
Marketing copywriters connect your target audience to your brand. They understand how to use emotive language and concepts to make your audience react.
Their portfolios should include things like direct marketing campaigns (e.g. email or direct mail), video scripting and product literature.
Look at this great example from UrbanDaddy:
This an email that they sent customers. It gets to the point, is fun (which was the subject line) and is easy to scan. They know their customers and although the copy is about rubber band guns, you want to read it!
An SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) writer will create content that will help your website rank high in search engine results.
They understand how to perform keyword research, can select the best keywords, and know how to embed them into the natural flow of digital content. Aside from this, they understand how search engines ‘crawl’ through websites. So, a good SEO writer will also structure content in a way that works.
Don’t confuse an SEO copywriter with an SEO expert. A strong SEO game is enabled by a network of professionals, not just a copywriter. But if you have an SEO strategy, an SEO copywriter will certainly help you rank higher in search engine results. More importantly, they will also help you maintain your position.
Their portfolios should include things like post and website copy. Even better if their own website ranks high on search engine result pages.
Creative copywriters craft zippy one-liners and memorable concepts for advertisements.
They are all about the brand. And they know how to connect the brand to the target audience with the aim of converting them to customers.
Their portfolios should include things like advertising campaigns, headlines and straplines.
Here are some examples of great creative copy (click on images to enlarge).
Unlike other types of copywriters, technical copywriters’ work is underpinned by specialist knowledge and research. They are a unique blend of being technical specialists and writers. So if it’s a technical writer you are after, don’t forget to look through their credentials.
You’ll find them creating content pieces like manuals since they are experts in explaining complex details in a clear language that an end-user will understand.
Their portfolios should include things like user manuals, whitepapers and knowledge base articles.
5. What content writers and copywriters have in common
The main thing that separates content writers and copywriters, is the purpose of their content. Content writers may still produce material that aims to sell but unlike most copywriters, selling is not their primary aim.
Earlier, I said that “copywriting should not be prioritised at the cost of content writing.” This is because usually, one does not work without the other. They are both important components of digital marketing.
Here are some examples of combined copywriting and content writing at its best:
Click images to enlarge.
These examples show how copywriting and content writing complement one another. They feature headlines that make you want to read on. And then the high-quality content kicks in.
Because copywriting and content writing go hand in hand, both types of writers have certain things in common.
Here are some of them.
They appreciate how one word can be a game-changer.
In 2013, Michael Aagaard, Copywriter, shared the results of several experiments for his “How to Optimize and Test: Calls-to-Action for Maximum Conversions” presentation.
From one of his experiments, he discovered that changing “Start your free trial” to “Start my free trial” resulted in a 90% rise in sign-ups.
Content writers and copywriters hone in on the microcopy.
They write for specific target audiences
Whether the aim is to sell or attract attention, any copywriter or content writer worth their salt will ask you the ‘target audience’ question.
They should want to know as much as possible about the potential customers you want to reach out to. And if they are really good, they’ll do some independent research too.
Once they are confident that they can create accurate buyer personas, their understanding will steer the content, style and tone.
6. How your marketing funnel will help you decide who you need
If you have read this far then you will understand the similarities and differences between content writers and copywriters. You’ll also be aware of the different types of copywriters. But, you may not be entirely clear on who to hire. Especially since the broad conclusion is that both types of writers are important for business marketing.
Realistically, you will need different types of writers during the phases of your marketing journey.
Moz shares a useful illustration of a marketing funnel:
Let’s go through the phases and identify what type of professional copywriter or content writer is best suited to each.
Aim: To increase brand visibility so that potential customers discover you
Tone of Content: Educational, informative, influential
Examples of Content: Advertorials, blog posts, newsletters
Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills
At this stage, you will be trying to generate interest and establish trust so you need long-form content. A hard sell will be off-putting especially for people who are unfamiliar with your brand. However, regardless of how good the content is, nobody will read it without a magnetic headline. That is why your content writer should have good copywriting skills.
Aim: To convince the audience to become customers
Tone of Content: Solutions-based, factual, interactive
Examples of Content: Demonstration videos, how-to guides, case studies
Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills
The ‘consideration’ stage of the marketing funnel is all about demonstrating your product or service’s features and benefits. This is because a potential customer can only become an actual customer once they are convinced that you can solve their problem. So a content writer is your best bet. Again, copywriting skills will help attract attention but the high-quality content will retain it.
Aim: To make sales
Tone of Content: Evidence-based, clear, concise
Examples of Content: Testimonials, reviews, transparent sales process, product descriptions, advertisements
Ideal Writer: A copywriter with content writing skills
This is the narrowest part of your funnel and is the phase where you need to make a direct pitch to customers. If your customer is still hanging around then you know that they’re interested. Now it’s time to convince them to purchase.
That is why a copywriter is useful here. You need memorable content that is persuasive. But, you cannot forget the importance of content too. For instance, a great product name without a useful description will fall flat on its face.
Aim: To keep existing customers, as customers
Tone of Content: Benefits based, supportive
Examples of Content: Customer support, special offers, email outreach, upgrade options
Ideal Writer: A content writer with copywriting skills
This phase is particularly important for businesses that rely on a subscription model. But even if your business isn’t based on continued subscriptions, you will still benefit from repeat custom.
Once you have convinced someone to buy your product, you want two further things from them. Firstly, your customer should not regret their purchase. That is why customer service and support documentation is so important. After all, their testimonials and reviews will help you during the ‘conversion’ phase. Secondly, you want them to keep purchasing. Things like email newsletters to keep them updated about the latest products and special offers are effective.
Want to know about creating a marketing funnel? Watch Neil Patel’s video below.
7. The Verdict
The answer isn’t a one (or two) worded one.
This is because copywriting and content writing are like two sides of the same coin.
For example, a copywriter may have written an advert that encourages you to order a product on a company’s website. But when you go to the website, are you likely to order the product if the content is poor? I realise that this isn’t the only influencing factor but, it is an important one.
In an ideal world, every copywriter will have content writing skills and vice versa. But this is not the reality.
The thing to remember is that, while all copywriters write content, not all content writers write copy. But if a copywriter lacks content writing skills, it is like a book with a cover but no pages.