The Short Version: Who’s who?
The goal of copywriting is to persuade. The goal of content writing is to engage. Both are writers.
When you’re reading great copy, you’ll likely be compelled to purchase a product or service. And when you’re reading great content, a brand has captured your attention + interest enough to earn some of your trust.
A content strategist gives the content purpose, vision and direction so that it’s useful, usable and maintained over time. They blend editorial skills with user experience to balance business needs with user needs.
By the way—I’ll be using the word “users” throughout this post. This is just a UX-y term for people who are literally using or experiencing the content.
Let’s dive in a bit further to what each discipline does, plus how they’re different and where they overlap.
Copywriting: The Art of Persuasion
Copywriting is the practice of writing words that convince readers to do something. Usually, to buy stuff. This type of writing will live in places like emails, social media posts, print ads, digital ads, and websites. You probably read a copywriter’s work every day, whether you realized it or not.
Who are copywriters anyways?
Copywriters are equally good at writing and understanding other people.
They combine wit, writing skills, and human empathy to figure out what will compel someone to take an action, such as purchasing a product, signing up for a service, or even filling out an inquiry form on a website. A really good copywriter will also understand sales funnels and ask plenty of good questions about their target audience before they start writing.
Although many copywriters, especially at advertising agencies, work on a large variety of marketing materials, some copywriters choose to specialize further.
Some examples of copywriter specialties are:
- Product copywriting
- SEO copywriting
- Direct response copywriting
- Technical copy
- … or a specific industry, such as finance or healthcare.
What makes copy good?
First, remember that copywriting is supposed to persuade the reader to take action. And, since copywriting needs to support a business’ needs but is being consumed by an actual human, we can think about it like this:
For the business: great copy makes sales, which means more profit.
For the reader: great copy makes me excited to buy or take action.
Now, BAD copy on the other hand…
- Feels slimy and sales-y
- Is confusing/complicated
- Sounds “off-brand”
- Is just super boring
How Content Writing is different (and the same)
While copy is more focused on persuasion, content writing is more about engaging the reader. A content writer seeks to hold and capture the attention of a reader to educate, inform, or tell a story.
You probably most encounter copywriting in your Facebook feed every day when you see a paid ad.
But if you stop to read a blog post or news article on your Facebook feed, you’ve just seen the work of a content writer.
Content writers tend to write longer-form content, and their work is more often seen at the top of the sales funnel—driving brand awareness instead of being laser-focused at supporting sales.
Content writers make stuff like:
- Blog posts
- News articles
- White papers
However, depending on the business’ marketing strategy, a content writer might infuse a bit of copywriting magic into their content to help support sales. For example, a blog post that includes a content upgrade at the end will need some copywriter-style words. They’ll need to ask the user to take an action (such as opt-in), which helps funnel readers into the beginning of the sales process. Win!
So who are content writers?
A skilled content writer is a great storyteller, can easily adapt to different brand voices and styles, and excels at in-depth explanations or descriptions. They think about the structure and flow of information, and care more about keeping you interested than getting you to convert.
Like copywriters, content writers may also specialize in specific types of projects or industries.
But aren’t these the same people?
Sure! Sometimes. Sometimes not. There’s a great wide world of writers out there.
Which writer you need starts with your goal.
Start by asking yourself what your business goals are. Are you trying to sell things over email but aren’t seeing results? Hire a copywriter. Do you want to become a thought leader in your industry by publishing epic blog pieces? Hire a content writer. Need both? Find a generalist, or invest in a team.
But, if you . . .
- Don’t know what content you need
- Aren’t sure what channels to publish content on
- Already have writers, but have an inefficient workflow
- Have lots of outdated content and want to manage it better
- Need a messaging strategy to pull it all together
- Are migrating your website content from one place to another
… Then you need a content strategist, my friend. Very badly.
Enter, Content Strategists! The problem solvers
So, a writer (of any kind) writes the content, wherever that content may go.
A content strategist creates a purpose, vision, and direction for the content in the first place. They ensure that everything is valuable to both the business and the reader, and that the content is maintained over time. They do lots of things, but the result is a win-win for everyone the content touches.
Let’s look at the content quad, by Kristina Halvorson (who literally wrote the book on this subject).
As you can see, content strategists make better content experiences from start to finish.
They help create an overall purpose (the “core strategy”). On one hand, they define what the content is and how it’s structured. Plus, they make sure it’s created efficiently and updated often (“governance”).
The result: content that delights everyone, even over time.
Above all else, a content strategist is doing the work that prevents and solves content problems—saving tons of time and money for a business, and creating a more delightful experience for customers.
What are “content problems”?
Where to begin. Here are just a few possible content problems a business could have.
- Websites that are cluttered and confusing (symptoms include: high bounce rates and low conversions)
- Spending time and money creating content your audience doesn’t need, while missing opportunities to offer them value
- You’ve got outdated content, and didn’t even realize it was there (oops… but this one is really common)
- A frenzied editorial team. And you wonder, who owns this content, anyways?
- Investing in content channels that don’t make sense (? like, does your finance company really need a Pinterest board about fashion? *cough*NASDAQ*cough*)
If you can’t tell, content problems are really just business problems that waste time and money for organizations. By working with a magician—I mean, content strategist—businesses can prevent and solve these expensive problems. And, they create better experiences for their users.
Success! You know more about content roles.
Now you can go off into the world and conquer your content, make better hiring decisions, or just feel cooler because now you know more things.
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