What's the difference between a content writer and a copywriter?

If you’re wondering whether you need a copywriter or a content writer for your brief, this blog takes a look at the difference between a copywriter and a content writer. It may seem like semantics but if you want a specific job done, then you need a specific writer.

And while I don’t hold that you need to have an industry-specific writer for your job – we writers are very versatile and pretty darn good at research – you may want to look for a specific skill set for your writing needs.

Copywriter or content writer?

We put a lot of stock in what we call ourselves at work. It can anchor us to our experience if we are called senior or junior. It can position us within the marketplace for our skillset. But mostly, it lets people know what we do and how much we are likely to charge for our skills and experience.

The only problem is that there are a lot of job titles out there for very similar roles. One person’s social media manager could be another person’s VA. When you are looking for a copywriter, you could in fact really be wanting a content writer. But what is the difference? And can someone be both at the same time?

Copywriters

Some writers don’t actually think there is a difference between copywriting and content writing. For a start, you are writing words for a purpose and audience. You go through the same process and work to a brief. The fact that the words can end up online or in print is neither here nor there.

And while this may be true to some extent, each of these disciplines needs different skills. think being a content writer is different enough from a copywriter to need a different job title with different expectations.

Although, what we are trying to do is the same – compel you, the customer, to buy something – the way in which this is done is different.

For me, a copywriter is a catch-all job title that encompasses many skills. It’s the shorthand that a client will use when they need to get some expert words.

As one particular client put it: “a good copywriter is worth their weight in gold.” And yet, there are so many of us out there so what sets apart a content writer from a copywriter?

My theory is that a copywriter’s primary concern is for the words. That they work with the space they are given (or fit to the brief) and compel someone to take some kind of action. These words are not necessarily on screen but can be across out of house adverts, packaging, or can be involved in the bigger part of branding such as product names, tag lines and developing tone of voice.

Each of these separate areas requires different skills to do. Someone who is brilliant at writing ad copy may not be confident writing tone of voice. I suspect that given confidence and encouragement they can be both.

Definition of a content writer

But when it comes to online content there are different considerations. I asked my copywriter friend, Sally, at Word Nerd to give me her perspective to see if it aligns with my own.

This is how we both saw the definition of a content writer:

“A content writer is someone who writes the copy, primarily for web and also considers the placement of that copy in the larger context of the page. They will consider all the media, accessibility, branding, back end set-up, and any other related content such as images and video. Not just the words.”

Think about it this way: if you create copy for a pamphlet would you also be expected to do the design, layout, and branding of that document as a copywriter? Or is that the job and skillset of the graphic designer?

If you are a content writer, you will be thinking about all of the content on the webpage or PDF, plus any SEO requirements, and how the content will be re-used on other marketing platforms.

You are doing more than just writing.

Copywriter or Content Writer

The other side to consider is that a copywriter may have skills that a content writer does not. For example, the copy that goes onto product packaging needs a certain writing skill. Likewise, writing copy for scripts and adverts needs a different set of skills. Writing for the web is not likely to give you the experience alone to cover this brief.

Most writers I know – both content and copywriters – are incredibly flexible and certainly skilled enough to tackle all writing jobs thrown at them. Yet, getting the right writer for the job matters.

Then, of course, you have writers who have particular specialisms. I write for a legal firm. And it’s not the first regulated industry I’ve worked with so I know that there are particular constraints to writing for these businesses. Although that is not my specialist subject (vegan and sustainability in case you’re asking).

You wouldn’t hire me to do your science writing – I’d be recommending you to this lovely writer. Likewise, you’d want a very specific writer for your bid writing.

What I love about working in this industry is that when a brief is not quite right for us, we’re likely to know the person who will do a brilliant job for your brief.

Right title for the right job

For me, being a content writer is more than just writing great copy. It is about understanding how those words work on-page and beyond.


What do you think? Is there a difference between copywriter and content writer? Let me know.

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