Show me it's more than just semantics: Copywriter vs Content Writer

by 44 comments
Some warriors think that is very important to make a clear difference between a copywriter, content writer, and writer. Honestly, I thought it wasn't such a big deal. Then, after seeing that this question repeats itself more than once in a few threads, I decided to pay attention to it. It turns out that you think you know, at least this was the case with me, but actually you don't. So, I did a little bit a research about it.

A writer is a general term. Hope we can all agree about it. As soon as we associate money and sales with the writing we enter the copywriting zone. I used this formula, which helped me to better understand this semantics gymnastics. Let's see how accurate it is:

writer + money = copywriter
and
writer + sales = copywriter


I should also mention another definition I stumble upon online. In one of copywriting LinkedIn groups, one guy wrote something like, a copywriter is a writer who tries to achieve the maximum with the minimal number of words. Yet, for some reason, copywriting will be something that I will always associate with the Mad Men TV show and Donald Draper. I know it sounds like a shameless cliche, but I'm helpless in this case.

So, what's happening with content writers? I guess that a content writer is a writer who doesn't write a copy, but rather the content for some website. If you aren't a copywriter, then you are a content writer. Is this true?

I just don't get it. Why is it so important for some guys to define themselves and their work as copywriters and copywriting? Does it really matter? I guess it does because they wouldn't be so passionate about it, otherwise. It seems that it is better to be a copywriter than a content writer. Why? I just don't know. Again, if you are asking me, I'm a freelancer. When I write slogans, taglines, and catchphrases, I'm a copywriter. When I write some web pages, I think I'm a content writer. Finally, when I write Terms and Conditions, or Privacy Policy for a website, I'm a paralegal, I guess.

Here's my question? When I write the content for a landing page, what am I, a copywriter or content writer? I create web content, but with the sales and money-making purposes as a priority.

So, this is an invitation for all those proud copywriters out there. Enlighten me and show me the right way of copywriting. My hat is ready to fly off just like that if I hear a catchy definition. If you know what you're doing and writing, then coming up with a simple and easy to remember a definition of a copywriter, shouldn't be much of a problem.

Also, I would like to hear why it is so important to draw a line between copywriters and content writers. What's a big deal about it? I have been writing for a couple of years now, and I still don't have a clue, how to define myself and how it is called what I do for a living.

Let the semantic games begin!
#copywriting #content #copywriter #semantics #show #writer
  • Profile picture of the author Rose Anderson
    They are two distinct lines of work. I am a content writer. I write articles, blog posts, reports, web pages, and ebooks.

    I don't write sales pages, landing pages, advertisements or the many other things that copywriters write.

    You can do both, but at least know what to call the particular work you are doing.

    Rose
  • Profile picture of the author Bill Jeffels
    [DELETED]
  • Profile picture of the author 1Bryan
    Nesha,

    You've written copy?

    You are a copywriter.

    P.S. I'm a trash talker. It comes from sports. Get me on a basketball court and all day long I'll be talking smack. And I can do the same on here from time to time. But at the end of the day, if you've written copy for pay?

    You are a copywriter.

    P.P.S. There's a confidence that comes from having a lot of money in the bank that you got from writing copy. I hope you get to experience it. You'll never give one single shit about what folks on here label as "copywriting."
  • Profile picture of the author GordonJ
    Originally Posted by neshaword View Post

    Some warriors think that is very important to make a clear difference between a copywriter, content writer, and writer. Honestly, I thought it wasn't such a big deal. Then, after seeing that this question repeats itself more than once in a few threads, I decided to pay attention to it. It turns out that you think you know, at least this was the case with me, but actually you don't. So, I did a little bit a research about it.

    A writer is a general term. Hope we can all agree about it. As soon as we associate money and sales with the writing we enter the copywriting zone. I used this formula, which helped me to better understand this semantics gymnastics. Let's see how accurate it is:

    writer + money = copywriter
    and
    writer + sales = copywriter


    I should also mention another definition I stumble upon online. In one of copywriting LinkedIn groups, one guy wrote something like, a copywriter is a writer who tries to achieve the maximum with the minimal number of words. Yet, for some reason, copywriting will be something that I will always associate with the Mad Men TV show and Donald Draper. I know it sounds like a shameless cliche, but I'm helpless in this case.

    So, what's happening with content writers? I guess that a content writer is a writer who doesn't write a copy, but rather the content for some website. If you aren't a copywriter, then you are a content writer. Is this true?

    I just don't get it. Why is it so important for some guys to define themselves and their work as copywriters and copywriting? Does it really matter? I guess it does because they wouldn't be so passionate about it, otherwise. It seems that it is better to be a copywriter than a content writer. Why? I just don't know. Again, if you are asking me, I'm a freelancer. When I write slogans, taglines, and catchphrases, I'm a copywriter. When I write some web pages, I think I'm a content writer. Finally, when I write Terms and Conditions, or Privacy Policy for a website, I'm a paralegal, I guess.

    Here's my question? When I write the content for a landing page, what am I, a copywriter or content writer? I create web content, but with the sales and money-making purposes as a priority.

    So, this is an invitation for all those proud copywriters out there. Enlighten me and show me the right way of copywriting. My hat is ready to fly off just like that if I hear a catchy definition. If you know what you're doing and writing, then coming up with a simple and easy to remember a definition of a copywriter, shouldn't be much of a problem.

    Also, I would like to hear why it is so important to draw a line between copywriters and content writers. What's a big deal about it? I have been writing for a couple of years now, and I still don't have a clue, how to define myself and how it is called what I do for a living.

    Let the semantic games begin!
    Seems (from some of your posts) you've had a lot of clients these past two years, and you've had several disputes with some of them, and as per your posts, they don't seem to want to hire you again nor keep you on any sort of a retainer. Is this all correct?

    So, it appears you get work, albeit, not very good pay, you write a lot, but continue to struggle and need a breakthrough and you don't retain clients.

    Call yourself anything you want, it only matters to the clients you target, and it appears in your case, via content mills and freelance sites, you get low rung clients, and they don't seem to care what you call yourself, so does it matter to you? .
    .
    Why concern yourself with semantics at this point, you haven't shown much concern for anyone's opinion so far, why start now?


    GordonJ
  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    Content writers are supposed to write articles (or blog posts) that are INTERESTING.

    Copywriters are supposed to PERSUADE. Interestingness doesn't really count if it doesn't persuade, in this setting.

    I have retrained award-winning content writers - aka journalists, one of whom had won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting - as copywriters. They were masters of the written word for one purpose but had to start at the bottom learning the other way to write.

    There is little to no overlap between the two forms of writing, except in things like using the English language, writing in sentences and paragraphs, etc.

    Honestly, I don't know anyone who would hire a copywriter who didn't understand the differences between the two kinds of writing.

    Marcia Yudkin
  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    Let me use someone I know as an example.

    He's an ASE certified Master Technician. Means he knows automobiles pretty well.

    A likely equivalent in our field? Let's say an MFA.

    (note: I'm not in any way, shape or form suggesting you need an MFA or a degree or certification before entering this field - just drawing a parallel for example's sake)


    Means you've done a lot of studying. You understand the mechanics of language pretty well. You know how to put words together in order to achieve a certain goal.

    Much like my friend knows how the parts work together to keep the car running.

    But he's also a Master Technician for two well known luxury brands.

    ASE was the broad category. The brands were the specialty focus.

    So as an MFA you have experience with a lot of different types of writing. One of them could be potentially sales writing, which is a sub-specialty within the overall business of writing. Other sub-specialties include novel writing, content writing, website writing, technical writing, screenwriting (stop me any time now).

    Let's add another twist to it -

    There's a reason in the movies there's such a thing as "story by" vs. "screenplay by".

    Steven King knows how to write the story, but he doesn't know the ins and outs of film production the way a screenwriter does. King writes the story, consults on the script development. A screenwriter does the actual script writing, because they know how to tell the story in film sequences.

    There's overlap. But there's a lot of nuance that a specialist knows, simply because they spend every day deep in the details.
  • Profile picture of the author ThePromotionalGuy
    Hellor neshaword,

    Your last sentence, in the last paragraph, of your original post, is where your answer lies.

    I have been writing for a couple of years now, and I still don't have a clue, how to define myself and how it is called what I do for a living.

    You may be a Freelance Commercial Writer. (Not tv or radio) and do not know it. You dabble here. You dabble there.

    That is a great start. But to know the craft you must start looking at other writing segments to specialize in.

    Main reason? If you haven't met them yet, you will. Clients that insist on a specific style of writing. If you don't know how to write in this style, they will not give you the time of day. You lose another project opportunity to advance your career.

    So I ask you:

    Are you familiar with AP or Chicago Style writing?

    What about Direct Response style writing?

    What is the style of writing for Magalogs called?

    If you do not know how to write copy in these styles, this means you will miss out on lucrative projects.

    If it's simply defining yourself, which pulls you up out of the rut you are in, bill yourself as a Freelance Commercial Writer.

    As for those of us who draw the line in the sand, think of it like this:

    Surgeons Operate - General Practitioners examine, diagnose and prescribe.

    Yes. Both are doctors. Each practices a different type of medicine and healing.

    Guess which one is paid more.

    A copy writer is a word surgeon.

    Chinchilla
  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    Obviously, only copywriters provided explanations. That's understandable, of course. Yet, would like to know, if there are content writers around. Or, they are an endangered species here, lol.
    This is a copywriting forum. That is why you are getting answers from copywriters.

    We have been trying to tell you all year that this forum is not about content writing. I don't know why that is such a hard concept to take in,

    Marcia Yudkin
  • Profile picture of the author laurencewins
    I'll throw my 2 cents into the mix and say there's a HUGE difference between a writer/content writer and a copywriter.

    A writer is somebody who writes informative material that can be for websites, for resale to other people, blog posts, eBooks and a lot of other things. A writer generally isn't a copywriter, even though it's common for clients to ask for writers to write sales articles, emails and other forms of material.

    A copywriter writes sales material, landing pages, emails and much more.
    The intention of this work is to sell sell whatever the client has paid them to sell.

    Some of the top copywriters can earn in excess of $100000 pa. Their skills include making the client keen to part with their money.

    But starting out is just like in most fields. You learn and develop skills and gradually improve to the point where you have to turn down work due to a large workload already.

    Over the years I have been contacted by potential clients and have had to knock them back as they really need a copywriter. I find honesty is the best policy and never take on a job you know you can't do.
  • Profile picture of the author DABK
    When I introduce myself as content writer, they want to pay me $5-50 for a 500-word piece.

    When I introduce myself as copywriter, I tell them I want $x for y. Y can be the same article they'd be willing to pay me only 5 to 50 for. But the $Y starts at 200, even if the content I produce is 1 word long.
  • Profile picture of the author dburk
    The difference between a copywriter and and a content writer is like the difference between a massage therapist and an orthopedic surgeon.

    Anyone could be trained to do any of those jobs, you just expect your copywriters, and orthopedic surgeons, to have way more training, experience, and expertise than a massage therapist, or a content writer.

    Oh... and you can expect to pay very different rates based on the varying levels of expertise needed to perform those tasks and the critical nature of the outcome.
  • Profile picture of the author teresarothaar
    I think this is sort of like a web developer vs. a web designer.

    Technically, a web developer works on coding, and that's it; a web designer works on the design of the site (layout, graphics, etc.), and that's it.

    However, in the common vernacular, the two terms are used interchangeably. I see many ads for "web design" where the employer/client clearly wants a developer, and vice versa, as well as ads where they expect the individual to do both development and design.

    Similarly, I had a full-time, W2 job in the early aughties where I my job title was "copywriter." However, most of what I wrote was web content, not sales copy. And most of the ads I see today for "copywriters," both W2 and 1099, involve writing content, not sales copy.

    So, I see this both ways. I agree that technically, calling a content writer a copywriter is not correct, just as -- and I liked this metaphor -- calling an author a "screenwriter" is not correct. However, in the common vernacular, "copywriter" and "content writer" are often interchanged; hence, the confusion.

    I've been calling myself a "technical content writer" because I largely write blogs and articles about cyber security -- but not product manuals, which is what a "technical writer" does. I just got a new client who is having me write blogs about direct mail marketing; he calls me a "copywriter." I'm not going to get in his face about that. =)

    I understand the confusion!
  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    Maybe content writing is more let's say enjoyable and creative, but obviously copywriting pays the bills. So, those who want the fame and creativity moments end up in the content writing zone.
    Where did you get the idea that copywriting is not creative? I just spent half a week at a copywriting conference and the examples of creativity in the case studies there were most impressive. Creative direct-response copywriters are among those who make six and seven figures.

    And are you really pursuing fame in your content writing career? From your previous posts, it seemed that you were trying to scratch out a living for low-paying publishers/content sites. I would love to hear how in your mind that is going to lead to fame! There are so many routes to success, but this is one that I have not yet heard of.

    Marcia Yudkin
  • Profile picture of the author Princess Balestra
    Flooid kudos
    gotta have sumthin'
    beyond exchangea
    swishin' reportage.

    Otherwise buyers
    gonna stick fast ---
    black belt winnaza
    homage.

    I understand fully my obligations to answer the frickin' question, poised as I am between forumular thwapgasm an' ...

    booby doop ...

    thing is, I do not appreciate bein' drowned out by loud bar guys whoopin' football over my momentarily fleetsome versiture

    an' I figure we all want summa that peaceamind

    **** off alla you stoopid bigmouth guys, jus' let me hang out here, yanno?

    like my breath gonna count for sumthin'?

    OR

    aw, **** --- prolly I should writerditz on out right now an' fill up with football talk

    slamdunk the home run ace the fricko outta my slinksomely internalized oozeful pussypipe, the better to max out on voluble shimmera voicea mortals screamin' YEH YEH YEH WAYTA GO INFINITE AMOUNTSA SUDDENLY PERMISSIBLE EXCLAMATION MARKS

    FULL FRICKO STOP

    but then I pause to seek commanda touch beyond sensationa these tangibly evident guys

    to bars where my irritated tits poke not
    from outta my huffo snuffo chest

    an' sweet evrythings,
    bluff an' true an' beautiful,
    rage outta souls
    beyond capturea my
    wildest dreamsa discourse

    landin' ultimately as wants
    before my rangea impossibly open ...

    aw,

    gotta shut up shp


    Thing is

    Nesh,

    contributeurs,

    bar guys,

    Moi ----

    guess we are all fluxin' out on passion

    gonna turn out

    kinda

    VOILA.


    I would wanna scoop that stuff outta the feelable ether

    an' suffocate all breath

    from the OR.
  • Profile picture of the author teresarothaar
    I didn't so much decide to specialize in technical content writing as I fell into it. I have a bachelor's in math/CIS and an MS in MIS (as well as an MBA). A cyber security company hired me to write some blogs for them. After I'd gotten some experience, two others followed, and now, I have a little niche. However, I do pick up clients outside of cyber security. I just got the direct mailing guy, and another company that aggregates data hired me to write a press release.

    In general, I get paid far more for the technical content because "everyone" can't just run out and write informed articles about enterprise cyber security, especially articles ghostwritten for a CEO that a PR firm is pitching for publication in major online magazines. In fact, everyone who hires me told me they tried to hire general content writers/copywriters and found that it failed miserably. You need some semblance of an IT background to be able to write the type of material I produce. For example, I have a client whose software scans for user anomalies at the application level. The software is also self-learning. I understand exactly what all of that means; most writers without an IT background would not.

    Now, all that said, I am in the process of transitioning into web development because I do not feel that writing is my strength. I'm rather slow, and while I'm not flat-out broke, I find myself scrambling to make a modest income, and I don't see myself making the kind of money I want to make (six figures) in this particular business. I bolded the word "myself" because I know that others do, but they are far more skilled in writing sales copy than I am, and sales is where the big money is. Plus, I don't care much for writing; I'd rather code. I want to use my education more directly.

    From your threads, it seems like you are struggling even more than I am. I strongly suggest you either fix what's wrong with your current business model or figure out something else to do and move in that direction. Complaining on message boards about being broke isn't going to get you anywhere. I know; I wasted way too much time doing that, time I could have spent fixing my situation.
  • Profile picture of the author teresarothaar
    Now, I know someone will ask: Why are you here if you want to transition out of writing? LOL Because it's a process, a transition, and if I can make more money writing in the interim, I'm all for that.

    Plus, my husband -- who feels that writing is his greatest strength -- is a copywriter who is struggling mightily, and I'm looking for tips that may help him. I already pointed him to some of 1Bryan's excellent comments on the thread about Upwork.
  • Profile picture of the author John Pagulayan
    A copywriter is someone who writes with the intention of eliciting a response. Whether it's to sign up for a newsletter, buy something, click on a link, share an article...if you're practicing direct response writing, you're a copywriter.

    A content writer is judged based on his creativity while a copywriter is judged based on tangible results - it could be any of the following: the number of shares generated, number of sales, number of clicks, percentage of opt-ins, etc...

    It's the exact reason why copywriters are paid huge amounts of money because we can justify the cost.

    Say you hire me to write a launch sequence which is going to bring you over 100k in sales...would you hesitate to pay me 5k even if it's just 10 emails?
  • Profile picture of the author BackinBlack
    Hi,

    It's not semantics at all.

    It's important to make the distinction as the two have different goals entirely.

    I see this all the time and it makes me a little nuts.

    For example: The freelance job boards are full of postings looking for 'copywriters' but, when you dig into the details of the gig you discover what they really need is a content writer.

    I am a direct response (DR) copywriter. I write sales copy. It's designed to do one thing only: sell products.

    It's not designed to encourage a dialogue like blog content writing.

    It's not designed with the goal of having Google rank it high in the SERP's like article writing.

    It's not purely educational like eBook writing (although some eBooks can serve double duty via links to sales pages).

    It can include useful information prospects are interested in to add value to an offer but, ultimately its main purpose is to sell a product.

    Hope this helps
    Brad
  • Profile picture of the author splitTest
    Originally Posted by neshaword View Post

    Some warriors think that is very important to make a clear difference between a copywriter, content writer, and writer. Honestly, I thought it wasn't such a big deal. Then, after seeing that this question repeats itself more than once in a few threads, I decided to pay attention to it. It turns out that you think you know, at least this was the case with me, but actually you don't. So, I did a little bit a research about it.

    A writer is a general term. Hope we can all agree about it. As soon as we associate money and sales with the writing we enter the copywriting zone. I used this formula, which helped me to better understand this semantics gymnastics. Let's see how accurate it is:

    writer + money = copywriter
    and
    writer + sales = copywriter


    I should also mention another definition I stumble upon online. In one of copywriting LinkedIn groups, one guy wrote something like, a copywriter is a writer who tries to achieve the maximum with the minimal number of words. Yet, for some reason, copywriting will be something that I will always associate with the Mad Men TV show and Donald Draper. I know it sounds like a shameless cliche, but I'm helpless in this case.

    So, what's happening with content writers? I guess that a content writer is a writer who doesn't write a copy, but rather the content for some website. If you aren't a copywriter, then you are a content writer. Is this true?

    I just don't get it. Why is it so important for some guys to define themselves and their work as copywriters and copywriting? Does it really matter? I guess it does because they wouldn't be so passionate about it, otherwise. It seems that it is better to be a copywriter than a content writer. Why? I just don't know. Again, if you are asking me, I'm a freelancer. When I write slogans, taglines, and catchphrases, I'm a copywriter. When I write some web pages, I think I'm a content writer. Finally, when I write Terms and Conditions, or Privacy Policy for a website, I'm a paralegal, I guess.

    Here's my question? When I write the content for a landing page, what am I, a copywriter or content writer? I create web content, but with the sales and money-making purposes as a priority.

    So, this is an invitation for all those proud copywriters out there. Enlighten me and show me the right way of copywriting. My hat is ready to fly off just like that if I hear a catchy definition. If you know what you're doing and writing, then coming up with a simple and easy to remember a definition of a copywriter, shouldn't be much of a problem.

    Also, I would like to hear why it is so important to draw a line between copywriters and content writers. What's a big deal about it? I have been writing for a couple of years now, and I still don't have a clue, how to define myself and how it is called what I do for a living.

    Let the semantic games begin!
    heh heh.. The terms are proliferating.

    There's journalist, publicist, content writer, copywriter, marketing copywriter, direct-response copywriter, etc. etc.

    There's overlap in the skill sets, such as when a copywriter writes an "advertorial"... the publicist writes a magazine article... etc.

    Anyhoo -- it really is all semantics, since many commercial writers work in multiple specialties... Not all, but many.

    That being said, "content" is generally about engagement. Keep 'em coming back.

    Copy is about conversion. Persuade them take a specific action, rather than just come back for more content.

    As to why copywriters make more $$ for "similar" work? Measurable results in $$.

    ...& why are some people online so concerned about the terms? Well, for one, you have to know the difference when you're talking to clients. ...But more urgently (online at least): copywriting boards sometimes get flooded with people who don't know the distinctions at all.

    Copywriting then becomes threatened with becoming synonymous with content writing... & that's probably not good for the field.
  • Profile picture of the author laurencewins
    It is FAR from being merely semantics as others have said.

    I am a writer/editor/proofreader.
    I also have sales skills and have written some content that is "salesy."
    However, I don't advertise as a copywriter because people expect more from material produced by copywriters. This includes: writing landing pages, web content, sales letters, sales emails, all to improve the client's traffic. Clients expect more traffic or subscriber or sales, depending on the instructions they give to begin with.

    I hope this has helped you understand a bit more.

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