Copy vs. Content: Similarities, Differences, and Why You Should Care

What's the difference between copy and content? One informs and the other persuades. Here’s how you know which one to use.

Copywriting: copy and content are not the same
Copy and content might overlap, but a copywriter knows the difference!

As online writers, our job is to increase interest, engagement, and momentum. As such, we seek to avoid rote repetition, nearly at all costs. Using the same word twice in succession is jarring to thought, irking the brain like sand on your tongue. 

Thus, every written endeavor is a conscious quest for fresh phrasing, for furthering intrigue and interest in ways that retain meaning, and fall short of glib or facile. Blue is cerulean, light is lamp, and photo becomes image. 

But when writers blur the lines between two things that aren’t exactly the same? Things get tricky.

Enter the age-old copy vs. content debate. Over time, copy and content have become synonymous. But at their core, the two are distinct.

In our view, put simply, content is information and copy persuasion. 

  • Content seeks to furnish truth, through data, anecdotes, and reasoning. As with journalism, the content writer’s intentions are to inform, while establishing trust and credibility. Successful content gets readers to consider new information–and ponder how it impacts their worldview. Content provokes thought, building upon what he or she already knows.
  • Copy sells readers on a viewpoint. Its goal is to take them on a journey, not to inform, but to persuade. For example, ad copy leverages the reader’s values a la Don Draper, without having to provide context, reasoning, relevance, conjecture. But long-form marketing copy—such as a website page—includes all of these components, if executed well. 

In that vein, copy can be considered content, but content isn’t necessarily copy. There’s plenty of overlap, too. A blog post (content) might seek genuinely to inform, with commercial objectives (copy). And a website page (copy) might tell the reader something new (content), in the process of creating that coveted conversion (copy).

Another way to distinguish between the two is to consider length and detail. Content pieces are typically longer, like blog posts and eBooks, while copy is short and to the point, like site landing pages or ad taglines. Since copy tends to be shorter, there is more emphasis on every word and how it lends itself to the ultimate goal of persuasion. In a way, headlines can be considered copy for a content page; they convince a potential reader to dig in and explore the topic.

So if the two can overlap, why is the distinction important?

Well, there’s obviously a semantic difference. I do feel like I’m often personally caught in the debate of where one begins, and the other ends. People are compelled to get their terminology right, and you know what? Bravo for them. If they weren’t, we’d be out of a job.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. The best commercial copywriters today produce top-notch content and copy. They manipulate language to tell stories and persuade readers of something—be it a dramatic action (buy this!) or a subtler one (share that). The bottom line is knowing that the writer your team is hiring can move from one realm to another smoothly, easily, and with an eye toward measurable success.

Wondering how and when you should use copy versus content—and if you’re currently doing it right? Reach out to MarketSmiths today.

Caroline Harrington

Caroline Harrington

Caroline likes to say that all roads led to MarketSmiths. With a resume full of
communications experiences that include PR, journalism, and publishing, she feels the
common thread for her has always been a desire to write. If you ask her grandmother, she’ll say that
Caroline was born to write.

In her free time, Caroline likes to troll Pinterest for DIY projects, explore art museums, and eat her way through NYC—all while quoting Lord of the Rings.

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