Content vs. Copy: Are They Different and How?

Content vs copy: they aren't the same, but they are similar and related. Both are major parts of B2B SaaS inbound marketing

If you thought that content and copy are the same thing, then you’d be forgiven. Most people use these two words interchangeably. That’s probably because copywriters are often tasked with writing content, while content writers often find themselves writing copy. 

If you use content vs. copy to mean the same thing, then don’t fret as I do too. However, they are technically two very different things. 

Copy is text that is designed expressly to elicit a response. Calls to action (CTAs), sales emails, and and pay-per-click (PPC) ads are all common examples of copy. They are also things content marketers will find themselves writing.

Content is text that is designed to be useful. So long as people click on the content and find something useful, then it has done its job. Of course, content marketers still hope to monetize those clicks eventually, but that’s a long game.

In this article, I am going to go through all the differences and similarities of content vs. copy. I’ll also explain what kind of copy a content writer is likely to write, as well as what type of content a copywriter is likely to write.

Before going any further, it is worth taking a look at this article if you are confused by any of the terms you see. In that post, I also make a strong argument for hiring an editor and a writer to get the most out of your copy.

Table of Contents

    Are content and copy the same thing?

    Content and copy are not the same thing. They have two very different goals. However, they are often done by the same people, in the same department, and for the same ultimate goal, even if they get there in different ways.

    What is content?

    Content is something useful that attracts people to your website. While I deal (almost) exclusively in written content (as you can see by my portfolio), content also includes videos, podcasts, or even memes that you put out there in the world to attract visitors to your site. Just make sure it is of high quality, relevant to your customer base, and delivered in their preferred format.

    This image is an example of the I can haz cheezburger meme to illustrate that memes are content too. It helps show the content vs. copy differences.

    Yes, this is content too!
    (See what I mean about quality mattering?)

    Content shares the ultimate goal of driving sales through great marketing as copy, but it goes about it in an indirect way. This way is inbound marketing. 

    Inbound marketing is essentially all the non-directly paid advertising the company performs. Instead of pay per click (PPC) marketing, where you give Google Ads good money to get people to click over to your website, inbound marketing is about creating a website your target market wants to visit.

    This is sometimes referred to as flywheel marketing because the more content you make, the more visitors go to your site, the more they like and trust you, and the more they spend. 

    Note that I keep saying visitors, but it is important to get the right visitors. It is also a lot harder to get the right visitors. You need to first get into the minds of your customers and understand what they are looking for. 

    This is the process of building a buyer persona, which is a fictionalized version of your customer base. By deeply understanding your buyers and building a detailed buyer persona, you can produce content that will attract them to your website. 

    Then, it’s a matter of finding a great content marketer (like me) and pumping out tons of useful, interesting, and engaging content.

    What is copy?

    Copy is a lot more direct. It is designed specifically to elicit a response. If you want the viewer to do something specific, then the text is copy and not content. One type of copy I often write are calls to action (CTAs), which are usually found peppered throughout a blog article. 

    This joining of content and copy is particularly effective if you are looking for a lower commitment response. If you want someone to start a free trial today, then a harder sell is going to be more effective. 

    However, if you simply want the customer to return to your blog regularly when a new post appears, then asking them to sign up to a newsletter is a really low-commitment request. This is the kind of response that you can get easily from CTAs found throughout a content article.

    Other types of copy include scripts for commercials, the landing pages of websites (something I personally love working on), and the text found in PPC posts or banner ads.

    What is the defining characteristic of copy?

    The defining characteristic of copy vs. content is that it is designed to elicit a response. If you want the viewer to perform a specific action upon seeing your writing, then that is copy and not content.

    What is the value of content?

    Content is a long-term game. I like to think of it as chucking coal into the engine of a train. (Off the page, I want to see electrified trains powered by green energy so bare with me!) The more you add, the faster the train can go. Then, once it is up to speed, you need to keep adding more coal over time to keep going.

    However, since content is a long-term game that needs a lot of momentum to pay off (usually at least 200,000 words on your blog to see real results), it needs to be paired with good copy. Think of copy as the train tracks.

    You need to lay down the tracks of your route before you can power up your train or else it has nowhere to go. In this now painfully stretched metaphor, there is not content vs. copy but rather content plus copy. They work together for the success of your business.

    What are the differences between content vs. copy?

    Copy is designed to elicit an immediate response from the reader. Content is designed to entice the reader will valuable information so they are happy to come back again and again.

    One place where content and copy really overlap is testimonials and case studies. I have a great template you can use to make writing success stories easier.

    What are the similarities of content vs. copy?

    Content and copy are both tools of marketers. They work together to build a profitable marketing to sales to success funnel. You need both forms of text to build a successful business online. 

    How should you charge for content vs. copy?

    Copy is more difficult. It is also higher stakes. If you mess up a single cold email, you might have lost a portion of your email list permanently by them reporting you as spam or unsubscribing. This why it is worth adding CTAs to content briefs so that content writers aren’t drafting them.

    Conversely, messing up a piece of content is a fact of life. No matter how hard you work to get into the mind of your buyer persona, no matter how perfect the keyword is, not all of your articles are going to rank on the front page of Google and attract visitors. 

    Thankfully, they still help with interlinking and create a better overall visitor experience. You can also always try again, editing the content further or just replacing it. Unlike copy, content is very low stakes that way. Instead of editing this piece tonight, I can post it for the world to see and then go edit it the next time I try to sneak in a link.

    Are content writing and copywriting the same job?

    Yes but no, or maybe no but yes—it really matters who you ask and how. There are absolutely copy-only writers, but for the most part content writing and copywriting are different tasks performed by the same person. Some people will create more content while others more copy.

    Timothy Ware
    Timothy Ware

    Tim is a seasoned B2B SaaS content strategist. He brings his love of all things business to his writing. When he isn’t helping companies with their inbound marketing, you can find him playing one of his newest board games with friends and family.