Online Copywriting vs Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

January 18, 2022 Content Marketing 1 comment

Why do so many brands and companies fare poorly in content marketing?

Often, the single biggest reason behind their failure lies in their inability to separate copywriting from the types of content used in content marketing.

But aren’t these terms interchangeable?

The answer is both “Yes” and “No.”

Before I explain the similarities and differences between online copywriting and content marketing, we should first look at defining what each of these marketing techniques are.

Copywriting Defined

Copywriting is the art and science of writing text for advertisements and other publicity materials. It is either used on its own or to accompany visuals that promote, market and sell a product or service.

Popularised by Madison Avenue advertising agencies back in the early to mid 20th century, copywriting is an integral part of advertising through the ages. Those who watched the Netflix drama series Mad Men would appreciate how integral good copy is to promoting a new product or service.

The wisdom of legendary copywriters like Claude Hopkins (Scientific Advertising anyone?), Joe Sugarman, and David Ogilvy still rings true today.

What about Online Copywriting?

Business photo created by jcomp –

How does copywriting work in the digital world?

Just like the offline world, online copy is employed to persuade your online audiences to take an action. The end goal of good online copy is a transaction or a sale.

This could be anything from filling up a form, signing up for an event, enrolling in a programme, to purchasing an actual item.

Online copywriting may be used for advertising or marketing related content types such as the following:

  • Banner or display ads
  • Social media/ native ads
  • Landing pages
  • Marketing emails
  • Coupons
  • Contests and promotions
  • Electronic Direct Mailers (EDMs)
  • Text overlays on images
  • Text overlays and subtitles on videos

Elements of Online Ad Copy

Depending on your channel, online copywriting may involve crafting the following text components in an online content piece:

  • Headlines: These should catch the eye and address the greatest pain point (or strongest benefit) for any marketing or sales oriented page. (Read this article to learn some nifty headline writing tricks.)
  • Sub-heads: These are normally used to address supporting facts, features or benefits
  • Body Copy: Details of your offer, and the value that you can provide to prospects
  • Call To Actions (CTAs): These direct readers to take specific next steps after reading the content
  • Promotions and Deals: Often used to sweeten the offer and nudge readers to take action
  • Warranties: Trust-builders and risk reducers to further reduce any reader hesitation
  • Customer Testimonials: More selling points to shore up your offer

The length of your online copy really depends on your online channel.

Typically, landing pages and sales-driven emails tend to require more text to bolster your value proposition and encourage readers to fill in a form or place an order.

Social media ads, search ads or display ads, on the other hand, tend to have shorter copy—these are crafted to entice your audience to ‘click through’ the ad more than to fill a form.

What about Content Marketing?

If online copywriting is about crafting content on websites, Facebook, emails and videos, wouldn’t it be the same as content marketing?

Not exactly.

Popularised by Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing can perhaps be defined as follows:

Content Marketing is a marketing technique which involves producing, curating and disseminating valuable content through online channels with the purpose of creating brand awareness, generating business leads, driving sales conversion, or improving customer loyalty.

While both copywriting and content marketing involves crafting online content, the differences lie in the roles that each play:

  • Copywriting: The focus here is to craft copy that markets, promotes and sells a specific product or service online.
  • Content Marketing: The focus here is to provide helpful valuable content that attracts customers to your content hub—your goal isn’t to sell straightaway but to teach and guide.

Perhaps the best way to describe content marketing is the phrase “Youtility” coined by Jay Baer. Quoting from his book, the goal of content marketing is to offer…

… massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.

Editorial Style Content

A key difference between conversion-driven copywriting and utility-focused content marketing lies in the way the pieces are crafted.

Often, the content pieces used in content marketing are more akin to editorial style content. In other words, the stuff which journalists, reporters and technical writers produce such as…

  • Blog articles
  • Educational social media posts
  • Infographics
  • Editorial-style videos
  • “How-tos” and tips
  • Templates and checklists
  • Quizzes
  • Research reports and white papers
  • eBooks
  • Podcasts
  • Email newsletters

While such content pieces also require strong writing skills, the goal isn’t to promote your company or brand but to solve the pain points of your target audiences.

Thus, while the channels may be the same (eg Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, or web pages), the way your content speaks to your audiences will differ.

However, things are not always so clear cut…

Similarities between Copywriting and Content Marketing

Sometimes, a hardworking piece of content can BOTH provide utility to your audiences AND promote your brand.

This can be seen in YouTube videos which both educate and promote a product or service.

Or an article that teaches you how to bake a moist chocolate cake, with a discount coupon that you can redeem at the end.

Both forms of online content must also generate attention from your online consumer. This is probably the most challenging aspect of advertising or content marketing.

From what we’ve seen thus far, it appears that video centric content on social media is going to be the way forward.

Think about Your Tone and Style

Business photo created by freepik –

In the social and digital age, obtuse and convoluted prose no longer work.

Online audiences do not read—rather, they prefer to scan and skim through your content, with their eyes darting along on areas of interest.

In other words, you need to break down your content or copy into bite-sized pieces.

For long-form articles or web pages, this would mean using…

  • Headings and sub-headings
  • Bullet points
  • Bold, italicised, or underlined words for emphasis
  • Incorporating images and videos to break the wall of text
  • Boxes to provide visual variety

Adopting a more informal and conversational style of writing works well for both copywriting and content marketing. Write like the way you speak.

The difference, however, lies in your tone—copywriting normally includes more emotional ‘sales-triggering’ language while the tone used in content marketing is more akin to that of a trainer/ educator.


I hope that this article has been useful in addressing the similarities and differences between both forms of content.

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between the two is to consider the differences between the television series that you watch (eg Game of Thrones on Netflix) and the commercials that run during the breaks.

Or the magazine articles (content) that you read and the ads (copywriting) that inserted between the articles.

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By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.

One Comment

  1. I guess those of us who work with both types of texts know this difference intuitively, but you lay it out really good! I’ve been learning both at Contenteam’s editorial board, and here’s one thing I can be sure. Evolving in both directions helps a lot for writing high-quality texts. You can apply the tricks from marketing filed to regular copywriting and vice versa.

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