Copywriting, content writing and the problem with ‘just the words’

What’s the difference between copywriting and content writing? It matters to some but, to many, it doesn’t. Ultimately, copywriting and content are about using words to persuade.

But there’s a problem. Too many people see those words as a cheap commodity and not a professional service. So it doesn’t get much time or budget in projects, which leads to low quality work, and time and budget wasted.

Including copy in the early stages of a project leads to better business results. That’s something writers need to make clear to their customers. It’s up to writers to show people the value of copy as a service versus words as a commodity.

Words equal action

The terms copywriter and content writer are often used interchangeably to say the same thing. Some will argue there’s a difference. That a copywriter is someone who writes to sell, and a content writer is someone who writes to inform, entertain or build relationships.

But both copywriting and content writing involve writing to persuade. The writer’s job is to persuade the reader to take action in some way. Whether that’s buying, donating, clicking or leaving a comment.

And as Clare Barry (a fellow copywriter) says, the best copy and content comes from good ideas.

When I tell people I’m a copywriter, they have no idea what I mean. They think it has something to do with copyright law.

I once explained to someone that a copywriter is, put simply, someone who writes the words you see on adverts, websites, brochures and other stuff.

They asked me what this has to do with the law.

When I tell people I’m a content writer, they know what I mean. I’m someone who writes the words on websites.

But that’s a problem.

Why knowing what content writing is isn’t always good

People know copy and content writers do the words.

Just the words.

That’s it.

When you just do the words, it means you’re not part of content strategy or design. That stuff gets time and a budget.

When you just do the words, you’re the person brought in at the last minute to fill in the lorem ipsum boxes. At which point there’s little time and budget left.

When you do just the words, you get overlooked for projects where you should be involved. Someone told me they didn’t ask for my help for a video they were working on ‘because it’s not a words thing.’ But videos need scripts. And scripts need words.

Admittedly, writing scripts isn’t my area of expertise. But plenty of copywriters are great at it.

Video isn’t the only area where a writer’s contributions may go ignored. It can happen on almost anything that’s ‘not a copy thing’ but should be.

When you do just the words, you’re not seen as someone who offers a valuable service. You’re seen as someone who offers a cheap commodity. A commodity you can get from content mills, which are infamous for offering words at exploitative prices and ultra-fast turnarounds.

So often, the words you get here are written to fit and not fit for purpose. The writer doesn’t get time to know what goals the words are supposed to help achieve or what design they’re working with. This leads to bad quality writing that needs re-working, usually by someone who’s not a writer. Ironically, it’s a waste of time and budget.

As Felicity Wild (another fellow copywriter) says, pay us peanuts and get a big pile of monkey poo.

Get your copywriter involved involved

How do you make sure your words are fit for purpose?

By getting writers more involved at an earlier stage.

When business goals are being decided, so they can write copy that helps achieve them.

When the design is being worked out, so they can see how their words will look and write them in the most effective way possible.

When you’re launching projects you might not see as a ‘words thing’, like video. There may not be words to read. But there are words to hear and emotions to stir.

When businesses include copy in their time and budget, it pays off.

Writers need to make this clear to their prospective customers.

We need to show businesses the value of copy as a service, and the cost of words as a commodity.

A valuable service, not a cheap commodity

Despite some differences, copywriting and content writing mean the same thing to lots of people. Both are persuading the reader to take action in some way, using words.

The problem is the words are often seen as a cheap commodity when they should be a valuable part of any project.

Businesses need to consider copy at all stages of their projects. And writers need to show customers that writing as a service, not a commodity, will lead to better business results.

First published on


30th May 2020

Vidura Arya

Quite a different and interesting blog post. It’s sad how content writing is not viewed as a skill that is as valuable as any other skill in the marketing.
Good job with the blog anyway!

1st June 2020

Greg Henley

Thanks Vidura. Glad you found this interesting.

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