Copy vs. Content — What’s The Difference?

“We really need someone to update the copy on our blog.” 

“Think we need some more sales content on our page?”

Whether you work in a small business, a Fortune 500 company, or independently, it’s likely you’ve heard a co-worker, boss, or client say these words.

Or at least a close variation of them. 

Frankly, I can’t say I blame them.

The words “copy” and “content” have been mixed up so often and by so many people that it’s led them to believe that the words are interchangeable. For many people, those words mean the same thing. 

It’s like when people use the word “literally” in their sentences instead of "figuratively."  

You are amazing! I like when you hang out here. — Every time Chris Traeger says “literally”

The word "literally" is used so often and by so many people that this incorrect way of using that word has become socially accepted. 

Now, you can literally get away with using the word “literally” in a sentence, but the same can’t be said when you interchange “copy” and “content.” 

The reality is that “copy” and “content” are two very different forms of writing, and using the wrong word could leave you with materials that aren’t really applicable to your needs. 

So, what’s the difference?


The biggest distinction between “copy” and “content” is the manner in which you want to use these written materials.

Are you trying to convince the reader to make a purchase?

Are you trying to build a relationship with them?

Are you trying to provide the reader with useful and actionable advice? 

These questions are incredibly important when it comes to understanding the difference between “copy” and “content.” 

The better you can define your goal and the purpose of your written material, the better off you are in not just defining that piece of written material, but writing it as well.

Copy

stacked round gold-colored coins on white surface
Credit: Unsplash

If you’re creating copy, you are creating written materials that are specifically dedicated to getting your reader to take action and make a purchase. 

There’s a variety of ways you can go about this too:

  • Mapping out the language on your website homepage 
  • Building a landing page to launch a new product or service 
  • Write a direct mail letter that showcases your product (old-school)
  • Buy a spot in a newspaper and make your ad look like a story (sneaky and effective) 
  • Produce an elaborate email sequence that gives people just enough to do it on their own, but also opt for your services when they run into issues (we’ll get to this later)

Notice the correlation between all five of those points?

The primary goal.

Copywriters want to persuade you to make a buying decision, and each sentence within a piece of copy is strategically placed to help facilitate that end goal or another preferred action (like signing up for a freebie). 

Now, if you’re looking to see what good copy looks like, one of the best places to start is by reading through Gary Halbert’s “Famous Dollar Letter.” 

(TLDR: Halbert sent a sales letter to interested prospects regarding an information package he was selling. To capture their attention, he attached a real dollar bill to every letter he mailed.)

This piece of direct mail (and Halbert himself) is looked at as one of the finest pieces of copy, and millions of aspiring copywriters have referenced this letter for inspiration. 

If you’re looking to learn more about copywriting, that is a fantastic way to start.

And if you want to go above and beyond, handwrite the entire letter!

(We’ll talk about that more in another article.)

Content

two woman sitting near table using Samsung laptop
Credit: Unsplash

If you are looking to create content, you’re doing so with the intent of building a relationship with your audience. 

Yes, you may have goals to convert that reader into a client, but that’s more of an overarching goal than it is a direct goal regarding your content.

Your main goal? 

To offer valuable information that is informative, actionable, and value-based.

Unlike copy, which has every sentence woven together to achieve the goal of conversion, content is a lot looser.

It can be informal. 

Unstructured.

Directionless.

Much like what you’d get in a conversation with one of your friends! 

You’ll know you’ve created great content if it can both connect with your audience and provide them with some sort of value. What that value is depends on the angle you’re going for and the type of audience you want to reach out to. 

But, generally speaking, if your readers can walk away from your content having learned something new, actionable, or both, then you have good content. 


Can They Blend?

Although many may view copy as the “more important” piece of written material — which makes sense since it’s written material dedicated to getting you more money — the truth is that one is not more important than the other.

When done properly, great content works hand-in-hand with copy to make your products and services easier to sell.

Let’s quickly look through the buyer journey for this example client:

Jeff is a communications manager for a medium-sized non-profit organization.

Recently, Jeff has been noticing several accessibility issues within his site, and many stakeholders have expressed frustration around their user experience. 

Concerned, Jeff stumbles across one of Unity’s landing pages that has copy directly related to our Custom Websites package. Jeff is intrigued with all the information the landing page provides him and decides to click on the site to learn more about the agency.

But instead of just learning about the people who make up Unity, he also sees helpful articles that solve many of the issues his current website is experiencing.

Shocked, Jeff decides to bookmark a handful of the blogs and signs up for the Accessibility Insights newsletter just in case he can get more information. 

Jeff has now become a regular user on the site, and when a board member proposes the idea of a new website, Unity is one of the first places he thinks about. 

Cha-ching!

Chris traeger rob lowe GIF on GIFER - by Redfist

Now every buyer’s journey is different and, if we’re being honest, that’s a clean and ideal version of how things would’ve gone (the journey is typically a lot messier). 

But notice how the copy pulled Jeff in? And how the library of content is what helped establish that trust? 

That’s how copy and content can blend together to create an immersive experience for your users. Although there will be people who buy your product immediately after reading your sales copy, there are also people who will need a little more convincing.

That’s where your content can come in. 

If woven together properly, you can create a buyer journey that is focused less on selling and more on relationship building.

And the result?

More leads for you to work with.

And that’s always the goal, right?


Feel free to reach out to us at marketing@unitywebagency.com for any questions and comments you may have!

We’re always happy to chat.

And make sure to sign up for our Accessibility Insights newsletter!

Each month, we’ll send you an accessibility tip you can implement immediately, as well as provide helpful blogs (like this one) that can help you better optimize your website for everyone.