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Copywriting vs Content Writing vs SEO Writing – What’s the Difference? 

 January 8, 2020

By  Csaba Borzasi

Copywriting vs Content Writing vs SEO Writing v. Conversion Copywriting vs Direct Response Copywriting...


It seems like there are just so many types of writing.


But what's the main difference between them?


And how do you make sure you use the right one for the right situation?


This article will hopefully help you answer that, by debunking the most important differences between copywriting vs content writing vs all other types of writing.


After reading it, you'll know exactly what each of these does and you'll never again feel awkward on a sales call discussing an exciting new project, whether you're a freelancer applying for a job, or a client looking for a talented copywriter.


Look, choosing the wrong type of "writing" can have pretty much disastrous consequences for your business.


So I made this article and video to help you avoid that.


(FULL video version below)

Interested in more great content on copywriting? Check out my Copywriting Resource Hub where you'll find in-depth guides, interesting case studies, and practical resources that will help you boost your conversions and sell more, without being salesy or aggressive.

Now, here's the problem:


Most people have absolutely no idea what all these types of writing mean.


And if they use the wrong one, they'll have a pretty big problem on their hands. 


Why?


Let me give you a simple example. 


Let's say you want to sell something online...


In this case, you should definitely use sales copywriting - because it's specifically designed to help you convert more prospects into buyers.


However, if you make the mistake of using content writing or technical writing instead, that text is not going to resonate with people the same way, and you can be reasonably sure that your conversion rates will be pretty low.


You are going to lose a ton of potential customers. 


And the same concept is true in reverse when, say, you want to rank higher on Google.


In this case, you definitely want to use SEO copywriting.


Because if you focus your messaging on persuading people, then you won't have an opportunity for the search engine to crawl the optimal keywords that you want, and you're going to miss out on a big opportunity to gain organic traffic.


So remember, there's a place for everything... and today, I'm going to show you which type of "writing" means what.

Interested in more great content on copywriting? Check out my Copywriting Resource Hub where you'll find in-depth guides, interesting case studies, and practical resources that will help you boost your conversions and sell more, without being salesy or aggressive.

Content Writing: The Teacher

Alright, our first contender in this copywriting vs content writing match is content writing.


...which is pretty much one of the most common types of writing online or offline.


In a nutshell, content writing basically means you just write something, anything that people read with the aim of teaching something.


Of course, you preferably make it enjoyable for them so they actually go ahead and read it, instead of just skimming through.


Now, with that being said, is content writing easy?


No. Heck no.


Actually, you have to learn a lot to become a great writer and this is one of those subtle things that can really show the difference between a good writer and a GREAT writer.


Because whenever you're reading something from a great writer, you're going to be sucked in, pulled into the text like there's no tomorrow.

Now, with content writing, the aim is to make the text as enjoyable (yet still usually educative) as possible.


Why?


Because that's the way people are going to read more and more of your stuff. 


So if you're a blogger, if you have a content marketing strategy - and this is where content writing is absolutely crucial - then you want to make sure that your text is easy to digest, enjoyable, and talks about things that are important to the reader.


Plus, good content simply "sounds nice" and has an enjoyable flow.


It's also advisable to make this type of content conversational, as if you were talking to a friend at a bar.


But obviously, there are going to be differences depending on the type of publication...


Something more professional is going to have a "stricter" tone compared to something more friendly, young, or upbeat. 


Now, should you use content writing to sell something?


No, absolutely not.


And the thing that you should use instead is...


Copywriting: Your Salesman in Print

Alright, we have our 2nd contestant in this copywriting vs content writing tutorial.


Copywriting.


Also called - in the context that I refer to it here - sales copywriting, direct response copywriting, or conversion copywriting.


Now, if you don't know anything about this type of copywriting, you should definitely get to know it better because it's one of the most profitable skills that you could ever have.


(No wonder a lot of people call it the #1 Money Skill)


Why is that?


Well, simple. It's because copywriting is the art and science or stringing together words that sell and make people take action...


...Not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, but right now.


And that's why good copywriting is so incredibly valuable to marketers, business people, and basically everyone else. 


Plus, even if you just want to persuade your high school sweetheart to go to the big dance with you, guess what? 


You're going to use copywriting.


However, writing really good copy is hard... very, VERY hard. 


Like, think how hard it is to persuade people to do something... anything... without explicitly manipulating them or forcing them to do it.

Well, that's the aim of copywriting: to make people do the thing you want them to do, without feeling like they were forced into it. 


Instead, they should feel like it was their own intrinsic idea.


This type of copywriting originated from direct response marketing, and became known as direct response copywriting, because - unlike various TV ads or brand marketing messages - the aim here was to get a direct response from people.


So for example, during the glorious mail order business days, people would get a mail package and there would be a letter inside - a sales letter.


And the whole aim of this sales letter was to get people to mail in a check or just buy something right from that letter.


And the same applies today to emails, landing pages, or long-form sales pages


Click on one (or all) of links above to read insightful articles and case studies for these various types of copy. Also, if you want to learn more about long-form sales pages, check out these 2 in-depth case study videos in which I deconstruct and analyze 2 great examples.  Marie Forleo's Copy Cure and Rainmaker Email Mastery.


There are TONS of gold nuggets inside, so I wholeheartedly recommend them.


Anyway, getting back to breaking down the main differences between copywriting vs content writing, one (often-overlooked thing) is quite clear:


You need a totally different skillset for real direct response copywriting.


You need to have a deep understanding of Human Psychology, Behavioral Economics, and all those subtle things that make people do something.


It's not enough to be good writer...


In fact, most people who have a degree in writing or a lot of knowledgeable in literature are going to have a hard time learning copywriting... because they'll have to unlearn dozens of things they've studied in the past.


Compared to content writing, copywriting operates by wildly different rules.


For example:


You cannot really have long paragraphs in copywriting.


You want to make the text as clear as possible.


And there are some usual grammar rules that simply don't apply to certain markets - because you always want to write like your target audience talks.


If they think like ordinary people, talk like ordinary people, and buy like ordinary people, you definitely want to write to them in a tone which is congruent with ordinary people - even if that may not be technically correct.


(and pro tip: don't use the word "congruent" in your copy ?)


So just keep this in mind, and remember, the aim of copywriting is to get people to do something - not just to passively consume your information.


Btw, here's a cool video of mine that will definitely help you with that.


Conversion Copywriting: The Scientific Method

Basically, you could group conversion copywriting and direct response copywriting together, however, I'm going to talk about conversion copywriting separately here since not that many copywriters use it to full effect.

Why?


Because conversion copywriting is heavily based on customer research and gathering something called "voice-of-customer-data"...


...things that average copywriters (and clients, for that matter) hate spending time doing.


Yet, it is precisely its data-driven nature that makes conversion copywriting so effective at converting (even cold) prospects into loyal customers.


It's all about knowing your audience really well, uncovering their pains, fears, hopes and desires, and discovering voice-of-customer-data with advanced techniques like review minding.


How does that work, you ask?


In essence, you go to places like Amazon, and you search around for what people say about books in the niche your product (or the product you want to promote) is in.


You also look closely at comments and testimonials you already have to discover various patterns regarding what people really desire in similar products.


Conversion copywriting isn't about writing something that sounds "nice", "creative", or like "wordsmithing"... no.


It's about writing based on a rock-solid process, using hard data that you can use and test. 


Because that's what works. There no such thing as a magic bullet.


So, whenever you need a landing page, sales page, sales email, or anything related to direct response, it's best if you use conversion copywriters who know this process from the inside out.


Plus, you should know that good conversion copywriting never really stops... 


Once good conversion copywriters have their first variation, they perpetually test it and optimize it based on real-world feedback.


And this is the most important difference between conversion copywriting vs content writing (and anything else).


A conversion copywriter has a data-driven system that involves a lot of testing (A/B testing, user testing, heat mapping software, etc.) - and they write, refine, and iterate based on that data.


If you want to know more about conversion copywriting, here's a useful video with 5 proven tips that can help you double your conversions rates, if implemented well.


SEO Writing: Make Google Your B*tch

But what if you're looking for a way to organically rank higher on Google?


In that case, you need SEO writing (also called SEO copywriting).


However, after explaining what the term "copywriting" (direct response or conversion) stands for in marketing campaigns, it's wise to distinguish SEO copywriters from "normal" direct response copywriters.


Because SEO copywriters don't really write copy that needs to convert...


They do content writing in a way that's SEO optimized and Google-friendly.


They heavily use and incorporate various short-tail and long-tail keywords into their writing so that it's going to rank higher in Google's search.


This means their content is less about doing everything possible to persuade someone, and more about doing a lot of keyword research and writing based on various ranking trends. 


That being said, SEO writing is absolutely crucial for any content marketing strategy.


If you were to get a regular direct response copywriter or conversion copywriter to write something that needs rank high in Google...


...you'd probably get nowhere, since that text would be optimized for the human element - to get people to act right now and buy.


On the other hand, a good SEO writer would come up with text aimed at the algorithm, while still making it valuable and easy to read  (since that's one of the most important ranking factors).


By the way, a few years ago, you could easily "keyword-stuff" text and it would rank high, but nowadays, this doesn't really work anymore because Google is looking for genuinely helpful content - just written to the algorithm's liking.


So remember, SEO copywriters are basically content writers who write SEO-optimized text for content marketing campaigns.


They're not conversion engineers like direct response or conversion copywriters.


Common Scenarios for Business Owners

So now that we've covered several types of writing, let's talk about making the most of them in certain situations.


If you're a business owner and you're looking for a "writer", you should definitely know that if you hire a true copywriter (conversion, sales, or direct response) you're going to get text that's main objective is to get the sale.


As a result, these copywriters are going to be more expensive, since the skills involved are quite sophisticated, combining knowledge from various fields of study to engineer a text that converts. 


However, if you just want to get a blog post or content piece for your content marketing strategy, then you shouldn't really hire direct response copywriters because they're going to be much more expensive, and their expertise is to get the sale, not to rank high.


In this case, you need content writers or SEO writers who are going to give you engaging text that people are gonna love reading.


Plus, they're going to be much more affordable. 


And the same applies if YOU'RE a freelance writer and you see a job post which says:


"Sales copywriter wanted"


In this case, the company is looking for someone who can boost their numbers and conversion rates, and generate more sales.


However, if they're looking for an SEO copywriter, content writer, or creative writer, they're really after high-quality content.


Problem is... tons of clients totally confuse this...


They say "copywriter"... but they rarely thinking of conversion copywriting, for example.


In their minds, writers are mostly the same.


Plus, they don't know how much work, skill, knowledge, and process is involved in crafting text for direct response landing pages or sales pages that truly convert.


(It's not just coming up with something off the top-of-your-head and that's it - far from it!)


However, that's a huge mistake and you have to know these distinctions in advance.


But that's what this article is for, right?


Still, most of the time, typical clients are going to look for basically a "Jack of all trades".


And listen, it's good to know about all these types of writing and all...


But if you want to make real money and you're a more qualified copywriter, then you should only work with clients who are looking for copy that converts... because that's where the real money's at.


On the flipside, you gotta be really good.


(not to say that content writing can't pay well, but copywriting is usually much more lucrative)


On the other hand, if you're a blog writer or content writer, you can pretty much take any writing job you want because *maybe* it'll include some copywriting elements... but I'm sure that you're going to able to handle it. 


Should You Learn Direct Response Copywriting? (Plus 7 Good Copywriting Books that You Should Read)

So now that I told you all these good stuff about copywriting, here's the million dollar question:


Should you learn it? Should you get better at it?


Well, my answer is yes, definitely.


As I said, direct response or (conversion) copywriting is one of those high-income skills that will serve you for the rest of your life.


Whatever you write is going to be good for emails, landing pages, sales pages, video scripts... anything that needs to move people to do something. 


So where should you start, in case you're just getting started with copywriting?


Well, my recommendation is that you start with one of these 7 books. 



1 - Joseph Sugarman: Advertising Secrets of the Written Word (also called The Adweek Copywriting Handbook)

content writing copywriting

Written by Joseph Sugarman, a master copywriter back in his day, this book is going to give you tons of gold nuggets on how to structure a sales message, what elements to include, and how to generally persuade people with your writing.


It's really good and I guarantee you're going to love it.


Another great book is...



2 - David Ogilvy: On Advertising

SEO copywriter vs content writer vs direct response

If you've haven't heard of him yet, just know that David Ogilvy is one of the most legendary marketers who ever lived. He's revered to this day, and with good reason.


(Btw, did you know that Don Draper from the hit TV-series "Mad Men" was loosely modeled after David Ogilvy? Yepp.)


His signature book, On Advertising is going to change your mind in how you look at persuasion and marketing. I recommend you read it.



3 - Gary C. Halbert: The Boron Letters

copywriting books

Gary Halbert was the most OG copywriter in his day. He probably sold several billion dollars worth of things back in the eighties and seventies.


His signature book is basically about his thoughts written to his son from prison. Although this doesn't really sound "copywriterly", there are tons of gold nuggets inside. Go ahead and check it out.



4 - Anne Lamott: Bird By Bird

types of copywriting

Although this handy little book isn't explicitly about copywriting, it will make you a better writer in general.


This is especially useful if you're having trouble stringing words together or you're suffering from "blank page syndrome" (not knowing what to write about). This book will help you power through it.



5 - Stephen King: On Writing

Online copywriting vs content writing

Listen, Stephen King is one of the most recognized writers ever. I think it's safe to say that he definitely knows his craft. If you want to get an insider's look into the way he writes, you should read this book. It's not entirely about copywriting, but it's a gem.



6 - Peter Bowerman: The Well-Fed Writer

copywriting or content writing

This is a more practical book that will help you make money as a writer. It will teach you about the right mindset, how to pitch clients, how to get paid, what to charge, and how to not lose your sanity in the process. 



7 - Eugene Schwartz: Breakthrough Advertising

breakthrough advertising

Alright, let's talk about the big elephant in the room: Breakthrough Advertising is bloody expensive (although you can get it for $125 via the link above).


Yet, despite its price (or maybe because of it...), it's considered to be the best book on copywriting and marketing ever written - and that's saying something.


I've read it myself and I can definitely attest to its brilliance. Breakthrough Advertising is one of those books that you should read and re-read dozens of times because you'll discover something revolutionary about it every single time.


Even though it's almost considered a relic, if you're serious about copywriting, you can't go wrong with it... if you're willing to pay for it.


But hey, you gotta spend money to make money, right? 🙂

CONCLUSION


At this point, hopefully you understand the copywriting vs content writing conundrum.


However, the truth is that tons of businesses (and rookie freelancers) still confuse them ALL. THE. TIME.


Seriously, it’s not even funny… Especially if you’ve ever tried hiring/being hired on places like Upwork.


So, to dispel the confusion once and for all, here’s a quick rundown of the 3 major types of writing covered in this article:


CONTENT WRITING 


  • Used to write pretty much anything
  • The main goal is for people to read it
  • It has to be enjoyable and easy to read
  • Essential for content marketing
  • Not the best for making sales


DIRECT RESPONSE / SALES/ CONVERSIONS COPYWRITING


  • ALL about persuasive messages that sell something (click, subscribe, buy)
  • Heavily based on Psychology, Behavioral Economics, and Human Decision Making
  • Has a rigorous process: customer research, data analysis, wireframing, A/B testing
  • It’s one of those $$$ skills that will serve you for the rest of your life


SEO WRITING


  • Basically, it's content writing with the aim of ranking high in search engines
  • Incorporates various short-tail AND long-tail keywords
  • Crucial for SEO but not really optimized for conversions
  • The backbone of any content marketing strategy

And there you have it.


From now one, you’ll know the main differences, and avoid the costly mistake of confusing copywriting vs content writing - regardless if you’re hiring someone or doing it yourself.


Here's one more quick overview that you might find helpful from a freelancer/business perspective.



FREELANCERS


If you encounter a client looking to "make more sales", then they’re definitely after a direct response/sales/conversion copywriter who knows how to persuade and boost their bottom line.


This requires a unique skill set but if you possess it, you’ll be rewarded handsomely.


But then again, if the project is more about blog writing, article writing, or generating more shares online, then they’re probably looking for a content writer or SEO writer - requiring a totally different skill set. 



BUSINESSES 


If you’re a business and you want text that converts, you definitely want a direct response, sales, or conversion copywriter.


They'll give you copy that's specifically engineered to make your readers say "YES!"... thereby landing you the sale. 


However, if you’re looking to rank higher on Google or just want to kick your content marketing efforts up a notch, then you definitely need content writing or SEO writing.


Interested in more great content on copywriting? Check out my Copywriting Resource Hub where you'll find in-depth guides, interesting case studies, and practical resources that will help you boost your conversions and sell more, without being salesy or aggressive.

Csaba Borzasi


Csaba Borzási is the founder of Game of Conversions. After spending 10 years learning the ins and outs of persuasion psychology, Csaba now focuses on what he loves most: helping ambitious entrepreneurs grow their online business and get more profitable customers. When he isn't geeking out on discovering how the human mind works, you can probably find him climbing a mountain, dancing salsa, or traveling around the globe.

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