What is Copy? Content vs. Copy

Updated 15 Dec, 2023 | Marketing

Some people use the terms ‘copy’ and ‘content’ interchangeably, which can cause all sorts of confusion, especially when you’re talking to a content creator. Here’s what you need to know about these two terms. The choice is yours: listen to the audio or keep reading by scrolling down.

What is copy?

 A man reacting to a piece of social content.

Copy is any text that’s designed to (directly) get the reader to take an action.

The most well-understood example of a type of copy is sales copy, which is designed to get the reader to buy something. A product description is a good example of a piece of sales copy that’s designed to get someone to buy something. The text on buttons is also copy because it’s designed to get the audience to click on the button.

But buying something isn’t the only action you might want a reader to take. You might want the recipients of a particular email to read the blog post you’ve linked to. You might want readers of a blog post to read the next post in your series. Or you might want people who read one of your posts on social media to ‘like’ or reply to the post.

In the above examples, the majority of the text may be designed to engage your audience in some way, and it may only be a subset of the text that aims to elicit an action from your audience. For instance, in a 2000-word blog post, there might only be one short sentence of copy, right at the end of the post, that encourages the reader to click through to the next blog post in the series.

What is content?

A man creating some content using a laptop. An example of a piece of content shows that it can consist of video, audio, text, and more.

All media is content. Copy is a type of content. Informational text that doesn’t tell someone to do something is content. Photos are content. Illustrations are content. Videos and audio files are content too. Even a live stage show is content.

How is copy different from content?

A woman thinking about several pieces of content and copy and wondering how to tell which is classed as which

All copy is a type of content, but not all content is copy. One easy way to tell whether a piece of text is classed as copy is to look at whether the words tell the reader to do something. For example, if the text says something like ‘buy now’, ‘click here’, ‘read this’, ‘check out this video’, or anything similar, then it’s definitely copy.

However, not all copy comes right out and tells the audience to do something.

For example, an email subject line’s job is to stand out in inboxes and get people to pay attention to the email. Then the preheader (preview) text is designed to get the audience to open the email. Most of the time, the subject line doesn’t include the words ‘look at this email’ and the preheader text doesn’t include the words ‘open this email’. But a copywriter can cleverly construct a couple of phrases of text that do the same job.

Similarly, a product description doesn’t just say ‘buy my product’ over and over again. It tells the audience about the product and why it makes an awesome purchase for people just like them. And then it has a call-to-action at the end that tells the reader to click the buy button.

A copywriter writes copy. Content writers craft other kinds of written content. Some writers are both.

So, if you’re looking at a piece of text and you’re not sure whether it’s copy, ask yourself what the purpose of the text is. Is it designed to inform, entertain, or otherwise engage the audience? Or is it designed to get the audience to buy something? The former is content, the latter is content too, but it’s also copy.

Note, the unique characteristics of copy mean the skills of content writers and copywriters are worth different amounts.

It takes skill to properly research a topic and then turn that research into a coherent, useful, and engaging piece of text. It takes even more skill to do that in a way that will enable lots of people to find the content when they search for it. (A content writer who specialises in search engine optimisation (SEO) will do that.)

But it takes far more skill to get inside the audience’s head to understand how to write something that will get them to do what you want them to do. And it takes the most skill to write copy that will get people buying while also generating the best search performance. (An SEO copywriter does that.)

What is copy — TLDR;

several pieces of copy and content including a video, list, article with images and a CTA, and a graph
  • Content is any media, from text to images, videos to audio, and even live performances
  • Copy is a specific type of text content that aims to get the audience to do something (like buy a product or read a blog post)
  • You can distinguish copy from other types of textual content by determining whether the text seeks to elicit an action, or to inform, entertain, and engage
  • Copywriting and content writing are distinct skills and many writers can do one or the other but not both
  • Not all content writers and copywriters can write text that attracts lots of search users