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Long Copy vs. Short, Which One Sells Better?

Well-written, relevant content wins, no matter the length


well-written long-form copy

Long-form copy can outperform short copy in online marketing for promoting certain types of products.

Looking for a long-form copywriter to create a sales page or landing page for your product? Contact Susan Greene for a no-obligation quote on your writing project.

The debate about long-form copy versus short copy is an old one. While long copy is statistically proven to bring better results than short copy, many people believe that long copy simply won’t get read, especially if that copy is on the Internet.

They say, “The Internet is a fast medium. People don’t want to read long blocks of text. They’ll click away.” As any long-form copywriter will tell you, that’s not necessarily true.

In fact, tests show that prospects who are genuinely interested in the product you offer always want more information about it, not less. That’s why so many landing pages are long scrolling narratives. They work!

If visitors are not interested in your offer, no matter how long or short the copy is, they won’t buy. They won’t read 15 words, much less 1,500.

Long-Form Copy Is Like TV Infomercials

Think of the 30-minute infomercials you see on TV. How many times have you been flipping through the channels when an infomercial catches your eye and you end up watching most or all of the program?

Infomercials extremely effective in moving products. That’s why there are so many of them!

long-form sales pages

Think of long-form sales pages as the print version of infomercials, which are extremely effective at generating sales.

Even though infomercials include sales pitches woven throughout the 30 minutes, most buyers don’t pick up the phone and place an order until they’ve watched the entire infomercial. They want every bit of information before they’re ready to pull the trigger, just like prospects who read long-form copy before they make a purchase.

Educate Your Readers

If long-form copy leads to poor results, the problem isn’t the length. Rather, it has to do with the copy’s content. (It could also be due to an unappealing offer, competition or incorrect audience targeting; but those are topics for another day.)

If the copy is boring or doesn’t contain some kernel that the reader can instantly relate to, then he’ll stop reading. However, if the copy, lengthy though it may be, engages, entices, entertains or educates, then you’ll have no problem keeping the reader’s interest.

That was certainly the plan when Mizer Legal, a Virginia law practice, needed a landing page. The firm was seeking to attract defendants for a class-action lawsuit against a large pharmaceutical company. The case was complicated and competing law firms glossed over the details on their web pages.

write long copy

For complicated subject matter, don’t hesitate to write long copy. The audience you’re targeting will appreciate your detailed explanations.

The Mizer attorneys believed that what prospective clients wanted most was an understanding of what the case involved, why it had merit and how they could benefit by becoming involved. Including all that information made for a lengthy landing page, but the law firm marketing team found the strategy was effective in differentiating it from competing law firms as well as converting visitors into solid leads.

Include Pain Points in Your Headline

Any long-form sales copywriter will tell you that the most effective long-form sales pages have stellar headlines. In an article on long-form copywriting tricks, Unbounce says your headline must:

  • Be in a prime position on the page
  • Address a pain or problem
  • Reference a positive result or benefit
  • Use enticing words and phrases

When writing your headline, your goal isn’t to attract everyone. Target your ideal customers. It’s okay if 90% of people don’t find your headline and copy appealing. You’re not writing for them.

You’re writing for the 10% of people who are good prospects for your product or service. Those are the people whose eye you’ll catch with the headline and who will go on to devour your copy seeking more information on the subject.

“Take-It-From-Me” Testimonials

Third-party endorsements or testimonials can carry tremendous weight in persuading prospects to buy. They should be relatable so that the reader thinks, “If it worked for him, then it should work for me too.”

Testimonials can speak to common objections and neutralize any concerns. They can help you to make an emotional connection with buyers, which can be a powerful tool for converting new customers.

testimonial

Ask the customer providing a testimonial to send you their photo as well. It can help increase trust in their comments.

Rather than thinking of testimonials as a single sentence or two that speaks in general terms about the product, aim to create mini-stories that explain a person’s problem and how it was solved. They can be so much more compelling than a generic statement like, “This product is great.”

Include a name with the testimonial and possibly their job title or geographic location if relevant. That extra piece of information can add credibility to their words.

If possible, also include a photo with the testimonial. Perhaps the person speaking can send you one or you can grab one from their social media accounts (with their permission, of course).

Another option is to have the person do a video testimonial in which they talk candidly about how the product has changed their life in a positive way. Feel free to mix and match different types of testimonials. Allow satisfied customers to tell their story in whatever way they’re most comfortable.

Tests Show, Long Copy Outperforms Short

When well written, long copy can significantly outperform short copy and lead to a much greater level of response. Prospects want more product information, particularly when buying on the Internet where they can’t see in person, touch or test-drive the product.

lengthy copy

Lengthy copy gives you the space to speak to buyer objectives and alleviate buyer concerns.

Detailed feature and benefit statements are the golden nuggets that tempt prospects and cause conversions. They put readers into a buying mood by answering their questions, tackling their objections and neutralizing their anxiety about making a purchase.

Generally speaking, the more expensive the product, the more persuasive you’ll need to be, so longer copy might be necessary to fully explain all the selling points.

“When people aren’t familiar with your brand, they tend to have more questions and concerns,” says QuickSprout in its analysis of long vs. short copy. “Through longer marketing copy, you can answer these objections. As a general rule of thumb, if your brand is less than three years old, you’ll find you need longer marketing copy.”

Shorter copy can potentially lead to several negative outcomes:

  • A lower response rate due to lack of compelling information
  • A barrage of information or customer service requests because the copy didn’t successfully answer the prospect’s questions
  • A higher number of cancellations or refund requests because the product or service was not what the customer anticipated based on the limited information he read.
longer copy selling points

For expensive, big-ticket items, longer copy might be necessary to fully explain all the selling points and persuade the buyer to take action.

Sometimes Shorter Is Better

As with most rules, there are exceptions. Sometimes shorter copy can perform, such as in the following circumstances:

  • What you’re selling is low-cost and low-risk.
  • Your reader has already pre-qualified himself through your process and is therefore ready to buy; no additional persuasion necessary.
  • You’re asking the reader to make an emotional decision to take action.
  • The reader is familiar with your name from previous engagements and already trusts you/your brand (i.e. Apple, Mercedes, etc.)
  • You have limited space, such as a small display ad.

The Optimum Length

If you’re writing for the Web, just how many words should a page contain? You’ll need at least 300 words for maximum effectiveness. While that might seem like a lot, a 300-word count for each page balances search engine and reader objectives.

Search engine spiders crave content, especially keyword-rich content. You may see “a lot of words,” but the search engines see “a document with lots of important data to offer the searcher.” In fact, often the pages that rank highest have far more than 300 words. They are detailed write-ups that have over 2,000 words.

edit long-form copy

Even if you’ve decided to go long-form, edit your copy carefully so that it doesn’t ramble or take longer than necessary to make your main points.

The trick is to make sure that content isn’t wasteful or boring.  If it doesn’t contain interesting facts or compelling reasons to take action, you’ve gone too far.  Edit ruthlessly or you’ll lose your reader. And feel free to intersperse calls-to-action throughout the text so that at whatever point readers feel ready to buy, they can easily make a purchase.

Include Keywords for SEO

If you follow usability principles, you can write tons of text without overwhelming your reader. Besides if the search engines, primarily Google, see a lot of keyword phrases combined with a low-word count, they could flag your site for spamming.

search engine rank

Lengthy copy on a particular subject often ranks higher on search engines than short copy and positions you as a subject matter expert.

A higher word count makes it easier to include your keywords and related phrases multiple times for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) without looking like you’re trying to game the search engines, which can lower your ranking.

Use Subheads to Break Up Text

If your copy is lengthy, the best thing you can do to increase readability is include subheads. Subheads not only break up long blogs of text, they also entice the visitor to keep reading. They catch the eye and propel the visitor forward.  They also appeal to skimmers, who quickly search through copy to first determine its relevance before reading for details.

As for the main headline, traditional thinking is to limit it to eight words or less. However, a better rule of thumb is to use the headline to highlight the most compelling benefit,  even if that requires more than eight words.

Go Long

Do you lose customers with scrolling copy? No, according to a study by User Interface Engineering (UEI). “One of the most significant findings of our research on web site usability is that users are perfectly willing to scroll. However, they’ll only do it if the pages gives them strong clues that scrolling will help them find what they’re looking for,” reports the article As the Page Scrolls from UEI.

“In the trade-off between hiding content below the fold or spreading it across several pages, readership increases when the content is on a single page.”

In other words, you’ll lose fewer readers to scrolling than to clicking. So, go long. Just keep in mind this one suggestion from CoSchedule in its Insider’s Guide to Writing High Converting Long-Form Sales Copy” Always make sure the purchase information is easy to find, including price, deadlines, guarantees, payment options, etc.”

Don’t Guess, Test

No rule regarding headline or copy length is absolute.  You must take into account the product, the target audience and the desired action you want the visitor to take (subscribe, request information or buy).

test your page with users

If you create an A and B version of your sales page, you’ll be able to test for effectiveness. Try different headlines, visuals and overall length to see what generates the greatest response.

The only way to know with certainty what works best is to run some A/B tests. Compare the results of a lengthy page versus a much shorter one.  Test different headlines too to see which one is most effective.

Finally, test any photos or graphics you’ve included. Then let the data be your guide.  It’s likely to be more accurate than attempting to predict effectiveness.

Ultimately, in the debate between long copy vs. short, the winner is what works best for your unique situation.

Contact Susan Greene

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Phoenix, Arizona

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