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Long Copy vs. Short, Which One Sells Better?

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

posted under Use Content Marketing to Build Your Brand

Long copy vs. short copy for online marketing

Well written, long copy can outperform short copy and generate a greater response.

The debate about long 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.”

The reality is 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.

Educate Your Readers

If long copy leads to poor results, the problem isn’t the length. Rather, it has to do with the copy’s content.

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.

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 found the strategy was effective in differentiating it from competing law firms as well as converting visitors into solid leads.

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.

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, diffusing their objections and reducing 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.

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.

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 product or service from previous engagements and already trusts you/your brand.
  • 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.

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.

Include Keywords for SEO

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

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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.

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).

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The only way to know with certainly 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.

Need help with a writing project? Ask a professional copywriter. Contact Susan Greene today!

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