Here's a reprint of an answer I gave a student in another forum who asked:
“Long copy? Or short copy?”
1. Long copy versus short copy has been the single greatest debate since the beginning of the printing press. But long copy always outperforms short copy. Don't be long for the sake of being long. Be long for the sake of providing as much information as is needed to make the sale — and not one word more.
2. People object to reading copy because: a) they are not targeted and b) the copy is boring. “Length” is the excuse because it's a common currency. “Boring” is subjective. “Long” is objective. When copy starts to bore you, you naturally are inclined to say it's “too long.” It's too long because of the fact that it started to drag, causing the reader to lose interest.
3. Speaking of targeting, this is crucial. The previous poster said, “I would read it if it's something I'm interested in, like John's TrafficSecrets.com.” And that's exactly the key. As Dan Kennedy said:
The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy' makes the mistake of thinking they are the customer. And they're not. We are never our own customers. There's a thing in copywriting I teach called ‘message-to-market match'. It is this: when your message is matched to a target market that has a high level of interest in it, not only does responsiveness go up but readership goes up, too. The whole issue of interest goes up.
The truth about long copy is that, first of all, there's abundant, legitimate, statistical research, that's split-testing research, to indicate that virtually without exception, long copy outperforms short copy. There's some significant research has been done that indicate that readership falls off dramatically at 300 words but does not again drop off until 3,000 words.
As Dan says, what you can pull from that is this: people who dropped off at 300 words weren't qualified for your offer in the first place. They wouldn't have bought from you after 300 words much less after 50 or 5,000 words.
4. Recent web usability studies show that people respond more favorably to more copy on less pages. Here's an interesting study on long scrolling web pages by the folks at User Interface Engineering. They found that people prefer longer scrolling copy over short, multiple pages. I particularly like these 3 passages:
1. “Our research shows that fewer, longer pages may be the best approach for users. In the trade-off between hiding content below the fold or spreading it across several pages, users have greater success when the content is on a single page.”
2. “Increasing the levels of information, similar to adding sections to an outline, also seemed to help users.”
3. “Users may tell us they hate scrolling, but their actions show something else. Most users readily scrolled through pages, usually without comment.”
5. Plus, here's my reasoning behind long copy sales pages over multiple, smaller pages. For a single product-focused “mini-site,” this process is proven to have the best results in split-tests. Clicking to another page causes what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance.” (Also known as “buyer's remorse” or having “2nd thoughts.”)
The idea is that, by clicking to another page while one is engaged in the reading process of sales copy forces readers to think twice, as it causes a brief, mental dissassociation or distraction, which interrupts the flow, momentum and intensity of the sales pitch.
6. And best of all, recent tests conducted by MarketingExperiments.com prove, without a doubt, that long copy outperforms short copy. Reprinted:
In the first test, we sent traffic to two landing pages using Google AdWords. The first page was the home page, which contained short copy describing the product. The second page was similar, but featured a much longer article about the product. Both pages prompted visitors to click through to the order page, from which point they would be taken to the shopping cart.
Our initial results were gathered after a five-day period:
Test 1 – Short Copy
Clicks = 810
Cost = $94.29
CPC = $0.10
Revenue = $271.75
ROI = -14%
Conversion = 0.37%
Test 1 – Long Copy
Clicks = 1,163
Cost = $135.61
CPC = $0.10
Revenue = $547.50
ROI = +21%
Conversion = 0.52%
In our initial micro-test, long copy outperformed short copy by 40.54%. Click-through traffic sent to the short copy page was unprofitable (-14% ROI), while traffic sent to the long copy page produced an ROI of 21%.
In this first micro-test, it appears that the long copy page performed much better than the short copy page. However, a five-day period is not enough to account for statistical fluctuations that may skew our real results. So we continued to test.
We maintained the same test, expanded our keyword bidding slightly, and gathered additional results over the subsequent five days:
Test 2 – Short Copy
Clicks = 1,700
Cost = $258.62
CPC = $0.15
Revenue = $295.75
ROI = -66%
Conversion = 0.18%
Test 2 – Long Copy
Clicks = 1,440
Cost = $218.83
CPC = $0.15
Revenue = $1,094.15
ROI = +50%
Conversion = 0.69%
Again, long copy outperformed short copy, this time by an even greater factor of nearly four to one. Our ROI was a dismal -66% for the short copy page and a very respectable 50% for the long copy page.
In general, long copy offers the following advantages:
1. Your visitors will have most of their questions answered and will have less anxiety about ordering from you.
2. Long copy can reduce customer service by qualifying your customers to a greater degree.
3. Long copy with bolded or emphasized points can allow some of your visitors to skim, while others more interested in specifics can find all the information they want. In this sense, long copy gives visitors more options.
4. Long (and interesting) keyword-rich copy often performs well in natural search engines.
The long vs. short debate often overlooks the most important factor when it comes to website copy: quality. High-quality short copy will outperform poorly written long copy every time. The best possible copy should be developed and tested before you even begin to worry about the long vs. short debate.
Utilize an A-B split test. This will ensure that other factors (such as time, traffic source, and so on) do not skew your results.
Here are a few software solutions that will enable you to run A-B split tests:
Copy should be long enough to do its job effectively, and not a word longer. Long copy for the sake of long copy is not to your benefit. Always keep in mind the primary goal of your website's copy (to sell your product or service, to solicit subscriptions, etc.).
Utilize bullets and/or numbered lists where appropriate. These make it easier for visitors to digest your information and prevent your pages from becoming one long block of gray.
Utilize testimonials. Praise from your satisfied customers is much more effective than self-praise.
While our initial Long Copy vs. Short Copy micro-tests returned results clearly in favor of long copy, true optimization of your own website's copy will only come through your own testing. However, the guidelines above should give you a good place to start. We will continue to revise our own testing and share our results.
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Michel Fortin is a strategic marketing consultant and certified digital marketing expert who specializes in helping professionals, experts, and skill-based entrepreneurs build their practices or businesses. With his unique combination of copywriting, SEO, and CRO, he can help improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. Visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.