I’ve seen this ongoing debate debate jump up again recently in several Blogs and message boards and I can’t help but laugh. It’s not a new debate… Ever since the long copy masters of the early 1900’s, people have been arguing for or against the practice.
As a copywriter and conversion specialist, convincing my clients to test longer copy on their websites is often a very difficult task. After all, online customers have microscopic attention spans and are always in a hurry to move on.
Different visitors have different goals, different personalities and different buying styles. Some visitors will want to read everything you can give them before buying and then they still need “more information” before they can decide. Others just want to know “what are you selling”, “what does it do for me” and “how much is it” and they want to know it NOW!
It may sound like an impossible task to write copy that sells both of them… After all if you cut your copy to bone to sell the second visitor, you won’t have enough information to persuade the first visitor. And, if you waste the second visitors time by forcing them to read a 20 page sales letter to “get to the meat”, they will leave.
(Fortunately, there is a way to satisfy BOTH of them on the same page… But more on that in a minute…)
There are two basic camps in this debate… The first group says “Long copy ALWAYS outsells short copy”, while the second group says stuff like “…as a consumer, I don’t have time to read all that copy. I’ll NEVER buy from long copy. ”
The part that makes me laugh is that 90% of the people in BOTH camps have never scientifically tested copy of ANY length! They make these statements of absolute facts, with no test results to back up their claims.
The truth is, sometimes long copy out pulls short copy and sometimes short copy out pulls long copy. But you have to TEST it to know which is going to work for your site and your target demographic. (Actually there is one absolute when it comes to copy… Good copy always outsells Bad copy, regardless of length!)
Another thing to keep in mind is, just because you conduct a test and find that a shorter version out pulls a longer version, don’t automatically assume that “short copy is better than long copy”. If you are testing a clear, attention grabbing short message against a long, boring message, your test is not going to tell you much.
Its much like comments I get from time to time about using audio as a sales tool on websites. Occasionally a client will tell me “we tested using audio and it didn’t work”. Well… Just testing audio vs. no audio, doesn’t mean your test result is valid. Perhaps your message was not effective, maybe they didn’t like your voice. You need to test multiple audio scripts and even multiple speakers, before you can draw a valid conclusion.
In the end the length of the copy is irrelevant, the response rate is what matters.
From my own testing I have found, as long as you keep your reader interested, keep your copy active and ensure a good flow, longer copy usually out performs short.
To often, people who have heard that “long copy is better”, write long copy for the sake of long copy. The result is usually long-boring copy. Adding more words, just to have longer copy is missing the point… The copy still needs to be tight, clean and laser focused.
The good news is, if your prospect is truly qualified and in real need (or want) of your product or service, they will read everything you give them, as long as you keep it interesting.
My friend (and long copy sales letter king) Michel Fortin recently posted an excellent article to his Blog about how to keep long copy interesting. You can read it here: http://michelfortin.com/archives/2005/05/how_to_write_co.htm
At the beginning I told you that there is a way to write your copy to persuade and keep the interest of both long copy AND short copy fans.
You can cater to both visitor types by using “Dual Readership Paths”. You do this by using your headlines and sub-headlines within your copy to tell the “scan and buy” visitors everything they need to know to make their buying decision. By creatively using your sub-headlines and bullet points you can persuade those who do not have the time to read your entire message, without sacrificing needed benefits and copy for those who won’t buy without a “full” explanation of your product or service.
The bottom line is this…
The LENGTH of your copy is not what is important, it is the EFFECTIVENESS and response rate that matters.
Want to improve your conversion rates? Eric Graham is the CEO of several successful online companies. Internationally recognized as a top authority on eCommerce, Website Conversion & Internet Marketing, he's an in-demand speaker & consultant.
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