Does Long Copy Still Work Online?

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“Long copy doesn’t work online.”

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again. Maybe even coming out of your mouth.

The argument goes a little something like this. In our ultra-connected, social, multimedia, instant gratification information age, our attention spans are more fractured than a Tiffany lamp dropped off Chicago’s Sears Tower.

And yeah, to a large degree, it’s true.

We multitask ourselves to insanity, and have lost the ability to sit still for much more than a 30-second YouTube clip.

Watch an old Hollywood movie sometime. Pay attention to how long the plot takes to develop. These are phenomenal movies. The screenwriting is great. But if we watch them now, we’re bored 10 minutes in because nothing’s exploded yet.

I suppose MTV had something to do with it. When other shows were holding a video shot for 1-2 minutes, MTV’s video went clip to clip to clip in seconds.

And now with the Internet, we click a link in the Google search results and if the page doesn’t catch our attention in 1-2 seconds, we click back to visit the next result to find out if it is any better.

So yeah, looking at all that, it’s easy to make the assumption that “long copy doesn’t work online” — even “long copy doesn’t work anymore.”

But have you looked at revenue figures or test results recently?

Long Copy Or Short Copy: What Does The Proof Say?

The oldest way to answer a debate in marketing is to let your customers decide. Randomly split your prospect base 50/50. Half gets an ad or marketing piece that represents one side of the debate. The other half gets a different marketing piece that represents the other side of the debate.

So how about applying that to long copy versus short copy?

  • I recently saw a test on WhichTestWon.com where SEOMoz.org tested a short-copy, offer-driven landing page versus a long-copy, more complex landing page. The long-copy landing page got a 51.8% boost in total paid memberships.
  • Another test profiled on WhichTestWon.com from Speedwinds Nutrition tested a page of shorter copy built around a few punchy benefit-driven bullets versus a longer copy page that goes into a lot more detail in a narrative format. The longer copy converted 84.6% more visitors into customers.
  • Another experiment profiled on MarketingExperiments.com tested a short-copy versus long-copy landing page, and found the long copy outperformed the short copy by 40.54% in one test. Further, the short copy was unprofitable at an ROI of -14%, and the long copy was profitable at a ROI of 21%.

The first test I knew about because I get updates from WhichTestWon. The second two tests were the first two test results I found when I went looking for scientific tests comparing the effectiveness of long-copy landing pages versus short-copy landing pages. I didn’t handpick results.

More Evidence In Favor Of Long Copy

I’m not one to go on anecdotes alone. I’d rather see scientifically conducted tests, similar to the three above. But once I have that, anecdotes like these can further validate what I’ve found.

  • I recently heard that a major financial publisher had done over $4 million and counting in new business (at $49 per customer) with a very long video presentation and sales letter. For customers who don’t want to sit through the video presentation, they’re offered the opportunity to read the sales letter. Both use essentially the same long copy that, when converted to PDF, is 39 pages long.
  • A health publisher I know of sold 10,000 subscriptions in 5 months with a 24-page online sales letter. They’re also testing a video version of the sales letter to sell even more.
  • And one of my projects did hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business for a client — smashing previous sales records — with 18 pages of copy.

And that’s just a handful of examples. Agora Inc., a publishing company well into nine figures in annual revenue (we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars per year), makes nearly all of their sales with long copy — and a big portion of their sales are made online.

So yes, it appears that long copy is working well online…

Or as Mark Twain might say, “The rumors of long copy’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

Why Does Long Copy Work So Well?

Now that we’ve found scientific testing plus anecdotal evidence to support the use of long copy online, we might want to know why it works — in spite of our seemingly fractured attention spans.

Well, I can tell you that the world of direct response marketing — where your marketing must get someone to respond by taking some specified action — is more a business of “what” than “why.” We can tell you what works, easy. We test it. But we may not know why it works.

That said, we can present ideas — and use those to inform our decisions going forward.

So here are some of my ideas about why long copy works so well.

  1. Despite our fractured attention spans, as consumers, we still want to make informed decisions. We’re far more likely to say no to something if there’s not enough information than if there’s too much information. If there’s too much information, we can read as much as we need then make our decision. But if there’s too little, we’ll read it all, and because of unanswered questions, our answer automatically becomes no.
  2. We’re bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day. But most of them — in the interest of keeping copy short — simply say, “Buy my stuff.” As a result, we’ve learned to ignore “Buy my stuff.” Yet — we still want to buy. We’re a consumption culture. So the merchant that says, “Buy my stuff because…” and goes on to list a dozen reasons buying their stuff fulfills our wants, needs, and desires gets our attention and our business.
  3. Good long copy — the type of copy that works — is “you” copy. It’s focused on the reader, and how they can fulfill their wants, needs, and desires. As long as you’re keeping your copy fresh and reader-focused, they’ll continue to read because it’s about them. And the longer they’re engaged, the more likely they are to buy.

Sure – long, boring copy or poorly-written copy that sells hard instead of focusing on the reader may not work well online. Its performance may be improved by cutting it drastically. But that’s because the copy is bad and provides no proof about whether or not long copy works.

Where Does Long Copy Work Best?

Although most of the evidence points to good long copy working better than good short copy, there are some areas where it’s particularly valuable to use a longer approach:

  • Publishing businesses typically do best with long copy because you’re selling an idea
  • High dollar items often require long copy because the decision is bigger, so the sales presentation must be longer
  • Unfamiliar or complex offers may require longer copy simply to explain the offer

There are also some areas where shorter copy works better:

  • Retail typically doesn’t require as long of copy — although as many testimonials as you can get will help
  • Low-commitment items such as a food product do well with little-to-no copy

Some important factors that can help you decide between shorter and longer copy include:

  • Your market’s familiarity with your product and offer
  • Your market’s aptitude for and attitude toward reading
  • The complexity of your sales message or selling process
  • The price of your offer
  • What type of response you’re looking for (opt-in versus purchase)

With all this said, though, the old axiom has proven itself time and time again: “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

So What’s The Role Of Short Copy?

With all this trumpeting of the power of long copy, you may wonder if I’m saying all short copy should be given up in favor of web pages that scroll for 10 to 20 pages or more.

No.

In fact, short copy is very valuable. Once you have your core sales message presented in as long of copy as it takes to make the sale (and no longer), you need as many entry paths to that copy as possible.

So you need shorter copy landing pages that warm prospects up by getting them to opt in for free information and further contacts. You need shorter email blasts and autoresponders that get people to visit the long sales copy. You need articles galore to build credibility with your readers so they’ll read your sales copy as well. And you need short, punchy ads for pay-per-click, social media sites, and even banners on your own website — all driving people back to the long-copy sales message. And that’s just the beginning.

Short copy definitely has a role in the sales process. It gets people ready to read or hear your sales message. But when it’s time to make the sale, don’t worry about keeping it short. Write as much as you need to tell your complete sales story, and to get your reader to pull out their wallet and give you money.

One More Secret To Super-Charge Your Long Copy

One of the things I’ve been doing recently that’s been very successful in making more sales from my long copy is to put interesting information into my copy. I’m talking about information that the reader wants to get their hands on, even if they think they’re not interested in buying.

For example, I’ll write a stock promotion that actually gives away one of the stock picks within the promotion. It then teases others. This makes the reader want to read, to learn why the stock pick given away is so good. And when they’re done with that one, they want to know what the others that you have to pay for are, too.

Or if I’m keeping the stock itself secret, I’ll explain which industry the person wants to be paying attention to and investing in. I’ll give all the reasons why that industry is the best place to put your money in the coming months and years. I’ll give them so much compelling information to support my investment that they’ll be ready to invest in that industry right now. Then I’ll tell them the best way to find out which companies they need to be investing in is to purchase the newsletter I’m writing for.

Another good example of this is the special report Rebecca Matter and Nick Usborne just released for Nick’s new How to Make Money as a Social Media Expert program. That promo tells you why social media today is as important as the internet was 10 years ago, and then four ways you can use social media to profit (you can read it here). It’s only after they’ve proved their case that they talk about how Nick’s new How to Make Money as a Social Media Expert program will help you get further, faster with this exciting opportunity.

This gets you past all the screaming, shouting, and hype that long copy is often known for and gives you a formula to follow to make long copy that people are interested in reading and responding to.

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Roy Furr

Roy Furr writes AWAI's weekly Spare Time Biz Success newsletter, sharing different opportunities to make an extra couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars monthly income, in your spare time. He's also an in-demand copywriter and web writer. He more than doubled sales in his full-time client's business, putting them on INC Magazine's list of America's 5000 fastest-growing companies... twice. Here's what a few others have said about Roy: “Roy is an up-and-comer who has written quite a bit for us lately (articles and lifts) with excellent response rates from our file. I’d highly recommend him if you’re looking for some fresh copywriters. He has good ideas, is easy to work with, and meets deadlines.” - Rebecca Matter, American Writers & Artists Inc. “Roy is truly a unique talent and a great person to work with. He understands the role of marketing and how it fits into the overall sales cycle, as well as why the integration of the two are key to success. Roy is an excellent writer and is always enthusiastic about new opportunities. CBT Nuggets’ recent growth would not be as substantial without Roy’s skills.” - Jeff Short, CBT Nuggets “Roy Furr understands power of words in the sales process. I’ve worked on several projects with Roy. He is an excellent copywriter, and understands HTML, design, and marketing. More importantly, he excels at capturing the voice of his client. I look forward to continuing to work with Roy, as he is responsive to the ever-changing communication demands of business. Working with Roy will improve your bottom line.” – David Bullock, www.DavidBullock.com “When Roy completed his first project for me, I told him, ‘This is the best job any of my writers has ever done on an ebook!’ His second project was A+ work as well. Roy’s reliable for delivering high-quality writing and I’d love to work with him again.” - Bob Bly, The man McGraw-Hill calls “America’s Top Copywriter,” www.Bly.com

4 Comments

  • Thanks for calling my attention to the issue: long copy versus short copy. The subject is important and deserves probing. You make worthy points but you should be careful in supporting your conclusions with precise data as proof.

    For example: You write, “Another experiment profiled on Marketing Experiments.com tested a short-copy versus a long-copy landing page and found the long copy outperformed the short copy by 40.54% in one test.” My comment to this point: Long copy outperformed in this one test. Have other similar tests delivered the same result? Also, how many pages in the short copy and the length of the long copy?

    For example: You write: “A health publisher I know of sold 10,000 subscriptions in 5 months with a 24-page online sales letter. They are also testing a video version of the sales letter to even more.” My comment to this point: Who is the health publisher? Then you use the pronoun they. Are there more publishers? If you’re not allowed to mention names, why use the incident?

    My sincerest thanks for keeping me in tune with current challenges. But I feel uncomfortable when you support your opinion with generalities. There’s nothing like clear, exact details.

  • Hi Bertram,

    Thanks for your comment. The reason I was unable to provide more specifics as to who tested what, when, was because in the case of the anecdotes I’m privy to certain confidential information that I’m not at liberty to reveal. I had to very carefully select what was shared and what wasn’t to protect the companies I referred to.

    I’d love to have given more specifics, and maybe even a link to the pages. But in the cases I refer to, revealing results would take away certain competitive advantages these companies maintain by keeping results private. It’s a line we have to walk in this industry — most test results are “for your eyes only.”

    The point I was trying to get across, and perhaps I failed here, was that in test after test after test, when long copy is tested against short copy, long copy comes out on top. It’s not a guarantee — if you have 100 pages of rubbish, it won’t necessarily beat a 2-page well written sales presentation. But across a similar quality of copy, longer typically outperforms. You simply have more room to sell.

    Think of it this way. You send a salesperson to someone’s house to make a sales presentation. You have the option here of the sales person limiting themselves to five minutes, as a rule, regardless of anything that happens. Or alternately, the sales person is given the liberty to continue making their presentation for as long as they have an interested prospect, up to the point at which the prospect makes the buying decision. Which do you think would do better? The sales person who had to condense all their sales arguments into a five minute presentation, or the one who could continue making sales point upon sales point for as long as the prospect is interested?

    We’re sales people. We do it in media. Uninterested prospects won’t read whether it’s 2 pages or 20. But interested prospects who need more information to make their buying decision will continue to read as much as you give them, up until the point at which they decide to buy. Most won’t read it all. Some will buy first (after reading a small bit) and read later. No matter how they consume the information — out of respect for our prospects we ought to give them all the information they need to make their decision.

    And test after test has proven this to be the smart decision. Yes, I was only able to provide a few tests here. But if you’re interested in what will work for your market, for your offer, you ought to test yourself. Then you’ll get the proof you really need.

    Best,

    Roy

    PS – For more thorough analysis of the public tests I mentioned, you can visit:

    1. http://whichtestwon.com/seomoz-offer-page-test
    2. http://whichtestwon.com/one-product
    3. http://www.marketingexperiments.com/improving-website-conversion/long-copy-short-copy.html

  • Thanks for taking the time to share the challenges you face.

    I appreciate test results may be private and for “your eyes only.”
    Also, I concur that consistent quality tests keep copywriters in touch with reality.

    Best,
    Bert

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