Every single article you will ever read on the internet about the length of copy always comes to this one measly conclusion: it depends.
Which is freaking frustrating.
I mean, come on, have a damn opinion, people!
Tell us what to do!
The thing is, a lot of people do have opinions on this matter, but those with strong opinions on it almost never want to hear the other side.
The fans of short copy folks think no one reads anything online ever and the long copy folks think you need 15,377 words on a sales page so you can eliminate any and all doubts.
And they don’t listen to each other.
They stand there in a childish argument where everyone’s crossing their arms over their chest, sticking out their bottom lip, and stomping their feet hard right where they’re standing.
“Because I’m right and you’re wrong! And if you don’t agree with me, then I hate you and you’re a stupid poo-poo head!!!”
I like to think of myself as an even-headed person, but I’m not really into being wishy-washy, so I’m not going to tell you “It depends.”
I mean, come on.
What is this?
A hippie Kumbaya camp fire meeting?
So I’m going to come right out and say it: as a rule of thumb, long copy is better.
And I can already hear the whiny, nasal-y little voices saying “But people don’t reeeeeaaaad when they’re onlineeeeee!”
But here’s the thing: yes, they do.
They just don’t read your b-o-r-i-n-g copy or things that they’ve got no interest in.
They read things that put them on the edge of their seat and make their heart beat a little faster.
Things that get their minds and imaginations running.
They read when they’re entertained.
A Caveat For the Short Copy Whiners
Just as a disclaimer for you folks that are still whining about how people don’t read, I am writing this post under the assumption that you’re using your website to sell something that costs money.
(Because that’s why you’re in business, right? To make money?)
It’s the vast majority of our audience on this blog, anyway.
But, in the case that you’re not trying to make money, you might actually consider short copy.
“The short pages don’t ask for money,” said Peep Laja of ConversionXL.
“When you ask people to take action that doesn’t cost them dollars (email signups, free trial, click through), short pages perform better in almost every test I run.”
So there you go, short copy folks.
As long as you’re not trying to make money from your pages, you can stick with your 50 words.
But, I can’t help but add that Peep went on to say, “If you’re asking for $$$, people need way more information to make a decision and hence a long form page might be a more suitable option.”
That’s right, he said way more information. So ha!
The Truth About Visitor Drop-Offs
One of the biggest reasons people mistakenly think writing long copy is a waste of time is because they look at their analytics and see huge drop-offs early on.
But as it turns out, unless your copy really is that terrible, it’s probably just a natural process of elimination for people who would have never bought from you anyway.
“The person who says ‘I would never read all that copy’ makes the mistake of thinking they are the customer,” said the super-famous copywriter Dan Kennedy.
“And they’re not. We are never our own customers.”
He went on to say, “there’s some significant research that has been done that indicate that readership falls off dramatically at 300 words but does not drop off again until 3,000 words.”
300 words. That’s where that dramatic drop-off point happens.
To be totally honest with you, even most short copy fans are afraid to go below 300 words.
And most aim for around 500 words for a designed landing page… because Google doesn’t like pages that don’t have substance.
So if you’ve got less than 300 words, even Google writes you off.
(Not to mention the people who actually have a chance of buying from you.)
And besides Google writing you off, do you think the people who fall of at or before 300 words are really those target customers whose money you’re after anyway?
The answer is no, they’re not.
If they’re not even spending the solid 120 seconds (that’s only two minutes, people) it takes the average person to read through 300 words about your product, they’d never be your customer anyway.
The Opportunities Long Copy Gives You
Long copy doesn’t win out over short copy just for the fact that it’s got a bigger word count.
It does have a bigger word count, yes.
But it’s that bigger word count that gives you the space you need to accomplish things that could never be done in 300 words or less.
- Creating a Narrative to Draw Readers in & Gets Them Emotionally Attached
As human beings, we love stories.
It’s why we read books, watch movies, listen to podcasts, and spend shameful amounts of hours scrolling through our Facebook feeds.
We love to know about other people, and whether we like it or not, we attach our own emotions to their stories.
A narrative doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out story that includes the subject’s life history details on mother’s maiden name, but the problem-solution-happy ending gets us every time.
- Adding Real, Solid Testimonials with Details
With 300 words, you’d be lucky to fit in two testimonials that say something vague like “[Product] totally changed my life!” or “Now I save so much time and money with [product]!”
These are cool claims, yes.
Saving time and money are things everyone wants.
But when you’ve got the space to include the details about exactly how much time was being wasted before and what’s now being done with that money that’s saved?
That’s when you start to push people over the edge of buying.
Freshbooks isn’t afraid of making people scroll down the page.
Because of it, they’re able to fit five detailed testimonials, including one from this guy, who can now squeeze out another entire day’s worth of productivity per week with the time he’s saving.
Libsyn, on the other hand, goes the short copy route, and after looking at their home page, I really have no idea why I’d choose them over any other service out there, especially if I’m a new podcaster looking to give my business to someone.
- More Room for Images that Make Sense & Do the Selling for You
The funny thing about the short copy argument is that a lot of it’s proponents claim you don’t need a lot of words because you can just draw people in with eye-catching images.
But images are of little use without context.
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but when you add context to it, it’s worth 15,000.
So, so much more valuable.
And when you’re not afraid to write 1,000 words or more on your landing page, you’ve suddenly got a longer page with more space for more of those eye-catching images, screen shots, and product shots along with their context to sell people on your product.
Plus, when context + images can do the selling for you, you don’t have to revert to that border-line sales-y language we all hate so much.
Simple Bank uses their home page to put context alongside the image screenshots of their products.
This makes the images useful and desire-invoking, rather than confusing (if they had just slapped all the product images up there by themselves.)
- Build Up Desire Before the Selling Starts
With a short page, you don’t have any time to explore problems, frustrations, and pain points.
All you’ve got time to is jump right into the sale, which can feel really slimy to the visitor.
Like that time a car salesmen walked right up to me and asked me what he needed to do get a car in my driveway.
I walked away without so much as a test drive.
BUT if that salesmen had come up to me to find out why I needed a new car, what my budget was, and some of my personal preferences before suggesting a car or two to test drive, it would have been a much better experience and he probably would have made a sale.
It would take more time, sure, but my desire for the cars presented to me would have been built up and the payoff would have been well worth it.
- Eliminate More Objections
I don’t have to tell you that there’s lots of assholes out there on the internet. People trying to run scams for a quick buck.
So anytime anyone buys anything online, even if they don’t realize it, at their core they’re trying to figure out if you’re trustworthy and if your price tag is worth it.
Of course, some products present more red flags to people than others… so the more objections someone might have, the longer your copy will need to be to obliterate those objections so they’re ready to hand over the cash by the end of the page.
Michael Fortin’s put these into four categories according to the amount of copy that they need:
1) Convenience products that fill an immediate need, have a low price tag, and don’t require that much thought can get away with less copy.
2) Shopping products, which are a little higher priced but are common enough that people can shop around for them require a little longer copy.
3) Speciality products like luxury items, art, or exotic goods need copy that’s even longer than shopping products.
4) Unsought products that people don’t even realize they need until you present it to them require the longest copy of all.
How to Avoid Scammy-Feeling Long Copy
While I and everyone else who likes to make money online is a fan of longer copy on sales pages, I do realize there are reasons it gets a bad rap.
The thing is, there’s good people writing long copy and there’s bad people writing long copy.
If you know you need long copy but are scared that it’ll come across as scammy, CopyHackers has a good list of things you can easily avoid to keep your long-form copy classy:
- Red courier fonts
- Salutations (like you’re writing a letter to a friend when we all know it’s a sales page)
- Guarantee certificates
- A bonus gift valued at $600!
- a PS after the closing signature… or a closing signature altogether
And the Winner Is: Long Copy
So, yes, I’m a huge proponent of long copy because it works.
But the thing that doesn’t work—whether the copy is long or short—is boring copy.
“‘Length’ is the excuse because it’s a common currency,” said Michael Fortin.
“‘Boring’ is subjective. ‘Length’ 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.”
For example, the Harry Potter series are some of the longest books I’ve ever read in my life.
But were they boring? Not for a second.
And the reason they weren’t boring was because while J.K. Rowling wrote some seriously long books, she didn’t write a single word over what she needed to write.
She cut things off where they needed to be cut off rather than going off on tangents that wouldn’t have moved the story (and the reader) forward at the pace needed.
You don’t have to be as good of a writer as her, but try to do the same with your long copy.
Write what you need to include in a narrative, get people emotionally attached, include detailed testimonials to push people over the edge, and to get rid of doubts, but don’t go off on tangents, causing your pages to “drag”, and therefore making them too “long.”
But even still, when you’re online to make money, long copy wins. Short copy loses.
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