The Short Vs Long Copy Debate: Where It Stands in 2015

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Copywriters are used to help create a variety of content: direct mail pieces, web pages, taglines, online ads, email, television or radio commercial scripts, catalogues, press releases, billboards, jingle lyrics, brochures and more. Done correctly, it’s extremely effective and can make the difference between a successful and failing business. But how do you know if you’re doing it correctly?

One of the longest standing debates in copywriting and marketing circles is over what’s better – long or short copy. The side that follows short copy says that people don’t like to read, especially in the modern age. Their belief is that long lines of text will be ignored and that pictures and graphics are better for grabbing consumer attention. They have a point. According to the Nielson and Norman Group, just 16% of people read web content word-by-word. The side cheering for long copy, however, believe that copy is the secret to sales success and provides unprecedented value. When money is involved, people want to know exactly what they are getting for their dollar, and long copy provides that. Crazy Egg, a web-analytics company offering heat-tracking software, increased conversions by 363 percent when Conversion Rate Experts made its home page about 20 times larger.

Of course these are both generalisations, and there’s a bit more to the story. Even so, it paints a clear line between two very different schools of copy length. So which one is it – long or short?

Without trying to sound like fence-sitters, both parties are right. In some cases, short copy is far superior to long copy. In other cases, long copy reigns triumphant. Instead of choosing a side to be on, you should instead be focusing your attention on the conversion rates of varying types of marketing. Only then will you be able to match the right kind of copy to receive maximum results.

So, the best length is the one that works.

When short copy sells

Short copy works best when your audience is specific, limited and targeted. Imagine trying to address the whole world with just one, short message. A 19-year old boy doesn’t have the same concerns as a 45-year old woman.

Short copy should come with a rule of “one” – one target audience, one optimal customer, one main idea that weaves throughout the entire piece and one main goal. Choose the biggest problem that you’re solving and stick with it.

Short copy more often than not works when your product meets the following criteria:

  • Your company is well-known and trusted
  • Your product requires very little explaining
  • Your price is inexpensive
  • Your call-to-action is free (i.e. sign up for a free trial or register for our newsletter)
  • Your promotion requires shorter copy due to space constraints
  • Your item is in high demand or right on trend

Short copy is great for lower priced items that involve less persuasion to sell. They could be impulse buys or convenience products, or items that customers don’t want to spend time browsing for. It’s also great for image-heavy marketing. The words, while important, merely lend support to spectacular imagery.

When long copy sells

Providing you are a strong writer or have a strong copywriter writing your copy, long is almost always a good way to go. Long copy allows you to answer more objections and convince the unsure buyer.

Every time a customer is considering a product, objections pop into their mind. These include:

Is the company trustworthy?
Am I making the right decision?
Can I afford it?

Every product, no matter what kind, comes with objections. The key is to change these objections into positives. Instead of “Can I afford it?”, long copy gives you the opportunity to change that thought to “Can I afford not to have it?”

Long copy usually opens with the emotionally charged story packed with specific challenges, designed to make you go, “Me too”. It’s text that makes the reader feel as if it’s written specifically for them and that the product will directly impact what is happening to them right at that moment. The emotional response triggered by an engaging story can overcome objections better than any form of short copy.

Long copy lets you detail the product to cover exactly why the customer can’t live without it and lets you pack in testimonials which offer proof of other happy customers. This is especially important when the price of your product or service is high.

Long copy is perfect for:

  • Products and services that have a more involved decision-making process
  • Unusual products that need explaining
  • Unfamiliar products and services
  • Specialty products
  • Items with multiple special features
  • Expensive products and services

But there are rules to long copy that you should be aware of. These include:

Subheadings

Subheadings are needed to paint the bigger picture, allowing readers to skim your copywriting without missing key messages.

Bullet points

Bullet points break up heavy text and make it more appealing to the eye. Readers will often turn to bullet points to garner the key points.

Images

Images also break up heavy text and make your copy visually appealing. Captions under images are often the most read copy on a page, so use them wisely.

Call to action

Every page of copy should have a call to action, a specific piece of text that informs the reader what to do next. This should be clear and repeated when possible so that the reader doesn’t have to scroll or scan up and down looking for it.

Focus

Communicating lots of information means it’s essential you stay on point. Don’t waffle or you’ll lose your reader’s attention.

Never stop testing

Copywriting is all about being able to adapt to your situation. Even the best writer of short copy will be forced to use long copy at times, and vise versa. Focus on making your writing the best it can be (no matter what the length) and you’ll always be prepared to write for any situation, product or customer.

Remember to cater to your audience and never stop testing. David Ogilvy, the demigod of direct-response copywriting said,”Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving”.