The Definitive Guide to Copywriting by Neil Patel & Joseph Putnam

The Definitive Guide to Copywriting

Chapter Eight

Long vs. Short Copy - Which is Better?

Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it's an ad.
Howard Gossage

One of the longest standing debates in copywriting and marketing circles is over what’s better — long or short copy.

The group following the short copy gospel says that people don’t like to read, especially in the modern age, so there’s no reason to write long copy. They believe that long sales letters and web pages will get ignored and never be read. Instead, it’s better to use pictures and graphics to get customers’ attention.

The long copy adherents, on the other hand, believe that copy is the secret to any sales success. More copy to them means more sales.

These are both generalizations, but they summarize succinctly the two different schools of copy length. So who’s right?

In a way, both are because in some instances long copy is much, much better, and, in others, short copy is better. The only way to know for sure is to test the response rate your copy receives to see which converts at a higher rate — long or short copy.

The good news is that there are some rules of thumb you can follow. These rules provide guidelines to indicate when it may be better to write longer or shorter copy.

Guideline one Only write as much as you need to write and no more

The first rule of thumb is to always write as much as you need to write but no more.

Does a point need to be made in order to convince people to buy your product? If yes, then be sure to add it to your copy. Will another section make your copy more persuasive? Then by all means make sure that section is added to your page as well.

Some points only serve to make your copy longer and don’t strengthen your argument. Those are the ones you want to leave out. Others make your copy too long and end up talking prospects out of a purchase instead of helping them to buy. Those should be left out as well.

When you’re writing copy, remember to write it as long as it needs to be in order to make a persuasive presentation, but not to make it so long that your readers get put to sleep and go on to do something else.

You should always test the response rates for your copy (at least whenever possible) Sometimes, a sales letter will be the most effective, and other times, a postcard is the way to go. Sometimes a long e-mail is best, and sometimes a concise e-mail is much better. It’s really difficult to know without measuring the response rate your copy achieves, but no matter what, you always want to write however much copy needs to be written in order to increase sales.

Guideline two Long copy answers more objections

The next point to keep in mind is that long copy allows you to answer more objections.

Every time a customer is considering an offer, different objections pop into their head and stop them from making a purchase. Potential objections include:

  • The company may not seem trustworthy so customers decide not to buy.
  • The product may seem too expensive, and the customer may feel like he can’t afford it.
  • Customers may not understand the product and walk away out of confusion.

Whatever the case, there’s a long list of objections for every product. Customers aren’t ready to buy for one reason or another.

As a copywriter, your job is to identify these objections and help get the prospect over the fence. This is where long copy can help.

One of the most important benefits of long copy is that it allows you to answer more objections which eventually can lead to more sales. The Crazy Egg homepage provides an example of this.

Conversion Rate Experts worked on improving conversions at Crazy Egg and ended up making the home page around 20 times longer by adding more copy than was originally included. The result? Conversion rates increased by 30%.

The short copy school would say this is impossible because people don’t read anymore, but the long copy school would say it obviously worked because the longer copy allowed Crazy Egg to answer more objections. In this particular case, the long copy school wins.

Here’s a visual comparison of the two pages:

Why did the second version work so much better? The most likely reason is that it allowed Crazy Egg to answer more customer objections. With so many extra sections and with all of the additional copy, Crazy Egg has more of a chance to answer their customers’ questions at one point or another. This allows them to convince prospects no matter what their different reasons for not buying are.

So does this mean that copy should always be extra long? No, not necessarily.

Guideline three Sometimes short copy is better

As with anything, there are two sides to the copy coin, and sometimes, short copy is better.

Generally speaking, longer copy is best for technical products that need a lot of explanation and for higher value items. In the first case, longer copy is needed so customers understand the product and learn why they need it. In the second case, longer copy is helpful to provide more reasons why customers should make a more expensive purchase.

These are two examples where long copy comes in handy. But sometimes short copy is better, or at the very least necessary.

Take a postcard as an example. There’s only so much you can write on a card since the space is limited. In cases like this, it’s the copywriter’s job to condense the copy into the most effective short form to get the message across and convince prospects to take action.

In other instances, short copy just ends up working better. There are tests that show long copy works better for some pages, and there are tests that show short copy outperforming longer versions. Sometimes copywriters fall in love with their own writing too much and need to be shown that a shorter version works better.

Square provides a great example of this. Their homepage features a signup form, a beautiful picture, and extremely short copy. Here’s what it looks like:

It’s possible that more copy would help this page perform better, but it’s also possible that in this instance less copy is better. The question to ask is whether there’s enough information provided to convince people to take action. If yes, then more copy isn’t needed and could possibly distract people from taking action.

Groupon is another great example. Here’s what their homepage looks like:

With this kind of offer, more copy would likely just get in the way. People for the most part know how the offer works and don’t need to be convinced to take advantage of an opportunity to save 50% to 90%. It’s also easier to ask people to hand over their e-mail for discounts than it is to convince them to pay $100 per month for a service.

There’s always the outside chance that more copy would increase conversion rates for this page (only testing provides the answer), but it’s more likely that this type of offer doesn’t need as much copy as a site like Crazy Egg where a technical service is being sold. It’s easier to sell an offer where people receive free discounts than it is to convince people to pay for a service.

So sometimes long copy is better, but sometimes it gets in the way and distracts customers from taking action when they’re ready to make a purchase already.

Guideline four People read what’s interesting to them

The fourth and final rule for this chapter is that people read what’s interesting to them. If an article or ad is interesting and well written, people will stop what they’re doing and read.

Take your own reading habits as an example. What type of articles or books do you read? Do you read blog posts or ebooks? What about feature articles in Inc. or Entrepreneur?

No matter what your tastes are, it’s likely that you read content in some form or another. And in most instances, you’d be surprised how much people read, even if it’s just blog posts or news articles on Yahoo.com.

Imagine you’re sitting at a doctor’s office waiting to be called in and start looking at the different magazine options available on the end table next to you. You lean over and begin thumbing through the stack, flipping past copies of Newsweek and Car & Driver, looking for something interesting. Ah ha! Fast Company, something worth checking out.

Then you start skimming the headlines looking for something to read. You eventually find an article titled “Instagram’s Formula for App Success.” Your interest is piqued so you flip over and read as quickly as you can through the lengthy, 5,000 word feature article. Just when you finish, the nurse comes out and says it’s your turn. You put the magazine down and go in to see the doctor.

Did you notice what happened in this story? You skipped past magazines and articles that weren’t interesting to you until you found something that caught your eye. Then you took the time to read a lengthy, well written article on a topic you enjoyed.

This happens all the time. We read articles that are interesting and ignore others that are not. The same is true with books, sales copy, or whatever else might come our way.

If we visit a website that’s relevant to what we do, we’ll stop, investigate, and read all of the copy if it’s interesting and useful enough. If it’s not, we’ll go on our way and find something else to read.

So the argument that people don’t read simply isn’t true. What is true is that people don’t read things that aren’t interesting to them — whether that’s a magazine article or an ad. If something’s interesting and written well, people will read it; if it’s a topic that doesn’t matter to them, they won’t read it. It’s as simple as that.

This is something you should take into consideration when deciding how long your copy should be, and you should remember that you’re not writing for everyone. It’s ok if 90% of people don’t read your long copy. You’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for the 10% of people who are interested in what you have to write about. If they’re interested in the product you're selling, they’ll devour your copy looking for more information on the subject.

So when you’re writing, don’t buy into the misconception that people don’t read. Instead, remember that they do, as long as it’s something that’s of interest to them.

Bringing It All Together

Now that you’ve read this chapter, you should have learned the following:

  • Long copy is often better than short because it allows you to answer more of your customers’ objections.
  • Short copy is sometimes necessary because of the nature and size of the medium you’re using.
  • Short copy can also be better if customers will be convinced with less copy and more words will only distract them from the offer at hand.
  • Customers will read long copy about topics that are interesting to them.

If you’re writing copy for a website, you have room to write as you’d like. You can intersperse calls to action throughout the text and don’t have to worry too much about dragging on and not giving customers an opportunity to respond.

But if you’re writing a sales letter, you’ll need to be more judicious with your copy since you’ll be limited to the amount that will fit on one page.

Application for the Sample Project

We’re going to assume at this point that the copy for our sample project is being written for a homepage. Since it can be as long as we’d like it to be, we think it’s smart to lengthen the copy in order to answer more objections our customers may have.

To do this, we’re going to add a section below the copy we’ve already written that’s titled “Frequently Asked Questions.” There are other ways to answer objections, but in this case, we think this is an easy way to answer questions our customers may have about the product.

Let’s open the “Copy: Draft One” document now and add some additional points to answer our customers’ potential objections.

Here’s our copy to add at the bottom of the site:

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I add surveys to my site?

To add a survey, you’ll first create one within the Simple Survey Tool. This should take you between 15 and 25 minutes, depending on the type of survey your conducting.

Next, you’ll copy a code snippet and paste it into your site underneath the >Head< tag. If you know how to do this, you can do it yourself, otherwise it will take someone on your IT team less than 5 minutes to add it to your site.

Do I need my IT department to add new surveys to the site?

No, you don’t. Once the code is installed, you can conduct new surveys without changing any code on your site. The initial Javascript snippet will update the surveys to match the new one you created.

Is there a limited number of questions I can ask for each survey?

You can ask as many questions as you’d like. We recommend keeping the survey short so more people will complete it, but you’re welcome to make them as long as you’d like them to be.

How do I use the pre-formulated surveys?

The pre-formulated surveys are built into the Simple Survey Tool and are easy to use. Our Question Recommendation feature will suggest questions for each survey you create. In addition to that, we have full surveys that can be created with the click of a button. The pre-built options include customer satisfaction surveys, conversion rate optimization surveys, and many more.

Do you have any other questions? If yes, send us a message, and our customer support team will be in touch with you shortly.

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