Daniel Burstein

Copywriting: Long copy vs. short copy matrix

Today on the MarketingSherpa blog, I discuss length as it applies to content marketing. But in this MarketingExperiments blog post, I’m going to discuss length as it applies to marketing copywriting on a landing page.

While content marketing and landing page copywriting are very similar in one element – you are not hemmed in by the same media space restrictions you would have in a print ad – they are very different in the main goal of the piece.

Content marketing should help your audience, and by helping your audience eventually help your business goals as well. In this instance, you are mainly aiming to serve your audience.

Landing page copywriting should serve your business goals, and assuming you have a product or service that has a true value proposition, in the end help your audience as well. In this instance, you are trying to express your value proposition as clearly as possible. Sometimes length adds to clarity, sometimes it detracts.

Is long copy or short copy better? Yes.

Yes, long copy or short copy can perform better on your specific landing pages. So how to choose?

Bob Kemper, Director of Sciences, MECLABS, has created a simple matrix to help you determine which length of copy is likely to be more effective for your product or service.

“This heuristic model of long-copy vs. short-copy optimization principles has emerged empirically over time,” Bob said.

In other words, Bob has analyzed hundreds of tests in the MarketingExperiments optimization labs, and from that he has discovered a few factors that help determine copy length effectiveness. He enumerates them thusly…

Factors affecting the efficacy of body copy length on a landing page:

  • Nature of visitor motivation
  • Initial level of Anxiety about product/company
  • Level of cost/commitment associated with conversion.

Short copy performs better when…

According to Bob, short copy performs better when there is low perceived risk, low cost, and low commitment. Also, when the customer has an emotional, impulsive, and “want-oriented” motivation.

In other words, if you’re looking to write high-impact copy for concert tickets, designer shoes, or mp3 players…keep it short.

Long copy performs better when…

Bob states that long copy is the better performer when there is a rational, analytical, need-oriented motivation. Think consumer insurance products or many complex B2B offerings.

The copy matrix

Here is a thinking tool that Bob created, that you may find helpful when crafting copy tests for your own landing pages.

“Placing your current subject-site/product on this matrix can help you to establish the likelihood that short-copy vs. long-copy landing-offer pages will perform better,” Bob said.

Long Copy Vs. Short Copy Matrix

Related Resources:

Content Marketing: Focus on value, not length

Optimizing Copy: The 7 most common copywriting mistakes we see marketers make

Headline Optimization: 2 common headline mistakes and how to make them work

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  1. August 26th, 2011 at 09:18 | #1

    Okay, the idea is clear, but what is long copy? How many words? The same question applies to ‘short copy’. 300 words – is it long or short?

    • August 26th, 2011 at 10:41 | #2

      Ah Helen,
      And there’s the rub. You’re exactly right — there is no universal definition of “long copy” or “short copy.” After all, long and short are relative terms. Heck, you could be writing “medium copy” and not even know it.

      I would use the matrix as a beginning for test ideas. If you’re in the “short copy” realm, run treatments against the control that subtract from the copy until you reach diminishing or negative returns. For long copy, keep trying to add.

      A few elements that you may want to consider adding or subtracting include:
      – Length of any opening story/proposition before you get into the meat of the offering
      – Number of features/benefits
      – Length of description of those features/benefits
      – Amount of words you spend on relating the specific product/service to the parent brand/company

      Hope this helps. Would love to hear test idea feedback from others as well. Thanks.

  2. August 26th, 2011 at 11:02 | #3

    I read this and several of your other articles with great interest. You are right on point with the idea that the definitive answer on article length or Website content page length is “it depends”. I find that, as Malcolm Gladwell wrote, many people are enamored with the thought that there is inherent value in what we produce, just because we did. In the case of far too many Websites, the creators of Website content have never been trained in communications arts related to how we as human beings process information.

    Beyond landing pages, when people get into the body of the site, the writers cannot (should not) lose sight of the fact that until the prospect is engaged, they are not willing to allow you the time to be verbose. Early pages in shorter and more simple sites simply should not be overly complicated in any manner. On a site, you still have the luxury of space where you can spread out later after engagement has been attained.

    Thanks for a bunch of excellent articles. You guys are making it easier on me to explain the value of my work to my prospects and clients.

  3. August 26th, 2011 at 12:45 | #4

    We just purchased both your Benchmark books today!

    I’m wondering, if you could repost this graphic using words, as I’m not 100% clear on what your criteria for Long Copy and Short Copy scenarios
    I suspect the graphic is part of another presentation, but it left me scratching my head.

    Searchengineman

    • August 26th, 2011 at 14:32 | #5

      SearchEngineMan,

      Thanks. Hope you find the Benchmark Reports helpful. I touched on this in the blog post, but I’m happy to drive a little deeper. Basically there are two factors you have to consider:

      – How much anxiety and commitment is there around the decision?
      – What is the motivation of the decision? In layman’s terms, is it a “want” or a “need”?

      Now, sometimes the two factors line up very nicely and clearly. For example, a low anxiety, very want-oriented decision like buying a kite. Short copy (and maybe a very visual appeal) is where you should begin your testing.

      For something with a deep commitment, that is very rational or “need oriented,” like, say, insurance, would tend to skew towards longer copy, an in-depth explanation of why you can trust the insurance company, how they will come through for you in the unlikely event that you need to use there services.

      But, and this is why the matrix format is so important, these two factors don’t always line up nicely “and linearly.” Take, say, the purchase of a second home. It’s very “want” oriented, but the purchaser is also quite locked in. In this case, you likely want to test a mixture in your marketing materials. For example, have short copy that hits the heart up front in the funnel, with clear links to longer copy that corresponds to fears that may arise in the brain, once they’ve been pulled deeper into the funnel.

      Of course, in the end, these are merely patterns that we’ve found to work over time, and we only present them to give you some ideas to test, and see which works best for your audience.

  4. August 29th, 2011 at 11:24 | #6

    When the healthcare reform bill came up for scrutiny, someone called a congressman’s office in DC to complain that, at 2000 pages, it was too long. “How long do you think it should be?” asked the congressional aide. “1000 pages? 500 pages? Is 250 pages too long?” There was no response.

  5. September 2nd, 2011 at 09:32 | #7

    @Daniel Burstein Yeah, now it makes sense. By length I would not mean the number of words only, but also the angles covered to describe services, product, etc. Thanks for taking time to give a sound reply. This is why I love your blog. I have found a real community here, where the discussion is natural and people not only listen to you, THEY HEAR YOU. :)

  6. September 9th, 2011 at 03:34 | #8

    Daniel – I love these discussions on long vs short copy!

    The rule of thumb we go by is that you must list ALL benefits when selling a product. And that will determine the length of the sales message. This doesn’t negate the research above, but overlies it and puts the matrix guidelines into words.

  7. September 9th, 2011 at 07:02 | #9

    Why is this an either or? There should be a standfirst which grabs attention, summarises the subject and invites you to read further.
    So the simple answer is both. It is a tried and tested method which has worked in magazines for years. The only difference is there is now a (trackable) click between the two. Oh – and you can offer multiple clicks to different versions of the longer content (so it is more closely allied with their needs).

  8. Tia Dobi
    September 10th, 2011 at 13:33 | #10

    Yikes! I’d like to suggest the author and the scientist take a couple of direct response copywriting classes. Also, a tip from Mark Twain,”Write like the audience speaks.” I could clarify the above, and unfortunately, I don’t have the time.

    Tia Dobi
    Direct response copywriter and marketing consultant

  9. September 12th, 2011 at 05:30 | #11

    You need to tell the full story. If you you use a short copy for a complex product then you only tell half the story.

    Use as many words as you need to describe the benefits of your product. Then optimized the text and cut away all words that are not necessary. So it´s not a question of long or short copy, but simple or complex product.

  10. September 22nd, 2011 at 03:07 | #12

    I have had both good and bad experiences with long copy. I try to keep everything to the point and as simple as possible. For the most part I go for the middle unless like you said there is no risk.

    I know if I read copy that is going on and on I start to think what are they doing? I was sold after the first paragraph where do I sign up here before I change my mind? It’s pretty rare that I need to read on and on for twenty minutes, if I don’t see the value right off I won’t buy 90% of the time. When I write a landing page I always keep that in mind and I’ve had good results the majority of the time.

  11. September 22nd, 2011 at 08:36 | #13

    Quite interesting (although not surprising) but thank you very much for the “short-copy vs. long-copy” matrix.

    I’ve now got it stored in my “inspirations” folder for future ref :-)

  12. October 13th, 2011 at 16:18 | #14

    Thanks for the interesting article. It directly relates to what we’re working on with our website right now. I think that in our situation, teaching English in Korea, for most people it would be medium to high anxiety and it can be a need for some and a want for others.

    However, I’m staring at your matrix diagram, but I’m don’t see what length of copy should be written for top-left and bottom-right scenarios. What would work best for these?

    Since these corners are being pulled in both long and short directions, do you think medium copy or a mixture of short then long would be a good starting point?

    • October 14th, 2011 at 17:34 | #15

      Morgan,
      I think the top-right and bottom-left are among the most challenging scenarios. I think what you should do, in an ideal world, is match the motivations of the buyer. So, essentially, you’re trying to create two landing pages for your product, one aimed at, for lack of a better word, lower-left people and one aimed at top-right people.

      I’m not sure of your inbound channels but, for example if you use PPC ads, one might focus on how Koreans who don’t speak English might be left out of the world economy, and that would lead to a longer, more rational landing page focused on that need.

      Another PPC ad might focus on the want-oriented people, say, the fun you’ll have watching the classics of the great Pauly Shore in his native language. This would be a shorter, more image- (and maybe multimedia-) heavy page focusing on the wants.

      I only know your product well enough to give those very poor examples, but hopefully that illustrates a successful strategy that you might find helpful.

      This is known as channel mapping, and you might find our free channel mapping tool helpful.

  13. October 25th, 2012 at 19:06 | #16

    Great article Daniel. It’s nice to clear the issue up and give businesses general direction in their website designs.

  1. August 26th, 2011 at 04:02 | #1
  2. September 9th, 2011 at 10:27 | #2
  3. September 9th, 2011 at 10:45 | #3
  4. September 12th, 2011 at 13:49 | #4
  5. October 10th, 2011 at 10:14 | #5
  6. October 13th, 2011 at 12:11 | #6
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