Daniel Burstein

Copywriting: How long (or short) should your copy be?

How long should this blog post be?

What about your landing page? Or email?

Content length discussions are as old as human communication itself. When Ug (the first critic) said to Zog about his cave paintings, “You had me at ‘Zog kill bison.’ All the rest was unnecessary commentary. I lost interest.”

On Wednesday’s free MarketingExperiments Web clinic – “Long Copy vs. Short Copy: How discovering the optimal length of a webpage produced a 220% increase in conversion” – Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, will share our discoveries about copy length.

But first, we asked the MarektingExperiments community for their opinions on copy length. Here’s the long (and short) of it …

 

No such thing as too long or too short

There is no such thing as too long or too short when it comes to copy. It’s like a long ball or a short ball in football. If it’s effective, then that is the one to use. The right one.

The key to any copy is the headline, followed by the first paragraph and so on until the P.S., putting in sub-headings for the browsers and enough detail to emotionally engage the reader.

The same is true of video. When the quality of the writing is good, it creates emotional engagement with some logical elements which people use to rationalize their emotional buying decision. No one complains their favorite book was too long to read … or their favorite film was too long to watch. That’s because they are emotionally engaging.

So, the answer to the question is …

“Copy should be long enough to emotionally engage the prospect and give them enough rational reasons to back their emotional decision to purchase.”

If it’s good enough copy, (the message) going to the right person, (the market) in the right format, (the media), then you are onto a winner.

When you can’t deliver enough quality copy in the media you are using, e.g. radio ad, or press ad, then you write a call-to-action advert which gets people to request the detailed copy or go somewhere they can get hold of it.

- Boyd Butler, Consultant

 

What is your customer’s goal? How do they find your content?

I’ll take a counter point to Boyd.

First thing, not all content will work in all situations, regardless of your copy. You have to look at how the consumer will be engaging with the content, and how they come across it. If you break down content into two buckets, people engage with content to do the following:

  1. Research a purchase
  2. Professional development (Entertainment is a veil we use to make this more palatable)

Inside of both of these, you can then further break it down to [the question]: how do they find the content? This factor determines the odds of your content getting engaged with.

People find content two ways:

  1. They search for it
  2. It is sent to them

For example, if someone is researching a purchase, they are more likely to like a longer form of content. Why? Because they are seeking out information to make an informed decision. This means they are doing a search, and asking to engage with content.

Most of us also require a form to be filled out to access the content. This means there is a negotiation going on with the consumer as well. We are asking them to give up something in exchange for the content. So, there has to be [significant] value on the content for them to give up their email address.

In these situations, a longer, or full, document performs better. At first glance, a larger document appears to have more value than a short document, hence is a better deal for the person. So, they are more likely to engage with it in that situation.

Compare this to content sent via email. The consumer is not in research mode (unless your email is on a drip campaign following up researching activity), and they are in work mode. This means professional development content is more likely to get engaged with.

We are disrupting their day. So, they do not have the time to read a long form piece of content. They need to engage with the content in a short time period. They have to stop their task at hand to read your content. In this scenario, short form content works better.

I suggest the rule of five in these cases. Make sure your content can be digested in under five minutes, and that is clear to the consumer. If you do this, you are increasing your odds of engagement when disrupting their day.

You need to look at when and where your content is going to be engaged with, to make sure you are creating the best content, giving you the best odds of engagement. You also need to combine this with your goals. The goal of content should never be to make someone sales ready. It should be to move them to the next stage in their lifecycle. I have never read a piece of content and said, “OK, I’ll buy it.” Especially not in the B2B world where there is a large amount of research.

The stats back up these claims with the following data:

Stat #1: The more expensive your product, the more research someone must do.

Stat #2: People break research up into stages, and usually perform two to three different batches of research before they reach out to set up demos.

Stat #3: People prefer their content to be under five pages, in general.

This research will be made public in my report published by Pardot coming up in the next month. You can also see me present on this data at the B2B Inspiration Tour.

- Mathew Sweezey, Manager of Marketing Research and Education, Pardot

 

Focus on customer personas

I think it all depends on how you know your customer persona. For example, if you market to women/housewives/24-32/living in Texas, I think long copy of human talk (the one that you have while you are with you friends) will be perfect – especially if you include a chance to add comments (with a plugin like Disqus).

On the other hand, if you market to professional males/19-33/living in New York, then you need a catchy headline with a short copy.

- Ahmed Seddiq, Senior Operation Officer, Corporate Visa Services, Dnata, The Emirates Group

 

Related Resources:

Long Copy vs. Short Copy: How discovering the optimal length of a webpage produced a 220% increase in conversion – Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 4:00 – 4:35 p.m. EDT

Long Copy vs. Short Copy: How our micro-testing increased conversion rate by more than 100%

Content Marketing: Focus on value, not length

Copywriting: Long copy vs. short copy matrix

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  1. May 6th, 2013 at 05:39 | #1

    Can’t say I agree completely, but you do bring a valuable point here. Nice post, thanks!

  2. May 6th, 2013 at 09:04 | #2

    I agree with the part you said: there is no such thing as too long or too short post.
    For me that is absolutely true. As long as you can deliver your message you can choose wherever length you want.
    Take care.

  3. May 7th, 2013 at 05:49 | #3

    As I keep telling my own clients, Apple has around 35 pages of copy for each of its products on its website. Whether it’s the low end iPod Nano or the high end Power Books, all are around the 35 page mark.

    Of course it just doesn’t seem like 35 pages because of Apple’s mastery of design.

  4. May 7th, 2013 at 16:41 | #4

    Maybe there is no such a thing as too long or too short post from a readers point of view, but what about the search engines point of view?.

  5. May 9th, 2013 at 02:41 | #5

    Great post. I agree with Ahmed Seddiq about the power of Personas. I write much better when I’m writing to a specific person. Pretty powerful technique that we use regularly in our company and wiht our clients. Thanks for pulling this pose together!

  6. Leigh Jeffery
    May 9th, 2013 at 12:47 | #6

    @Kirsten Nelson Yes.. the power of personas almost feels like cheating in advertising.. extremely powerful….abuse maybe?

  7. May 9th, 2013 at 15:54 | #7

    @Leigh Jeffery Well, if cheating is understanding how your customers think, anticipating their needs and then delivering what they need in words that they will respond to, so long as you are actually delivering value and filling the needs of the customer, I wouldn’t say that’s abuse. But I do suppose it could be used in a negative, manipulative way.

  8. May 11th, 2013 at 00:21 | #8

    I think copy should be as long as it needs to be.
    Higher priced item tends to require more words.

    But short copy can be more advantageous at times. Totally based on situation.

  9. May 13th, 2013 at 04:50 | #9

    I think the most important thing is to focus on customer personas… if it’s done properly you will get the answers on all the wuestions about the copy

  10. June 3rd, 2013 at 08:17 | #10

    Hey guys – your link to the short copy vs long copy webinar goes to next week’s shopping cart abandonment webinar.

    Is there a link to the replay somewhere?

    Ian

  11. June 3rd, 2013 at 08:38 | #12

    Thanks Erin – I am already subscribed. I hit the “Read More >>” Link in the latest email which brought me to this page – which brought me to the links that don’t go where they’re supposed to :(

    Will use your updated link.

    Cheers

    Ian

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