Long copy vs. short copy: when and where to use them and why
A battle has been raging in the field of marketing since its inception.
On one side, stand the short hands. Their battle cries are, “People don’t want to read anymore,” and “Attention spans are at their lowest.”
Facing them are the purists who yell, “More Copy, More Sales!”
So who will claim victory?
It seems this fight will, perhaps, forever end in a draw.
However, experts tend to agree on one rule of thumb: Always write as much as you need to in order to get your customer to take action. Stop right there and write no more.
That’s pretty vague, I know. But, there are some factors to consider when deciding word count. These include the reputation of your company, the complexity of your product or service, its exclusivity, and its price tag.
So, let’s start by seeing where using short copy tends to work and why.
Where the Short Hand Prevails
Proponents of short copy have a point when they say people don’t want to read anymore. According to the Nielson and Norman Group, only 84 percent of web users read every word on a web page.
ClickTale reports that just 22 percent of users even bother to scroll to the bottom of the webpage.
Studies indicate short copy tends to work when your product meets the following criteria.
- Your company is well known and trusted
- Your product or offer is very simple and requires little explaining
- Your price is inexpensive
- Your call-to-action costs no money: taking a free trial, signing up for a newsletter, etc.
Consider the following case studies, where short copy trumped long copy:
Fitness World, a well-known Scandinavian gym, increased conversions by 11 percent when it tested its long-form homepage against a shorter one. Its message was simple: join our gym and get fit. The control page was loaded with specifics about the machines available, the classes offered and the people who worked there— all details users can see with a singe visit.
Conversion XL created a long-form landing page for Motto Message, a company selling text-message marketing software. It used much copy and graphics to answer questions discovered through customer-service research. However, Motto Message’s goal in having this landing page was to get users to take a free tour of the product and reach the pricing page. Testing the long-form page against a shorter page led 97 percent more people to take the tour and 21 percent more people to reach the pricing page. In this case, the initial demand from prospects was low, so users did not need much information to take an action.
Design Boost, an online design school, wanted to use their home page to get people to sign up for a free course and to view course descriptions on other pages. They increased sign ups by 13 percent and click through by 25 percent when they tested a long-form control page against a shorter one. The rationale here is that the desired action sought from a customer was low: We give you a free course for your email. We’re not talking dollars yet.
Nonetheless, much evidence suggests long copy is the way to go.
When to go for the Long Haul
Many studies suggest long copy works best when your product is:
- Made by a well-known company
- Complex with many features
- Part of a specialized sector
- Not unique
Take a look at the following case studies where long copy stomped short copy in conversions.
MecLabs ran a series of tests with a research partner selling a health product. In all three tests, the longer landing page trumped the shorter version, one with a 4-1 ratio. The copy on the longer version was rife with details addressing doubts a customer may have about the product. It shouldn’t be surprising that customers would want to know all they can about a product before putting it in their bodies.
Researchers had this to say about their findings.
“In general, long copy offers the following advantages:
- Your visitors will have most of their questions answered and will have less anxiety about ordering from you.
- Long copy can reduce customer service by qualifying your customers to a greater degree.
- Long copy with bolded or emphasized points can allow some of your visitors to skim, while others more interested in specifics can find all the information they want. In this sense, long copy gives visitors more options.
- Long (and interesting) keyword-rich copy often performs well in natural search engines.”
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.
What did they do with that extra space?
- They clearly explained what heat maps were, how they worked, and how they could be of value to customers.
- Justified price with studies on the benefits of using eye-tracking software, as well as how Crazy Egg can deliver valuable data in a fraction of the cost and time it would take its competitors.
- Gave examples of how Crazy Egg features and services distinguish the company from its competitors.
Check out Conversion Rate Experts’ full report on their work with Crazy Egg.
Conversion Rate Experts also helped Moz.com make $1 Million when they made the site’s home page larger by including more content such as testimonials, calls-to-action, tidbits from presentations and more. Moz is also a web-analytics company and it hired CRE to help sell its premium $599 a month package.
Contentverve helped a little-known company increase sign ups for a home energy audit by 63 percent when it made a longer landing page with more copy. This offer could involve a large investment. Thus, the company needs to address all the potential anxieties customers may have about making a purchase, while still convincing them the offer is valuable.
However, it’s important to remember that long copy won’t work for every product that’s complex or expensive. Research and testing will determine whether long or short copy is most effective in gaining conversions for your product. One thing is certain, however—your copy can’t suck.
Long or Short: Quality Trumps All
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t care much for perceived attention spans. He once said, “People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.” What you need to get out of this is that, people are not going to read what fails to capture their attention.
So, how do you capture your target audience’s attention?
You mix it up and keep your copy fresh. You also filter out the words people don’t want to hear.
Neuroscientists say our attentions are triggered by novelty, emotion and contrast, or things that stand out. At the same time, we tend to ignore things that become repetitive.
Consider these tips on using copy to hook potential customers:
- Start sentences with action verbs.
- For long copy, write in 3-4 lines with subhead lines after every three paragraphs. The white space spreading this copy out creates contrast, while keeping it in one block of text can cause the reader to lose interest.
- Use emotionally-charged language to identify your customers’ problems and explain how your product can provide a solution.
- Highlight key words or phrases by italicizing, boldfacing, or font changing. This also helps the skimmers, which make up 79 percent of readers on the Web.
- Utilize bullet points as this will help readers digest information easily.
- Avoid jargon and speak in your customers’ language (More on this later).
Your ability to capture the reader’s attention is perhaps most crucial when writing and designing the Value Proposition, what Conversion XL calls “The #1 thing that determines whether people will keep reading or hit the back button.”
What Is A Value Proposition?
A value proposition is a statement that promises value and distinguishes your product or service from the competition. In an engaging and clear manner, it shows potential customers how your product will solve their problems or improve their situations.
It generally consists of a headline, which hooks the reader and presents the product’s end benefit; a sub headline, which in 2 to 3 sentences explains what the product is, for whom it’s for and how it’s used; a list of bullets which outline the product’s key benefits; and a visual that your target market can relate to.
It helps the target audience answer the following questions:
- What is this company selling?
- For whom is it for?
- How can I benefit from using this product?
- Why should I buy this product from this company?
Show Them Exactly What You’re Offering
Regardless of the length of your value proposition, a clear one can go a long way in conversions. So, never be vague in your value proposition, or any part of your copy for that matter. A customer should know exactly what he or she is being offered.
Take a look at these case studies where clarity helped customers see value.
An auto repair company increased conversions on a web page by 58 percent when it added detail to its vague headline. The control read, “Simple Fix for Blown Head Gaskets.” The alternate version read, “Repairs Blown Head Gaskets in Just One Hour.” The new version clearly explained the offer and even delivered a time frame for the service.
ContentVerve tweaked a bullet point on a landing page promoting its e-book, “7 Universal Conversion Optimization Principles.” The move increased downloads by 18.59 percent.
The control read, “Insights and experience from 4 years of research and over 350 A/B tests distilled into one 26-page free ebook.” The new bullet point stated, “Read the book in just 25 minutes and get insights from 4 years of research and over 350 A/B tests.”
It’s important to note that before testing, author Michael Aagaard looked to a personal issue. He said he had many e-books on his iPad, but no time to read them all. He assumed other people must face this problem as well. So, he decided to test his hypothesis.
Saxo Bank, of Denmark, increased sign-ups for a free trial of its Forex trading account, when it tested a revised version of its value proposition. Check it out here. Notice the treatment is a lot clearer and it contains a headline that immediately mentions the offer’s end-benefits.
CitiCliq tested a number of different phrases to use as a header on their landing page. CitiCliq creates websites for businesses. The headline that gained the most conversions read, “Create a Web Page for Your Business.”
Using your copy to establish a connection with the reader can be essential to conversion. Sometimes, changing one word of copy can have this effect on your readers.
Check out these 10 Call to Action case studies with examples from real button tests.
Keep it Simple
One of the major walls standing in the way of expressing clarity and creating connections with a customer through copy is “Marketeze” or “Market Jargon.” Call it whatever you want, just keep it out of your copy, especially the value proposition.
You need to speak in your customers’ language and to do that you need to know your target market as best you can.
So, here’s some home work. P.S. some of it requires field work.
- Send your customers surveys asking them to rate certain pieces of copy. Michael Masterson & Mike Palmer’s Copy Logic! Service does this through surveys that utilize a number system and no room for comments, so your feelings won’t get hurt.
- Send customers emails asking them to rate your copy or request a testimonial about a product. Check out my blog post on landing pages for more insight on testimonials.
- Monitor your social media presence. Read Daniel Bursetin’s MarketingExperiments.com article for some good advice on utilizing social media to learn about your ideal customers.
- Interview customers in person at shops.
- Interview your competitors’ customers too.
The survey and interview process can be very helpful when you’re asking the right questions. Conversion XL created the following list of questions you may want to ask.
- Who are you? What do you do? (customer profile)
- What does our product help you do? (helps you understand how they use it, tells you words they use to describe our product)
- Which parameters did you compare on different options? (which features matter)
- What were the most important ones? (key pains to solve)
- Which alternatives did you consider? (competitors we have to look at)
- What made you choose our product? (our key advantage)
- What were the biggest hesitations and doubts before the purchase? (things we have to address in the copy)
- Were there questions you needed answers to, but couldn’t find any? (necessary information to provide)
- What information would have helped you make the decision faster? (same as above)
- In which words would you recommend it to somebody you know? (words they use to describe our product)
Pay close attention to the information you gather. The words used in those responses should be reflected on to your copy.
It’s important to note that Moz.com, which made $1 Million with its super-long web page, took customer feedback into great account while developing the dollar-making page. Through customer-service research, Conversion Rate Experts gathered questions customers had about the product and used their own language when addressing those concerns. They even interviewed former customers who had canceled subscriptions.
However, there is also another group of people you should pay just as much attention to—your competitors.
Know Your Enemy
As Conversion XL explains, monitoring your competitors is not about copying what you think works best for them. It’s about seeing where they fall short and you excel. While many factors of a web page can be tweaked to highlight this key feature, copy can help you directly express its value to customers.
This Is the End
Long Copy nor Short Copy will get you the conversions you’re looking for unless your copy is clear and powerful. Always look to express your product as something of value that not only stands out from the competition but meets the needs of the market it targets.
Of course, there are some things to consider when coming up with a word gauge. Long copy usually works well with complex produces with many features and in niche markets. They tend to have a heftier price tag. Meanwhile, inexpensive offers that are simple to understand tend to require less copy. It should be very easy for customers to complete the transaction without any fluff getting in the way.
Nonetheless, only research and testing will determine how many words you need to get your customers to buy your product. Know your customers, know your competitors, know your product.
Don’t ever stop testing.
The copy on your web page, like the web page as a whole, needs to be an ever evolving creature. It needs to adapt to new challenges and changes: shifts in customer mindset, what they expect from a company, what devices they are on etc.
It needs to optimize constantly or perish like the rest.