ANOTHER flawed long versus short copy argument
April 13, 2013 • Glenn Murray
Last week, I read an interesting article by Neil Patel on the long versus short copy issue. It allegedly shows long copy out-performing short. On the face of it, it looks fairly compelling, but if you keep your thinking cap on when you’re reading it, you’ll see it’s actually quite weak.
It shows us more INFORMATION is better
Neil’s study doesn’t show more WORDS are better, it shows more INFORMATION is better. Here’s how:
- Neil cuts heaps of info from his long page, calls it ‘short copy’, and tests its performance.
- But it’s a single page site, so by cutting information from the page, he’s removed it from the site altogether.
- And he’s in SEO, an industry that has to convey trustworthiness and authority to win clients. By cutting information he reduced his trustworthiness and authority.
Naturally this would reduce conversions. His readers no longer trust him as much, and have no way of finding information that will make them trust him more.
It tells us very little (if anything) about the volume of copy.
It would be far more useful if he’d made the copy more succinct, instead of removing information. Or if he moved the extra information to another page(s) with clear and prominent calls to action prompting the reader to visit that page.
Long copy sales pages also rank better?
Neil goes on to say that long copy ranks higher because more people tend to link to it. His stats support this, but once again, it pays to read critically. The focus of the article is sales copy, and by introducing these ranking stats, he’s not just saying long pages, generally, rank better, he’s implying that long SALES pages rank better.
But his stats relate to pages on the internet, generally. What percentage of pages in the sample are likely to be sales pages? A very small percentage, I’d say. I don’t have the stats at my fingertips, but logic suggests the vast majority of pages on the web are, in fact, information pages, not sales pages. By extension, we can assume the same of the sample.
This means the stats are really saying that long INFORMATION pages rank better because more people link to them. Not a very surprising finding, really, given that people are likely to share an information page if it’s informative, and an information page is more likely to be informative if it’s long.
But why do people share a sales page? Because it’s informative? I don’t think so. They share it if the product looks great, or the copy is entertaining, or the web design is awesome.
To draw any conclusions from Google data about the correlation between long copy and ranking of SALES pages, we need to see data on sales pages, not ALL pages.
Once again, a red herring
As I’ve said in the past, the long versus short copy argument is a red herring. Let’s see a test of rambling copy versus succinct copy, then we can judge performance of long versus short. Or a single long page versus multiple short pages. Until then, we’re simply proving that more information out-performs less information.