ANOTHER flawed long versus short copy argument

April 13, 2013 •
Long copy vs short copy image

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:

  1. Neil cuts heaps of info from his long page, calls it ‘short copy’, and tests its performance.
  2. But it’s a single page site, so by cutting information from the page, he’s removed it from the site altogether.
  3. 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.

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Doug Rotherham wrote on April 13th, 2013

Hi Glenn, Nice work! I also saw the Neil Patel article. But then I came across this one by Peep Laja at Conversion XL http://goo.gl/PvM9q You've probably already read it. The take home message was that it's not about the 'length' of a page - it's about providing the 'right' information for the particular audience. But Peep's testing did show that short pages generally performed better when no money was involved in taking action. In the end it's all about testing - but the tests need to be properly designed with logical, clearly-stated hypotheses...which many people just don't get! Thanks for your insight, Doug

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 15th, 2013

Hey Doug. Another very interesting article. At least he makes the page length the issue, not the copy length. But it's important to note that his test doesn't tell us anything about copy length, per se, either. Like Neil's, it's a comparison of less versus more INFORMATION, not less versus more content. And yep, he's right on the money when he says this: "It’s not about the length really, it’s what is the right content for a particular audience."

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Matt wrote on May 1st, 2013

Hi Glenn, Yep - It looks like this long v short argument is being rehearsed a lot. I came across another article saying that long content is more likely to go viral, which I had a crack at debunking in my post: http://tinyurl.com/cttdtuh If you go to the original article, you'll see a not enormously conclusive discussion I had with that article's author. Cheers, Matt

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on May 1st, 2013

Yep, nice post, Matt. 100% agree. It'd be nice to see some good A/B testing. Stuff that's not completely confounded by design changes and other differences.

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Ade wrote on May 5th, 2013

As anyone who's ever done a single day of post secondary education would attest: you can illustrate [but not necessarily persuade an audience] anything by selective use of statistics. It would appear Mr Patel started with his conclusion, then found the 'facts' to fit his theory.

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