Long copy vs short copy – Evidence please?

April 7, 2009 •

I’ve written on the subject of long versus short copy before. At length (if you’ll pardon the terrible pun – it’s my blog, whatdyagonnadoaboutit?!). So I won’t go on about it here. Suffice to say that I think it’s horses for courses, and that long copy works well for some audiences and not for others. The important thing is to engage the reader, solve their problems, and guide them towards your desired course of action. (See my post on the inverted pyramid v story-telling approach to copywriting.)

So why this post? I’d like to see some proper evidence related to the long copy v short copy debate. Sure, I’ve read the books by the big (mostly American) copywriting names who espouse long copy, but, in true long-form style, they don’t present hard evidence, they simply wax lyrical about their own splendid experiences (and successes!).

Anecdotal evidence is only worth so much… And split testing is suggestive, but not conclusive, because split tests typically target a single audience type with a single offering.

What I’d like to see is some sort of cross-audience / cross-product study.

Anyone know of any? Please comment…

Feel free to comment...
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Donna Spencer wrote on April 7th, 2009

I've never seen 'evidence' but even if I did, I wouldn't believe it outside of the detailed context in which it was conducted. You mention long vs short for different audiences, but I think (e.g. opinion, not evidence) that task matters more. When you are jumping into a block of content with a simple, known-item task, short copy that provides the 'answer' is fantastic. And when you are exploring and learning and building up experience, long copy is more useful. (I wrote about this from a design perspective here: http://boxesandarrows.com/view/four_modes_of_seeking_information_and_how_to_design_for_them) The context, of everything, is important...

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Angie Haggstrom wrote on April 7th, 2009

I'm a firm believer in writing sales copy appropriate for the product and the audience. IMO, long copy would be a waste of time on a $5-10 product to a younger, less educated demographic. Products that are not information based can also benefit from shorter sales copy. Andy Jenkins of StomperNet recently wrote on the subject of sales copy (http://www.stomperblog.com/2008/10/01/lazy-skeptic/). In it he outlined what it should contain and in what order. I think if you can accomplish it with less, all the better. Our blog posts, articles, etc are all getting shorter to deal with the attention deficit of readers. Why shouldn't our sales copy? Testing on long and short web copy performed by Marketing Experiments ( http://www.marketingexperiments.com/improving-website-conversion/long-copy-short-copy.html) showed that long copy came out ahead in many instances. However, it also brought up several important facts and ideas: ** The conversion of long eventually died off. ** The shorter page also performed better at the start. ** Short copy deals with short attention spans ** Short allowed for better sales presentation Perhaps the most interesting what that avoiding the longer stuff helped separate your copy from the sleazy, marketer, scammy type copy. Personally, I detest the long, highlighted copy. If I'm on the page, I either hit the back button in my browser as soon as I see it, or I already want the product and page all the way to the bottom for the buy button. I don't want to know how it worked for Joe Blow in Timbuktu. I want to know what a product does for me and why your product differs. The result of being desensitized and deeply associated with the marketing process?? Angie Haggstrom Freedom Freelance

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Tony da Costa wrote on April 9th, 2009

We use a combination of both short & long copy for our website that attracts up to 80,000 visitors a day. For our guide editorial content we go the long copy so to deliver the user as much information on what they are searching. Fortunately google bot likes this as well so will index us well for the specific search I am chasing. For our client advertisers we go the short copy to engage the user but also entice them to click through to our clients website for more information. So a combination of both works well for us.

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Charles Cuninghame wrote on April 23rd, 2009

Glenn Found this quote in an article which neatly sums up the debate for me: “Long copy sells better because it provides an interested consumer with all the information they need to make a purchase decision. If they aren’t interested, then they probably won’t see the advertising so it doesn’t matter if the copy is long or short.” The key point is to provide all the information buyers need to make a purchase decision. Most websites fail at this. From my experience the most ardent supporters of short copy are designers and ad people who are more concerned about how the marketing piece looks rather than how much profit it can pull in. If you'd prefer your marketing to be profitable rather than "cool" or "creative" I'd err on the side of long copy.

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Dana Strong wrote on August 12th, 2009

Hi Glenn: I'm interested, too! I recently missed out on a $15,000 online copywriting contract because one of the decision makers had been at one of my workshops where I espouse the Jakob Nielsen principles including short, concise, to-the-point copy and she is an advocate of long, drive-the-message-home-again-and-again copy. Chris Nodder of Nielsen/Norman Group is now working with me to try to sift through the research results that prove long copy is most effective and to see how they compare to the usability studies of NN/Group that advocate short copy. Want to know what we find out? Dana

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Glenn Murray wrote on September 3rd, 2009

Hi Dana. I'd love to hear the results of your investigation!!! Please keep us informed. Sounds great, thank you!

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Perry wrote on November 1st, 2010

Since most if not practically all people do not like such long pages, you will lose more readers, even if some of them may be interested. You have to keep in mind that: many potential buyers are antsy in their chairs, they are tired, they are bouncing from site to site, they want info now(!), they are not on their nice comfy couch kicking back.... They. the readers, the potential customers give the final vote! I go by what THEY say. Now, there is an exception to that: entertain them, and give them free tips along the way down the page. I have a long sales page for my copywriting services (thelist.fm/sellmore.htm), but I break it up with pictures, humor and a free tip here and there. I think long sales pages should do that. Other than that, since so many do not like long pages, do NOT have them! Isn't that the bottom line?

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