Ah, for the eternal debate amongst marketers…
“That copy is too long! Nobody reads all that!”
“We write long copy because it works. Doesn’t matter if almost nobody reads it, as long as buyers do!”
And back and forth and back and forth.
The other day, in the Cult of Copy Facebook group, there was a conversation about copy length.
Someone was asking if 8,000 words (30 pages in Word) was overkill for a $297 offer.
And plenty of people were willing to weigh in. I even threw my hat into the ring — a rarity for ANY Facebook conversation these days.
But I know this topic keeps coming up, and will probably always come up, so I decided to revisit it, and share some of the big points that came to mind yesterday.
First, my personal biases…
I write long copy. Really long copy. My latest winner was well north of 6,500 words — and that’s short for me.
Others have come in in the 8,000 to 12,000 range. And we’re talking copy that generated hundreds of thousands into the millions of dollars in sales.
When I’m hired today, it’s to write long copy. That 8,000 mark that came up in the question on Facebook is somewhere close to my minimum.
Also, it’s what my clients expect. If I were to write a 1,000 word sales letter, they’d probably freak out at me. My clients pay me to write long copy, and I write long copy.
All of this to say, I am highly biased toward making arguments in favor of long copy.
But as you’ll see in a moment, it’s not so simple.
Sales copy can’t be too long, only too boring…
I think I got this particular wording from my “friend for life” Brian Kurtz, who was second in command at Boardroom, Inc. as it rose from a few million to well over $100 million in sales, on the back of — you guessed it — long copy. (He also was the host of The Titans of Direct Response.)
Brian’s point is that if you write something interesting and relevant to your market, they will read it.
People regularly read thousands upon thousands of words. They read books. They read magazines. They read newspapers. They sit and read, because what they’re reading is interesting to them.
If you write copy that’s not interesting, it doesn’t matter how long it is, it won’t get read.
And so the first judgment you pass on copy shouldn’t be about its length, but — to borrow a phrase from Boardroom’s founder Marty Edelston — whether or not it “makes you vibrate.”
That is, does the copy pack an emotional wallop? Is it stimulating? Once you start to read, how hard is it to put it down?
This is first and foremost the way copy should be judged. Because if you write something that’s the most interesting thing your prospect has read in the day, they’ll literally ignore other obligations to finish reading.
This has nothing to do with length. If you keep the copy interesting, it doesn’t matter the length, because it will get read.
However, there are some general guidelines about length — and some of them are very counterintuitive.
Niche or market can influence length…
One part of the question that I didn’t mention above was regarding niche. The particular company in question is in the health niche.
When it comes to niche, first and foremost I defer to my initial point about making it interesting.
If your copy is ultra-interesting to your target market, it doesn’t matter what niche you’re in, what your market demographics are, or anything else.
Because, again, people consume information (including sales copy) that’s of interest to them. Especially people who are contemplating a buying decision.
But some niches, like health and finance, are especially good for long copy, because they’re full of “readers.” (Older demographics tend to — at least at present — be more full of “readers” than younger demographics. Though it should be noted that exceptions abound.) And, in particular, they’re full of people who have responded to longer sales messages before.
So writing a longer piece of sales copy for any offer in the health niche is completely within the realm of what’s expected there. You have a market that’s probably responded to really good long copy before, and that will be receptive to longer copy again.
(But, again, it MUST be interesting!)
That said, there are far more important factors in determining appropriate message length…
Perhaps the biggest generalization around copy length is based on market awareness…
Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising went into great detail on market awareness, and how it influences the advertising messages you send.
Mark Ford (writing as Michael Masterson) and John Forde used Schwartz’s market awareness model as the foundation for their book Great Leads, and made it more immediately useful.
They broke down, based on market awareness, the best kind of lead to use to start your sales copy.
They separated the most effective sales appeals into six broad categories, and placed them on the market awareness spectrum from most aware to least aware.
They also explained how when your reader is “least aware” they require a much more indirect selling approach, such as a story lead.
When they are “most aware” the lead can be very direct, such as offering a discount price on a product they are already likely to buy.
This is why grocers can simply mark a sale price on produce, while financial newsletter publishers write 10,000-word sales video scripts.
If your market is aware of their problem they want to have solved, the type of solutions available, your specific product, and their fit and need for that product, you can say very little and make the sale.
If your market is only vaguely aware of the problem (such as a risk to their wealth), has no clue about potential solutions, and hasn’t even thought of researching products or providers, you have to first build all that awareness before you can ever get to price.
And when they are somewhere in the middle, you meet them where they’re at, and have to say enough to carry them forward (but not too much more).
All of this to say, long copy is especially relevant if the awareness of the market is particularly low. Short copy is relevant when you’re selling someone something they already know they need.
This is far more important than niche or even price.
Relationship is an “awareness” clue that can also inform copy length…
Imagine for a moment two different movie recommendations.
The first is from a total stranger. They are clearly excited about a new movie that’s just hit the theaters, and you run into them in public as they’re trying to convince anyone that will listen that they need to see this new movie.
In order for this person to convince you to see the movie — investing both the ticket price and your even-more-valuable time — this person would likely have to do some heavy convincing. They would need to explain the movie in a way that sounded appealing to you. They’d need to reveal their own preferences in a way that led you to believe that you could trust their judgment. In short, they’d have to use “long copy” to convince you to see the movie.
Compare that to a recommendation from your best friend, with whom you’ve watched dozens of movies before, and chatted at length about what you did and didn’t like. They tell you, “Dude, you gotta see that movie,” and you’re sold.
Once you have a relationship with someone, it takes far less convincing from them for you to make a much bigger commitment.
The way this plays out in copy is very interesting. For first-time purchases, often the sales pitch is much longer than for the second or third or tenth product someone is buying from you.
The hurdle in getting a customer to go from zero to one purchase from you is higher than any subsequent hurdle.
And so the copy for these first purchases — called “acquisition packages” among the top direct marketers — tends to be the longest copy they use. It’s also the highest-value, as it’s what keeps new customers coming through the front door. And the copywriters who can consistently write winning acquisition packages are the most lauded, and most highly-paid.
The longer the relationship with a customer though, the easier it becomes to sell them more, and at a higher price. These “back-end” sales are much easier to make, and require less copy. But they wouldn’t be as easy or require this little copy if it weren’t for the existing relationship.
So — what’s the rule on copy length?
Regardless of price, regardless of niche, regardless of market or product type…
Write as much as you need to in order to convince an interested but hesitant ideal buyer within your target market — making sure your strongest intention is to keep it interesting to them, and focused on their wants, needs, and desires.
Tell your whole selling story, every time. But don’t get bogged down in irrelevant details that don’t move your prospect any closer to the sale.
And ultimately, test. You never know exactly what will work until you try it.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,