“I despise long and overly-long copy.”
That was her entire response to yesterday’s article, on how to get good at copywriting.
Yep. That’s all her email said.
Hit reply. Type one sentence. Hit send.
First I wanted to fight her on it. But that’s a bad idea. Which — in this case — I was able to restrain myself from.
Then I thought I should just delete it.
Then I realized that YOU — and any number of other readers — might have had the very same reaction.
And so I thought, why not turn it into a lesson?
Yes, overly-long copy is bad — by definition…
When something is overly-long, by definition, it’s too long.
Imagine you had an overly-long shovel. It needs to be something like 5-feet, but instead it’s 50-feet. That’s a problem.
Or an overly-long stop sign. Instead of being visible to drivers, it’s at the top of a 100-foot pole and completely useless.
I won’t go on — I think you get the point.
It’s said that good writing needs to be long enough to say what it needs to say, and no longer. And yes, this applies to your sales letters, video scripts, and other copywriting.
But how can you tell the difference between long and overly-long?
In the words of Brian Kurtz, talking from stage about the Titans of Direct Response sales letter (which I wrote)…
“I know, but I really don’t care, that the sales letter for Titans was too long. What? The stupidest comments on Facebook… ‘Oh, you know, I might want to come, but I don’t know if I have time to read that letter.’
“There’s no sales letter that’s too long. There’s no sales letter that’s too short. There’s only sales letters that are too boring, and therefore, too ineffective.”
If there’s a sales letter that’s ABOUT WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT, written clearly and concisely, moves fast between ideas, and has to take 15,000 words to tell you what it needs to tell you? Well then that sales letter is very long — but it’s not overly-long.
And here’s the thing — while you should avoid writing copy that’s overly-long, you should not avoid writing copy that’s long, because…
Test after test proves long copy works better…
Hire 20 of the best copywriters, to write copy for the same offer. (We need to control for variance in any one writer’s performance.)
Allow 10 of them to write as long of copy as they feel they need to make their case. For the other 10, restrict them to 2,000 words maximum. Test all these sales letters against each other.
On average, the long copy will outperform the short. By a significant margin.
You can’t just sell more by writing more. You have to write well. You have to understand the deep structure of effective persuasive messages.
But test after test, in market after market, has found that when you remove important elements from a well-structured sales message merely for the purpose of making it shorter, you diminish its power to persuade.
This reinforces the maxim, “The more you tell, the more you sell.”
Not only that, there may even be value in simply just having a lot of words on the page.
Researchers into how we think have found a phenomenon called the length implies strength heuristic. A heuristic is a mental shortcut we use to make decisions. And many of will automatically — and without thinking — assign more value to a longer persuasive message.
Some people choose to shift their bias the other way, especially for anything that looks like marketing. And you shouldn’t use this as an excuse to just write drivel. However, if you have a great message, you should NOT be afraid to share the full thing — no matter how long it may be.
“Who reads all that anyways?”
This is a very important question — with a simple answer: BUYERS.
Your goal, with any advertisement or piece of marketing copy, isn’t to get 100% readership.
It’s to capture the attention of your ideal prospects, build their interest in your message, transition that interest into a desire for your product or service, and get them to take action on your offer.
If someone is not an ideal prospect, they will quickly judge the long copy as not worth their time — and rightly so.
The same response from an ideal prospect would be problematic. But that’s a problem with your message not being presented in a relevant way, NOT the length of the copy.
The other issue you can run into with readership is writing something that grabs the attention of your ideal prospect and keeps it until the end of the message — but doesn’t say enough to convince them to act on your offer (more on this in a moment).
What is “long” does vary by market, and type of sale…
Here’s a really important bit of information regarding length.
The #1 determinant of copy length the distance in prospect awareness between where they are, and where they need to be to buy.
At one end of the spectrum, you’re probably abundantly aware of your need for toilet paper, and very little copy will ever be needed to get you to buy, or even to choose between brands.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is buying a 12-month investment recommendation service from someone you’ve never heard of, especially if you’ve never bought an investment recommendation service before. In this case, they have to take you through the whole awareness spectrum from unaware, to problem-aware, to solution-aware, to you-aware, to deal-ready (using the UPSYD description from Keith Krance).
Price can be a factor, but it’s not the only factor. Because it actually takes longer copy to acquire a new financial newsletter subscriber at under $50 than it does to sell a back-end trading service at $2,000 or more.
The more a prospect understands about your offer, the less copy you’ll need.
Some items like retail products can be sold with very little copy (although some brands stand out in their use of long copy for these same products — see Trader Joe’s).
But other items, such as published information and expert advice, take much more prospect education and thus need much longer copy to even make the sale.
Tell your full selling story, every time…
I once heard a story from Dan Kennedy, about trying to save money on direct mail.
He’d send out monthly sales letters to his newsletter readers. These were his customers. People who knew him well. Who presumably knew why he was qualified and credentialed to teach on the topics he was selling training on.
So he experimented with leaving out the credibility and believability elements.
He sent out the same letter, credibility elements added back, and sales took off.
So, if you want to write shorter copy…
What will you choose to leave out?
Will you leave out your core selling story? The emotional bit?
Will you leave out the logical justification that backs up the emotional journey?
Will you leave out the proof, credibility, and believability elements?
Will you leave out your presentation of the product, its benefits, and features?
Will you leave out the offer? The guarantee? The urgency elements?
What will you leave out, due to your own distaste for long copy?
Or will you short-change your reader all the way through, telling them less about why what you say is true, why they should care, why it’s personally-relevant, and why it’s believable, and importantly how your offer is built to transform their life for the better?
What bit of information that they need to know to make a reasonable, well-informed buying decision will you hold back on?
Are there any alternatives to long copy?
There are a whole pile of things your prospect must know or understand that contribute to their decision to respond.
If you hate the idea of putting 10,000 words on a webpage — no matter how effective it may be…
Well, first I’m going to tell you to get over yourself.
It’s not about you, and what you want.
It’s about what your prospect wants and needs.
Presuming your product or service is designed to improve their life, to be more valuable to them than what you’re asking them to spend, you’re actually doing them a disservice by insisting on shorter copy.
But if you’re still too caught up on the way you think things “should be” instead of how they actually are, you still need to do your prospect the favor of giving them all they need to know to make their best buying decision.
So consider different formats.
A webinar is effective. As-is a multi-part video presentation, spanning a handful of videos.
You can deliver the same message over multiple emails. Or in some other drip sequence.
If you’re unwilling to put it all on one page, find a way to spread it over many.
Unless it’s very well-strategized, it’s unlikely to be as effective as doing it all at once. Because giving yourself the challenge of having to win their attention over and over and over again almost inevitably means fall-off, often worse than the fall-off from a single sales message.
But if you insist on doing it, know there are ways — just make sure you still tell your entire selling story.
How to write long copy well…
As I wrote yesterday, it all comes down to understanding the deep structure of effective selling messages.
That’s a huge part of what I teach in High-Velocity Copywriting.
How to write long copy that accelerates forward through your selling message. That lives up to Gary Halbert and John Carlton’s “greased chute” idea — that your copy must put your prospect on the slippery slope toward buying.
You’ll avoid copy that goes around in circles and feels overly-long. Even as your word count goes up, and the amount of selling ground you cover increases.
This is what top copywriters know, that rookies struggle with.
This was the big breakthrough that finally led to me making a name for myself and being able to make a great living as a direct response copywriter.
It’s not about flashy copy, or over-the-top language.
It’s about what to say, in what order, that helps the prospect make their best buying decision.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,