Long copy v short copy

“People don’t like to read”

“People have short attention spans”

“People don’t scroll”

“You need to keep it short, no-one’s going to read ALL that.”

These are the things you’ll hear when the subject of long copy comes up.

Yet, at the same time, direct marketers – people who measure the response to their sales messages say things like this:

“As a rule, good long copy will always beat good short copy.” (Drayton Bird)

So who is right?

Long Copy Put To The Test

A couple of months ago, I wrote a long copy version of a client’s sales page. This longer version had 1089 words, compared to the existing version’s 360.

Unsurprisingly, there was some resistance to the new version. The designer complained there was a lot of text. He complained even more when I said I wanted the text in a bigger font.

(What’s the point of long copy if the copy is hard to read?)

But I dug my heels in and, finally, we produced a version I was reasonably happy with. So we ran a split-test between the old version and my new longer version.

The result:

Split test result
Split test result

As you can see, long copy produced 14.7% more conversions.

Not a huge percentage, but this wasn’t some fast-growing new company that’s still finding its feet.

This is a business that’s been using Adwords for 9 years – in a market dominated by household names. It’s very unusual for a business like that to grow by double digit percentages.

And to do that in the space of around 5 weeks (the length of the test) is even more unusual.

So Why Did Long Copy Win?

My longer version…

•    Covered more features and benefits, and in greater depth.
•    Explained the offer more fully – giving a ‘reason why’.
•    Had more (and bigger) graphics – yes, I didn’t just increase the number of words, I also increased the number of pictures. Long pages don’t frighten me!
•    Featured more testimonials and social proof (e.g. awards, customer approval ratings).
•    Justified the price by comparing it to the time the product saves.

And that’s why long copy usually beats short copy: it allows you to demonstrate more value, answer more questions or objections, prove your claims, and justify the price.

Is Long Copy Always Necessary?

Definitely not.

The late Joe Karbo said it best. He said copy should be:

“… as long as it needs to be. It takes less space or time to sell a Cadillac at half-price than it does to sell a Widget. That’s because the Cadillac has been pre-sold by General Motors, and all you have to sell is the bargain price and the terms and make it believable. With your Widget, you’re starting from scratch.”

Making Long Copy Easy To Read

There are tricks to making long copy effective. First of those is to make it easy to read.

I had 1089 words on my page, but…

  • The page is broken into 19 sections (So the average section was under 60 words long).
  • The sections has headlines – so the reader had the choice between skipping over a section without missing the big point, or reading the section to get more information.
  • The longest section is 13 lines (broken into 5 paragraphs).
  • The longest paragraph is 7 lines long. Normally this would be too long, but it’s a list and I couldn’t figure a way to make it shorter without losing the flow. The second longest paragraph is only 5 lines long.

So the reader wasn’t facing a wall of text he had to plough through in order to understand the sales message. Instead, he had a whole sales pitch in front of him that was well sign-posted and easy to skim.

Using Simple Language

As well as breaking up text in order to make it more inviting and easier to skim, you should also keep your sentences short and to the point.

Even though my client was selling a technical product to business owners, my copy scored 68 (grade 8.7) on the Flesch-Kincaid reading scale.

That’s equivalent to the reading level of a typical 14 year old.

(Some expert copywriters suggest you should aim even lower. Gary Halbert suggested aiming at a 12 year old level.)


Studies showing that the “average” reader won’t read are about as useful as the fact the “average” person has less than two legs. (Think about it.)

Your buyers – and potential buyers – will read. And those are the only visitors you need to care about.

So don’t shy away from long copy. Test after test shows it’s usually more effective.

Best wishes,

Steve Gibson

PS Funny story…

The original 360 word version was also written by me.

A couple of months after I wrote it, a very well-known (and very expensive) conversion optimisation company had 3 cracks at beating it.

Their best version lost by 20.7%. Their second best version, by 33.7%. Their worst, by 46.9%.

(i.e. Their three versions produced roughly 4/5, 2/3 and 1/2 of the conversions my original version did.)

So my page was left standing… the unbeaten champion. Until now…

If you’d like champion copy for a small fraction of the prices these agencies charge, drop me an email.

PPS This newsletter scored just 4.5 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. That’s the reading level of an 11 year old. I hope you agree it was easy to read, without being too simplistic.

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