Plain-spoken Online Conversion Rate Newsletter - covering web design, sales, marketing, copywriting, usability, SEO, relationship marketing and consumer psychology.


Don’t Sell Yourself Short on Copy

I’d like to say there’s a healthy debate going on out there about how long the copy for your Web site and emails should be, except there really isn’t. Everywhere I turn, I read admonitions to keep your copy short because folks just can’t be bothered to read lengthy copy.

Well, stand back, ‘cause I’m blowing a big raspberry! By now, you should know how I feel about “rules” and I don’t want you stuffing a Short Copy Rule into your brain without considering the consequences.

The truth is, your copy should be as long as it needs to be. Not a word more, and not necessarily a word less!

David Patterson wrote about the 5 most important things to consider in email marketing. One of them was “brevity.”

“We all know the expression short and sweet. In email marketing, it might be better said, "short is sweet." People want to get through their email quickly. If you send a message many screens long, they're likely to react the same way they would if you were the driver in front of them doing 20 in a 50 MPH zone. Expect to be passed by at the first opportunity and to receive the virtual equivalent of the universal rude gesture.”1

Do I agree with him? Well, sorta, but not exactly.

Here’s an interesting story about copy length.

A software marketer tested three different sets of copy for an email campaign:

· a tried-and-true version with three brief paragraphs

· a slightly longer version - about three-quarters of a printed page - that expanded on the offer details

· a one-and-a-half-page version with lots more detail on the offer, products, and company.

He mailed all three at the same time in plain text to three equal-sized segments (50,000 names) of his house list. The winner? The page-and-a-halfer! Although it was substantially longer, it produced a 7.5 percent click-through rate and a 4 percent conversion rate. The “slightly longer version” came in second, with a click-through rate of 6 percent and a conversion rate of 3 percent.

Kinda makes you question that Short Copy Rule, eh?

So what really gives? Am I saying we all ought to be writing reams of copy for our emails and Web sites? Hardly. Remember, I’m the No-Rule Principle Dude!

What I will tell you is this: when folks indulge in lengthy copy, they are often rambling. Copy gets long when you don’t get to the point or when you try to say too many things all at one go. This is the sort of length that wastes people’s time and makes ‘em head for the hills. ’Ive said it before: copy is always most effective when it says one thing really well.

But I’ve also talked an awful lot about the importance of speaking to your visitors’ emotional needs, creating mental imagery that puts them center stage, developing relationships based on the unique personality you have chosen to convey. So you have to say what you need to say. And you have to say it engagingly, applying all those wordsmithing techniques we’ve talked about. Because what Rudyard Kipling said is absolutely true - words are “the most powerful drug used by mankind.” They certainly bear the lion’s share of your persuasive message.

If you short-change your copy - bleed it of its persuasive power - you can do serious damage to your conversion rates.

All things being equal, short copy is better. I’ve heard it’s possible to make almost any point in 500 words or fewer (and, no, I’m not presenting this as a rule!). Therein is the challenge of writing well and working some editorial magic. Because if you can say exactly the same thing in fewer words - accomplishing exactly the same goal - that’s a very good thing indeed. You won’t find me blowing raspberries at that.

But saying less than what needs to be said, just because you’ve been told copy must be short, is not a good thing. Beware the difference!

Years ago, when most copywriters were men, the advice went like this: compare your copywriting to a woman’s skirt - make it long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to stimulate interest.

My apologies for the sexist analogy … it’s really a principle thing. You Grok, right?

Shameless plug: I’m tickled extra green about our new pdf-format e-book, Take Your Words to the Bank. We wrote it for both the copywriters who create copy and the marketers who must evaluate the suitability of copy. It’s all about Web-writing that persuades - a handy collection of some of the articles you’ve read here and lots more. Add it to your reference collection!


1 “The Five Most Important Words in Email Marketing.” David Patterson.


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