“All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short…”
Those are the words of David Ogilvy, in Ogilvy on Advertising.
He was a pretty experienced guy when it came to copywriting…
Did a few good things, apparently.
Interestingly, Ogilvy went on to suggest one of the reasons behind this idea is “advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.”
Hmmm. Interesting point.
Maybe it’s the reason a reader of my previous piece on this subject got in touch to tell me she didn’t quite agree with me: that on occasion she’ll scan over long copy even if it’s ‘good’ and ‘follows the rules’.
To bring you up to speed, in part one, I argued people do read long copy…
They just don’t read bad copy.
If you missed that piece, you can catch up here.
The reader went on to say she only scanned my piece…
Then she emailed me.
As I pointed out in my response, despite only scanning the copy, it still prompted her to respond.
It engaged her and led her to take action.
That was the aim of the piece.
I wasn’t looking for people to only agree with me – everyone has their own opinions on copy, which is cool – and I wasn’t looking for people to necessarily read the whole thing.
I’d written the piece (of relatively long copy) to get a response from readers.
As I received many more responses – it seems to have worked.
In fact, I didn’t just get feedback via email – people were tweeting me too, expanding on the discussion.
The ‘long copy’ article achieved its aim as a piece of content.
Perhaps, as this reader only scanned the piece, Ogilvy’s thought is true – when people see longer pieces of copy, they assume the writer does have something to say and are more likely to engage.
Controlling the narrative
Personally I think it’s more to do with the fact that when you have more copy to work with, you have more opportunity to be persuasive, more opportunity to engage with the reader.
It really is as simple as that.
The more copy you have, the better you’re able to guide the reader through a thought process. You’re able to reveal information at a pace you can control.
(Do you agree? Tweet me at @allgoodcopy with your thoughts.)
It’s why, for example, in most long copy sales letters you’ll only find the price of the product at the end.
Cynical readers will assume this is to hide the price because it’s high.
Whether something costs £37 or £3,700, it’s always better to evidence the value of something before you reveal its price.
The longer the copy, the more chance you have to create a higher perception of the price you can then anchor the actual price to.
It’s not cynical. It’s just sensible.
And it works.
Just this week, a letter I wrote running over 10,000 words was launched online. It’s currently converting above expectations. The price isn’t mentioned until about 8,000 words in.
Price mentions aside, does the letter work just because it’s long?
Of course not.
It works ultimately because the copy is based on a good idea.
As I point out in my book, The Art of the Click, you shouldn’t write a single word until you’ve got a good idea that you can write about.
But beyond that the letter persuades people to buy because there is enough evidence in the copy to support the decision to buy.
There are sections that explore the idea…sections that encourage the reader to imagine how their life would be with the product…sections that provide proof of the theory…sections that offer bonuses if you buy…sections that tackle potential objections to buying…sections that deal with the price.
Do I expect everyone to read every piece of the letter?
Do I hell.
You had me at hello
With a longer piece of copy you have more opportunity to guide the reader…
But it’s important to remember the reader will only ‘use’ the copy they need.
Take my previous article…
The reader who only scanned my previous piece found enough in there to respond without reading it all.
Others did read the whole piece. A regular reader who got in touch had obviously read the whole thing, quoting different lines I’d written throughout the article. Others shared it on Twitter saying how much they enjoyed it.
That’s fine too.
Either situation is cool with me…providing the copy gets a response.
The question isn’t really about whether people read long copy – more important is whether they respond to long copy.
You see, when it comes to inviting a direct-response to your copy – be it an email reply, a monetary transaction, or just a social share – all readers are persuaded at different stages.
One reader’s mind might be made up after 100 words – that’s all they might need and they will skip the rest.
But it might take some readers, 1,000 words or more to convince them to take action.
The advantage of long copy is that you have a better chance of persuading a larger amount of readers.
Am I saying you should always use long copy to sell?
Just don’t dismiss long copy
There are many more advantages to using longer copy to engage your potential audience…
- In terms of search engine optimisation, a longer, more engaging blog post full of relevant keywords and advice for the reader is likely to outperform a short piece of copy that doesn’t provide the reader any value.
- In terms of email marketing, a regular newsletter providing lots of value to the reader and establishing on going themes is going to be more effective than an email that just shows a picture of the product and a few pretentiously overwritten sentences describing what it is.
- In terms of direct mail, if you’ve gone to the cost of printing a marketing piece and posting it through people’s doors, you want to make sure there’s enough copy in it to give the person something to actually read and consume, not just an artfully designed montage of the product.
So yeah, there are many benefits of using ‘long’ copy…
But, of course, I am NOT saying that long copy is better than short copy.
I just believe it’s a mistake to dismiss either.
The whole debate is silly.
I mean, I’ve got nothing against advertising that uses very little copy.
Did I see Dave Trott quote David Abbott recently, saying sometimes the best copy is no copy?
Whoever made that point: they’re right.
It is entirely possible that a well designed image or video containing no copy can be incredibly effective.
(I would argue there was probably a load of ‘copy’ written to explain the idea so it could be visualised – but that opens a totally different can of worms of what copy is.)
Ultimately, the question of how long or short your copy should be comes down to this:
You need as much copy as it takes to persuade the reader to take action.
I dare say if more people really thought about their advertising in this way…
Well, we’d see a lot more long copy being used than we do.
P.S. If you’re already sold on long copy, you’ll probably enjoy my book on the subject, The Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More Sales. It’s all about how to make your copy as effective as it can be – long or short. There’s loads of advice in there that you’ll find useful, regardless of your level of experience.
But of course, if you’re still to be sold on long copy and want to discover more about how it could help you approach your advertising in a different way. Then I would highly recommend you pick up a copy too. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
P.P.S. Hello you reading long copy right to the end. You’re cool, thank you. Maybe you’re so cool you’ve already bought my book? If so, thank you. And if you’re one of the many readers who have been posting a picture of them reading the book on Twitter – thank you too.
It’s ace to see the book out there in the world. So if you do have a copy and you’re on Twitter, don’t forget to post a picture of the book wherever you might be reading and tag me in it. You can find me on Twitter at @allgoodcopy.