The case for long copy

While researching good examples of sales copy for my training session on Digital Publishing Strategy for the APA this week, I’ve re-encountered the debate about long copy in digital media.

Most usability studies suggest that short copy is best for web writing, due to information overload and the scanning behaviour of users online. However, it’s clear that there are still valid reasons for considering long copy for your marketing messages, and some marketers feel that this approach is best for online marketing success.

Long copy goes back decades, where it has traditionally been used in direct marketing and print advertising. In the early days of the web it was responsible for some monstrous sales pages, centred text splattered with yellow highlights, bright red links and aggressive calls to action. Nowadays long copy pages look much better, but the techniques haven’t changed.

The advantage of long copy is that you can showcase a single product in more detail by providing in-depth information on the following:

  • Product benefits
  • Differentiation
  • Bonuses
  • Elements of the offer
  • Social proof
  • Guarantees

This information provides credibility, offers reasons to buy and convinces the customer to make the purhcase.

So how effective is long copy online today? Back in 2004 Marketing Experiments did a study that showed that in an online test long copy outperformed short copy in terms of conversions. I’ve not seen any dedicated studies since then, but its continued use online suggests that long copy will never die.  Marketing consultant Michel Fortin is a huge advocate, pointing out that all your pre-selling material is itself a form of long copy.

Naturally it’s all about using the right tools for the job. I agree with expert copywriter Brian Clark that testing different approaches is essential and the best advice is to go with whatever works.

In summary, I would still advise using short copy online as a general rule, but consider using long copy for the following:

  • High priced products
  • Luxury items
  • Products with lots of features and benefits
  • Unusual products
  • Information products
  • Unsought products (life insurance, investment products, etc)

Please let me know in the comments below about your own experience with long copy online.