Long Copy vs Short Copy. How much copywriting do you need?

Long copy vs short copy which is the best?.

How long should my copywriting be? Is long copy better than short copy? Have you seen my glasses? These are questions I’m asked quite often and the truth of the matter is… It depends. Yes and no. And they’re on your head.

The long copy vs short copy debate has been going on since, well, since advertising masters wrote copy about things we never thought we needed. There is a copywriting mantra: “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

This lovely little rhyme doesn’t apply in every case though. Each copywriting style offers pretty compelling benefits and each is useful in different scenarios. So the best one is the one that works.

Ug. That’s a frustrating answer, I know.

So this post will take you through long copy and short copy and why you might choose one over the other.

Let’s start with long copy

Do you remember those really long sales letters that went on for pages and pages? You still see them as magazine advertorials (advertising parading as articles) or direct mail selling Reader’s Digest. Nowadays, long copy is more commonly seen on online sales landing pages that are thousands and thousands and thousands of words long.

Long copy usually opens with a story and specific challenges that make you go, “Hey, that’s me!”

The story is emotionally charged as our pain points are agitated like hell.

The solution presented has lists of inclusions, special bonus offers and lots of testimonials showing you how much other people have benefited.

Long copy lets you include more detail about your product (or service) so it really suits unusual products and customers who like to have a lot of information before they make a decision.

Long copy lets you tell more of story, which can help you overcome any objections in an engaging way while triggering an emotional response from the reader.

Long copy lets you pack in lots of testimonials to show off the proof of other happy customers. This is especially important if your price is quite high.

If your target audience is really connecting with your message, they will read every word.

Want to see some long copy pages in action?

GoodLandingPages.com is jam packed full of long copy.

Some tips if you are writing long copy:

  • Include great subheadings so your readers can skim through if they want, jumping in and out of sections without having to read every single word.
  • Use lists and different formatting to break the copywriting up and make it more interesting for the eyes.
  • Repeat your call to action so your reader doesn’t have to scroll up and down looking for where they can take the next step.

Now we get short copy

Don’t be discouraged by the copywriters who tell you that “long copy outperforms short copy every time”. They are stuck in the past, man.  Consumers are more sophisticated and savvier about marketing, not to mention time poor.

If you make your copywriting engaging and interesting, people will read it but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same goals with fewer words. It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve and who is going to read it.

Short copy is great for lower priced items that require less persuasion to sell: think convenience products or even items that consumers will shop around for.

Short copy works when your customers could join your sales pipeline at any point. This is where having shorter stories and more of them can be useful so people don’t have to wade through the entire backstory.

Short copy is great for image-heavy marketing. The words are important but if it’s the images that will really sell your product or service, then short copy should simply back them up.

Some tips if you’re writing short copy:

  • Spend time distilling those messages so you focus on the elements that will connect, engage and motivate.
  • Resist the urge to write more.
  • Infuse as much personality as possible!

Short copywriting example: method

I want to go back to something I said at the start of this post: “The best one is the one that works.

Whichever length you choose, make every word count and don’t write a single word more than you need to.

Keep the reader in mind and spend time thinking about how much they need to know to move them forward and achieve the objectives of the piece.

So now it’s over to you. Do you have any strong feelings about long copy or short copy? Save on therapy bills and air them here.


22 Responses

  1. Hi Belinda – interesting topic. Personally, I’m not a fan of long copy. More often than not I find that after the first page, it becomes very repetitive and really doesn’t give me any new information. In fact,the more it goes on, the more I find myself wondering why they need to use so much space trying to convince me.

    Or perhaps that’s just a reflection of the quality of the copy. 

    I can agree with you, however, that the copy should be as long as it needs to be to get the message across – convincingly! Sometimes all it will take is a few words in a powerful headline… sometimes it will take a good page or two.

    Beyond that, it strikes me as self-indulgent waffle.

    1. I agree with you Anna. Long copy is quite often just repetitive, super salesy copy that doesn’t really engage me but that could be because I’m not in their target market in the first place. 

      I think these kind of things come in and out of fashion and I think long copy was right on in the eighties. I think consumers today like a bit more sophistication in the delivery. I know if I see that yellow highlighter I am outta there!

      Short copy girls unite! 

      1. I don’t like long copy, I don’t think anyone does but I know that it works. I’ve tested long and short copy on my websites and the long copy always outperforms. As above, you shouldn’t create long copy just for the sake of it, it has to have a purpose 🙂

        1. This is super interesting Adrian. I speak to so many people who don’t like long copy (you can see some of them here!) but I wonder if it’s because we see it misused, or we’re not in the right target market. 

          It’s great to see you tested it though. That’s conclusive!

  2. Hi Belinda,

    Not being a copywriter but a reader and am a fan of short copy. That is probably because I would rather someone get to the point and not waffle. This applies when they speak as well. You have given some good tips especially about sub heads.

  3. Like the other comments, I’m not a fan at all of long copy, but I particularly hate it (and in fact won’t even read it) if it includes yellow highlighter pen style highlights and huge yellow ticks.
    Cheers Mel

  4. I’m totally with Mel. I too detest [with a passion] long copy that scrolls on forever, repeating the same thing and if it’s in the ugly yellow, red and green … I quickly move on. I mean to say, all I need to know is ‘What it is’; ‘How much it is’ and ‘How do I get it’ and maybe 2-3 Testimonials to support its value. Short, punchy copy rules in my eyes! 🙂

    1. I hate it when they don’t tell you the price straight away. It’s probably one of the first things I need to know. If I can’t afford it then I can’t afford it, and no amount of selling is going to change that.

      1. I am all for including price information on a product sales page – as I resent having to hand over my email address to find out if I can afford something.

        As a copywriter I always write a solid intro first, to whet the appetite before presenting a price. The goal being to stop it being a price-based purchase decision. But if it’s going to be a price-based decision, making it painful to find out how much will just annoy me… I mean people 😉

  5. This is a great post Belinda. You make really solid points about long and short copy. Even ogilvy wrote that for certain product categories including luxury goods and cosmetics, long copy wan’t really necessary.

    But you need to adjust the key words slightly. The debate has never been about “long” versus “short” copy, but about “longer” versus “shorter” copy.

    If you were to test a 10-word ad for baked beans versus a 20-word ad, it is likely that the 20-word ad would sell more beans.

    And goodness me, what lot of self-indulgent responses from other copywriters. Who cares what *you* feel about long copy? Or whether you like it? You should like the clothes you’re wearing or your children’s paintings, but copy isn’t about what you like, it’s about what brings in the money.
    Any copywriter who says, “I hate this so I never do it” needs to go back to school.
    As an example, we produced a direct mail letter for a client with yellow highlighter and a fake post-it note and it did 30% more business that the client had targeted.
    Long-copy (and incidentally, 2pp A4 is not that long) has never gone out of fashion among the people who make their living from direct response. If you look at the work of companies like Agora, or Everest, you will see that it is very much alive and kicking.
    It’s amazing that so many copywriters seem willing to dismiss the work of people like David Ogilvy and John Caples. Where are YOUR credentials for making those sorts of statements?
    There! Rant over. Sorry.

    1. Hi Andy and thanks for your rant. I LOVE a good rant!

      Your points are very valid and it goes to show that marketing decisions should be based on the numbers.

      PS thanks for your keyword tip. *hat tip* to you sir!

  6. I think if your tone and style are consistent and engaging and you avoid repetition the length will largely take care of itself! Although it does make sense to keep things short and snappy (where possible), with an overriding focus on imparting relevant and useful info. What a perfectly sized post you have my dear!

    1. Exactly Shauna – the ‘right’ length is the length that is as concise as you can be while still being useful and persuasive too. No waffle!

      Thanks for stopping by – and thanks!

  7. Whenever I think of writing long copy, I think of forcing a reader to commit to the long haul. But that’s not true. Long copy means that you can have all of the points that are relevant to the reader, but you can present them so they can pick and choose what to read. If you’ve written with the inverse funnel, your big points are up front and they can convert right then and there. If not, they keep reading.

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