Chances are, coming into this article, you’ve heard that “long copy works better than short copy.”
You’ve also probably heard that “short copy works better than long copy.”
Or maybe you’ve heard any or all of the following…
- “No one has time to read long copy, especially in this digital age of short attention spans.”
- “Those long sales pages are long for a reason – long copy sells!”
- “Pictures and graphics do a better job of getting someone’s attention.”
- “I just don’t feel like I can accurately represent what I do in short, snappy copy and a couple pretty photos.”
- “Well, I never read long emails / articles / sales pages, so I don’t think my people do, either.”
- “Long copy builds a deeper sense of trust and connection with your reader.”
But if you’ve ever caught yourself saying (or thinking) any of the above – or nodding along as someone else says it… hold up.
Because those answers are mostly based on opinions.
And as humans, we’re pretty crappy at predicting our own behavior, let alone other people’s behavior.
So which one is it? Long or short??
The answer is (of course) – it depends.
Don’t you hate it when I say that?
When Short Copy Works Better than Long Copy
Short copy tends to work better with products the reader is already familiar with.
Master Copywriter John Forde says:
Thing is, while short copy works fine for products a prospect can immediately “get” — like a gallon of milk, a pack of chewing gum, or a pair of running shoes — it works less well for complex products.
And the marketing experts over at QuickSprout.com say:
I’ve tested long and short marketing copy with many different companies and brands, and I have noticed one thing that seems to be a common trend. When a brand is well-known, it doesn’t need as much marketing copy as a new brand does.
Take this dish soap, for example…
Does Mrs. Meyer’s need a 5,000 word page to sell this soap? Probably not.
I get the information I need (what it does and how it works), along with some benefits: “makes grease disappear like nobody’s business” and “rinses clean.”
Short copy also works when…
- You have limited space, like on a postcard or a catalog ad
- When your readers are already primed to buy (think: the new iPhone)
- When photos drive your sales, often when your product or service has great visuals (think: a sexy purse or Before-and-After photos of a living room design)
- Where the copy serves as a stepping stone to get the reader to interact with an actual salesperson
When Long Copy Works Better than Short Copy
So hooray for short copy!
But if there’s a bigger investment…
…or you’re selling a niche item people aren’t familiar with…
…or you’re selling a service where the client really needs to feel trust and a connection…
…a catchy five-word tagline won’t cut it.
I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve seen that have minimal copy, some great photos, and then a “contact me!” button – but I have zero clue what the heck it is that they do, who they work with, or why I should be interested in their approach as opposed to someone else’s.
I know what you’re thinking – “But, Cheryl, no one reads that much copy!”
Here’s the thing…
People read what interests them. They don’t read what doesn’t interest them. Simple as that.
If we’re talking about email newsletters or blog posts – you might be surprised at just how MUCH people will consume if something interests them.
(Think about the last time you fell into a blackhole on someone’s blog, or on YouTube, or even on someone’s Instagram account where they share lengthy, but useful posts.)
The thing is – when we say, “I don’t read long copy,” we’re often thinking about all the emails and websites we’ve visited that were NOT interesting to us.
But when something DOES interest us, holy moly, will we consume it!
So remember – you’re NOT writing your copy for the masses, for the huge slice of the population who isn’t interested in your topic, anyway.
You’re writing for the people who ARE interested.
For the people who, when they stumble upon your website, feel a wave of relief that finally! someone gets them and has a solution to their struggles!
For the people who are already interested in what you’re selling, but want more information before they decide to spend that money.
How to REALLY know if long or short copy is better for your audience
A common writing tip is: “Only make it as long as it needs to be, and no longer.”
But how do you do that? How do you know if it’s long enough or too long?
Well, the only tried-and-true answer is: Test it.
Try sending short emails and long emails, and see which ones get the most people clicking on your links inside those emails.
Write a short sales page and a long sales page, drive traffic to both, and see which one performs better.
Okay, great… buuut… that’s a lot of work.
Yes, it is.
And the truth is, many small business owners don’t even have enough traffic or people on their email lists for those tests to really give any useful data.
And sometimes, between your networking, marketing, sales calls, follow-ups, client onboarding, and actual client fulfillment, you just don’t have TIME to write multiple versions of everything.
You need some practical tips and steps you can take NOW.
So you can get your copy done, send it out to the world, and feel like you’ve done the best you could.
So allow me to give you some of those practical tips and steps…
6 Symptoms Your Copy is Broken – and How to Fix It
Symptom #1: It’s boring.
Yes, I know this one is subjective.
And it can be hard to tell if your own writing is boring.
That’s why it’s a good idea to write your draft, and then put it aside for a day or two. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and see if there are any parts where you start skimming in order to get through it faster.
Better yet, as you’re still honing your copy chops, have a trusted friend read it and flag parts where they catch themselves getting bored or itching to skim.
**Important Note about Asking Friends to Give Feedback on Your Writing:**
Try to find someone who is in your target market, or at least is familiar with your target market.
I talk to way too many entrepreneurs who’ve gotten “advice” from friends who can’t even relate to the things you’re talking about – so of course they’re going to get bored!
These are also the friends who often tell you your writing is too long, that you need to make it snappier… when maybe it’s just that they don’t “get” it because they’re not your ideal reader in the first place.
- Make sure it’s about your reader. Because we’re all more interested when we’re reading about ourselves. 🙂 Sometimes copy starts to get boring when you spend too much time indulging in your own backstory or thoughts. The key to telling a story that will really engage your readers is to make it about them – even if it’s your story or a client’s story. Make sure you choose stories in which your readers can see themselves.
Pssst… Not sure if you’re writing is “about your reader” or will connect with your ideal client? Get free access to my mini-course, “Copy That Resonates: How to find the exact words that attract your ideal clients + get them excited to work with you”
- If asking a friend to give feedback, steal a clue from novelists (thanks, Mary Robinette Kowal!) and have your friend use the ABCD guidelines of giving feedback. Ask them to ONLY comment on parts that cause these reactions:
- A – Awesome! I love this bit.
- B – Bored. I wanted to skim through this part.
- C – Confused. I don’t understand this bit.
- D – Disbelief. I either don’t think is accurate, or I don’t believe what you’re saying based on the evidence you give.
- Chop up long sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes readers start skimming not because the copy is boring, but simply because it’s a long paragraph that they’re trying to fly through.
Which brings me to the next symptom…
Symptom #2: Your sentences and paragraphs are too long.
This is probably the #1 symptom I see when I look at copy written by business owners, marketers, or beginning copywriters:
A big wall of text.
Now, when I say “big wall of text,” you might think I mean an entire webpage that’s nothing but text, no images in sight.
Nope. What I mean is “a big paragraph.”
And when I say “a big paragraph,” I don’t even mean a paragraph that takes up an entire page.
I mean any paragraph that’s longer than 3 – 4 lines long.
Not 3 – 4 sentences, mind you.
3 – 4 lines.
Any paragraph longer than 3 – 4 lines, your reader will start skimming.
(I’m talking lines on a computer screen, not necessarily a mobile device. But follow this rule for computer screens, and it’ll help keep your paragraphs an appropriate length for smartphones, too.)
Because online readers are reading fast. They’re trying to get through your page quickly (or at least feel like they’re reading quickly).
But paragraphs look like work. They make us slow down and pay attention to where we are within that paragraph.
We don’t like investing the focus and brainpower to read them word for word.
So we skim them and end up missing pretty much everything in the middle of the paragraph.
Even if some of your most compelling copy is in that paragraph, if that chunk of text is too long, your reader will skim – which gives them the impression your copy is boring… because they’re missing all your best material!!
Same thing with sentences.
When you start reading a sentence, your brain is holding onto what came at the start of the sentence. It’s like your brain is waiting to get to the period at the end, so it can understand what that whole chunk of text was saying.
But again, online readers are trying to read fast.
If you’re sentence is too long (if you force my brain to hold onto what you said at the start of the sentence), I’ll get tired.
I’ll forget what was said at the start of the sentence. So by the time I get to the period, I’ve lost the thread.
And that means I’ll be confused. Or I may have to stop and look back at the beginning to piece it together. Or I won’t care enough to go back and figure it out, so I’m not really “getting” all that you’re saying.
Now, lemme clear something up…
I keep saying “online readers are trying to read quickly.”
Does that mean that they won’t read long copy?
No. It does not mean that at all. It just means that, as they read, you have to make it easy for them to read quickly.
As in, make it easy for them to progress down the page quickly vs getting mired in a chunky paragraph full of long sentences.
That doesn’t mean your overall page has to be shorter. It just means the chunks of text need to be smaller.
John Forde says, “Even long sales letters use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs.”
Luckily, this is one of the easiest symptoms to fix.
Look at your copy. If you see a paragraph that’s longer than 3 – 4 lines down the page, break. it. up.
If you see long sentences, break. them. up. It’s okay to make them grammatically incorrect. Sentence fragments are your friends when you write copy.
This is always the first thing I look at when editing other people’s copy – whether it’s on a live webinar or guest class where I’m editing submissions in front of an entire group… or working privately with a “Done-WITH-You Copywriting” client.
My fingers immediately start breaking up their paragraphs and sentences – before I even start fiddling with the words themselves. (Because often, the words are great. They’re just not spread out enough.)
Not sure where to break up your paragraphs?
Look for spots where you shift gears or change directions. Look for words like “but,” “however,” “although,” and “though.” They signal that you’ve started by talking about one thing… and are about to change directions.
For example, see if you can spot where I shift directions in the following paragraph…
I used to think, if I wanted to be successful, I needed to wake up early. Because isn’t that what we’re told growing up? “The early bird gets the worm.” And haven’t we read a gajillion articles and anecdotes about how “the most successful people start work early in the morning”? But the problem is – I’ve never been a morning person. I have zero motivation when I first wake up. I don’t get that surge of, “Okay! I’m ready to be productive!” until later in the afternoon.
Did you see it?
Right where I say But the problem is –
I shifted gears and introduced a new line of thought. So that’s where I would break up that paragraph.
I used to think, if I wanted to be successful, I needed to wake up early. Because isn’t that what we’re told growing up? “The early bird gets the worm.” And haven’t we read a gajillion articles and anecdotes about how “the most successful people start work early in the morning”?
But the problem is – I’ve never been a morning person. I have zero motivation when I first wake up. I don’t get that surge of, “Okay! I’m ready to be productive!” until later in the afternoon.
And guess what? I would take it even further, and even add some emphasis on the spot where I shift gears:
I used to think, if I wanted to be successful, I needed to wake up early.
Because isn’t that what we’re told growing up?
“The early bird gets the worm.”
And haven’t we read a gajillion articles and anecdotes about how “the most successful people start work early in the morning”?
But the problem is – I’ve never been a morning person.
I have zero motivation when I first wake up. I don’t get that surge, “Okay! I’m ready to be productive!” until later in the afternoon.
It’s the exact same amount of copy. I haven’t changed the words at all. I’ve just broken it up so that it’s easier to read. Especially for someone who is trying to read quickly.
Want more help breaking up your paragraphs? Check out:
- How to Write for Skimmers (i.e. how to get more people to actually read your content)
- Bullet Points: The Surprisingly Simple Copywriting Technique to Increase Sales (and Engagement)
Symptom #3: Your language is too flowery, too over-the-top, or too “inspirational.”
There’s a point where “beautiful writing” turns into “pretty-sounding words that don’t make sense.”
Sometimes this happens because we just go overboard.
Maybe we love to write and go all-in on symbolism, imagery and metaphors.
And all that prettiness muddies the water so much that your reader can’t tell what is actual real-life and what is metaphor.
Sometimes, it’s because we see other marketers with SO. MUCH. PERSONALITY. ERMAHGERD!! in their copy.
We think we have to be beyond-ridiculous-hilarious-and-clever, so we insert the most bizarre metaphors and phrases that we’d never use when actually talking to people.
Or sometimes our writing reads as stream of consciousness.
And this can be the hardest copy to make yourself edit.
Because this kind of writing is pretty. It’s Inspirational. People might even ooo and aah over it, it’s so pretty.
But does it get the point across? Do they know what the problem is you solve? Who you work with? What your unique point of view is?
For example, when I edit sales pages for clients, sometimes I can’t figure out what the thing is they’re selling.
They have so much language about transformation and awe-inspiring experiences. But the page is missing what I call the “Plain English Explanation.”
They’ll introduce the program and gives us a short description that sounds beautiful… but doesn’t actually tell me anything.
The Amazing Leadership Program
It’s time to dig deep and tap into the amazing, innate wisdom that is your birthright, stifled by years, maybe decades or an entire lifetime of self-doubt and second-guessing and trying to live up to other people’s expectations, while you’ve lost track of the divine and soulful being you know you are, and find the greatness within.
Oooo… aahhh… But… Wait, what is it??
Are we talking about an in-person workshop? A private coaching program? A group mastermind? I often read entire sales pages or services pages that never tell me what the thing IS.
Look for your most beautiful copy. And then be ruthless with yourself – does it actually make sense?
Can you take some of what you started with and make some tweaks to clarify it?
The Amazing Leadership Program
A 6-week online course to tap into your innate wisdom, free your stifled voice, and find the greatness within – so you can become the powerful leader you were meant to be.
Notice how I keep some of the “pretty” words. But I also include the Plain English Explanation of what it is: a 6-week online course.
You don’t need to be a poet. 😉
Worried that you don’t have enough spark, pizazz, or personality in your copy? Check out my article: How to Add Your Unique Voice to Your Copy (and stop sounding stiff, boring, or overly formal)
Symptom #4: You take too long to get to the point.
Or you hide the point inside the middle of a paragraph.
Or you never even tell us the point.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret-not-secret…
People often say they don’t like to read long articles / emails / webpages.
(And often, people don’t read them.)
But it’s not because the copy is long.
It’s just because they’re trying to figure out, “What’s the point? Where are we going with this, and is it somewhere I want to spend my time going to?”
Tell us your point first – then support it.
If I see your awesome insight early on, it’ll make me want to keep reading.
If your email looks like everyone else’s without anything special because you’re saving the insight for a big reveal, I won’t stick around long enough to see the reveal.
Notice how, for each of these symptoms, I tell you what the symptom is, right upfront, in big, bold font.
I don’t say something vague like, “Symptom #4: The one you do without even knowing it” and then expect you to keep reading to find out what it actually is.
Nope! I tell you the symptom (“the point”) and then I explain it and support it.
Symptom #5: You’ve got “eye drag.”
No, that’s not a contagious icky thing that you catch on an airplane.
Eye drag is anything that trips up your reader.
- It’s anything that slows your reader down (like a long sentence with no punctuation, or complicated words that belong in the “tough” portion of the SAT).
- Or it causes them to go back and re-read something to make sure they understood it correctly.
- Or it makes them lose their place on the page (like those dreaded long paragraphs).
Eye drag can be tiring for your reader, even in short copy. So you definitely want to avoid it as much as possible in your long copy!
- Read your copy. Out loud. Watch for places where you slow down, or realize halfway through a sentence that you’re using the wrong inflection.
- Use the above tips for breaking up paragraphs and sentences.
- And use the additional tips from this article: 3 Simple Tips Wipe Out Eye Drag
Symptom #6: Your writing has too much fluff or unrelated filler.
Wanna guess the #1 place I see too much filler?
C’mon, take a guess…
It’s on the About Page.
Namely, About Pages where the marketer is trying to share her story.
But instead of telling a riveting story of struggle and triumph that her ideal clients can see themselves in…
…she gives her entire life story. In chronological order. Telling us about every single training and certification she’s taken, and every single epiphany and realization she’s ever had that have all brought her here, to her current business.
(Think your About Page might be guilty? Take a look at All About Writing Your About Page.)
But About Pages aren’t the only culprit!
When you read a long email and start skipping around (or worse – abandon an email halfway through), it’s often because there’s just too much padding around the important bits – which means you can’t find the important bits!
- Cut the fluff! Go ahead and write your first draft without editing or second-guessing yourself. Then go back through and delete anything that feels like a tangent, or unnecessary.
- Find your “golden thread” – the throughline that pulls your copy together. John Forde says, “Pull it taut by eliminating excess examples, repetition, or irrelevant points or stories.”
One final tip: Don’t let any of this scare you!
All of the above can seem like a LOT.
Just remember – it’s WAY more important to start putting your words out there than it is to get them perfect.
Maybe you’ve got some webpages with rambling paragraphs.
But guess what?
You’ve got webpages with actual copy on them!
That’s something to celebrate.
Maybe you need to write your blog post or send your next email newsletter, and you don’t have time to review all these tips.
That’s okay! You have my permission and my blessing to get that puppy out, complete with long rambling paragraphs and the fluffiest filler ever!
All of these tips are about taking what you’re already doing and starting to do it better, one step at a time.
(If you really, really want to get better faster, but think you might need someone to hold your hand through that process, let’s talk.
I work with business owners one-on-one to write their copy together, and gently teach them all these snazzy copywriting tricks as we go. Grab a free Strategy Session, and we’ll see where you’re at, where you could use help, and see if we’re a good fit.)
When you feel ready, grab some copy you’ve written, come back to this article (bookmark, print it out, or save it in Evernote/Pocket/Pinterest/wherever), and work through the tips one at a time.
I’m rooting for you!
P.S. Want to know the easiest way to write copy that your ideal clients will connect with?
Get free access to my mini-course, “Copy That Resonates: How to find the exact words that attract your ideal clients + get them excited to work with you”