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How Long Should Web Copy Be?

20 Comments · Web Copy

Many people ask if web copy has to consist of multiple pages in order to sell–especially since most people don’t read on the web. 

While there will always be companies, products, and services for which abbreviated web copy is both suitable and adequate, I believe that when you’re trying to convince people to invest any amount of money or time (or both), you need to assure them that they are making the right purchase decision.

Most often, you simply can’t do that in a single page or less of copy.  That would be like expecting a customer to walk into Circuit City and walk out five minutes later with a brand-new printer after spending 60 seconds with a salesperson pitching that particular brand. 

That’s just not how buying decisions are made, and that’s just not the anatomy of the sales process.

How long should web copy be?  My answer used to be this:

“Web copy should be like the length of a woman’s skirt–long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.” 

Although that answer may sound clever, and does hold seeds of truth, a more accurate reply is, “Web copy should be as long as it takes to make the sale Period.”

This policy holds true in offline copywriting as well. 

In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy wrote:  “All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short . . . . Direct response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell.  In split run tests, long copy invariably short copy.”

In his first Rolls-Royce advertisement, Ogilvy used 719 words, and he found that the advertisement was thoroughly read. 

Spurred on by the success of long copy in garnering attention, he used 1,400 words in his second Rolls-Royce advertisement, also with excellent results.

Another well-known example demonstrating the effectiveness of long copy is the Schlitz beer advertisement written by legendary copywriter, Claude Hopkins. 

Hopkins wrote live pages of text, and, as a result of that campaign, Schlitz moved up from fifth place to first in beer sales.

Never have I seen a high-ticket item sold in less than several pages of copy–either online or offline. 

As a rule, the higher tile price of what you are selling, the longer the web copy should be. 

When you learn the principles of writing long direct response web copy, you will be able to write short web copy easily. 

It’s similar to going to medical school and specializing in surgery.  If you were a brain surgeon who later decided to become a general practitioner, you could do that.

However, the length is not always dependent on the price of the product or service you are selling. 

The more practice you have writing web copy, the better feel you will have for rhythm of the sale and the sentiments of your audience, and you’ll know instinctively how long or short your web copy needs to be. 

There may be people who will read something that long, but generally speaking, that length will overwhelm most people. 

Above all, don’t use long copy as an excuse to babble on and on. Your web copy needs to be a lean, mean selling machine, even if it is disguised as editorial content. 

It pays to remember what advertising master John Caples once said about the length of copy:  “It can’t be too long, only too boring.”
What is your comment on the long-short dialogue?


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