Long vs Short Copy, 2020 Version

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While sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, I would like to address again the TRUTH about long and short copy on websites. 

While in general I am weary of the topic, what does infuriate me is the people – even professionals – who imply that anyone who believes in long copy is a hopelessly out-of-date Luddite. And I am saddened by new websites that have gotten this wrong, and made matters much worse.  

Here’s what the research says.

First, we all agree is that short sentences, short paragraphs, and shorter words are GOOD. In fact, ideally, you are writing at around the 8th grade level on the Flesh Kincaid analysis – you can check this after spelling and grammar proofing in Microsoft Word, under review/check spelling & grammar. (Note:  This feature is off by default in Word, you have to turn it on – file/options/proofing.)

Second, a reminder from the latest iteration of my slideshow, Words that Influence, at least 75% of the population (Reactives) will want the details. They want to understand, they want to consider, they want clarification, they will analyze, and as we shall see, they want answers to their common objections. (See Shelle Rose Charvet’s research:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1733670300/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0)

A significant problem is that we write marketing copy the way we would prefer it. I can assure you that Proactives – 20-25% of the general population – are over-represented in our Christian school leadership ranks. They will pull the short copy card eight days out of every week. 

And who are we to argue with our leaders? Even when they are wrong?

Third, do a simple google search on “long vs short copy on web sites”, and here are the top three results:
(1) https://www.quicksprout.com/long-vs-short-copy/  (January 2019)
(2) https://www.copyblogger.com/the-long-and-short-of-copywriting/ (April 2006)
(3) https://copywritematters.com/long-copy-short-copy-copywriting/ (February 2012)

In addition, here are some other research-based conclusions. 
(4) https://michelfortin.com/blog/long-copy-or-short-copy/
(5) https://copyhackers.com/2016/02/short-long-content/

What does all this research tell us us about copy length? 

(Not opinions mind you, but actual research.)

(1) In general, the more well-known you are, the shorter your copy can be. For example, in San Diego, Santa Fe Christian is well-known, and you can see how short their copy is:  https://sfcs.net/  Following Santa Fe’s example – and some will, I can guarantee – will in fact be a significant mistake for less well known schools in the area.

(2) The less well-known you are, the longer your copy needs to be to overcome objections. This includes copy from 1600 to 2400 words. There is some indication in the research that fewer, longer pages are better than more shorter pages. 

Keep in mind that if you do NOT overcome their objections with longer copy, they simply will not contact you. Why? Because they do not know you.

(3) Higher-priced items need longer copy. That would be your school.

(4) Longer copy will do better on search engine results. See web usability guru Jakob Nielsen on this crucial point: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/roots-minimalism-web-design/.

(5) Keep in mind that anyone who asserts that we all need to embrace a short copy world is going against decades of research, wisdom and BETTER RESULTS in direct marketing, sales, fund development, and search engine optimization using long copy.   

This means: There had better be a really, really compelling reason to embrace short copy. Adopting a short copy strategy on your website is far riskier than simply telling your story.

Call me a Luddite, but ….

As I work with clients’ and my own website, there will still be long pages. Yes, short sentences, shorter words, short paragraphs. But not short copy. No fluff, but I am not going to be limited by the thought that a web page must be a couple of paragraphs.

And the next time somebody gives me their version of the “short copy” lecture, I am going to send them to this blog. It will be easier.

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