Is Long Copy Good for Ecommerce Stores?

Published August 15, 2011 by ReferralCandy+ in Copywriting / Marketing

The short answer: yes. Surprised? Trust me, long copy sells. I know, I know: “shorter is better” and “less text, better design” blahbity blah. Mile-long websites filled to the brim with text might offend your sense of Internet decency, but the fact remains that those kinds of sites convert visitors to paying customers like nobody’s business. If they didn’t, why would they still be online in this day and age?

While it certainly is true that people nowadays have the attention span of a cocker spaniel (I blame you, television and your Super Bowl commercials), making your landing pages and ads short and flashy doesn’t always mean you will get more sales. Sometimes what you need is 1,000 words to sell your product. Or maybe 2,000.

I know what you’re thinking “Who would read something that long? Wouldn’t that just put my customers in a coma?”

It turns out people do still like to read in this age of Twitter and viral videos. We’ve just been lulled into believing that you need something concise and compact to sell and succeed in the web.

Long Copy Has The Numbers Behind It

Let me show you a couple of experiments that prove long copy works. Aptly named site Marketing Experiments found out through a series of tests that long copy outperforms short copy each time. Basecamp also did a similar experiment and found that a long form landing page netted them a 37.5% increase in signups compared to their original, shorter sales copy.

The results might look amazing but it’s actually not surprising at all. Long sales letters have been used by salespeople and advertising powerhouses for the past few decades now, and to great effect. No less than the father of advertising, David Ogilvy, attests to this. He says in his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, “All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.”

How Does Long Copy Work?

To sell to people online, you need them to trust you. It’s not an easy feat, I’ll give you that. You’ve got all sorts of nasty stuff working against you. There’s identity theft, Nigerian scams and online fraud, just to name a few. But you can earn trust online and one way to do that is to present your case and tell everything your customer needs to know about your product.

Explain all the features and functions of your product, its many benefits and lay out all the facts you can give. This way, you lift a big chunk of doubt from your customer’s chest by giving him all the things he needs to know to make an informed decision. If you do your job well, your buyer will convince himself to buy your product right then and there. As Dr. Charles Edwards of the Graduate School of Retailing at New York University puts it, “The more facts you tell, the more you sell.”

What’s more, long copy actually looks less like advertising and more like something worth reading. We’re bombarded by ads each and everyday and we’ve sort of built up a resistance to it. If it looks like an ad, our minds skip it and move on. Again to quote Ogilvy, “Roughly six times as many people read the average article as the average advertisement.”

Long copy also qualifies buyers. Uninterested visitors will be turned off by the lengthy copy but those who are really interested will consume every bit of information you can present about your product. This means that your audience is already at the tipping point of purchasing and that your copy is the final pitch to seal the deal.

When To Use (And Not To Use) Long Copy

Like all sales tools, long copy isn’t for everything. Based on an article by the founder of Copyblogger, long copy works best for the following things:

  1. High-priced items. Long copy works well if you are selling products that require multi-year payment plans like houses, cars and insurance; or luxury goods like jewelry and designer apparel.
  2. Information-based products. These are mainly education products like online self-improvement courses, instructional ebooks and multi-session seminars. The better informed the buyer, the more likely he will enroll.
  3. New, innovative and unusual goods. If you’re selling something new that answers someone’s need in a different way, you need a long form letter to explain every benefit of your invention. So if you’re selling groundbreaking medical treatments or a new gaming console, this is the way to go.
Of course, there are also products that don’t work well with long copy. If what you’re selling isn’t that expensive like soda or detergent, you’re better off with the flashy ads. It also is less effective for convenience products where the effort of writing a long sales pitch might not outweigh the value of the increased sales it will bring in.

How To Start Writing Long Copy

I’ll be honest, writing long copy won’t be quick. Let me help you out by sharing some steps to get your writing juices flowing:
  1. Gather and absorb all the data about your product. If it’s something you can hold, whip out the spec sheet and measurements. If it’s a service, jot down how you go about it from start to end. You also need to compile information like package contents, third-party reviews, testimonials, pricing details, and others. Of course, you also need to consume all this information, since your copy will flow from it.
  2. Find out who you are talking to. A good salesman researches his prospects and you should do that as well. Learn who your ideal customers are and appeal to them directly and answer their needs. Talking about yourself and your product is fine, but write it in a way that the reader knows what’s in it for them.
  3. Create an outline. Long copy looks daunting but if you create an outline, even a rough one, you will have something that will help you move from one part of the copy to the next. Here’s a good guide on how to make a copy outline. One way to go about it is to think about all the questions your customers might ask about your product and craft your outline so that you cover them all.
  4. Start writing! As you write, you’ll be building momentum and you will probably wonder how you got to 1,000 words (or more) once you’re done. So just start writing and think about fixing it up later. Also, don’t put a word limit to your copy. The publisher of Better Homes and Gardens used to mail six-page letters out because they made more sales with longer copy. As long as you have something to say and you talk about it well, you can go on and on and on. Just remember when to stop.
  5. Go over your copy. Once you’re finished, there are some points you need to remember to ensure that your long copy will work well:
    • Like any good pitch, your long copy needs to be have an attention-grabbing headline.
    • If you haven’t done one yet, add an informative and enticing summary at the top to let people know what they can expect from your article.
    • Make sure to state your case in a very engaging and persuasive manner. It needs to capture the attention of the reader, making him read on until the last period of the last sentence.
    • To cater to people who like to skim, split your long copy into readable chunks by adding headers, bullets and highlights. This is actually where your outline will help; you’ve already written most of the headers beforehand.
    • Add a good call to action, one that will close the deal and make them click that Add To Cart button. Also, don’t forget to add those positive reviews and testimonials.
    • Have someone go over it for comments and feedback, if possible.
  6. Add some good design to make it attractive. Writing long copy doesn’t mean you have to stick to just words. Many web designers abhor long copy because of its lack of web aesthetics. Add an attractive background template, some good product pictures and a nicely crafted layout. Make sure the design doesn’t distract from your content though.
  7. Test and test (and test). Probably the most important thing you need to do is to test your copy to make sure it appeals to your audience. You can create shorter versions of your copy and even mix up the content to see what works the best. This is why I urged you to write as long as you can because you can better mix and match (and splice) copy that already has everything in it.

Some Final Words

You can think of long copy as your salesman in a 1,000-word suit. If written in the right way, it will do the job for you by answering all the questions that your customers have, convincing them how good your product is and closing the deal with a firm checkout handshake.

In closing, I leave you with this gem from David Ogilvy himself:

“Long copy sells more than short copy, particularly when you are asking the reader to spend a lot of money. Only amateurs use short copy.”

Sources:

Do long copy ads work?, Reality Marketing Associates
Anatomy of long sales letter, Visual Website Optimizer
The Key to Effective Long Copy, Copyblogger.com
Long Copy vs. Short Copy Tested, Marketing Experiments

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