In this post, I’m going to make an assertion that not a whole lot of people are going to like… unless improving the profitability of your business is your thing.
So here it is:
Long-form copy is still a good thing.
Now, I can almost sense you cringing from here.
Because when any sentient being lands on a web page filled with virtual reams of bolded, underlined copy and screaming 48-point headlines, they don’t exactly “SQUEEEEE” with delight. “Hot damn, I found a three-mile tome of copy to read, and it’s going to be one big, long, wear-you-down-until-your-eyeballs-bleed sales pitch. I can’t wait!”
(Well, the team and I like reading long-form copy, because it keeps us on our toes and helps us sharpen our copy skills even more. But we’re copy nerds, so what do you expect?)
Anyhoo… people in general hate long form copy. Especially people in the good ol’ U.S.A., where we want our information instantly (and with as little effort as possible). If we wanted to actually read… we’d grab our Kindles and download the latest James Patterson novel.
So it stands to reason that, if you want to sell something, you should give your prospects what they want – concise copy that outlines the bennies in as few words as possible, right?
Not so fast.
All Other Things Being Equal, Effectively Written Long-Form Can Beat the Pants off of Short Copy.
Let’s take a look at a series of experiments conducted by MarketingExperiments.com. For the tests, ad traffic was sent in equal proportions to two pages – one with a concise description of a product in the health niche, and another with a much longer, more detailed description of the product and its benefits.
(I’ll spare you all of the charts and numbers, but if you’re interested in getting your hands dirty, the full results can be found here.)
In all three tests, the long-form copy outperformed the shorter copy by a wide margin. I’m talking 40.3% here. If that’s not enough to make your bank account happy, I really have no idea what will.
Then there’s the story of CrazyEgg. Conversion Rate Experts shared how they boosted the site’s conversion rate by a jaw-dropping 363%. The main ingredient of the overhaul? They made the test page 20 friggin’ times longer than the existing control page.
Let’s see… people hate long copy, but it nearly quadruples conversions? Yes please.
And, of course, if that’s not enough, all of the behemoths of direct marketing including David Ogilvy, Dan Kennedy, John Carlton, Clayton Makepeace, Mel Martin (and on and on) have used long-form copy to make untold millions for their clients and for themselves.
Okay, okay… I’ll step away from the dead horse and put away my whackin’ stick. Long-form copy, maligned though it may be, is still a darned good way to get more of your prospects to buy your products.
So just go lock yourself in your office and bang on the keyboard until you either have 10,000 words or your fingers catch fire and smolder away… and you can sell anything, right?
As you might have guessed, it’s not quite that simple.
Go back to the subheader at the beginning of this section. Notice I snuck in a qualifier – “Effectively Written” Long-Form Copy.
Not All Long-Form Copy is Created Equal.
I wouldn’t have to go very far to show you some examples of really bad long-form sales copy. All you’d have to do is nose around the Clickbank Marketplace for a few minutes, and you’re likely to find reams of hype-stuffed drivel that isn’t going to make anyone buy any damned thing.
Bad long form copy is just as horrible for conversions as no copy. If you’re not going to do it right, you might as well save yourself the trouble and go out for a caramel macchiato instead – it’s going to take less time, and the surly barista’s glare will be less painful to look at than your conversion stats.
So how do you make sure that you’re using this misunderstood weapon of words to your advantage?
Pick One Big, Irresistible Idea… and Run With It!
Whether you’re selling SaaS, a physical product, a service, or whatever… it’s pretty easy to go all over the board with your copy… especially when you’re really excited about what it can do for your prospects. (And if you’re not excited about that, you should probably be selling something else. Just sayin’.)
But in order for long-form copy to work, you need to pick one central idea to use throughout your copy – from your headline to the P.P.P.P.S. That idea needs to be something about your offer that:
- Is a huge selling point of your product or service
- Differentiates your offer from your competitors’ offers, and
- Knocks your prospects’ socks off!
Think of that “big idea” as your USP (unique selling proposition) and make sure that every element of your long-form sales page supports that idea, either directly or indirectly.
Why “one big idea?”
When you sit down to create long-form copy, it seems like you have a VERY big canvas to fill… which makes it easy to stuff your copy with a whole bunch of only loosely related ideas as to “cover all your bases.”
But your readers are presumably humans, who don’t like synthesizing information and remembering a whole slew of concepts. It doesn’t take much for a reader to feel “lost” in the copy.
“Lost” equals “uneasy”… which means the pointer goes straight to the “X” at the corner of the page… and you just lost a sale forever.
The “one big idea” is a roadmap through your copy that helps your prospect feel more comfortable with continuing to read on… because they know the copy is headed somewhere they want to go.
Know Your Target Market’s Big Problem
Look, this one should be obvious, but it never fails to astound me when clients can’t really describe their target market’s problem – that is, the one their product or service can solve.
I should back up a second here, because I’m assuming that you know exactly who your target market is. If you don’t, you’re not alone… but you’ve got to figure that out before you spend one tarnished penny on marketing whatever it is you want to sell. (Fear not… the definitive article on that topic is on its way.)
What is it that you can solve for your prospects? The more concrete, the better.
“It’ll give them better health” is vague and not all that exciting.
“It’ll make them look and feel better than they did when they were 19” is better, but it doesn’t address the problem.
“In just 90 days, it’ll fix the problem of being so overweight and unattractive that their spouses won’t sleep in the same time zone with them” – ah, now we have a problem we can solve… one that we can hammer at until they have no choice but to buy.
If you don’t know what your target’s prime problem is, find out. Ask. Snoop around in Facebook groups your target customers frequent. Dig into the blogs they read and scour their comments. You’ll learn a LOT about what makes their lives miserable… and that lets you become the hero by offering to fix their problem… and all they have to do is click the order button!
Once you’ve got that problem nailed down, your copy can – from beginning to end – show how taking advantage of your offer can quickly and easily solve that problem.
“Wait… isn’t that the same thing as the “one big idea?”
Not necessarily. If the problem is that your prospect’s face is so riddled with acne that it could stop a sundial, and your product can fix that… that’s not the “one big idea.” Lots of products claim to do that.
But let’s say that you offer a guarantee that your product will clear up acne in 14 days, or you’ll refund double the purchase price… that’s a “big idea” that you can hinge your copy on (assuming no one else in your niche is doing that).
Let Your Headlines/Subheads Tell the Story
Let’s face it – when presented with even the best piece of copy ever written, most folks today are going to just skim. They don’t necessarily want to spend a half-hour reading though a long-form sales page just to find out what the heck you’re selling.
The “user experience” typically goes something like this:
“Wait, what’s this? It might be something I want.”
“Uh huh, I’m with you so far… I like what I’m seeing…”
“Holy cow, there are a lot of words here…”
“Dang it, I just want to know how much it is!”
“Screw it. I’m just going to read the ‘important stuff.’”
What’s the “important stuff?” The copy that visually sticks out.
In other words, the headline and subheadlines.
These elements are important in any piece of copy… but they’re absolutely critical in long-form copy. Here’s a way to quickly test: Have your spouse/mentor/friend skim your completed letter. He or she should be able to get the “story” by reading only the headline and subheads.
The rest of the copy? Details. If your headlines and subheads do their job, your prospect should do one of two things:
1) Click the “Buy” button; or
2) Look back through the copy to get the details, then click the “buy” button.
By the way, that doesn’t mean the rest of the copy isn’t important. It is, because most of the time, people are going to look back through to get the details once the headlines and subheads have done their job.
Go Forth and Use Long-Form Copy…
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you are ok with “back seat drivers” maligning you for using (and succeeding with) long-form sales copy. But whose bills are you going to pay with your business – yours or theirs?
It’s at least worth testing long-form copy to find out if you can get better conversions out of your marketing efforts. Especially now that you know a few of the most important strategies involved in creating long sales letters that actually work!
Of course, if you’d rather not spend your nights and weekends learning the finer points of sales copy, you can always hire my team and I to write your sales copy… starting at just $197 (no kidding).
Either way, you’re going to be a lot more successful using long copy than sitting back and lamenting its existence.