Marketing Copywriting, Maslen on Marketing

Long copy, I myth you

It’s funny.

Even people at the self-proclaimed ‘cutting edge’ of copywriting – the web – turn out to be as fond of myths as their Stone Age (ie print) cousins. Here’s one of my favourites…

“Long copy doesn’t work on the web.”

This is usually uttered as an axiom so plainly true that no evidence is adduced to support it.

(I secretly believe that a more truthful statement would be, ‘Someone once told me at a conference that long web copy doesn’t work. We didn’t define ‘work’ and we were actually using our personal preferences instead of data, but since I never have enough time to write, let alone test, long copy, I go along with it.)

For a different perspective on the debate, visit the American Writers and Artists Institute’s copywriting page. There, you’ll find a single page with 7,945 words. Or, to put it another way, 21 screens’ worth of copy. With no ‘back-to-tops’.

What is AWAI? They help people change careers and become successful copywriters and designers. I work as a copy assessor for them. Now you might say, fair enough, copywriters are fond of words, so this isn’t a fair example. Well, actually it is. Remember, the myth states, “long copy doesn’t work on the web.” Full stop. No caveats, no conditions.

Here’s an organisation whose principals have done more testing than most. And who have set up and sold million-dollar businesses using their own writing skills. So lets assume they do it because it works.

Yes, but is it interesting?

Truth is, we will keep reading. IF we’re reading something that interests us. Something that connects with a deep-seated need. Something that promises to bring our dreams a little closer. (Or actually within a hand’s grasp. The medium and the number of words are irrelevant.

But here are seven things we can see AWAI doing to make their reader’s life a little easier.

  1. Lots of very short paragraphs.
  2. Opening with a direct appeal to the reader’s self-interest.
  3. Plenty of bullet-points and cross-heads to break up the page.
  4. Testimonials.
  5. A personal story that engages your imagination.
  6. Lots of specifics – for example, the precise income the reader could be earning.
  7. Lots and lots of benefits.

The reason many people in the web-world are hooked up on short copy is, I think, threefold:

One, they’re buying into the accepted wisdom pumped out by self-proclaimed gurus without doing any testing.

Two, the copy they use is slotted in AFTER the design is worked out. And many web designers are ignorant of the power of long copy and so design ‘one-screen’ pages.

Three, they lack the experience or the support to produce compelling copy that will hold their readers’ attention.

Form follows function

But maybe it’s more complicated than saying, “long copy DOES work”.

Maybe, it depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your website. Well, duh!

If you’re just after a warm-fuzzy from your Board, your investors and your colleagues, maybe all you need is some slick Flash animation, a beautiful colour palette and some copy your IT guys C&P’ed from your last corporate brochure. But…

If you’re trying to get people to DO something. Like, oh I don’t know, actually BUY from you, there’s a slim chance that they might want more. Words, for example.

Obviously it depends what market you’re in. If you’re selling high-ticket management courses, you’re going to need to say more than if you’re selling garden bird feeders. Remember this, though.

One of the main obstacles to people clicking your ‘order now’ link is FEAR. How are you going to allay their fears? Simple. You have to reassure them that it’s safe to buy from you online. And believe it or not, the more you say, the more reassured they feel.

Next month, we’ll look at a few techniques for reassuring online customers. In the meantime…

And my point is?

Marketing is supposed to be an open-minded discipline. That goes double for online marketing. So if you find yourself saying “XYZ doesn’t work on the web”, stop for a moment.

Ask yourself, “Where did I hear this?”, “Have we tested that for ourselves?” and “How much did the person who said it know about our business, our customers, and our buying process?”

Or to put it another way, TEST IT!

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