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Long Copy vs Short Copy tested


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#1 DCrx

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Posted 18 November 2004 - 07:37 AM

Marketing experiments did a great little experiment of long versus short copy. Well, it would have been great if it took place in 1996 or '97. As it is it merely reinforces some basic ideas of copywriting. Long copy, with caveats, did outperform short copy in conversions to sales.

The Less-Than-Obvious Conclusion
Does this mean long copy is best? No. The best copy is that which gets the job done, in the shortest space possible. But not one line shorter. This is like asking how long do your legs have to be? The answer is long enough to reach the floor.

That said, I have yet to see a bias towards anything but short copy. Real short. ....I mean skipping important selling points, benefits, and essentially gutting the sales process short. The exception is the DM "get rich" crowd, many who started with print/physical media.

Figure Out How Long And Short Copy Work Together
Scannable elements, like a summary or occasional bullet points can help. But I think that's missing the real strength online. Users can signal, through interaction, whether they are in "search" or "research" mode. A user may hear about a "3 megapixel camera" and search for it, only to wonder what "3 megapixels" is upon finding it. That's when searching changes to research.

Finally copy can never be short enough if it's bad copy. It seems to me where copy is simply "content," what fits into the container, there is where trouble begins. That and the unfortunate tendency to make the issue short versus long copy, which conveniently avoids the decision of when and how to use both.

#2 bwelford

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Posted 18 November 2004 - 07:56 AM

This is a great thread to start, DCrx. Unfortunately I don't have the space in my list of priorities for today to give it justice. However here are a few immediate random thoughts.

I think hyperlinks are the way to go here. This relatively new tool allows the mind to do exactly what the mind wants to do. The reader can follow his or her own logic rather than a cast-in-cement route determined by the author. Of course while doing it, the reader must have that "scent" in his nostrils that Jared Spool talks about. In other words, you need to know where you're going and have a feeling that you're on the track. The cascading hyperlinks then have to allow you to follow your own logical path to get where you want to go. As Jared Spool also says, the Back Button is the Button of Death.

#3 bragadocchio

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Posted 18 November 2004 - 08:22 AM

Interestingly, The User Interface Engineering folks have a new article on their site from Jared Spool that looks at the amount of content on a page, and on the right words in hyperlinks

A snippet:

But I think that's missing the real strength online. Users can signal, through interaction, whether they are in "search" or "research" mode. A user may hear about a "3 megapixel camera" and search for it, only to wonder what "3 megapixels" is upon finding it. That's when searching changes to research.


It makes a lot of sense to go through your copy and ask yourself, and others, where these points might be. At that point, I think you also need to consider whether to use a hyperlink to another page, or add to the copy on that page. Each of those decisions has its own consequences.

Can you have your cake and eat it too?

I ask that because some of the research notes that short copy can sometimes be effective, and other times longer copy is more appreciated. We have one model that combines both: The Three Page Optimization Technique

The Long Copy vs. Short Copy article does a nice job of detailing some of the strengths of each approach.

#4 DCrx

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Posted 18 November 2004 - 08:48 AM

Your point simply underscores how hideously the collective "we" does interaction. Luckily the web seems to be dragging itself from hideous to merely terrible.

The Commuter, Fitness Freak, Traveler, Audiophile, File Hoarder, and Audio Recorder

ZDNet: MP3 Player Personality Test lists the users by use profile, not experience level. A more informative way to classify shoppers than “High bandwidth” and “Low Bandwidth” (or even more technology centric choices) many sites use. Even better, they use qualifying questions and web icons so users can confirm they are in the right section. Guess what. This is a copy-driven widget, not a technology driven one. Consequently it gets neglected. You could use something like this to determine which model or style would be right as a gift.

What happens when you are shopping for someone else? Well, that's easy for the "get the wife the drill I want" crowd. But holiday shopping season is comming up ....and I bet you forgot to get your shopping site anything.

How do people make gifting decisions? Gee; I have to keep track of how many people I'm shopping for and how to split my budget up between them. ....I have to remember what each person would like. ....What is socially acceptable based on the kind of releationship. "Is three months of dating too soon for this, but too long for that?" ....I have to buy for a kid -- what exactly is going to get me off the "lame list."

Gosh -- imagine if we as web designers actually had to think about how users use the site. That would be horrible.

Surprise

Surprise has a useful scheme for classifying gifts: Ideas are listed by the kind of person who might like to receive them -- "shops garage sales," "lives in a small apartment " or "wants a little peace & quiet " being among the descriptions. A bit of a shotgun approach, but worthy of study.

#5 Adrian

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Posted 18 November 2004 - 10:23 AM

I think thats a great point. I personally think the way products are often classified is one of the biggest problems of online stores.

Some sites do do it quite well, in a way that their target market can actually get some help in finding what they want. Most though, use categories that makes sense to themselves, and perhaps to people who really know what they want, and its 'technical' name.

I would even restrict it to online stores in all cases, but I think they are generally worse.

I'd use MP3 Players as a bit of an exmaple. You go there and products are intially split into "MP3 Players" and "H.D. Players". Now, to someone wanting to find something of say a specific size, needs to look in each individually. I simply don't see the benefit of spliting them out like that when only people with more in depth knowledge of the difference know which they need.

Their Search page is a bit more helpful in being able to select products by storage size, OS and certain desired features, but I really think those distinctions should be much more an integral part of the way the site is structured.

Dabs is another one. You have top level categories of Hardware and Components. Even a someone who's pretty IT Literate I usually have trouble working out which bit I want to go into to find a particular part. I usually either end up using the search engine or scanning through both to try and spot the kind of thing I'm after. Not very intuitive.

#6 jerseykevin

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 07:04 PM

Just always keep the user in mind and write the best, most informative content you can and you'll be alright.

#7 dragonlady7

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 07:34 PM

I have to admit that I'm with you on that, jerseykevin. I've never had a "method" that worked with respect to the length of the copy. Just the one you've summed up. Which isn't terribly scientific or informative, but I can't think of a better way of putting it. :sheepish:
:)

#8 DCrx

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Posted 19 November 2004 - 10:16 PM

Just always keep the user in mind and write the best, most informative content you can and you'll be alright.


I apologize but I always flash on the old school maxim which goes for self esteem over learning. It frequently ain't a'ight, excuse my new accent. All too often the user isn't thought about, and people feel pretty good about it.

From what I can see, there are three types of copy being written online right now.

1. There's the really boring, super-safe corporate stuff that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what it is they are trying to say.
2. There is the super-hard-sell - "You'd be a moron not to buy this NOW" copy - that seems to come from the desk of some demented Ginsu knife salesman.
3. And there is the OK stuff, that is written well and clearly...but really doesn't get your heart beating or your neurons firing.

--Say Something Worth Talking About by Nick Usborne


Copywriting is still the web’s biggest weakness (more on this soon). We could all use some inspiration and examples of great corporate/marketing writing online. Who’s doing a great job of explaining their product or service? Who speaks like a human and not like a computer or a marketing machine?
-- 37signals


Useit.com has similar fare, whether it is the tagline blues or unclear statement of purpose. (Which is ranked #1 worst web site mistake).

#9 bwelford

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Posted 20 November 2004 - 06:04 AM

As usual DCrx you've got us thinking. I particularly liked a phrase at the end of that last link you gave.

Think about your home page as analogous to a tradeshow booth. Why do you stop at some booths and skip others? And, no: having a live magician is not the answer for your home page. Clearly saying what you do and why users should care is the way to go.

One aspect that hasn't received enough attention in this thread, nor in Jakob's article is the motivation of the web page visitor. As usual the authors of web pages start from that "product-driven" position ("It's all about me.") as opposed to the "customer-centric" position ("So how do you see all this, Mrs. Customer?").

I think it's very important to think of the motivation of the web page visitor. Do you expect that they are highly motivated to find a solution to a purchasing decision they have? Or are they wandering around looking for something to amuse them. The Trade Show analogy is a good one here.

It comes down to all that personas stuff that Jared Spool and Kim talk about. Knowing exactly who the web page is for should influence dramatically the content. Then of course you've got to write well. ;)

#10 thirstymoose_2000

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Posted 22 November 2004 - 01:49 PM

In the first test, we sent traffic to two landing pages using Google AdWords. The first page was the home page, which contained short copy describing the product. The second page was similar, but featured a much longer article about the product.

What I see of this test is that the ad words pointing to the 'Short copy' page was actually pointing to THE HOME PAGE which contained some short copy, where the long copy pointed to an actual landing page. Might this be better to represent the difference between sending someone to a customized landing page vs sending them to a home page?

#11 ChrisChoi

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Posted 21 December 2004 - 01:26 PM

Tests have proven time and time again that long copy outpulls
short. Why? People need to know more of WHY they're buying.
They want to know the benefits, the specifics, case studies,
testimonials, how they can use it, etc.

The wallstreet journal has tested this concept various times
and have found long copy to outpull short. And keep in mind
they have put in millions of dollars worth of testing in this.

Copy can never be too long, just too boring.

#12 Respree

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Posted 21 December 2004 - 01:31 PM

Tests have proven time and time again that long copy outpulls 
short. Why? People need to know more of WHY they're buying. 
They want to know the benefits, the specifics, case studies, 
testimonials, how they can use it, etc.


I agree with you, but why does having it 'all' on one page, pull better than breaking that same information into more digestible chunks? Would like to see the Wall Street study, if you'd care to share it with us.

#13 DCrx

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Posted 21 December 2004 - 08:07 PM

Tests have proven time and time again that long copy outpulls
short. Why? People need to know more of WHY they're buying.


If you test someone who writes copy well, long does pull better. With bad copy, the shorter the better. Although I don't think bad copy can ever be short enough to not give itself away.

It is possible to test bad copy and come away with an idea contrary to what we say here. For example, an example of bad copy might be improved by editing. It would seem that this refutes the claim -- the copy is still bad but helped some by a good edit. It is ever so slightly misleading to say all long copy outpulls short.

but why does having it 'all' on one page, pull better than breaking that same information into more digestible chunks?


Catalog copywriters pack a lot into a small space. Keep in mind we are not talking about mere mass, but quality copy. Take catalog descriptions. You could have a shorter "teaser" blurb, but then the user gets more when they click on the photo/more... link.

Users can easily signal when they want more, how much more, at what point. Here A/B split run testing is key. This doesn't take fancy technology, although there should be about fifty times as many split run scripts out there.

#14 James

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Posted 22 December 2004 - 03:20 AM

It's interesting to see Adrian mention the MP3Players site. Until quite recently, I was working with one of their competitors and it soon came to light that the major 3 or 4 independent MP3 player sites were sharing product descriptions, category structures, etc, etc.

They all seemed to be reluctant and get out of this rut. I'm in total agreement that categorising MP3 players as H.D or Flash is not helpful to many visitors and tried over several months to remind the client that they should concentrate on the benefits of the players and use those to categorise. These benefits may be based on capacity, inclusion of an FM radio, etc, rather than the technology used.

The client were also reluctant to add their own views of the product. If you walk into a store and see a good salesman, they will enthuse about their products. How good they are at meeting a potential customer's desires. They won't focus too much on the technology unless an understanding of the technology is critical to helping understand how that benefit is provided.

Some of these sites claim to be experts in their field, and yet can't enthuse about the products they sell, and need to regurgitate little more than the product spec. I don't want to know whether an MP3 player supports OGG or WAV. I want to know that I can use it down the gym without it skipping, that it'll store all of my CDs, and if I get bored with those, I can listen to the radio. I don't want to know it has an easy to use menu system, I want to know what makes it easy to use.

Yes, there will be visitors that want Flash rather than HD. But, to know what they want needs them to understand the relative benefits of one over the other.

#15 whitemark

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Posted 22 December 2004 - 04:23 AM

... The wallstreet journal has tested this concept various times 
and have found long copy to outpull short. And keep in mind 
they have put in millions of dollars worth of testing in this ...


I wouldn't put so much trust based on the amount of money spent. While big firms do have a lot of money to spend, they don't often spend it wisely.

Some examples:

1. After translating their slogan "Come Alive! You're in the Pepsi Generation" into Chinese, corporate officials were stunned to discover they'd just spent millions of dollars announcing, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave".

2. Chevrolet, mystified by sluggish sales of its new Nova compact in Latin America, eventually discovered the spanish translation of no va: "It Doesn't Go".

#16 DianeV

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Posted 22 December 2004 - 05:28 AM

LOL! Those are priceless!



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