Long Copy Sucks And Other Heresies

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I recently finished a massive study of profitable and unprofitable sites. The average length of the profitable site’s sales letter was 1.8 pages. The average length of the unprofitable site’s sales letter was 2 pages.

Shorter ad copy was more profitable on average than long copy.

Of course that is heresy. Many, many famous copywriters swear by long copy. Still… the study was valid and it is a fact… known profitable sites had shorter copy than known less profitable sites…

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I recently finished a massive study of profitable and unprofitable sites. The average length of the profitable site’s sales letter was 1.8 pages. The average length of the unprofitable site’s sales letter was 2 pages.

Shorter ad copy was more profitable on average than long copy.

Of course that is heresy. Many, many famous copywriters swear by long copy. Still… the study was valid and it is a fact… known profitable sites had shorter copy than known less profitable sites on average.

I then remembered that I had done a similar study way back in June 2002. That study wasn’t based on profitability, but it was comparing length of copy to an action… in that case, a click. The shorter the anchor text (the clickable text), the higher the click-thru rate… on average.

Still, I had a decision to make. Would I follow my own advice? I thought about the hours that I had spent coming up with 10-13 pages of sales letter for the three products I recently released. I thought about the hours I spent in Glyphius optimizing each of the dozens of paragraphs. Could I really just hack up those sales letters based on these two studies?

I realized that I wasn’t quite a believer yet. I needed some backup data before I was willing to hack up my own sales letters. Since the results were so heretical, I suspected that most of you would also need some reeassurance that the study was, in fact, valid… that I hadn’t read the numbers backwards or something.

Then it came to me. Without spending the hours I usually do for one of these studies, I thought of a way to validate it with a different dataset.

Clickbank has just such a dataset! They know the profitability of the sites in their network and they show them (loosely and not completely documented) in that order in the marketplace.

I immediately went to check it out. I used the Money & Employment category first since it is also the most profitable category in the Clickbank marketplace. I went to each of the first 10 sites and did a “Print Preview” and shoved the page count into a spreadsheet. At the end, I graphed those 10 data points and then superimposed a linear line on the graph.

The original study data was confirmed. As we went down the list in order of receding profitability, we also increased in number of pages of sales copy on average.

Then I quickly went to the Marketing & Ads category. This is the category that many of us who sometimes sell to each other (the incestuous market) use. I repeated the study once again. The graph showed the same linear slope.

OK; I was convinced. I went over and hacked away at my Glyphiusxhcb sales letter. I got it down to a bit less than 3 pages from it’s old 13 pages. I read it. I was pleased with the result. It tells what is being offered and let’s them order it. It isn’t redundant. It doesn’t hide the price until “later” in the sales letter. It’s the kind of page I like to order from myself.

How did we get into this mess of believing the copywriting “gurus” about long copy? It’s really a bizarre thing to be teaching now that I look at it in retrospect.

My most successful ad copy has ALWAYS been short… no exceptions. When 911 hit, I put up a page for Gas Masks (I know… pretty cruddy thing to do… I feel bad now). I sold 340 gas masks in a 24 hour period of time. Did I write a long sales letter? No; I put up a picture, said “Gas Mask: $235″ and had an order link.

When I sold my Jaguar last year, did I write a 15 page sales letter? No; I put an ad in the paper that said 2005 Jaguar, 10,000 miles, premo condition, $53,000 and included a phone number (not the real details).

When I sold a house last year… the entire ad copy was much less than a page.

When I sold seats to a $10,000/seat two day seminar, the ad copy was only a slightly oversized post card.

Why do we think we should be writing a book to sell a $20 ebook? Who started that rumor? Has he been sufficiently flogged yet? What a waste of time. I wonder how many ebooks have sales letters that are longer than the ebook itself.

From now on… I’m not worried about the length of the sales letter. I’ll just tell about the product, give the guarantee, show a customer testimonial and let them order it. If the average profitable sales letter is only 1.8 pages long… and the average profitable sales letter is shorter than the average unprofitable sales letter… that’s good enough for me.

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