Long copy works better than short copy

Long copy: long reads, white papers, and books, between 2,000-200,000+ words in length

Think of it as a smorgasbord of thought leadership

“No-one will read all that.”

That’s the case made against long copy: people don’t want to read something long. It’s too time-consuming, and no-one has the patience for it.

It might sound like common sense. But the trouble with common sense is that it’s surprisingly rare. Rare sense (that’s not catching on) will tell you that people have patience for content no matter the length.

Listen to uncommon sense (that’s no good either) longer, and it will tell you that the problem is that people don’t have the patience for long copy if it’s bad. But they’ll read no end of words if they’re good.

Trust me. If people didn’t read long copy, I wouldn’t be selling books that total over 600,000 words.

So don’t be scared of length. Let’s have a chat about what long copy can do for you.

“Fair enough,” you might be thinking, “but long copy is hard. I’ll just stick to shorter copy. It’s easier.”

You’re right. Shorter copy is easier. But it doesn’t work as well.

Long copy trumps short copy

If you want to sell something, long copy is the best way to do it.

(And let’s be honest, we all want to sell something. We might be asking them to hand over money for a product or a service, or we might be trying to sell them on an idea, a way of life, or the reasons they should make a donation to your charity)

If you listen to Drayton Bird (and you should, he’s clever), long copy outperforms medium copy. He presented the results of a test that show just that.

Copy Length (words)Response Rate
1,064 words17.08% response rate
1,999 words19.09% response rate
2,763 words24.24% response rate

By increasing the word count, the response rate soared to a staggering 40+% increase.

Let me repeat that. Longer copy boosted response rates by over 40%.

If you like the sound of that, don’t hang about. Let’s start talking about the sort of long content that will boost your conversions by over 40%.

“But what about declining attention spans?” I hear you say. (Metaphorically. I’m not sat in the next room or anything.)

Don’t worry. Attention spans aren’t something to worry about.

Attention plan

Attention spans aren’t what they used to be, right? The proliferation of social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok, the generation of instant gratification, and the immediacy of the Internet means we don’t have the patience we used to.

To that I say: what a load of old tripe. (It is, in fact, an insult to tripe. And tripe is vile.)

If we had such short attention spans, we wouldn’t have sat through Avengers: Endgame (clocking in at 3 hours long). Droves of us wouldn’t have read The Da Vinci (almost 600 pages). And I couldn’t have convinced thousands of readers to read my books (a combined count of 600,000 words).

Are these exceptions to the rule? Nope. We regularly consume hours and pages of content. So how does this tally with the fact that we know attention spans are short.

Simple. We don’t know squat.

Jerry Seinfeld put it best, so I’ll hand the mike to him for a moment.

“There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”

Jerry Seinfeld

And Jerry is spot on in his analysis. People will read thousands upon thousands of words if they’re enjoying it.

So the question isn’t “who will read my long copy”. It’s “how do we make sure this long copy is entertaining?”

It’s deceptively easy. You just need to know how human brains work.

What about the cat?

Maybe 15 or so years ago, I was watching TV with my sister when we found a Billy Connolly gig about to start. Billy, in his usual bombastic style, starts telling a story about a cat.

If you’ve ever seen Billy’s standup, you’ll know that he tends to tell rambling tales. So, naturally, he drifted off on a hilarious tangent.

Twenty minutes later, he comes back to the cat. He resumes the story, but gets distracted again.

Another twenty minutes passes before he remembers the cat and tells us a little more.

This pattern repeats again and again until Billy gets to the end of the gig, takes a bow, and walks off the stage.

My sister was incensed.

“What about the cat?” she bellowed.

It was, in many ways, funnier than anything Billy had said in two hours (sorry, Billy). My sister had been sitting through the entire gig to find out what happened to this cat.

‘What about the cat?’ has been the key to the best content I’ve created since that day. Because, thanks to my sister’s frustrated feline-related fervour, I learned that people will consume long content if it contains something they want.

Or, in my sister’s case, if they think it contains something they want.

(I also learned that you should never fail to deliver on a promise, but that’s a topic for another day.)

So, what do people want?

Hacking the human brain

Forget your offering. Forget your products and your services, forget your industry. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

We’re talking about what people want on a fundamental, subconscious, I’ve-got-to-read-this-in-one-sitting level.

That means we need to get far more basic than “my prospects want to know more about cost and efficiency savings delivered by management frameworks and systems”. Sure, your reader might be interested in that. But you can still bore them to tears on the topic.

Whenever you write content (but especially when you write long content), you need to think about what people want on the most fundamental level.

If there is a single key to writing good content, one secret from which all quality flows, this is it:

People are emotion junkies.

Feeding the junkies

Think about it. Everything we do stems from a need for our next hit. We watch horror films for the adrenaline. We eat for more than sustenance; we crave that sweet release of dopamine. We exercise to work off that food, but also for the endorphins it releases. The human race is addicted to the variety of chemicals our brains release.

And, like any addict, we build a tolerance to those chemicals. We need scarier films to get the same rush, more elaborate rollercoasters to get the same thrill, longer marathons to get the same agonisingly-sweet ache.

It’s the same with content. Read one white paper about cyber security in the remote workplace and you might be fired up about all the changes you could make. But you’ll be somewhat less enthused by your fourth white paper on the subject.

And if you happen to be the author of that fourth white paper, you just lost out on a chance to convert that reader into a customer.

This is the key. The secret to quality content.

So there’s two things you need to do. First, you need to be first in line when that reader wants to consume content like yours. Well, hey, that’s why we all jockey for first position in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and guess what? Google loves long content. So you really need to get yourself a copywriter who knows how to write SEO-optimised copy.

But even if you could get to that first position, you’re not on easy street. Because the fellow behind you needs an advantage. A way to make themselves look superior despite being in second place. And what advantage is going to trump first place?


Standout standouts

This is the key. The secret to quality content.

The old maxim was that people want to be educated or entertained. Some bright sparks like to look special by adding things like “inspired” to that list. However many clever superfluities you want to add, there’s one thing you can’t include:

Being sold to.

Don’t get me wrong. People want to buy things. We know this, because retail therapy is a thing. We want to drape ourselves in new things because it makes us feel good (emotion junkies!) But if we wanted to be sold to, we’d all be watching the Shopping Channel 24/7.

Do you do that? Your prospects probably don’t either.

What we want is to discover. Which comes back to education and entertainment. Discovery is as deep-rooted a pleasure as getting new things. We’re addicted to finding new things that make us smarter or make us laugh or cry or scared.

Finding new things. Not the same old, same old.

Not the same tired white papers that are thinly-veiled sales brochures. Not the same 

Give your readers a creative answer to their question, and you’ll stand out amongst the herds of dull, repetitive content your competitors are churning out.

Because you’ll be giving them something they crave: their next hit.

So when your competitors churn out another dull listicle or another 200 word blog post, you wow them with a long read that grabs them by the unmentionables and takes them on a rollercoaster they won’t forget.

And I’m not just talking about words. I’m talking about the very soul of your organisation. When the choice consists of two companies with the same tired mission, the same meaningless values, the same old view on the industry, the prospect is consigned to an exercise in mediocrity.

Stand out. Be different. Be bold. Create content with Bite.