Why Long Copy Will Never Die

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever. ~ Kyle Reese, The Terminator

Remember the first time you saw it?

The yellow highlighter? The centered red headlines? The fake handwriting and the blinking arrows?

You thought the same thing everyone thinks. “Who in their right mind would give this person a credit card number?”

You didn’t realize what a ruthless, efficient machine you were looking at.

In case you don’t know the genre, what many people call those awful sales pages are the internet version of an old copywriting tradition known as long-form copy.

Long copy isn’t new to the web. Decades ago, successful direct mail copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Gene Schwartz noticed that “the more you told, the more you sold.”

In other words, the more relevant, compelling information they could cram into a piece of physical mail, the more likely it was that the customer would buy. Bencivenga in particular liked to push things to almost absurd extremes with direct mail pieces called “magalogs,” which were sometimes nearly as long as the books they were designed to sell.

But if direct mail was the birthplace of long copy, the Internet was responsible for bringing the form to tens of millions of new readers.

The ugliest web pages in history

About 20 minutes after the development of HTML, some clever copywriter worked out a formula to use long copy to sell stuff on the Internet.

The layout was hideous, but since everything on the web was hideous back then, it wasn’t a major impediment. Subheads were marked up in bold red type to make the copy easy to skim. Key selling points were highlighted with a yellow background or other eye-catching formats.

The format spread because it worked startlingly well. It let the reader skim quickly to figure out if the page would solve his problem, then go back through and read the points that would answer his questions and address his objections.

If he wanted to solve his problem badly enough, and if the copy addressed his concerns, he bought.

No one wanted to change the format because, against all common sense and design decency, it works. At least sometimes.

If you’re selling to cold prospects with a specific problem to solve (the kind of customers you’ll find with a pay-per-click campaign, for example), a nice long-copy sales page is a great tool. It gives prospects a way to navigate a large amount of information and figure out if this product is something that will help them, and doesn’t provide any distractions that would lead them away from the sale.

But pay-per-click is getting expensive. The prevalence of viruses and malware have raised users’ defenses about what they find on the net, especially if they don’t know you. And high-pressure squeeze techniques turn off an unacceptable number of potential customers.

The Terminator has been thrown off a 47-story building, flattened by a steamroller, and liquidated in a vat of molten metal. So it’s dead, right?

What do you think?

It lives

Take a look at the best persuasive content you’ve been seeing lately.

You’ll find lots of video. White papers and special reports. Tips, tricks and an ever expanding “free line” of material that’s actually useful.

Product Launch Formula founder Jeff Walker came up with an interesting way of describing the new approach. His friendly, conversational email sequences became a “sideways sales letter.”

Walker is a great example of a sharp marketer who knows he has a better shot at his prospects if he gently ropes them in with a net of high-quality, relationship-building content, rather than trying to harpoon the sale in a single shot.

The copy is just as long (or longer) than the lengthy pages created by more traditional copywriters. It does all the same work—answering the most frequently-raised objections, building rapport, presenting benefits, building urgency.

But it’s delivered over time, and in a friendly, relaxed tone of voice. It doesn’t seem desperate. And it doesn’t burn out the prospect. Even if the prospect doesn’t buy this time, he’s in a great mood to buy something else down the line.

Terminator Sarah Connor

The next time you say that you “hate cheesy long sales pages,” start paying attention to the sales copy that does persuade you. See if you can spot the classic persuasion techniques when they’re presented in a new wrapper.

The Terminator will never give up, but it does change form every once in awhile. This particular incarnation is a lot more attractive (and, in my opinion, more fun) than the old version.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Twitter or LinkedIn to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Sideways sales pages are a lot friendlier, and also allow the message to be drip-fed, and stew for a while, but fact is people will keep doing what works for them so I don’t expect long scrolling HTML pages to go away any time soon.

  2. one question : people do not spend much time on “most” of the websites. Do you think long copy will work for such situations ? You need do something that makes the new visitor stay more than 1 minute or so, on your blog or website, right ?

  3. An old axiom of selling is that the greater investment of time you can get from the prospect, the greater the opportunity to make the sale. In short, people who spend more time looking at an offer become more likely to buy the offer. The long sales copy does that in an online environment. It takes minutes, not seconds, to simply navigate the thing. And the longer it takes (to a point), the more ideas can be transmitted via the copy. Not to mention, building in keywords is easier and more natural when you’re writing 3000 words instead of 300. We all want to think we’re above the National Enquirer mindset, but it’s among the most successful publications for a reason. People buy it. And read (skim) it.

  4. Just when you thought the animated gif was dead – *I’ll be back*, it whines!

    Yep, like the world’s most painful infomercials, sometimes the long copy sites are so bad they’re good. Oblivious parodies of themselves.

    My long-standing question remains: why are the perpetrators of such sites – without fail – sweaty men from Iowa with bad comb overs?

  5. Laugh out loud funny, Simone, comparing those relentless landing pages to the Terminator. That’s going to stay with me a while. Even though they work, I could never ever do it the old way. It’s just not me. Sideways sales pages however are something I can stand behind proudly.

  6. I’ve done a lot of writing for real estate companies. I quickly learned that the web pages and sales letters where we provided a wealth of factual information about a property and answered all the questions a prospective buyer would have performed far better than short teaser copy or poetic fluff.

    Despite conventional thinking that most people don’t like to read, long copy continues to be extremely effective.

  7. Loved the article!

    Long copy has never been out of sight to be back. I have been a long-standing proponent of the theory “the more you tell the more you sell”

    As long as your copy can tell hold me by the neck and make me read and read and finally create a desire to own the product, long copy sure works well.

    If you don’t believe me, check out the product pages of John Carlton and Clayton Makepeace. (Caution: you might end up buying some of the stuff, like John would say).

  8. As a professional copywriter I cringe every time I see long form. I hide under a rock when clients say they want “Dan Kennedy Style” sales letters. It feels wrong somehow, like tort attorneys or used car dealerships. But you do have a point. If it didn’t work, marketers would stop using it. Maybe I should take myself down a few pegs and give it a second look.

  9. When i first started to truly believe that internet can make you rich i had to found out how, i’ve been trough google adsense, fortune bloging stories, those huge landing pages you’re talking about, and i never believed anything of what those articles/sites told. even the funny story of the red paper clip exchanged for a house i’d found it unrealistic. So i’m trying some ideas of my own, but i can’t be that sales person that says in red font with huge letters give me money and i’ll make you rich, i’m more of making fun the simple fact that people would donate money to me without getting anything back. The project for My Porsche Fund is still in its incipient phase, but hopefully there is an internet God and funny ideas will pay off.

  10. So true. The terminator evolves every year and yes the later version is more fun. :)

  11. @Kate, I feel your pain. But there’s solid structure underneath the uglies. I don’t think there’s any one format that’s right for every situation. If a traditional “Dan Kennedy” letter is the right tool, probably best for you to refer the project to someone who’s good at those and enjoys them. But you might do very well for your clients (and yourself) getting great at the sideways versions.

    @Susan, also, a lot of persuasive content these days is being delivered as audio or video. If you transcribed it, a lot of readers would immediately freak out at the length, but it doesn’t feel as long in those formats.

    @Leonard, all good points. But you also have to keep the reader from frantically hitting the back button. The idea that it all has to happen in one shot is a legacy of direct mail, where you typically mailed out a package and it worked or it didn’t. Even there, Dan Kennedy did some interesting things with letter sequences. New tools like autoresponders and blogs make compelling sequences easier to deliver, and they can work beautifully.

  12. Yep. Long copy more often outsells short copy. Fact. The longer you can engage someone’s interest the more time you have to persuade them that agreeing with you is the smart thing to do.

    Copy can never be too long as long as it’s interesting to read.

  13. I laughed so hard at the clickhereyouidiot piece that I had tears rolling down my eyes. Thank you for this!

    Great blog post, too. Just one tiny schoolmarmish quibble re the following sentence: “The prevalence of viruses and malware have raised users’ defenses about what they find on the net, especially if they don’t know you.”

    OK, please pardon me for being a pedant :-) … but “prevalence” (the subject) is singular, so the predicate should be also: “has,” not “have.” I know you knew this. I just can’t help myself. Must. Control. Compulsive. Proofreader. Impulses….

  14. Punch punch punch , cool…seriously.

    Must think about what this whole thing might look like if Bencivenga met Bruce Mau.

  15. Zaaaaap, Janice, you just blew my mind!

    Diane, good catch. My ear never catches that for that particular construction, the plural list always short-circuits me.

  16. Long copy really does defy logic in this “time poor” day and age. Not long ago I bought Yaro Starak’s Blog Mastermind course through a long sales page. I must admit, I was very skeptical of it and went off to do my own research before I bought but it did lure me in (I’m really glad it did because the course is excellent).

    The sideways sales letter sits with me far better. It still provides all the info, benefits, etc but in a less in your face, cheesy way.

  17. Great post. The more interested one is in something the more one wants to read and research… and there is never enough information when making an important or semi-important purchasing decision.

    With the advent of thickbox, flash books, etc. long copy has evolved. Still, a single page can suffice as long as it remains easy to digest and navigate. Great examples above.

    Thankfully people are fickle. Otherwise, what would motivate innovation? :)

  18. Discover what works best by testing different alternatives.

    The long “infomercial-style” landing page has an offline version: the IKEA store. Every shopper has to plod round past the bedrooms, past the lounges, past the kitchens, past the jumble sale area, before she can actuallly buy anything. It works for them – but I’ve never seen it copied.

  19. Ok, I’m game – the sideways version of sales is great as opposed to long copy. But copy is rarely about directly selling something – it’s most effectively used as a lead generation tool getting a list of perspective clients that would most likely be interested in your product.

    For the “sideways” version advocates, how are you generating the list of clients that you are selling to?

  20. I think long copy definitely has its place–it’s just a question of where it lives. Lengthy explanations of product or service benefits have no place on a home page, for example. Alternatively, a sparse, sketchy description on a product/service page, unaccompanied by additional information, isn’t likely to get the user to click the shiny Request a Quote button.

    My philosophy: Nobody reads web pages. They scan them, sure, but they aren’t likely to kill their retinas by reading detailed product/service descriptions. However, users are more likely to read blogs, ecommerce descriptions and (especially) PDFs. So push the longer copy where the site visitor is more likely to consume it and actually find it useful.

  21. I agree with Ryan above. Not as a salesperson, but as a consumer. I’m on Twitter a lot and when a link with the red and yellow highlighter is posted, I just click the X. On the other hand I’m signed up to quite a few of those same Twitterer’s ‘newsletters’ where they make the same sell, just in a softer and more relaxed manner.
    Molly

  22. I’m sure I’ll cop some abuse for asking, but I’d really like to see some solid evidence supporting your argument. I’m not suggesting you’re wrong, it’s just that everyone loves talking up long-form copy, but whenever I ask for evidence (e.g. at the Warrior forum), no one can produce any.

    Anecdotal evidence is only worth so much… And split testing is suggestive, but not conclusive, because split tests typically target a single audience type with a single offering.

    What I’d like to see is some sort of cross-audience / cross-product study.

    Anyone know of any? (Even if it’s just the split test results, for a start…)

    Cheers,
    Glenn Murray (twitter: @divinewrite)

  23. Sonia,

    Dropped by the website, glad to find you visiting and offering a wonderful, engaging post. Is there something in the middle of long copy and drip, drip, drip? Does this mean you really have longer than 1-3 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention, if you offer great content quickly?

    How do you know what works best for your business, especially if you are a rookie?

  24. Great analogy, great article! As a consumer, I hate long copy, particularly the testimonials, and only skim (like straight to the bottom to see what it costs!). As a budding marketer, I’ve never written any (sales) copy at all, but I look and listen to those who know more than I do, and I see and hear the top marketers going for the longs. Ugh!

    Conclusion: the final conclusion may not have been reached, but, like it or not, emulating success seems the right course to follow.

  25. I agree “Long Copy will Never Die” and I’ve seen websites that prove how effective long copy can be.

    I must admit, I like to think of myself as a “rational” and “logical” individual (who doesn’t right?), but sometimes I get roped into a long sales pitch with bloody headlines, bolded statements, crazy font, and yellow splashes of highlighting across the entire page and it is hard to walk away from.

    I guess it is like REW Ryland said, the more interested (or desperate) you are in learning about something – the more willing you are to read the ENTIRE thing. I mean, ask yourself when you are truly interested in something how much will you read? The webpage you are reading right now is a prime example. You are interested in finding out more about the “long sales letter” so you read it and all the comments below it. So I don’t understand why it is so hard to believe why the long sales letter is so effective. Not only is it informative, but it is also laced with excitement and persuasion. Think about it…

    Furthermore, if the writer is truly effective through their persuasive argument (correctly mixing emotion with logic), they turn the dreaded “long sales letter” into the perfect “Slippery Slope” where the reader just can’t stop reading until they slide all the way to the bottom and take immediate action – and there it goes, another sale!!!

    I’m not going to lie. I read a LONG sales letter the other day by Jim Edwards for a $997 dollar product! It was VERY persuasive copy, but I walked away from it (with a little help from my girlfriend of course). Unfortunately (for me, not Jim) I read the entire copy so the product is still haunting me and I feel I need to go back and purchase it. I feel like something is missing from my life if i don’t go back and get it. Pathetic huh?

    What can I say, if it’s done right, it’s done right…

  26. Compelling comment, Jim Edwards. :)

  27. @John Hyde, ah interesting. Long form shopping!

    @JJ, there are a whole bunch of ways to do lead gen. Blogging, pay per click, ads of various kinds, working with JVs, even good old-fashioned direct mail. I don’t happen to think long copy is (usually) ideally suited to lead gen. With lead gen you want to make your point quickly and get the prospect to give you permission to continue the relationship. But as always, you can’t make general rules, you have to apply the principles to the individual situation and test. Long copy can work for lead gen in snail mail letter sequences, for example. And if you’re collecting expensive pay-per-click traffic, where you want to squeeze every possible conversion into your sales funnel, long can work better than short.

    @Glenn, I firmly believe that each situation is different, so saying “long copy works” or “long copy doesn’t work” just isn’t possible, IMO. There are so many factors that go together, you can’t divorce any particular technique from the specific factors that the technique is being used with.

    @Lawrence, I would say you find out about some techniques, pick the ones that resonate best with you, and give them a try.

    @Jody, that is a smart attitude, IMO. One of these days I’m going to write IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU in giant red letters on my office wall. With yellow highlighter.

    Raising an eyebrow at Brian’s comment. :)

  28. Bless you Sonia Simone…you’ve taken a deflated literary windbag and made him feel important again…300- to 500-word blog posts!?!?! Not on my watch, bub! Let if flow…pace it well and…as Steve Martin once said…have a point. It makes it so much more interesting.

    Not sure about the “more you tell the more you sell.” Seems like in that environment, you might just talk somebody outta buying. But if you drawn in to share and learn, I say let’er rip!

    Cheers,
    Mark

  29. Nice typo in my comment…but if you should be “but if you’re..”.
    Windbag, out.

  30. Excellent post.really useful

  31. This was a good post..most of your posts make us think…Keep the good work going…

  32. Indeed, good comment Sonia.

  33. @JJ, what about e-commerce copy? It’s not for lead generation (search, PPC & e-mails do the lead generating). Rather, it’s for direct selling — and closing the sale is crucial! :-)

    @Sonia — again, I apologize for my pedantic schoolmarmish grammar quibble. This is a great article — and the long-copy spoof was hilarious.

  34. Great post and insightful comments! I have always been taught/told that copy should be short, concise, and easily navigated when writing for the Web. But I do think the argument for long-copy can be made and I am interested in learing more about it.

    I enjoy reading this blog because it inspires me to think and dig deeper. I find myself researching and brainstorming. Thanks for keeping me on my toes … keep up the good work!

    -JGrass

  35. Dear Sonia,

    Thank you. Those Amish Fireplace people! Now I get it. They aren’t the hayseeds I thought they were. I never realized that those awful long ads were based on proven advertising principles. (Obviously I need to keep reading your very educational blog.) I also LOVED the “click here you idiot” spoof. I scrolled right down to the end and it took a massive amount of will power not to click on the paypal link.

  36. Long copy gives the illusion of credibility. When the average consumer receives the bold, bright advertisement for the used car sales extravanganza COMING SOON!, they probably give it half a glance and throw it away. Advertisements through newsletters and such seem to suddenly make the material more serious, less in-your-face. I would rather be “talked to” than “screamed at”, so I’ll the newsletter with relevant, well-written copy over an audacious, glaring flyer any day .

  37. @Trina – I understand what you are saying and it is perfectly fair from a customer point of view (you have a preference). However, from a sales person standpoint I’m trying to sale as much as I can – period! This involves a subtle mix of information, emotion, personalization, and logic. And unfortunately, this can’t always take place in 1000 words or less.

    Now please do not get me wrong, there are a lot of us here who have seen “Long Sales Letters” that are pure hype! This is because the writer failed to recognize the critical pieces of a sales letter and just tried to “mimic” what they thought they knew (or saw from someone else’s letter). Too much enthusiasm and emotion without the proper amount of logic spells H-Y-P-E! And HYPE does not sell (or get read)! So please do not confuse a powerful, rock-solid sales letter with an “enthusiastic imitation.”

    But another powerful thing about a properly written sales letter is that it anticipates customer questions and objections AND answers them. It’s a way to complete the conversation already going on in the reader’s mind in your favor. Because the sales letter is your sales man or woman working 24/7, 365 – we do not want to leave anything to chance. If the reader is interested (or desperate) enough to read the entire sales letter, gets to the bottom and has questions still – that could be enough to tip their order decision out of your favor. The reason: because it gives them a logical excuse not to buy or it gives them a reason to procrastinate (which translates to: “not to buy”).

    “Long Sales Letters” are powerful, but do not confuse “HYPED imitations” with the real thing – and this is what I feel alot of non-believers do. In marketing, you can ASSUME NOTHING! I have tried both because in the beginning I assumed that logical, short copy could sale more. But all I ended up with were questions and empty pockets. However, then I tested a LONG sales letter and my sales more than TRIPPLED in no time (with 0 to a few questions)! I would say try them both then knock one or the other. BUT MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE DOING – or your letter will look like a bunch of hype.

    But all, if you disagree, please feel free to hit back. I can take it (I hope)! Because as an advocate of the long sales letter (and I would die for it too – just kidding), i’m interested in what EVERYONE has to say because it helps me to perfect this skill by understanding the opposition…

    Cheers!

  38. Sonia,

    Great way of thinking about your work and what you admire in a new light in order to gain additional insight. Really appreciate the much-needed tweak to reality.

  39. I like to read everything about a product or a service before paying up for it. So extra information in the long copy is good if you have people like me buying. I guess a lot of people think like that. They like to do their research as well.

  40. Doesn’t work for me. If it goes on and on, I go somewhere else. I may not be the typical net surfer, so what doesn’t work for me might well work for 99.999% of the net surfers. I’ve subscribed to email services of most of the stalwarts of the long copy sites, including Jeff Walker, and I now always delete the emails. They don’t resonate with me at all.

    I’m not saying the post is wrong.

    However, what works for me is that 99.999% of those who are looking for exactly what I offer, find me.

    There are enough such people in the world to keep me in business, if not actually make me rich.

    Deepak

  41. Deepak, any time you can zig when others zag, and find a large enough audience, I say go for it.

    The danger comes when we think that because we like/don’t like it, our customers must feel the same way. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

    I actually delete 95% of the email newsletters I get, even though I should be studying them. Almost no one does this well. Which makes life good for people like me who do. :)

  42. Video uses less space on the page, but is often “longer” in terms of word count. Long copy is just hiding out in the video. And it seems to be working.

  43. Loved the article!

    Long copy has never been out of sight to be back. I have been a long-standing proponent of the theory “the more you tell the more you sell”

    As long as your copy can tell hold me by the neck and make me read and read and finally create a desire to own the product, long copy sure works well.

    If you don’t believe me, check out the product pages of John Carlton and Clayton Makepeace. (Caution: you might end up buying some of the stuff, like John would say)

  44. Has anyone compiled a list of the best long copy sales pages? I would to see tons of examples.

    Any advise on how to do long copy the third tribe way and not the normal scum bag get rich way?

  45. Blogging is the natural inheritor to long copy — instead of a sales brochure, you’ve got a 500-1000 word article broken up by headlines, bullet points etc that people are going to scan quickly then read all the way through if it matches their interests.

    I read this post start to finish because I’m brushing up on my long copy techniques. Your post is good because as far as I can tell, it fits the golden rule of long copy — only use as many words as you need to tell the story. Nothing in the rulebook says long copy can’t be concise.