Long Vs. Short

"Nobody reads that stuff. We need to cut out some of this copy." Your client or manager says this and heads nod around the table. Of course. Self evident. But not always true.

A shorter e-mail is not necessarily a better e-mail. I've done tests to prove it.

In a recent split test, response to a long e-mail was 35 percent higher than response (click-through rate) to the short version. In another example, the lift was only 7 percent, but it was a lift nonetheless. I have also done tests where the long and short versions had response rates that were dead even. Here are some things to think about when crafting your copy.

Images Arrest, Copy Persuades. While a great visual will capture attention, it cannot present an argument and motivate a reader to act. That's the job of your copy.

If your story is simple and your brand equity high, you don't need a lot of copy. We tried a simple postcard and a long, copy-heavy announcement e-mail for the new model year launch of a well-known brand. The results were even. All eager fans needed to know was that the new models were on the site to get them there. In this case, the descriptive copy in the e-mail was superfluous.



In another case, however, the offer was more complicated and the payoff more obscure. It was difficult to convince the team that the audience, who had not been thinking about the program 24/7 as the client had, would need a lot of information in order to appreciate the offer. The additional copy, in a graphically lackluster presentation, brought about the 35 percent lift cited above.

Pull Me In. Readers are busy, impatient and selfish. They skim your e-mail and make a split-second decision whether to bother with it. If your copy is in big block paragraphs, it does not invite the reader in. Use benefit-focused headlines and subheads to perform this very important function. In business writing, subheads describe the copy that follows. In persuasive writing, subheads tell why you should care about the copy that follows. Last week I employed this simple principle to convince a client that "Free Screensaver" was a more compelling subhead than "Thank you for signing up."

Guide the Eye. Use classic direct-mail techniques to make your copy skimable:

  • Bullets
  • Underlines
  • Italics
  • Bold print
  • Varying paragraph length, including one-sentence paragraphs
  • Indentation
  • Centered copy
  • Postscript (P.S.)

    See how much more inviting that list is than a block paragraph? (Remember that the purpose of this column is educational, so even though I employ a few of the techniques presented, I am not trying to generate response.)

    How much copy should you include? As much as you need to tell your story fully and clearly and present a compelling reason to click. Do not make cutting copy a goal. Make creating interesting, benefit-oriented, skimable copy your goal, and you too will see big lifts in your response rates.

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