Spend a few minutes Googling phrases like “ideal copy length” or “statistics on content length”.
You’ll be confronted by a torrent of blog posts, articles and opinion pieces, denouncing long-form content.
“You’ll lose your reader’s attention,” they cry.
“No-one reads long-form content,” they preach.
“#TLDR,” (too long, didn’t read) they’ll retort.
So, what’s the truth on copy length? More often than not, the reason copy doesn’t perform is that it’s actually too short, not too long. This refers mostly to sales copy or response-driven marketing content. But brand-building copy can benefit from a bit of depth, too.
Facts and fiction
Dig beyond the bluster-fuelled blog posts, and you’ll find that the most respected minds in copywriting (such as a certain David Ogilvy) largely subscribe to the same school of thought. The longer the better.
"Ultimately, copy should be as long as is required to encourage a response."
Why? Because, if you’re seeking a commercial outcome (like an enquiry, a subscription, a product trial or a purchase), your reader needs to be persuaded. And to persuade them, you need enough words to grab their attention, assuage any doubts, and create desire.
Ultimately, copy should be as long as is required to encourage a response.
That means binning a fabricated “200-words-or-less” limit, and constructing copy that’s long enough to deliver on its objective.
Sure, a sales letter might be longer, and print ad copy will probably be significantly shorter. But both should be lengthy enough to overcome any objections, hesitations or concerns your reader may have.
Word counts cannot (and do not) define effectiveness. The words themselves do. It’s how they are selected and structured that determines whether your copy performs,
Ask the experts
Legendary direct response copywriter Bob Bly summarises this in The Copywriter's Handbook. According to his timeless tome, the ideal copy length depends on your product or service’s features, your audience’s comprehension, and (critically) the response you’re looking for.
So, the more complex the product, and/or the more exacting your prospective customer, and/or the further in the buying journey you’re seeking to nudge them towards, your copy needs to do more. And, typically, that means it needs to be longer.
Bob Bly is in good company. The biggest names in the game agree that longer copy is more effective in creating action. Way back in 1923, advertising heavyweight Claude Hopkins said just that in his seminal book Scientific Advertising. And it remains true today.
Time and time again, it’s long copy that outperforms its short-form cousin.
This article appears in our free guide to copywriting. If you're interested in learning more about high-performing copywriting...
Build a pen portrait of your typical customer profile(s).
List out the potential reasons they might have to not buy your product or service, or follow your call to action.
Now, find a way to overcome each of these objections.
Covering every one of these potential obstacles requires detail. And detail = words.
When that process is complete, your reader will be far more likely to take action. At least, more likely than if you’d stuck to a nominal 200-word limit.