In some cases, sticking to time-tested formulas is the best thing you could do.
Others, not so much.
Articles circling the web would have you believe that people have the attention span of a gnat.
And yet long form content is the norm.
Most people contend that attention spans are on the decline. That goldfish fare better at focusing and so on and so forth.
But here’s something interesting.
Most of the references citing human attention span to be lower than that of a goldfish, stem from a Consumer Insights report that surveyed a measly 2000 people. Digging further, the actual study seems not to have been conducted by Microsoft but by a biotech lab. On contacting the lab, they couldn’t find details of any such study.
There goes the goldfish.
I have spoken to various people who dedicate their working lives to studying human attention and they have no idea where the numbers (on shrinking attention spans) come from either.
So how did the goldfish become commonplace?
Probably because that’s what most marketers wanted to believe.
It’s a classic case of projection.
The principle of psychological projection states that humans defend themselves against their impulses by denying their existence. Instead they attribute these impulses in others. Someone who has a low self-esteem say due to being big or fat would body shame others. These projections can both be positive or negative.
For instance, you often see adverts that claim weight loss and muscle gain. You might see models underpinning the caption “I lost 10 pounds in 3 days – you can too!” or, “I make $2000 every week with currency trading” which are the norm on the internet. Advertisers are taking advantage of projection. Just because someone else did it doesn’t mean you too can. Their motivations, economic status and condition and limitations and possibilities are widely different than yours and you may not be as capable as others. Some parents project achievements of other sons on to their offspring while neglecting all other societal and individual limits, tastes and preferences.
Such projections are part of everyday life and are more commonplace than you think.
And hence people who like believing short copy works better would find reasons and examples to support their wishful thinking.
They imagine everybody else shares the same primary concerns, worries and motivations that they share.
So they go around saying that nobody reads more than 100 words and no one wants long copy.
You hear a piece of research that you like and you don’t wait any further but adapt to because its sounds it’s exactly what you want to hear.
Dave Ogilvy, father of advertising, famously believed that more content leads to more sales.
As Joanna Wiebe puts it,
“There’s no point in saying “long copy always beats short copy”… or “long copy doesn’t work on me”… or “web users will only tolerate short copy”…
Rather, your page needs to be as long as is necessary to make the argument that will address the prospect in their state of awareness. If you don’t know how aware they are, you need to find out in [before you] shape your argument.”
In some instances long copy beats short copy and in some others the exact opposite transpires.
The long vs short is a needless debate but there are important points to be made.
It’s possible that being too verbose may dent your chances at being read.
Mark Twain said it well: “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” Even when writing blog posts I realized on more than one occasion that being crisp and to the point is much harder than being verbose.
It’s easy to pile sentences after sentences describing the same thing in different words. Snipping takes real effort.
Long copy was the de-facto standard. But it also belongs to a time when people were far less occupied. Today, there are 59 million blog posts being published everyday and thousands of competing products with slick sounding copy and countless websites all of which who struggle to stay afloat.
Some tests indicate that long copy whizzed past short copy on conversions but that again is a function of your actual target audience.
It good be a could idea to combine the benefits of both short and long copy as Crazyegg does on its current landing page.
The teeny-tiny Tell me More call to action at the bottom, when clicked, opens up some more information about the product and addresses common customer concerns.
In another example, Highrise realized that visitors to site often didn’t know what they did. There was a lot of misinformation surrounding the product and to clear the air they updated the copy with loads of information on how they worked and what kind of clients used them and to achieve what.
The longer copy worked like magic beans.
Paid signups increased by 102.5%.
Let’s see another example.
Working with Conversion Rate Experts, Moz surveyed customers at all stages of the sales funnel, including free trials.
CRE developed a much longer landing page that boosted conversions.
On the other hand, Fiverr, which ran 400 a/b tests never stretched its homepage.
They stayed with short.
CrazyEgg intially improved conversions to their tool with long landing page and then improved it further with a much longer landing page.
And then snipped it crazy short.
May be short or long isn’t the key.
There are several reasons why CrazyEgg’s or Highrise’s short copy worked better.
They established themselves and because of that their short copy works.
Or perhaps they’re able to say what their audience wants to hear very concisely and still get conversions.
I am leaning in to the second reason.
Because the landing page tests were in quick successions. CE may be well known now but in 2013 to 2014, not much.
Addressing customer concerns as succinctly as possible might be the key.
Here’s the key to that.
Use heatmaps to understand how people are responding to what you have on the site.
Heatmaps can tell different story.
In yet another example, it was found that people kept clicking on text as if they were links to get more information.
People were looking for more information and clicked on text hoping that it’d lead to a link with more information. Zeroing down on the most clicked to areas gave them ideas on what to add to the copy.
The new page that was thrice as long as the old one put out more info than the old one.
Build your cred
A few tricks to get the most out of your cred claims is to make things as specific as possible. Hundreds of users or thousands of users lends an air of ambiguity breeding distrust. 900 users sound more trustworthy even when people can’t verify that claim.
Replace jargon with clarity
Clarity trumps cleverness every time. I might have refuted the goldfish theory but there’s substance to the claim that people won’t linger long at words and copy that scream confusion. If you have something to say say it as clearly as possible.
The unique value proposition
The USP must clear and simple. Prevent ambiguity. If possible test it out many different times to see what conveys the best possible context to your offering. In most cases this is simple.
Consider yet another example.
Our team at PRWD worked with them to propose and help deliver user research on a larger scale than we had done before or have done since. We planned a large scale remote research project using whatusersdo.com. 150 videos. Tons of insights. Far too many videos for 1 or 2 people to watch and analyse themselves.
The key to our rollout and the catalyst to AO.com starting down the path of becoming customer centric was that we provided each of the C-suite and senior decision makers with 5 videos each to watch. We sent them the videos and simply said, “Watch these videos of people using your website, and let us know if you feel there is anything we need to change or improve to make the website better for visitors”.