We Haven’t Turned Into Goldfish Yet! Long-form Copy is Alive and Well

Don’t believe the naysayers! Long copy is not dead. It’s not over. And it’s not going anywhere just yet. Long copy is alive and well and here to stay both in print and online. As a digital copywriter, it’s the online stuff that interests me…

The tsunami of blogs, online articles and social media has reached epic proportions. In August 2017, there were 1.24 billion websites, and more than 2 million blog posts are published every single day [Source: Hosting Facts]. That’s a huge amount of content competing for readers’ attention.

How can you make your online marketing stand out from the often not blindingly useful or well-written content?

Rise above it with long-form copy.

Top 10 search results are over 2000 words

The average word count for the first 10 results on Google (the whole of the first page) is more than 2000 words [Source: SerpIQ]. And as 33% of web traffic goes to the number one spot and 95% goes to results on the first page, if you’re not on page one there’s just a 1 in 20 chance that your site will be seen [Source: Search Engine Watch].

The average length of blog posts keeps increasing (a topic I wrote about here). As well as taking up the top results on search engines, longer posts are shared more [Source: Quick Sprout] and offer more value to the reader too.

With more space, you can dive into a topic in detail, put together the findings from your research and say something original. Rather than re-hashing what 300 other people are saying that week, you can put something out there that has a fresh perspective or comes to a new and exciting conclusion and adds to current knowledge about your sector.

And because not everyone is doing it, it has the added bonus of making you stand out from your competitors.

Going beyond 2000 words

Even 2000 words isn’t that much space to get into a topic worth exploring. The only way to really get into something is with thousands of words.

I’ve found that more and more clients are coming to me to write long copy. This year, I’ve seen a 400% increase in demand for white papers and eBooks (subject size of one = just me).

But I don’t think it is just me. In journalism as well as marketing, people are craving the satisfaction that comes from reading something meaty that looks at an issue in detail and gives them something to think about. There’s even evidence that long articles may be the future of journalism [Source: FIPP].

But aren’t our attention spans getting shorter?

Yes, apparently they are. Our attention spans are now just 5 seconds due to the onslaught of – ooh, squirrel – social media, emails, stress and decision overload [Source: Brandon Gaille].

But that’s not the whole picture and stats like that absolve us of any responsibility over our free will to focus on whatever it is we want to focus on. Web designers may use tricks to manipulate us (ever wondered why the notifications on iPhone apps are red circles?) but we can choose whether to respond to them or not.

are attention spans getting shorter

I don’t know about you but I can still sit down and read a book for as long as I feel like without having to check my phone, think about my emails or what I’m having for dinner. I’m able to put my phone on silent or even be separated from it, sometimes for whole hours at a time.

One of my favourite sources of fascinating articles is Nautilus – here’s a recent article about ‘Distraction in the Digital Age‘. It’s more than 3000 words but it’s still easy to read because I find it interesting. I want to read every word so that I can absorb it all. If you write about a topic your target audience finds interesting they’ll give it 5 minutes too.

Saying that we no longer read articles or our minds wander after a few seconds isn’t doing us justice. And as we become aware that we’re easily distracted we’re taking steps to overcome those nagging interruptions – like only checking emails three times a day, or coming off Facebook, or keeping mobiles on silent and out of sight. We are in control of our behaviour, we don’t have to respond to pings like well-trained dogs!

And don’t we skim-read?

Yep, we often skim online. But that’s not an argument not to write a detailed blog post or study. It’s a reason to make sure that the information is really well laid-out and engaging.

Content is like food and not all food is the same. You can grab a quick snack to satisfy a temporary craving or you can sit down and enjoy a delicious three-course meal.

Long copy is the restaurant meal of marketing comms and the only way of getting across an idea that needs exploring in depth. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with shorter posts, just that you can’t say as much in 400 words as you can in 4000 words.

white paper writer

I write white papers and eBooks of anything up to 10,000 words. That’s a long way off the length of most books (fiction and non-fiction books are about 100,000 words on average) but a lot longer than snackable content. The long copy I write tends to be either a detailed look at a topic or market trend with original insights, or a study based on bespoke research with fresh conclusions. And they’re a very successful form of marketing and lead generation.

Always write for your reader

So, should you be investing thousands of pounds in white papers and eBooks? Not necessarily. The first rule of copywriting (or is it the second? Anyway…) is to think about your target market.

  • What topics interest them?
  • Do those topics warrant an in-depth study?
  • Do your readers have time to sit and read a longer piece?
  • Will your article help them overcome a problem?
  • Will it help to generate leads for your company or help your current customers?

Here’s a very quick example:

Company 1: Techno Websites
Let’s say you run a web company and you make big, complex sites for recruitment companies. If someone is going to spend a very large amount of money with you, they’re going to do some research into which supplier to go to.

While they’re reading your detailed report into how they can make sure their website grows with their business and can be adapted to keep up with changes in the market, they’re also realising that given all you know about it, you’re the web developer for them.

Company 2: Appy Talking
If you sell £1 apps your target market isn’t going to need to read a 10-page document about why they should choose your app over someone else’s to help them decide whether to invest a pound or not.

Like all marketing, it’s horses for courses

– me

Whatever you write, make it interesting (please!)

Whether it’s a short blog post or a 10,000-word eBook, make sure your writing is engaging. People hate being bored and will hate you for taking up their time with dry writing. Think about what questions your clients have, what issues they need solving, what questions you can answer for them – and what solution you provide. Then write it in a way that will keep people interested and feed them lots of super-helpful information.

Copywriters always talk about using short words, short sentences, keeping it simple… but as long as every word counts, copy can be as long as it needs to be to explore a subject and achieve your aims. It’s not right for every business but in a world where a tsunami of content is vying for our attention, long-copy is a proven way of helping you rise above the competition.

What do you think? Do you use white papers or any form of long copy in your marketing? What sort of results have you seen?

Thanks for reading!


P.S. If you’d like to know more about the process of collaborating on white papers and eBooks or how clients use them feel free to drop me a line.

2 thoughts on “We Haven’t Turned Into Goldfish Yet! Long-form Copy is Alive and Well

  1. Thanks John.

    Let’s hope so. A few years ago the sheer volume of content being put out seemed overwhelming and people were rushing to blog more and more. I’m glad that good writing and long copy have prevailed!

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