7 Tips for Writing Effective Short Copy

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Long copy versus short copy… which converts better?

The answer is often debated, but there’s only one truth when it comes to copy length.

It depends.

computer animated graphic

Depending on your product, target market, advertising medium, goals of your copy, and a million other factors, the length that’s most effective will vary.

Here are some examples:

  • Price: A higher priced product requires more copy because you need more proof and copy to overcome objections.
  • Medium: Some promotional strategies—like Google Adwords, Twitter, and author bios—can only accommodate short copy. In that case, knowing how to capture attention quickly with just a few words is enormously valuable.
  • Goal: If the goal of your copy is to get someone’s email address your copy can be much shorter than if your goal were to sell something.

So, if you’re trying to determine which length of copy to use, just remember the old adage: Your copy should be as long as it needs to be and no longer.

This means, if you’re writing to sell a membership program and you wind up with a 10-page sales letter explaining all the benefits, showing proof, describing your guarantee, and more, 10 pages may be appropriate. (However, be sure to cut any “fluff.” The smoother and more compelling your sales letter is, the better it will convert—even if you cut a few pages.)

On the other hand, here are three instances where you may want to use shorter copy:

  • If your product requires a smaller investment or less of a commitment, you may be able to write just a few paragraphs and still have a great conversion rate. Here’s an example of (very) short copy: do you want more traffic Since entering your URL isn’t much of a commitment—if at all—this pop-up can be very effective and still be short. In fact, using more copy might be distracting and confusing.
  • Writing a perfect 10-page sales letter is a big, long undertaking and it would delay your product launch by weeks (or more). In this case, it’s better to get something live—even if it’s shorter—and add more proof, testimonials, and details later.
  • You don’t have an option. If you’re advertising on Twitter, you’re limited to a certain amount of characters. Same thing for Google AdWords. In other instances, maybe you need all your copy “above the fold.” Or you’re creating a postcard and there’s just not room for long copy. Any of these instances could require the use of short copy.

So when you must use short copy, how can you ensure it’s as effective as possible? Here are 7 surefire ways for writing effective short copy that converts:

1. Know (and understand) your target audience

Before starting on your short copy project, keep in mind that most of the real work to create effective short copy happens before you start writing!

First, make sure you know what’s important to your intended reader. Research the demographic you are targeting well. Get to know them intimately before you write any copy. Here are some example questions:

  • What makes my target audience really happy?
  • What makes them mad?
  • What is their biggest problem?
  • What keeps them up at night?

I’ve found that short copy works best when your audience is specific, limited, and targeted. This is likely because it’s easier to talk to one specific person—and convince them—than it is to address everyone with one message…

For instance, if you want to target men from 18-65, that’s a big audience. The 19-year-old man doesn’t have the same concerns as the 30-year old man or the 60-year-old man. Trying to talk to that large of an age range requires a lot of copy.

Instead, drill down to one optimal customer and target them. Not sure where to start? Consider who is most likely to buy your product or service and talk directly to them.

2. Remember the power of one

One of the biggest lessons I learned about effective copy is sticking to the power of one. This ensures your copy will be tight and compelling, regardless of the length.

In other words, have one main idea that weaves throughout the entire piece. This goes for both long and short copy. Don’t get off track. If you do, you’ll increase your length. But, don’t worry; you can always cut the extra copy later.

So, how do you determine your one main idea? To start, choose the biggest problem that you’re solving for your target audience and stick with it. No distractions.

And, keep stories to a minimum because you may not have enough room to develop a compelling story. For any stories you must use paraphrase and shorten them as much as possible.

If it fits and flows, keep it. If not, find another way to connect with the reader, such as a current event they’re likely familiar with or a compelling quote from someone your target market knows, likes, and trusts. Don’t forget; during editing cut anything that doesn’t directly support your claim to solve their biggest problem.

3. Be very clear on what your goal is

Before you start writing, determine the goal or action you want your reader to take. Do you want them to…

  • Click an “add-to-cart” button?
  • Visit a landing page?
  • Sign up for a newsletter?

Once you have your goal, consider what it would take to convince you—or someone in your target market—to take that action. If you’re asking for an email address, your copy can likely be shorter than if you’re asking for an order.

If you’re having trouble with this, try writing your call to action first—before you write the bulk of your copy. This will give you a clear ending and a direction to travel. Then, make sure the rest of your copy supports your one idea and your goal.

Anything that sidetracks the reader should be cut.

Of course, you may need to modify your call to action once you’ve written the rest of the copy. Who knows, something much better might come to you while writing. But, knowing your call to action up front will help you write concise and effective copy.

4. Find the deeper benefit to the promise

With short copy, you likely won’t have room to address every feature and benefit of your product. In this case, it’s better to write all of the features and benefits and then select only the most compelling and most important (to your target audience).

We talked about this above in the “power of one” where I said, “Choose the biggest problem that you’re solving for your target audience and stick with it.”

Now take this one step deeper and determine the deeper benefit of your product or service. In other words, how will your product or service solve their biggest problem? And, why would they want that?

Here’s an example:

Let’s imagine that you sell a fitness product… it’s the hottest new home workout DVD program and it comes with super-sized rubber bands for resistance training…

The features might be:

  • A 30-minute long DVD you can watch anywhere
  • 3 resistance rubber bands for building muscle

Try asking, “So what?” after each feature to uncover the emotions benefits:

  • A DVD… So what? You can watch it anywhere. So what? You won’t need to leave the house… you won’t be embarrassed at the gym. You will lose weight in the privacy of your own home. You can use it to travel…
  • 3 resistance bands… so what? You’ll build muscle faster? So? Your workout will be shorter. You’ll see results sooner. You won’t have to work as hard…

Getting in shape quickly and easily is a benefit to nearly anyone… but the deeper benefit?

Well, that depends on your target market. A 19-year-old man might want to get in shape and have others find him desirable. A 50-year-old man might want to stay in shape to reduce the aches and pains of old age.

Paint a picture of them enjoying these deeper benefits and your copy will be much more effective. Here’s an example from Duluth Trading:

you still need more room downstairs

Duluth Trading is one of my husband’s favorite companies—and mine too—because their copy is so fun and effective. Just check out some of the phrases above:

  • “Dressier details like single-stitching look better for heading into town.”
  • “Easy-moving Crouch Gusset™ doesn’t infringe on a guy’s space.”
  • “In case you need to spring into action or cut a rug.”

See how the copy is short, but it gets across the deeper benefit: good-looking comfort, for any occasion!

5. Include a user-friendly rock-solid guarantee

To help your short copy perform better, include a rock-solid guarantee. This helps reduce any risk, makes your target customer more comfortable trying your product or service, and increases conversions. For help writing your guarantee, go here.

Here’s another example from Duluth Trading—short, simple, and a no-brainer:

Duluth trading co no bull

6. Remove the fluff. Cut the excess

Once you’ve finished, go back through your copy and remove or replace any words that are over an 8th-grade reading level.

It’s not that your readers are dumb (or 8th graders); they just have a lot of distractions. Making your copy as smooth as possible—and easy to read—is key for short copy to convert effectively.

Also, remove any wordiness. For examples, check out this article on tight copywriting.

Then look for anything that can be cut that isn’t essential to your message. Often words like “that,” “very,” and “really” can be cut completely and the sentence will still make sense. Keep in mind that multiple revisions may be necessary to get your copy as short—and compelling—as possible.

7. Test your copy

As with everything, testing your copy is essential. Testing will allow you to see what works best for your target audience and help you create shorter copy faster next time.

Another one of the advantages of short copy is that it’s easier to edit and test. Plus, small changes—like altering your headline or changing the size of your font—can make a big difference.

The rest is up to you

I wish I could tell you whether short copy or long copy will work best for your product or service, but there’s no clear-cut answer. But, by following the tips above you can start writing effective short copy that converts better.

How about you? Have you been using short copy effectively? Do you have any results you’d like to share? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Christina Gillick.

Christina Gillick is a direct-response copywriter. She helps her clients create loyal customers and raving fans through relationship building copy and marketing. She is also an entrepreneur and founder of ComfyEarrings – The Most Comfortable Earrings on Earth.

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