Follow the Long Yellow Copy: Do Long Scrolling Sales Letters Work?

Have you ever sat through a movie and got to the point when you counted the minutes till its ending? Unfortunately, you can't speed it up or leave it for another show (although, some people do try switching movies). When long Web copy leaves your eyes glazing in that same way, what do you do?

As you read a long, scrolling sales pitch do you read it and make the buy? Read it and lose interest? Click away? Skim it and do nothing?

Welcome to salesmanship in print.

Why long copy works

Web-Source's Shelley Lowery says, "It is a proven fact that long sales copy out-sells short sales copy. However, some visitors do prefer a short sales letter. You can provide your visitors with both. For those who prefer a short sales letter, provide opportunities to click through to your order page prior to ending your sales letter."

Article after article on long sales copy state studies have indicated they work and there are proven results. Yet, no statistics can be found, although several companies have tested various campaigns and have reported that long sales copy comes out ahead. Nick Usborne of Excess Voice has posted results of an informal survey where he asks, "Do long, scrolling pitches really work?"

  • 19 percent - I don't believe that people fall for long, scrolling sales pitches
  • 75 percent - I'd never want to write that stuff myself, but I know it sells
  • 6 percent - I've written those long sales pitches, and made some big bucks
In researching this topic, these are some of the reasons why long copy works:

  • You can never provide too many details on the value the product provides (the more you tell, the more you sell)
  • They appeal to the reader by using "feelings"
  • They tell the whole story
  • They clearly state the benefits
How to make it work

Michael Fortin's article on the eight-step formula for writing long copy is frequently referenced by business people. He sums successful long copy in three steps:

  • Market
  • Objectives
  • Results
Like Web sites, writers create long copy with the audience in mind. If you're turned off by such copy, then you aren't the target market. Well-written copy fails when it doesn't get in front of the right market no matter how emotional it is. It also won't work if it puts readers to sleep.

Successful long copy has an objective in mind: to sell. It urges the reader to do something immediately, and drives results based on the target market and the objective. To develop the most compelling copy, Copywriters write multiple letters and test them with the market to see how well each does and to verify the copy isn't hypey, unbelievable or a scam. The key is to let the audience drive the approach.

Writers of long copy don't write anything and everything that comes to mind. Even Fortin says, "Make your case, tell your story and provide as much information as is needed to make the sale ... and not one word more." Even long copy can be too long.

If you want to get long copy in front of an email newsletter audience, it's best to send it in a separate special mailing or include a paragraph in the newsletter with a link to the copy's Web page.

Scrolling down the road

In the past, vertical scrolling has been a no-no, but that has changed with increasing screen resolutions, faster Internet connections and users becoming comfortable with the mouse or keyboard for scrolling. Horizontal (left and right) scrolling remains a bad thing and many recommend avoiding it.

The scrolling problem has decreased in the last few years. Jakob Nielsen, Web design usability expert, reports: "90 percent of users used to not scroll navigation pages; instead, they simply picked from the visible options. This has changed since most Web users now know that pages scroll and that important links sometimes are not visible 'above the fold.' Even so, the visible options still dominate and users sometimes overlook alternatives lower down the page."

Nielsen, however, says to minimize scrolling, especially no more than three pages' worth. Obviously, long copy works harder to entice readers to scroll below the fold for more information.

Getting and holding their attention

Businesses have experienced higher conversion rates from using long sales copy. People read all the way through it or at least enough to make the buy. That's why we see long copy in many Web sites.

Just remember that each person has different tastes, experiences and preferences. Some moviegoers walk out before the end of the movie because they've lost interest, while the rest stay put for the entire show. It's up to you to clearly write your sales pitch in a way that gets and holds the attention of those who will stay with you till the end.

Meryl K. Evans is the Content Maven behind meryl's notes, eNewsletter Journal, and The Remediator Security Digest. She is also a PC Today columnist and a tour guide at InformIT. She is geared to tackle your editing, writing, content, and process needs. The native Texan resides in Plano, Texas, a heartbeat north of Dallas, and doesn't wear a 10-gallon hat or cowboy boots.

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