Why less copy sometimes takes more time, and why longer articles are more bang for your buck.
When I first started copywriting, one of the early lessons I had to learn was how to adapt the content and structure of my writing to its intended purpose. Copy for an email will be opened and read under different conditions than copy on a brochure. The words that form the hero text on the home page of a website are different than the words in a tweet, even though they take up the same amount of space.
When you’re writing, all this makes sense. But when you have to explain your writing to someone else—especially in a project quote—it can be a longer conversation.
Why does it take the same amount of time for me to write 300 words on a service page as it does to write 1,000 words in a blog, for instance? And is all that content actually necessary? Don’t visitors want you to be more concise?
Well, yes and no. The length and style of your copy—and the time it takes to produce it—depend on its application. If you want good copy on your website, understanding the thought process behind it will help you make better decisions about where to invest your budget.
While there are many applications for copy (brochures, email, social media, downloadable content, sales decks, etc.), I spend most of my time writing either blog copy and website copy. These are very different content types, but the contrast will help illustrate the theory.
1. Purpose: what is this content supposed to accomplish?
Let’s start with the visitor. Most website owners envision a client coming to them through their home page. The visitor may not know much about them, so the home pages has to give a broad overview of the company while also helping visitors self-select into the right area of a sight. A clothing website, for instance, will begin by splitting visitors by gender. A non-profit might split visitors by whether they are a customer or a volunteer.
The further a visitor gets into a website, the more specific the pages become. However, they still generally touch on high-level content issues. There’s not a lot of space to go deep into the details, because you don’t want to overload visitors with information that isn’t relevant to them. This means more thought has to go into each paragraph, each sentence, and each header, because you don’t have the space to elaborate.
Blog copy is the opposite. No one ends up on a blog entitled “How Dropshipping Works” unless they actually want to know how dropshipping works. That’s because, like the home page, blogs are also an entry point onto the website. But whereas the home page is the entry point for direct traffic, blogs are the entry point for organic traffic—that is, traffic from Google.
This makes blog copy longer, more detailed, and more informative. If website copy is meant to be directional—guiding visitors toward a page on the site that will have the information or products they’re looking for—blog posts are more of a destination.
And as you might guess, attracting visitors through organic traffic relies a lot on keyword strategy.
2. Keyword strategy: short head vs. long tail.
Keyword strategy forms a large part of any kind of copy writing for the web. If you’re a business that sells vacuums, you might want to rank for “best home vacuum,” or “best stair vacuum,” or “cordless vacuums.” However, you probably won’t rank for these terms on your home page.
In fact, your home page might not be the page that ranks for your top keywords. It probably only has a few hundred words of copy, and those few hundred words have to cover everything that your company offers—not just vacuums. Remember, your home page is where direct traffic enters your site. Most organic traffic will go toward a different page—like a product page for your top-selling stair vacuums—rather than your home page.
It’s also important to note that many of those shorter keywords, what are called “short head” keywords, are hard to rank for. They have a lot of search volume, but also a lot of competition, and they tend to be dominated by the biggest and most established brands. You should be building out product and service pages that focus on specific key terms, and over time those pages will start to perform. But you can get a big assist from blog posts.
This is because each blog post can hit your keywords with longer, more specific search queries. Each blog post you write may be based on search phrases that only receive a few hundred queries per year, but the quality of visitors who come in to your site through those posts will be much higher.
3. Length: when less is more, and when longer is better.
If you want to rank for a key phrase, one of the most important factors working in your favor is length. Google needs to have enough context on your page, and needs to see your target key words show up enough times, to know whether your page is relevant for the term you’re trying to rank for.
However, writing long copy isn’t just for Google. Long-form content (1000+ words) also receives more shares and engagement on social media. If you stop to think for a moment, it’s not hard to understand why.
Remember: blog content is meant to inform. People come looking for answers, and if you don’t supply them, they may leave feeling disappointed. That’s why long, thorough posts about specific topics make for such great blog content.
It’s the total opposite for many of the pages on your website, however. In contrast to your blog copy, the copy that shows up on a web page can often seem deceptively short. A home page may only have a couple hundred words worth of copy, and that copy has a lot of heavy lifting to do.
Hero copy, for instance, is usually only 4–6 words long, and in that space it must communicate a lot about your business. Every header and supporting paragraph has to do its part to convince readers to move deeper into the site and learn more, and it must do so in about 30–70 words. Web pages are heavily designed to guide visitors toward taking specific action, and the copy has to fit those requirements.
4. Design: does the copy support the design, or does it take center stage?
One of the most common problems I encounter when submitting my copy to clients for approval getting a set of revisions back and finding hat the client has added 300 words to a paragraph that was only designed to hold 50.
When I write copy for a web page, my words have to closely track the design created by other members on my team. That design not only follows strict aesthetic principles, it also needs to meet requirements for user experience, accessibility, mobile optimization, and conversion optimization.
What all that means is that, beyond the care and attention paid to each word in a limited content space, the copy itself can’t exceed that space or it could mess up the design.
In a blog post, however, the design is created to support the copy—and that means not getting in the way if a blog piece needs to be well over a thousand words.
Length and time depend on purpose and design.
In short, the length of a content pieces—and the amount of time spent on it—depend on how that content appears on the site, and what job it needs to accomplish. The more carefully-worded a piece of copy needs to be, the more time it will take to hit on just the right phrasing. The more informative a content piece, the longer and more detailed it will become.
Writing a web page is like trying to write a dozen opening sentences. You have to take several new ideas and sum up each in only a few words. Site pages are definitive. They are written to last a certain length of time, and then re-written whenever the content becomes outdated.
On the other hand, a blog lets you take one idea and run with it. Certain blog posts will gain a lot of traffic over time and become high-performing pages for your site. Others will become quickly outdated—especially if there’s a heavy focus on press releases. But while old site copy is scrapped once a new version is written, old blog posts form an archive which lends depth and credibility to your site.
Perhaps the difference between blog copy and website copy can best be summed up in this way: Site copy works with design to communicate high-level information that guides visitors toward action. Blog copy relies on depth to communication detailed information and build credibility with the user.
Blog copy appeals to the head; site copy appeals to the heart. You need both to run an effective website.