I realize this article may trigger the copywriting community.
But I’m going to write it anyway.
(Mainly because I like gettin long-copy extremists all hot and bothered. And also because I think it’ll be a fun little thought experiment.)
And who knows… this might even open your eyes to some simpler, easier methods of marketing your stuff.
Let’s do it…
A few weeks ago, I was looking at this offer for a product I’ll choose not to name (it’s not important for the sake of this discussion).
It cost less than $10.
And the sales letter was easily 20+ pages long.
You’ve probably seen dozens of offers just like this one.
Now, to be fair…
This offer was meant to convert “cold” traffic into buyers. So when you’re trying to make a sale to someone who never heard of you, you usually have to do a little more “telling and selling” with your copy.
That usually seems to be the case in the world of direct response advertising.
But as I sat there and thought about just how hard a copywriter has to work to make that sale for that product that costs less than $10, I started to wonder…
Is there an easier way to sell your stuff?
A good long-form copywriter is always in demand.
They can do the job that few others want to do. They are willing to put their asses in a seat for 30-60 hours (or more) and produce a coherent, effective sales message that could be anywhere from 50-100 pages long.
And, they get rewarded handsomely for mastering this very difficult skill.
Here’s the one thought I can’t get out of my mind though…
If the product you’re writing a long-form sales letter is really that awesome, do you really need that much copy to sell it?
In early 2019, I released my first course.
It cost $500.
And there was no sales page.
At the time of this writing, I’ve sold close to 100 copies of this course. (And my email list is less than 1,000 people).
According to “The Sacred Laws of the High Church of Direct Marketing”, this shouldn’t be possible.
Or should it?
I sell this course to the people who are on my email list.
When they finally decide they are ready to enroll in this journey with me and become a student, they reach out and ask. If they need more information I’ll send them a one-page description of the course. And then once they tell me they’re “in” I send them right to an order form.
It’s a pretty seamless process.
For a while, I was giving myself a lot of anxiety because I didn’t have a sales page.
And if you’re gonna sell something online YOU FUCKING NEED A SALES PAGE!!!!!!
But, I just kept sending emails.
And people kept buying.
So eventually, I said: “Screw it. Not gonna write one.”
And I lived happily ever after.
It’s a lot easier to sell to a warm audience.
I’ll admit it.
I am definitely NOT anywhere near close to the best cold traffic copywriter in the world.
I’ve done a good job on cold traffic campaigns for a lot of different clients. But I can probably rattle off the names of a few dozen writers who could probably beat me in a head to head split test.
I’m not afraid to admit that.
Writing for cold traffic is hard. You never know what’s going to work until you test. And when you’re at the top of the heap, everyone is good – it’s really just like sports: whoever is having the best day is gonna win.
(Also… I just really don’t give a shit about trying to win a game you don’t need to play. I’ll just keep selling with email a.k.a. the easy way, thank you very much.)
As business owners, marketers and copywriters… sometimes we HAVE to advertise to people who don’t know us.
We HAVE to reach out to a cold audience.
If you’re in business long enough, you’ll probably have to tango with a cold audience at some point.
But, why not just warm them up… and then sell to them?
Or… why not create an offer that’s so irresistible, you don’t need a hundred pages of copy just to get someone to try it?
Or… why not just make your offer so simple to understand, that people don’t need to spend 45 minutes reading your sales letter?
Why not build a list, develop a relationship with those people, and then sell them what they want?
Long-Form copy is completely necessary if your business lives on “click arbitrage.”
What is ‘click arbitrage’?
I asked Google and they defined it as “the buying and selling of web traffic for profit.”
When you create one of these super-complex marketing funnels, you’re basically buying web traffic and selling it to yourself for a profit.
It’s incredibly hard to do this.
Like, super hard.
That’s why the profession of copywriting exists in the first place.
And despite all of the marketing experts you see blowing up your newsfeed, very few people find success with this method of business building.
How many billion-dollar businesses were built with long-form copy?
Ok – Agora.
You got me.
They generate over a billion dollars a year in revenue. No doubt about that. They are the best at what they do, and no one can take that from them.
But can you name 5 more direct-response businesses that use long-form copy and generate similar numbers?
(Seriously, if you can… please let me know. I’m genuinely curious.)
When you look at some of the most successful companies out there today, they’ve never even touched long-form copy.
Imagine if Uber had tried to pitch the public with a 97-page sales letter?
That’d be kinda funny.
Thing is… they don’t need that much copy because they found an elegantly simple way to solve a huge problem.
Same thing with Apple.
Same thing with Exon-Mobile (We sell gas! – end of advertisement.)
What about Walmart? (We sell everything, for a lot less!)
You don’t really see long-form copy on television, outside of infomercials.
The biggest advertising agencies in the world use a ton of short copy in their ads.
It seems like the companies who rely on long-from copy never seem to grow that big.
I am trying to think of popular, mass-market companies who thrive on long-form.
But I’m drawing a blank.
That’s kind of why I posed this question in the first place.
I think I know one of the reasons why this might be the case:
- Most people in America can’t read well. According to the US Department of Education, 32 MM American adults can’t read. That’s like 10% of the total PEOPLE in the entire U.S.
- According to a 4 second Google search, 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
- Almost half of college graduates will never read another book after college.
I guess it kinda makes sense why if you can convert 1-2% of your traffic on a cold advertising campaign…. you’re doing pretty well.
That’s kinda low, right?
Some of the most successful sales letters of all time are considered “short form” by today’s standards.
When the internet was invented, the idea of a space ad died.
Back in the day, there were space ads in newspapers and magazines, the popular media of the day. (These still exist obviously, but you’ll see exponentially more letters online today.)
Meaning you had to write an ad that had to be a certain amount of words or less…. otherwise you’d need to buy more “space” to run it.
Some of those ads – that ran successfully for decades – were a handful of pages.
You’ll see ads now that go on for 80+ pages.
You can write an unlimited amount of words.
And some people try to do this.
It’s kind of crazy.
Even Gary Halbert’s famous “coat-of-arms” letter was less than 400 words.
And I’ve read that that thing was mailed like 700 million times.
Here’s what I’m getting at.
I don’t think long-form copy is bad per se.
Hell – I even write long copy ads for some of my clients.
This sales letter I wrote has done over $1 MM in 14 months. And it’s pretty damn long.
Sometimes you have a product that is so new and so early, you just need to really explain the shit out of it until people understand.
Over time, the offer develops. It improves. It ‘hopefully’ becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist and everyone knows what it is.
And you need less and less copy because “your people” are aware of your product and what it can do for them.
But most companies never reach this point.
It always pains me to see companies who were once ROARING, who now struggle because of things like rising ad costs.
At one point, they were making a killing. But as ad platforms began to raise their prices, they couldn’t stay profitable.
Oftentimes, they were only staying afloat because they were arbitraging clicks.
And that really sucks.
But a lot of the companies who suffer this fate never innovate.
They never move on from being “product-centric” to diversifying and becoming a brand.
You’d be shocked to know how many companies have ONE income stream that’s reliant on cheap clicks. And once ad costs rise and their ads fatigue, they’re finished.
So… what’s the solution?
There are a lot of companies out there who – if advertising ceased to exist tomorrow – they could stay profitable for decades.
I’m talking about companies who own their own email lists and know how to develop long-term customer relationships.
I’m talking about companies who have a vision, a mission and aren’t just trying to turn a dollar into $1.10 because they discovered they can get cheaper clicks on the next social platform.
My company will grow as my email list grows.
Not every company can function like this. But most can.
Sure, some companies absolutely need long-form copy.
But all ads eventually fatigue.
If you’re a business owner, you have to figure out whether you have a really good ad or a high-converting offer… or if you have a real business that’s going to be around for years and continue to grow.
I think you SHOULD use a long-form sales letter in your business if it’s necessary.
There are a lot of businesses who can benefit from better copy.
But here’s the test…
Can you sell your product without a sales letter?
Is your product easy enough to explain… and easy enough to understand… that people will buy it once they hear the hook or the headline?
That’s where your advertising message should start.
It’s incredibly hard to “write” your way to a successful business.
You need other assets.
All ads will fatigue over time. That’s just how advertising works.
But you know what doesn’t seem to fatigue?
If you can assemble a group of people who share a common problem and develop something just for them… then you can run a very simple, very profitable business for a very long time.
If you need to constantly test 100+ page sales letters or tweak your 97-part marketing funnel just to keep the lights on… you might be in trouble.
That’s all I’m saying.
Long Form copy might be the best thing ever for your business. Or it could be a crutch.
Every business is obviously different.
I am obviously very biased.
I prefer to write short-form copy. I like keeping my business simple and easy.
My method isn’t going to work for every business out there.
Just like some businesses crush it with radio advertising or billboards… others crush it with long-form copy.
I just don’t think you NEED long-form stuff as much as the direct response community will say you do.
Here’s What I Hope Happens Next
It’s kind funny.
I don’t even necessarily believe in all of the viewpoints I argued in this article.
But I KNOW some people will get pissed about this and volunteer to spread it around, while talking smack about me. (Thanks for sending all that extra traffic my way, guys!)
And plus… sometimes I just write shit like this to stir the pot.
So if you get that triggered from reading this then maybe go outside, step away from the computer and get a breath of fresh air.
In all seriousness tho, I do hope this gets spread around.
I hope it gets you thinking about the ways you’ve been doing things in your business.
And if you’re someone who thinks like me, I hope it makes you sign up for my email list and convinces you to eventually become a customer.
There’s a lot of dogma in the world of online marketing. And I think it makes sense to play devil’s advocate with your own beliefs every now and again so you don’t get stale.
Marketing is hard for a lot of people.
I personally believe it doesn’t have to be.
Sure, you can definitely make a shit ton of money writing long-form copy and building complex marketing machines. But you might end up building yourself a prison cell instead of the profitable business you set out to create in the first place.
You can just learn how to write really awesome, short-form emails and take care of the people who like you and what you sell.
I know which choice makes sense for me.