The Long and the Short of it – Minimal vs In-depth Web Copy

Long shadows in sandWhen you’re thinking about how to write copy for a website, whether it’s a brand new site or you’re revamping an existing one, the length of the copy is an important consideration.

My training in applying the principles of modern business English to web copywriting taught me that keeping things short and to the point is the best way to grab and hold a reader’s attention. A lot of my work involves taking rambling, wordy draft copy produced by clients and cutting it down to its essence. Rather than presenting people with long streams of content, I’ve always preferred using strong calls to action to encourage them to follow links deeper into a website. This helps to take visitors on a journey which, all being well, will end in a sale.

However recent changes to Google’s algorithms mean longer pages are starting to rank more highly. Meanwhile the rise in people accessing the internet on their phones and other mobile devices means bite-sized copy is more relevant than ever.

So where does that leave us?

The facts behind the long web copy trend

Back in 2012, shortly after Google began rolling out its Penguin and Panda updates, Neil Patel of QuickSprout wrote a fascinating article entitled How Content Length Affects Rankings and Conversions. In it he explained how he ran a test to compare how a 488-word homepage performed compared to his original 1,292-word homepage. The result? ‘The original converted 7.6% better than the new variation. And it didn’t just end there. The leads from the long form version of the page were better in quality, meaning they were more qualified than the leads that came from the new variation.’

While I can see how more detailed copy could result in higher quality leads, because people are more informed before they make contact, 1,292 words is very long for a homepage. I think it’s important to note here that there has always been a tendency towards longer web copy in the US while the British market has typically responded better to short, snappy content.

The following year, 2013, Google launched a new feature to help people find in-depth articles, prompted by research that suggested ‘up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic’.

Despite the small percentage of people apparently searching for in-depth information to read around their topic of interest, it appears that Google is heavily weighting its algorithms towards wordy results. According to Neil Patel’s article, ‘The average content length for a web page that ranks in the top 10 results for any keyword on Google has at least 2,000 words. The higher up you go on the search listings page, the more content each web page has.’

But be wary of stretching your pages out artificially. The content will need to be full of relevant information in order to rank highly, not just padded out with fluff.

The flip side

While it seems that the current trend is towards long web copy, there’s a conflicting demand for bite-sized information from people accessing sites on their mobiles, tablets or ‘phablets’. Don’t forget that mobile optimised websites also rank highly with Google.

If you’ve got a dedicated mobile website, you can tailor the copy accordingly, but if yours is a static or responsive site, it’s important to make sure it’s not overwhelming to look at on a small screen. Breaking the copy up with headings and bullet-points will help, and will aid readability on full-size screens as well.

Rather than showing all the content as soon as a visitor arrives on a page, consider adding ‘read more’ links. If you’re keen to maximise the number of words per page, these could either open up a text box, concertina style, or take the visitor further down the same page.

If you’re not enthusiastic to jump onto the long homepage bandwagon, you could think about adding some longer pages deeper into your website, for example blog posts and white papers, instead. If you focus on filling these pages with genuinely relevant, in-depth information, they can act as landing pages. To my mind long form landing pages like this are much more worthwhile than lengthy homepages.

Remember, while getting people to your website in the first place is top priority, it’s also vital to capture their interest once they arrive. So, whether you’re going for the wordy or the concise approach, when you’re writing website content, focus on making it relevant and engaging for your target audience. Ultimately this is what Google is looking for too, so it’s a win-win.

Should we all be writing website content with 2,000 words per page to keep Google happy? Click To Tweet