How to Handle Longer Copy

In my last two articles, I made the case for writing longer and better copy at commercial Web sites.

This week, I want to look at a very simple device used by direct marketing copywriters that is yet to make its appearance online. Or, if it has, I have yet to see it.

Traditional direct marketing writers are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Rock: Short copy doesn’t sell, so you have to make it longer.

Hard place: The longer the copy, the more readers you lose along the way. You lose them at the end of each sentence and paragraph, and, particularly, at page breaks.

Using Momentum

The offline writer will address the “hard place” by writing in a style with a momentum that carries the reader forward, minimizing losses.

A very simple example of this is beginning a new paragraph with the word “and.” When a reader is about to bail but sees the word “and” coming up, he or she is then inclined to read just that one last sentence in order to see the previous thought completed. (No, you shouldn’t make a habit of starting every new paragraph with the word “and.” It’s just one way to get people to keep reading and should be used sparingly.)

Experienced direct marketing writers will always recognize the particular demands of the medium and attempt to address them.

Of all the hard places for anyone attempting to make a sale through text, the page break is the one you have to watch out for.

Offline, that break occurs at the end of a page of a direct marketing letter. When you ask a reader to turn the page, that’s the spot at which folks will often think, “Nah,” and drop your letter in the garbage.

Keeping the Reader’s Attention

Online, the marketer and writer are faced with the same challenge. When your page, however many screens long it may be (another issue altogether), comes to an end, that’s where you lose a high proportion of readers. You’ll never get a 100 percent conversion rate from one page to the next.

Right now, each page online tends to be a neatly packaged whole. If there’s a next stage, there’s a link that directs the reader to “Continue here…” or whatever.

By doing that — that is, by making each page complete — the online marketer is ignoring what direct marketers have been doing for years.

In the world of direct marketing letters, you always (if you’re half good at your job) break a strong sentence in two between the bottom of one page and the top of the next. If you end the page with the end of a sentence, the thought is complete, and the reader’s inclination to trash your letter is unopposed. But if you start a strong, compelling sentence at the end of that page and complete it on the next page, you increase your chances of retaining the reader’s attention.

Why Aren’t We Doing It?

This is what I have yet to see online: I have yet to see promotional text being broken between pages, and I have yet to see writers and designers get together and use the power of the written word to increase conversion rates between one page and the next.

I’ve seen it on news sites where the first paragraph of the story is shown, with a broken sentence and then a link for the “complete story.”

So how come we’re not doing that for our commerce sites? It’s not as if we couldn’t use an increase in conversion rates.

Break those sentences in two!

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