Here’s exactly how long marketing copy needs to be

What’s the ideal length of copy for websites and other marketing materials? I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to view themselves as experts on the subject — although what most don’t realize is their answers are based on personal preference or learned prejudice.

The simple answer is that the correct amount of copy is exactly what it takes to accomplish the objective. Sometimes, that may be a sentence or two; other times, it may demand something closer to a book-length manuscript.

Surprised? Convinced that people don’t read anything more than just a few words? Contrary to popular belief, length will not deter people from what you have to say, as long as they believe your words to be meaningful and worthy of their time.

It is true that typical copy lengths have been shrinking over the past couple generations. One reason is that our attention spans are shrinking, driven largely by television and the web. Our eyes and brains have become accustomed to seeing more images and movement in the same amount of time.

It’s most evident when you explore the web. In the internet’s early days, most sites were copy-heavy “brochureware.” As broadband ushered in faster connections, we truly started to use browsers for browsing. Viewers were less likely to scroll down, so it became critical to place key information closer to the top of the page.

Handheld devices have intensified the trend. Now the key elements of a message have to be condensed so they fit on a screen that’s smaller than the palm of your hand. You may be able to view 150 to 200 words of a website on a monitor, but you’ll be lucky to see 30 or 40 on a device.

As a professional writer, should I worry that my role is being rendered obsolete by shorter word counts? Not at all. You see, fewer words means every word must count. There’s no room for waste or fluff, and making words work their hardest is where professional writers excel.

Whether you’re a professional writer or someone who simply has to write as part of your job, there are three techniques you can use to make your copy work harder, no matter what its length may be.

1. Make a strong first impression

If you’re creating copy to be viewed on a screen, make sure your opening sentences contain the information that’s most important to your target audience. Don’t waste their time with lengthy introductions or sharing things they already know, like “ours is a very competitive industry, and product users need to make the choices that best suit their needs.” Get to the point!

2. Create navigation for readers

When you have a lot to say, cater to people who skim through copy by breaking large subjects into smaller chunks. Use subheadings, lead-ins, shorter paragraphs, and other techniques to help readers quickly find what matters most to them. Don’t be offended if they read less of what you’ve developed, because the portions they do read will be more relevant to their needs.

3. Don’t feel compelled to use every space

For example, don’t assume a tweet or social posts needs to fill 140 characters. If you can convey your key message in just 80 or 90 characters, it’s a sign you’re an effective communicator. Padding to fulfill arbitrary lengths will actually make it less effective.

Don’t waste words or the reader’s time trying to satisfy misguided ideas of how long or short copy should be. Just make sure everything you write is exactly long enough to accomplish the objective — because that’s the perfect length.