You Can Write Practical eCommerce Product Descriptions that Sell
Writing great product descriptions seems to be a continuing struggle for a lot of eCommerce merchants. I have helped hundreds of merchants refine their product descriptions and I think that the confusion comes down to four separate issues:
- Fear of Writing
- Trying Too Hard to “Write”
- Saying Too Much
- Focusing Only on SEO, or Not at All
Let’s tackle each of these and then see some practical examples of good and not-so-good product descriptions. And then we will even try to "fix" one of them.
Sound like fun? I think so, so let's get the party stated.
Fear of Writing
Lot’s of people have a fear of writing. Sometimes it’s because of a general insecurity that comes from being criticized in the past or getting lower grades in English classes when they were in school.
Sure, proper grammar and punctuation are important in writing, but that does not necessarily translate into more sales (which is what you want). And yes, there are lots of people who make their entire career out of copywriting and they are REALLY good at it. But you do not have to be a professional copywriter to write copy that sells.
So, rule #1 is … you CAN do this. Don’t worry about being “judged” by your writing. The ONLY judgement that matters is if the product is selling.
Trying Too Hard to “Write”
Good writing is hard, but that doesn’t mean you should try too hard to do it. Let me explain.
When most people set out to write, something in them changes. They dig out the dictionary and thesaurus and use words that they don’t normally use. They construct sentences in rigid, formal ways. They mix in product jargon. The problem with all of this is that this is not how people talk to each other.
The vast majority of the time we speak to each other in short, efficient sentences with words that we use every day. Sometimes you have to bring in technical terms if they are truly important to the buyer. But if you want clear, powerful product descriptions that sell better, work hard to use as few of them as possible. Take the time to write well, but write as if you were talking to a close friend.
When it comes to product sales copy, the hard part is being and sounding natural and real.
Saying Too Much
Rule of Thumb: Every sale happens in the first fifty words, everything else is details.
That’s just a rule-of-thumb, but there are a lot of behavioral science reasons for this – human attention spans, how many words a person can absorb at a crack, and lots of other things. And with so much web traffic being delivered on mobile devices, you’ve got to recognize that only so many words fit on those small screens at the same time.
But the real danger when writing product descriptions is that the person writing those words “wants” to say a lot about the product. That’s not a bad thing – the copywriter or merchant might be an expert who knows a lot about the products and wants the customer to have all the info possible.
That’s a good instinct, but save all those deep-diving dissertations for a blog post (where it will get you more traffic). In the product descriptions, focus on what the customer needs to know in order to buy.
And when you are writing those first fifty words, focus on how the product will make them feel – smart, productive, happy, satisfied, attractive, etc. If more detailed, technical descriptions are needed, push that info down or add a details tab so that the info is there, but out of the way of the sale.
Focusing Only on SEO, or Not at All
The modern eCommerce copywriter-merchant has to serve two masters – you need the product name, page title, and description to have the right mix of keyword phrases to score well in search engines, but you also need all of those things to be convincing, friendly, and persuasive to the human who will make the actual buying decision.
We have to satisfy both man and machine. Like so many other things in life, this means we have to strike a meaningful balance. So, let’s look at some examples. I have pulled all my examples from Amazon … because they are a relatively easy target, have lots of product names and descriptions that are usually written by outside copywriters across a large swath of companies.
Calvin Klein – Doing Everything Wrong
If you are a regular reader of my posts, you know that I have picked on Calvin Klein before. Seriously, all of their product names are about as boring and non-optimized as they can possibly be. And there are almost never any real product descriptions. In fact, the only way to make their products show up is to actually search for “Calvin Klein” as a part of your criteria.
Now imagine that you are a customer who wants to purchase this product. What would you search for? “Men’s” … sure. “Sweater,” … maybe. But you would almost always state a color and some other attribute, right? You might search for something like:
“men’s dark gray long-sleeve pull-over sweater”
But when I search for that string on Amazon this product doesn’t come up … not at all (I looked at every result). Don’t you think it should?
There’s another real problem – and it's one of the big differences between old-school, paper catalog thinking and how people shop online today. This product color is listed as “cadet grindle.” Seriously. I am not aware of any person on earth today who wants to buy a sweater who will instinctively search for – over even understand – “cadet grindle.” And you might be happy to know that this product comes in three additional colors – “pinot grindle,” “black grindle” (not as bad), and “Ash Htr” (whatever that is).
And we all know that a well-crafted description that customers can easily see above the fold is your chance to give a great pitch. For Calvin Klein, it's just a blank patch of wasted opportunity.
Orvis – Better for eCommerce, But Not Great
So now let’s contrast that with another product in the same category that is doing a bit better.
In the Orvis example above, you can easily see that their product name both communicates information that a real person would find valuable in decision-making (even though this is definitely NOT a “sweatshirt”). The color description – claret, a kind of wine – is better, but not great. And there is an actual product description above the fold on the web page that contains decent info – even if it falls flat in persuasion and selling.
Let’s Fix the Orvis Product Name and Description for SEO and to Sell
Makes Sense, Right?
Did you notice that the first words I used in the description were about aspirational feelings? I managed to get a few technical things in there too, but I lead with words that speak to the experience of using the product. And all the keywords are there to maximize SEO. But you can also “read” it like you would read anything else. That makes it believable and understandable to real people.
It’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’s not hard. You just need to be concise and think about who you are talking to … both the machines and the real humans who will buy.
Thanks for reading!
PS - I couldn't help but notice that there were not enough images (photos) in these example products. But that is a different blog post altogether, right? If you want to read some of our articles on great eCommerce product images, you can start eith there two:
[The images and product descriptions referenced in this article were viewed and captured on Amazon.com on February 15, 2018. They are included here in an editorial context for instructional purposes, and therefore are used under “fair use” guidelines.]