Write Product Descriptions that Sing - and Sell

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 25 Apr, 2011

Much has been made about Google's new search algorithm and how it affects different businesses on the Web. For those with half-empty glasses, the Panda update is a call for more work by anyone trying to run a successful online enterprise.

For the glass-half-full set, however, Panda is an invitation to let your talents shine and to stand out above the competition. In ecommerce, there may be no better way to do that than by writing compelling product descriptions that invite sales.

Below are some guidelines for writing product descriptions that will sing not only to the search engines but also to your customers:

Be original
Probably the greatest ecommerce copywriting sin in the Panda era, and perhaps the biggest temptation for merchants who are hard-pressed for time and short on resources, is recycling manufacturers' product descriptions verbatim on a website's product page. Not only is the text that most manufacturers provide generally too dry and technical to be considered compelling by your customers, it is also distributed to the thousands if not millions of retailers who may be selling the same product. If standing out from the competition is the goal - getting higher rankings from search engines and eliciting more sales from users - the best way to sabotage that effort is by using manufacturer-issued product descriptions. Instead, find a way to create your own.

Be creative
Ecommerce merchants do not need to have creative writing degrees, nor do they have to be writers at all. But in the event that writing compelling product copy poses a challenge too difficult to endure, they do have to get creative in their solutions. Retailers must have an idea of the message they want to convey to their customers and the keywords they must include to win over the search engines. But if the words do not come easily, there are several options. Freelance platforms such as Elance and oDesk have thousands of copywriters standing by, even for jobs that may last only a few days to write 1,000 product descriptions. Local colleges and journalism schools are another source of low-cost creative labor, and the institutions do not even have to be local. Online jobs forums and discussion groups will unearth thousands more willing candidates.

Be smart
We assume, however, that most merchant readers will be writing their own copy, or at least they will have a strong hand in the creative process. So, both the merchant and the writing have to be smart. Not smart-alecky, but intelligent, authoritative and - above all else - useful for the consumer. Technical specifications of a product may lend an air of authoritativeness, but also explain how those specs will improve the user experience or even the user's life. Then include why buying the product from this particular website will do the same thing - improve the user experience (i.e. a warrantee, added features, etc.) and the user's life (i.e. competitively priced, free shipping, etc.). To give only the specs of a product and not include the rest is not smart copywriting, neither in the eyes of your customers nor the search engines.

Be fun
But not necessarily funny. The funniest person in the room is rarely the one that can effectively write with humor, so also Be very careful. Most of us do not easily write the hilarious copy you may find in your daily Groupon, and the best tactic for those in the majority is to not even try. But fun is far different from funny, and it is also very often a much more effective way to reach consumers. A tad off-beat may be fun, as is the less-is-more approach to the technical aspects mentioned above. But what really constitutes fun copywriting is putting the user into real-life situations, and showing them how much fun they will have with your product. Why will they be the envy of the guests at their next Super Bowl party? Is it because the new flat-screen HDTV is 72 inches wide, or because they could still afford a keg of premium beer when the neighbor is serving domestic? Those hiking boots might be great for winter in NYC, but put your customer on a mountaintop during summer in the Rockies - that's a lot more fun.

Be mindful
Of your keywords, and your SEO efforts as a whole. Remember that you are writing for your customers first, and trying to nudge them further down the sales cycle with your words. But this is also a process, and keywords are an integral part of that process. However, stuffing all of your product descriptions with endless amounts of keywords will do more harm than good under Panda's watch, which is another reason why merchants must be creative. Try a keyword or two in each sentence of each description, but keep the descriptions relatively brief for the user's sake. Whether I'm a consumer in New York looking for hiking boots or a computer in Silicon Valley searching for keywords, the words that seal the deal will all have this in common - they will be original, creative, smart, fun and mindful of the process.