How To Write Product Descriptions That Don’t Suck

by Art

Last updated on November 24th, 2015

Yup, most product descriptions stink.

Often times they’re dull and rarely engage the visitor. Worst of all, they’re usually duplicate descriptions that are being used on other e-commerce sites all around the Internet.

By having duplicate product descriptions you’re hurting your SEO rankings, effectively shooting your business in the foot.

So when e-tailers are faced with the only opportunity they have to sell in the search engines, they blow it. Why are they doing this?

1. Repetition

Individuals who write product descriptions have often never even seen the product they’re writing about. Even when they have, they may have little idea why their audience should want to buy it.

As a result, product descriptions often do little more than regurgitate the blurb provided by the manufacturer with a few bullet points and keywords added.

2. Standardization

There’s a big element of sticking with the status quo when writing product descriptions.

E-commerce giants like Amazon, Target etc. all list products in a very specific, factual way. It’s not easy to stray off the beaten track.

3. Time Constraints

Companies that sell lots of products stand to be adding hundreds or even thousands of new products every month. With this being the case, I definitely understand why so many people cut corners when listing new products on a site.

Provided site owners have the scope to make a conscious move away from these three issues, several intriguing propositions relating to how to write product descriptions start to emerge.

Are Product Descriptions (Just) There To Sell?

In researching this article, I Googled the term “writing product descriptions”. Of the top 10, more than half of the featured articles are about how to write product descriptions that sell.

Undoubtedly, this is a big part of what product descriptions are designed to do. But is it ALL they should do? Definitely not.

By the time someone reaches a product description, they have probably either found the product via a web search and are now looking for reviews to confirm that the item is worth buying, or they already know the item they’re looking to buy and just want to confirm that this is the product that they’re after.

That’s certainly how I shop, at least. But in neither of the cases above does a product description really need to convince a visitor to complete the purchase; they’re probably (more or less) already at that stage.

So what can product descriptions do that’s really useful? Well, it can do a few things:

  1. Help with brand building/reinforce tone of voice
  2. Improve the relationship with customers and encourage repeat purchases
  3. Upsell, or at least have the potential to influence purchasing habits

All Right, Funny Man, Make Me Laugh

Being funny or subversive when writing product descriptions isn’t always appropriate but, in cases where brands can get away with it, it’s a fantastic way to be memorable.

I came across this product description from Palace Skateboards a few weeks ago and it stuck in my head because it made me smile:

palace adidas good product description

I’m no skateboarder, so know very little about Palace, but this instantly gives me a good idea of the cheeky, down to earth image the brand is trying to convey. To quote VWO,

The best E-Commerce descriptions create an impression at once. They communicate value, get people excited, and make them switch from browsing mode to paying customers instantly.

Not to mention that witty product descriptions aren’t a bad way to generate some noise on social media either:

product descriptions social proof palace skateboards

Show That You Get Me

I have mixed feelings on the current trend of brands trying to act like their customers’ friends—it’s something I’m writing about for another post on this blog—but it’s difficult to deny that a lot of brands have built loyal fanbases by doing so.

Here’s a product description for a Star Wars BB-8 hoodie from ThinkGeek:

thinkgeek writing product descriptions

This description gets off to a great start by referencing the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in December, which is relevant to the product being featured. But it does more than that—it also builds intrigue with a little story about the movie going experience.

It not only uses that story to emphasize why the product is a good buy – namely because movie theaters do always seem to be either too hot or too cold – but also builds a rapport with the reader.

It’s difficult to quantify the effect this has on the reader, but it leaves me wanting to see what the site has to say about other products.

Write Useful Product Descriptions (Not Many People Do)

When people write product descriptions, they often focus on making a sale. That’s understandable, as it is a big part of product description copywriting. But there’s also a bigger picture to consider.

Let’s say that a store assistant talks you into buying a new router because of all these great features. Then you get home to install it and find that it’s actually an industrial strength router designed for use in office buildings.

You’re probably not going to shop there again.

This is exactly what product descriptions that focus on a hard sell at the expense of providing appropriate information are doing. Check out the following on NutriSci’s website:

nutri sci product descriptions target audience

Admittedly “anyone after a heavy gym session” is a little vague, but I admire what the company is trying to do here.

Someone who works out on a very casual basis or is looking to lose weight will read this and think “ok, this isn’t the product for me” and, hopefully, check out which other products might be more suitable.

The next time that customer is looking for another product, there’s a very good chance that they’ll come back and use the site to see whether other items might be suitable for them.

What If You Have TOO Many Products?

Having too many products is probably the number one killer of good product descriptions. The massive changes in inventory become too difficult to keep up with, making most people give up. Here’s what you can do:

  • Focus on top sellers and products you want to start ranking for. Do some SEO keyword research and try to figure out what product pages could improve the bottom line substantially if they were to move up the Google rankings. Spend time writing great product descriptions and feel free to be a little long-winded. Google generally rewards this type of content.
  • Insert customer reviews. Offer freebies to customer through social media in exchange for a review. It’s a great way to spice up the brand on social too! You can add these reviews or testimonials on the product pages.

Final Thoughts

While writing product descriptions that sell to people on the fence is undoubtedly a useful skill to have—and a difficult one to master—it’s not the be all and end all of writing product descriptions.

We’ve seen above that a few other uses of product descriptions include reinforcing tone of voice, upselling or cross-selling other products, and providing genuinely useful information that encourages repeat visits.

But before you rush to change all of your product descriptions to imitate the above, think about ways in which you might use data you already have to do so effectively.

A high bounce rate from product pages indicates that descriptions are dry or repetitive. Low rates of returning visitors suggests that they aren’t providing relevant information that might encourage repeat business.

Like with so many things, data could well be the key to unlocking the necessary changes on your product pages… if there are any at all.

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Art

Art is a freelance copywriter/content marketer based in the UK. He's worked with both startups and large corporations on topics ranging from fitness to tech and business issues.

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  1. Anna says:
    December 1, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    ‘Low rates of returning visitors suggests that they aren’t providing relevant information that might encourage repeat business.’

    Or that you’ve provided exactly what they were looking for & answered all questions, if for example it’s a gift site or a site with larger usually one time purchase items.

  2. John says:
    November 25, 2015 at 10:33 am

    How long should a product description be so it will rank well? More or less than 300 characters? Any suggestion?

    • Art says:
      November 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      Good question, John. If you’re thinking of a product description as a (maybe slightly miniature) landing page, ~500 words is probably a good bet. Of course quality trumps quantity, so 300 words of succinct, useful copy is better than rambling on endlessly for 1,000 words just for the sake of it.

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