Practical Ecommerce

How to Write Product Descriptions that Sell, Boost SEO Efforts

Compelling, informative, and unique product descriptions can help your ecommerce business increase sales. Moreover, original product descriptions can help avoid Google’s so-called “Farmer algorithm” penalty, which can affect retailers that copy product descriptions from competitors, or that use the exact descriptions suggested by suppliers.

Recently, a Practical eCommerce reader, Greg Jameson, posted an excellent comment about product descriptions, writing, “unique content and added value is what sells. The merchant is the salesperson, so sell them on what you have to offer, don’t just regurgitate what someone else has already said.”

The remark came in the context of “Google’s ‘Farmer’ Algorithm and What It Means for Ecommerce SEO,” my article about the recent change to Google’s search algorithm that sought to reduce redundant search results and improve user experience.

But the Google algorithm aside, it has always been a good idea to write original product descriptions that engage and inform shoppers. Remember, a competitor’s website is only a click away, so if you cannot peak a shopper’s interest, assuage concerns, or convey the value of buying the product and buying it from you, you may lose the sale to someone who can. With this in mind, here are some practical suggestions about how to write better, unique product descriptions.

Know Your Product

Before you can write a unique and persuasive product description, you need to know something about the product that you’re describing. This may sound obvious, but it is completely necessary. For example, consider this real description for a pair of Georgia-brand, logger-style boots.

Features

Black Oil Tanned Leather

Unlined Quarters

Cushioned Insole

Steel Shank

Oil Resistant Rubber Lug Outsole

Repairable Goodyear Welt Construction

Safety Toe Class I75/C75

The next to last line stands out, “Repairable Goodyear Welt Construction.” What does this mean? Would the typical consumer shopping for logger-style boots understand it? Did the person who wrote (pasted) this description — which is almost an exact copy of the description from the Georgia catalog that is meant for knowledgeable footwear buyers — understand what it means?

When marketers don't really think about or understand the product, the descriptions can become meaningless.

When marketers don’t really think about or understand the product, the descriptions can become meaningless.

In shoemaking, a welt is a piece of material that attaches the upper part of the shoe to the sole. It is often called a “Goodyear welt” because Charles Goodyear, Jr. invented the first welt-making machine. Given this bit of knowledge, consider another product description for an identical pair of boots, this time from the Working Person’s Store.

These black leather boots employ Goodyear Welt construction to keep them together. This technology uses heavy-duty waxed threads and welts to attach the oil-tanned uppers to the rubber soles. This creates a bond that is nearly impossible to break. However, if you should work so hard that it does break, not to worry, it is repairable.

Although this description reads much better and does a better job of communicating, it is still not perfect, because — based on a Google search for the phrase — it may be copied text, but it at least demonstrates an understanding of the product.

Here is another take on the Georgia boot description that is unique to this article.

These Georgia loggers combine the best of old-world artisan shoemaking and modern technology to give you a work boot that lasts. Take the Goodyear welt construction. Goodyear welts, which secure the boot’s upper to its sole, have been around — in the best of shoes — since before George Washington was born. Improving on this classic technique, Georgia uses heavy-duty, waxed threads that create an almost unbreakable bond.

Write Like a Professional

Volumes have been written about what it takes to be a professional writer. Many people spend years learning the craft, so it would be presumptuous to imagine that one could capture the essence of professional writing in a couple of paragraphs published in the middle of an article.

There are, hover, a few professional writing concepts that can — at least at some level — be described here. I’ll call these concepts “audience,” “voice,” and “structure.”

The first of these, audience, simply means that you need to understand the person who will be reading your product description. From a marketer’s perspective, this is the idea of knowing your customers. Consider the following description for some bikini bottoms from Roxy, a clothing retailer.

Wild Paradise Brazilian String Bikini Bottoms

Careful now, this string has some serious zing. And comes styled with a look-at-me-wow print to boot! Our Brazilian String bikini bottom has string sides and offers slim coverage with a low rise. 95% nylon/5% elastane crochet. Imported. Hand wash cold.

Roxy writes to its audience.

Roxy writes to its audience.

Roxy’s customers are young adults and teens, seeking primarily casual clothing. Does it sound like Roxy know its audience? Judging from the bikini-bottom description, the answer would be “yes.”

Consider writing a description of your typical customers before you write descriptions of your products. When you do write product descriptions, keep these typical customers in mind.

The second concept, voice, might be described as the way your brand sounds. What you know about your audience should inform this brand voice. Look back at the first two sentences in the Roxy example.

Careful now, this string has some serious zing. And comes styled with a look-at-me-wow print to boot!

Phrases like “serious zing” and “look-at-me-wow” are indicative of the Roxy brand, which is young, relaxed, confident, and casual.

Conversely, here is a product description for a relatively expensive Le Creuset cookware set from Sur La Table.

Le Creuset pots, pans and grills are sand-cast, painstakingly polished and finished by hand, then sprayed with two coats of enamel and fired twice—no other procedure yields cookware that so evenly conducts and retains heat while withstanding the rigors of daily use. Porcelain enamel interior finish requires no seasoning and resists scratches and chips. Goes easily from oven to table for beautiful presentation.

The voice in this example is consultative, informative, and speaking with authority. To find your own company’s brad voice, imagine how you would speak to your customer if you were face to face.

Finally, professional writers are conscious of structure. This may mean grammar. It may mean creating an outline that includes the points you need to cover, or it may simply mean always starting a product description with a particular kind of sentence or idea.

Take another look at the third Georgia logger description’s opening sentence.

These Georgia loggers combine the best of old-world artisan shoemaking and modern technology to give you work boot that last.

This sentence might be described as a fact-to-benefit bridge. It states some fact about the product — “these Georgia loggers combine the best of old-world artisan shoemaking and modern technology” — and then explains how that fact benefits the customer — “to give you work boot that last.”

You may wish to structure your company’s product descriptions so that they always start with a fact-to-benefit bridge, or some similar idea.

Be Pragmatic

In a perfect world, every product description on your site will have a well-written product description that encourages customers to buy. But you still need to be pragmatic.

If your ecommerce business’s previous product description plan consisted of copying and pasting manufacturer descriptions or plagiarizing the competition, you may be facing hundreds or even thousands of descriptions in need of a rewrite, so focus on your most important — best selling, highest margin, largest inventory — products first, adding perhaps five new product descriptions each day until you’ve tackled them all.

You should also consider the product itself. Some products just don’t need long descriptions.

Final Considerations

Writing unique and effective product descriptions may help an ecommerce business attract more shoppers, convert more of those shoppers into paying customers, and build more brand loyalty so that those customers come back.

As daunting as the task of writing unique product descriptions may seem, it can be done. As suggested above consider adding five well written descriptions each day.

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Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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Comments ( 12 )

  1. Chimegirl March 22, 2011 Reply

    Great Article! This has inspired me to go over all our product descriptions!

    Thanks, Wind Chime Girl
    http://www.thechimesofyourlife.com

  2. Juuann March 22, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for the article.

    Does anyone know what the impacts of having both the canned description and your own descriptions together on the same product page? Does it dilute your own description?

  3. Kym March 23, 2011 Reply

    While it’s good advice for operations that have over 10,000 products in their catalog it means a huge time/financial investment to revamp manufacturer product descriptions to make them "unique".

    And while unique content is good for SEO, the whole issue about duplicate content penalities a la the Farmer update is more scare mongering that even Google wishing would be put to bed.

    The bottom line is that:

    1. If your product description is the same as every other site then who ranks best for the associated keywords is going to depend on factors OTHER THAN the product description. Simple as that.

    2. If your product description is different from the others who all have the same, it is not a given yours is actually better. It is just different. So how it ranks it an unknown until it is ranked.

    3. If your product description simply augments the same product description as everyone else is using then again it just depends. Logic might implies that it would improve ranking but until it is ranked it is an unknown.

    As for @Juuann’s question, I think he is alluding to option 3. My question is if you bother to write your own descriptions then why leave the canned one there? Rewrite it in your own words. But if you want/need to leave it then it is better to yours first.

    Whatever you write even "These Georgia loggers combine the best of old-world artisan shoemaking and modern technology to give you work boot that last." I suggest you read it out aloud so you can hear how jarring leaving the "s" off "boot" really sounds.

  4. GSB March 24, 2011 Reply

    Two things in this article had me laughing. The first was the classic error "peak reader’s interest." The second was this one: "professional writers are conscience of structure."

    There really aren’t any writing tips here for those who work in the industry. The bar now is set very high and will exclude people who make mistakes like those shown above.

  5. Elizabeth Ball March 27, 2011 Reply

    While Armando alluded to it, what wasn’t explicit in his article was that etailers need their product descriptions to evoke an emotion.
    Whether you want your customer to experience delight, status, amazement, or whatever, a good product description written with creating an emotional connection in mind could also help SEO.
    Don’t forget that people tend to search Google with long-tail terms like "fun birthday gift to delight wife" or "jeans that make me look skinny" now.

  6. grammarjenny March 31, 2011 Reply

    To the chapter "Write Like a Professional" I can add that using an English writing tool that checks for grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes not only helps to assure correctness but also helps to find the best synonyms leading to better product descriptions and bottom line profits.
    See here: http://www.englishsoftware.org

  7. Clayton Lainsbury June 15, 2012 Reply

    Great article, Armando.

    In response to Kym’s point, "for operations that have over 10,000 products in their catalog it means a huge time/financial investment to revamp manufacturer product descriptions to make them "unique"."

    One way to avoid the heavy time and financial investment of creating 1000s of unique product descriptions is to outsource them to a crowdsourcing company. If you find the right service, it can be quick and cost effective.

  8. Freida Kirkland February 25, 2013 Reply

    @Kym – the ad actually was written as such; "…shoemaking and modern technology to give you a work boot that lasts." It was the article author that made the mistake of ?not understanding how to copy & paste? or whatever he/she was doing?

    One of the things that bother me most about some of the so-called "professional writers" is the careless use of grammar and their over-abundant spelling mistakes. If I were to claim myself as an authority on certain subjects, I sure as heck would at the VERY LEAST use a spell-checker! Every website I visit is overwhelmed with spelling errors and it just makes me ill…

    The article itself was nicely informative, but I would have received more from it than a headache if it weren’t so poorly written/edited. =(
    In this regard – how often is someone looked over and thought wanting because they could not spell? Yet, every website on the internet has gross errors. Doesn’t one think that this matters to a potential client/customer? I think it casts a shadow of ignorance on the seller and creates an uncertainty about his product(s).

    This should be at the TOP of any list on how to entice buyers, not SEO and Google ranking!

  9. Nikhil Khandekar March 16, 2013 Reply

    Grammar software is all very good and great, but it really requires a writer who takes pains to write a high-quality product description.

    Grammatical errors are a big no-no in any kind of online content – even comments. The thing is, your reader is going to be reading off a screen, which is no easy task. If there are grammar issues hampering that reader’s effort, you might as well not write at all … just provide the specs.

    For SEO advantage and all, you need top-quality content and nothing less. Original content is all that will help your SEO effort really take off.

    Online content is a craft and – as with the best boots and other products – it takes a practiced hand to deliver top results. You wouldn’t take your Maserati to any roadside garage, now, would you?

  10. Shamrock Lev April 13, 2013 Reply

    Clayton Lainsbury makes a good point regarding outsourcing: a company such as Cloudcrowd can produce tens of thousands of product descriptions within a few days that are written by skilled marketing writers.

  11. Tim G September 4, 2013 Reply

    Great article on how to compose the proper text for selling and SEO. We’re too often focused on the wrong POV and not writing to our audience. I shared this across the office with our various brand managers and copy writers plus added a link to the article from my personal blog:

    http://www.thedigitalbull.com/digital-marketing-resources/ecommerce/write-effective-product-descriptions-selling-seo/

    Thanks!

  12. Mayur Vyas October 16, 2013 Reply

    Great article. Writing a compelling product description has good impact on user experience. Make sure you do not stuff keywords in your product description.

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