Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Learning how to write effective product descriptions can improve the user experience, lower your customer service costs, and increase your SEO ranking.
For eCommerce websites, a beautiful product page is the crown jewel. It’s where you carry a large portion of your customer interaction, communicate all the important details about the items you sell, and it’s where you make your money. You may be surprised to find that so many store owners (maybe even you!) are missing a huge opportunity to increase the effectiveness of their product pages.
An effective product description will help to further inform your customer, add real value to the shopping experience on your site, and improve your ranking.
Types of Product Descriptions
There are a few different ways to create product descriptions and each has their own unique set of pros and cons.
Copy and Paste
For most retailers, you’re taking an existing product provided by a supplier or manufacturer and reselling it on your site. In these cases, it’s often tempting to copy and paste the description from the supplier.
- It’s fast and easy.
- The cost of producing descriptions is non-existent.
- All crucial information is provided.
Unfortunately, this method has some major pitfalls that may entirely negate any benefits. The issues arise because every other retailer selling the same items is using the same copy-and-pasted descriptions. This results in descriptions that are:
- Boring and unoriginal for your shoppers; there’s nothing to set your site apart.
- Have no additional or first-hand details to help make a decision.
- Duplicate content. Google knows it’s copied; you may not be penalized for it (as Google gives a pass for product descriptions), but it won’t be indexed at all and you miss out on valuable opportunities to rank.
- Credit for the description will go to the sites that posted it first. If you’re copy-and-pasting, that won’t be you.
A step above copy-and-pasting is the rewrite. By moving the phrases around that were provided by the manufacturer, you end up with all necessary information, but in a uniquely presented way, right? On top of that, rewriting is:
- Relatively easy. There is minimal (if any) creative effort needed to produce descriptions.
- Inexpensive. While it does take a little more time than a straight copy-and-paste, that work can be done fairly quickly by people who are both inexperienced at writing, and don’t know your products.
Unfortunately, this method may not be as effective as it used to be. Google, at one point, may have seen this as enough to constitute a stamp of approval for originality, but the algorithms have gotten significantly more advanced. Through machine learning, search engine systems are able to recognize that the content is still not original. This means:
- Still do not receive ranking credit from Google for the content. You may not be viewed as having plagiarized content, but you also aren’t given any points for user-first content.
- Still do not provide new or interesting information for your user. While the facts may be rearranged and perhaps you’ve even written the content in your own words, you still aren’t able to provide anything to the customer that helps them remember your site.
It won’t be a surprise that this is the method we recommend for product descriptions. You don’t need to be a celebrated wordsmith to produce a well-written and effective product description. You just need to know your customer, and know your product (and know how to use spell check). When you write your own descriptions, you have the chance to:
- Tailor the content specifically to your shoppers, and your brand’s voice.
- Pick out the information needed to comprehensively describe the product, and leave out the extraneous material that isn’t useful. For example, is it necessary to list, in detail, every physical attribute of the product if you also have several photos?
- Provide extra details based on your specific industry knowledge. Describing the product may not be enough. Perhaps you also want to include usage or installation tips.
- Make every word count in your favor. By creating the content from scratch, you get to benefit from ranking for the keywords you use.
Original content may be great, but there’s a reason that not every online store does it. Just as with the other methods, writing your own content has its own cons:
- Takes time and/or money. You don’t need to spend hours obsessing over each product description. But even if it takes you 15 minutes, that can add up to a lot of time.
- Chance for errors. While you should be proofreading the content from your manufacturer’s site too, it is just easier to miss errors in the work you’ve written yourself. Your brain knows when you mean to say, so when you’re editing your own content, it will often turn a blind eye to typos, grammatical errors, and missing words. That can land you in hot water if you don’t have a very clear disclaimer about your product descriptions.
- Just plain hard. For those that aren’t natural writers, the task can be exhausting. It can also get increasingly more difficult to come up with unique things to say about each of your items.
Writing Effective Product Descriptions
Again, we do advocate for writing original product descriptions, but we understand that it’s not an easy task. Here are some tips of things to watch for and to try, when coming up with your own effective and unique content.
The keyword has been the cornerstone of SEO efforts for years. Properly used, it can help your product pages rank well; used unwisely and you can be flagged as spammy! So how do you strike the right balance?
For a product page, focus on finding a long-tail keyword. It will most likely be your product title; it should be specific to the product so you don’t end up re-using the same keyword multiple times across your site.
The key to good keyword usage is not using it too frequently. Because search engines take the entire page into account, you need to use the keyword fewer times than you think.
- The page URL
- The product title
- The product’s image alt tag
- Once or twice in the product description
Yes, a couple times in the description is enough! Any more than that, and not only may your description be flagged as spammy, but it might sound spammy. This is especially true as you’re usually only working with a couple hundred words in a description.
The use of rich-text formatting (bold, italics, headers, and lists) is very appealing to search engines. And that’s because search engines know it’s appealing to readers! Having good readability in your copy can make a big difference in the user experience on your site.
If you present your description in a solid block of text, in a very small font, with run on sentences and no headers to break it up, it will visually exhaust your user. They won’t read the content, and will end up missing critical information.
- Adding bullet lists improves scannability
- Adding headers breaks up a wall of text
- Bolding, underlining, and italicizing important text for emphasis ensures they stand out to the user
An added benefit of using bullet lists in your description, is that it gives copy and pasted information a “pass” from Google. The algorithms understand that there are only so many ways to list the dimensions of a lamp. Pasting product specifications in a bulleted list will help bypass the negative effects of copy-and-pasting.
Length and Detail
Another balance you need to strike with your descriptions is between length and detail. Shoppers will not want to read a small novel while doing their shopping. With attention spans of only 8 seconds, in general, you need to ensure that you are getting as much pertinent detail in as few words as possible for a really effective product description.
Generally speaking, the description should be a couple hundred words. That said, don’t just keep writing for the sake of it, if you’ve fully described the product in 60 words, then stop there. Your shoppers will appreciate brevity and accuracy more than a flowery, poetic description.
This is another reason to take advantage of bullet point lists. They allow you to recap the necessary information with as few words as possible.
Offer Supplementary Information
Providing more than what an item looks like is a great way to stand out to your shoppers. There are plenty of ways to improve your ranking while also adding serious value for your customers.
Do you sell giftware or home goods, like personalized cutting boards? After providing the necessary details, offer a tip like pairing the cutting board with a set of kitchen towels and a bottle of wine for a house-warming gift. It’s especially beneficial if you happen to sell those kitchen towels. Include a link to them; internal linking, done appropriately and relevantly, is another way to improve your ranking.
Do you handle the items at your location? If you get to see the products first-hand, include honest reviews. Not only will your shoppers trust you and your brand more, but it will help manage their expectations. You’ll get fewer returns, fewer unhappy customers, and spend less on customer service.
Leave Some Things Out
Out of the description, but still on the product page. Instead of trying to force every scrap of important detail into the text of the description, consider some alternatives. If your product has warnings or key factors that need to be noted on every item, try employing the use of symbols.
Small, clear, and easily identifiable symbols to denote specific and recurring details are a great way to highlight important information. The details can still be included in the body of the description, as well, but an alternative display will help draw attention to them, keep your description shorter, and add some visual interest for your user.
Writing Effective Product Descriptions Takes Time
But it’s definitely worth it! Start with the new items as you add them to your site, then go back and cover your existing items.
Take the time to think about what your customer needs to know about the item, how to provide that in your brand’s unique voice, and how you can improve their experience even further. Get creative with your product descriptions but don’t forget to include the important technical stuff in an easy-to-read list.
If you need a hand working through your product catalog to update your product descriptions, reach out to us. We have maintenance services that cover exactly that type of work, if you feel you don’t have the creativity or patience to do it yourself.