What we’re talking about
A product description is the written copy that sits alongside images and videos of your products wherever they lie – be it on your website, third-party marketplace or online store. As a baseline, it needs to provide the essential information a customer needs to know – from size or material to function and features. But you should use product descriptions to big up your products, too – they’re the virtual substitutes for a well-informed and persuasive sales assistant – answering customers’ questions and concerns, and leading them to make a purchase.
Why it’s important
People don’t part with their money easily, and they want to make informed choices on what they’re buying. Shopping online, without the ability to pick up, feel, touch, smell or sample something puts the onus firmly on you. Imagery remains critical (see our guide on product photography for that), but the words you use are, too – fail to get the right info across and customers will look elsewhere; misinform your customers and they’ll be looking for refunds.
A major study from product experience company Salsify suggests that almost 90% of shoppers rate product content (descriptions, images, etc) as extremely or very important prior to purchase – and that half have returned something that didn’t match the description they read online. With the increasing prominence of online sales, your product descriptions need to be accurate, consistent and compelling.
Things to note
Keep it customer-focused. You aren’t writing this for yourself – there’ll be a difference between your favorite bits of the brand, and what’s important and enticing to the customer. It’s essential that your product descriptions are consistent with each other and in line with your brand’s vibe and overall image. But beyond that, step outside your biases. Get on the level of someone who has never heard of your business before, and who is looking to solve a problem or fulfill a desire quickly and easily. How much would you be prepared to read if you didn’t have a stake in the business? How much information do you need, and what is superfluous?
Avoid basic mistakes. Some basic no-nos: bad spelling and grammar; text that is copied and pasted across your site from another distributor or from the manufacturer; overly technical, flowery or generic wording; and making mistakes about product features. Check out some examples of failed descriptions here. Also, keep in mind that your written and visual content should complement each other – with each filling in gaps that the other leaves.
Know what’s standard for your industry – and your platform. Beware of misjudging the tone of voice, length and format appropriate for your sector or online sales space. For instance, for an electronics company, your list of bullet points describing product features might be longer and more technical, whereas a food brand will go for more descriptive language. Likewise, just as a product description on your own website will need to be consistent with your other copy, there are expected ways of doing things on Etsy, eBay, Amazon and other marketplaces.
How to write a convincing product description
1. Set objectives. In most instances, you’ll be aiming to get customers to make a purchase. But there might be other motivations: if one product is being returned frequently, if you want to lead from one product to another, or if you want to ramp up your SEO. Understanding the purpose of each of your product descriptions will help you keep things customer-focused and to the point.
2. Understand your customers. Step beyond purely identifying your target market, and really get inside your customer’s head. Consider their interests, the issues they care about, their pain points and their goals. Then think about the kind of language they’d use – how do they speak? Is there any room for humor? This will help you land on the perfect tone of voice.
3. List the basics. Pick what’s relevant. That might mean materials, battery life, returns policy, washing instructions, height and size of the model, dimensions, allergen information, color, certifications. Find the basic information your prospective customer will need about each product, double-check it, and record it.
4. List the benefits. Now come up with the more unique details of the product in question. This is where you can really differentiate yourself from your competitors, so it might be helpful to start off by scanning through a few of their product descriptions. Then, figure out how you can work your business’ unique selling point and other strengths into your own short piece of copy. What is the experience of using the product like? How does it make life better, easier or more visually satisfying?
5. Do some review mining. Build on your list of benefits by looking through past reviews of your own and similar products or services. Take note of the most prevalent feedback – good and bad – noting particular product strengths, weaknesses and features, as well as buyers’ experiences, insights and critiques. This will help you identify the basics and benefits that are most likely to reel in customers.
6. Get writing. It’s time to transform this unedited information into a product description. There are some sample templates below, but a typical structure might look like: product title/subtitle > succinct intro focused on benefits > bullet points focused on basics > extras, from customer reviews to sizing guidance.
7. Save a repeatable template. All the product descriptions you write need to be structurally and tonally consistent with each other. After you’ve finished this first one, extract a basic template from it and save it as a launchpad for subsequent descriptions.
8. Make it SEO-proof. Alongside giving your first draft an edit for spelling, grammar and tone of voice, take the time to add in some keywords so search engines flag it appropriately. Don’t overdo it, but be sure to include the words and phrases you expect your customers will be searching for. Refer to our guide on the mysterious world of organic SEO for other pointers on clearing up page titles and meta descriptions, plus a selection of helpful online tools.
9. Upload and test. Finally, get your description up on your site, alongside any other content elements such as photos, videos, deals and reviews. It might take a few tries to get the wording exactly right, so monitor metrics like page views, conversion and time spent on page. Try out a few iterations and see which performs best.
• A product description is an essential sales and marketing tool. Strike a balance between outlining all the necessary information and compelling people to purchase.
• Write a description that reflects who your customer is, how they communicate and what they are looking for in a purchase.
• Don’t ignore SEO, or no one will land on your website and get the chance to read your product description – however well-written it is – in the first place.
Perspective. Creative agency founder Jacqueline Basulto has developed a list of description writing rules, which you can read on Medium. Also on Medium, strategic copywriter Cathy Goodwin shares her advice on telling a cliff-hanger story with your copy.
Example. From Patagonia to Wayfair, here are 10 examples of product descriptions that sell (not tell), from Sumo.
Tool. There are several tools out there to check the readability of your writing, including this one from The Writer.