I really enjoyed reading Graham’s article about great ecommerce product page copy last week. It set me thinking all afternoon and all night.
Ecommerce is an area I spend most of my time working in, both on my own ecommerce websites, and my clients’ ecommerce websites.
While a lot of the people that contributed to Graham’s article represent 'the big boys' of ecommerce and online marketing, I wanted to share my personal experience with writing ecommerce copy.
My operations are a lot smaller than those of the contributors to Graham’s article, but at the same time my experience is just as important to 'the little guys' out there, running ecommerce websites on a shoestring budget.
You don’t necessarily have to add amazing functionality to your product pages in order to make sales. Perfect the copy and you’ll be well on the road to success.
I first immersed myself in the world of ecommerce as an 11 year old and I’ve never looked back.
Admittedly, back then I was confined to listing things on eBay because my mum wouldn’t lend me her credit card to pay for hosting for my own website. From day one I’ve experimented with and tweaked copy, sometimes even destroying sales and conversion rates in the process.
Over time I’ve just assumed that everyone knows how to write good copy for a product page. Since starting out as a content strategy consultant however, I realised how wrong I was.
A bit of background
The worst thing you can possibly do with ecommerce product pages is to copy and paste the stock description from the manufacturer. It’s wrong on lots of different levels, so I’m glad Graham mentioned that in his very first paragraph.
When I used to list on eBay I was selling things like PlayStations. I couldn’t be bothered writing a great big description so I used the stock PlayStation description. It looked great and it told the customer everything they needed to know about the technology inside the product.
The only problem was, I had a never-ending stream of emails from potential customers.
Does this console come with one or two controllers?
Is the power adaptor included?
How many games does it come with?
These are questions that should have been answered in the product copy. The problem was, my product copy was rambling on about having X GB or RAM or X Ghz or processing power. To the average person the description was absolutely useless.
From that moment onwards, I’ve always written unique product copy for every product in my inventory, whether I’m selling it on eBay or my own website.
I try to envisage potential questions people would want to address, by reading the product description before I write it. If people get answers to their questions without having to jump through hoops to contact me for those answers, there’s a much larger chance they’ll purchase from my website. The same holds true for your website too.
For the record, there’s only one sin greater than using stock descriptions as ecommerce product copy, and that’s using spun content. And yes, I have seen ecommerce websites using spun, barely readable copy on their product description pages.
Forget about product pages, build landing pages
If someone says 'product page' you automatically associate the word with something boring. Most product pages have a picture, some writing, and a buy button. They’re completely unremarkable and totally uninspiring.
When someone says 'landing page' you automatically think about bold, catchy colours – highly tuned sales copy, a multitude of email opt-in boxes, and the obligatory 'iron clad refund guarantee' graphic.
Ecommerce website owners would do well to quit building 'product pages'. Instead, they should build landing pages. Landing pages are infinitely more interesting, they’re geared to make the sale, and a sale is exactly what you want if you run an ecommerce website, right?
Having built and written copy for various ecommerce websites I can confirm that the monotony of designing and writing copy for hundreds of landing pages is off the chart. I can confirm that you’d rather play with the blutac on your desk, or staple your tongue to the cork board.
There’s no getting around the task of adding interesting, unique landing pages to your website though. The sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll make sales, it’s that simple.
Short and sweet
Slow and steady might win the race, but short and sweet wins conversions. There’s no need to write a 1,000 word product description, no matter what the product happens to be.
Usually anywhere from 50 words to 400 words will suffice. Practice writing concisely. The goal is to cram as much useful information into the copy as possible, using as few words as possible. It’s not something you’ll master straight away, but with a bit of practice you’ll soon get there.
Layout is crucial
Back when I first started consulting, I had a client approach me about their ecommerce product copy. They’d spent weeks on end writing top-notch copy that was worthy of publication in the finest of newspapers.
The copy was witty, informative and helpful. The problem was, the copy was upwards of 500 words per product page, and it was just one block of text.
Customers were hitting the product pages and balking at the prospect of having to ponder through an essay-like product description. Visitors just bounced from whence they came, never to be seen again. They made very few sales.
I asked them why they’d arranged their product pages in such a way and they said their SEO company had advised them to do so, because 'content is King' and 'Google loves content'.
While I agree with the sentiment, the fact is it had great rankings but made no sales. The SEO strategy was obviously good – helped by the on-page glut of text they used. But even though the site was getting hundreds of highly targeted visitors each day, it wasn’t making many sales at all – all because their product page copy was far too heavy.
There’s a balance to be found between on-page SEO tricks and publishing copy that’s actually going to convert your website’s visitors into paying customers.
Employing amazingly well written copy isn’t enough to achieve success. You have to present your copy in a manner that’s enticing and friendly to users.
I’ve experimented with various layouts over the last few years, the winning formula in my tests has always been a brief introductory sentence followed by three bullet points, then a larger block of text describing the product (with the buy button towards the top of the page, next to the price).
Amazon uses a very similar formula on a lot of their product pages too - further proof that bullet points really do work, before leading visitors on to a longer, more detailed block of sales copy.
I’ve tried slight variations of this formula as well. Five bullet points and a block of text tends to work well too. What works for me may not necessarily work for you however, as most of the products on my website sell for less than £10.
For more expensive purchases users may demand more information about a product. Using three bullet points to cover the merits of a state of the art £2,000 TV might not be adequate. It’s all about testing what works for your customers, in your niche.
Choosing your bullet points
It could be argued that the most important features of my landing pages aren’t the buy buttons or the high-resolution product images, it’s the bullet points I use above the main glut of product copy.
These bullet points are there to draw customers in. Some customers will read only the bullet points before making a decision to buy. Others will be hooked on reading the bullet points before proceeding to read the main block of copy below.
We’ve all seen or heard about job interviewers that ask interviewees to sell a pen or some other stationary object to them in just a few words.
Hooking users on your initial line of sales copy and a few bullet points is very similar. Pick up the products you’re selling and sell them to your visitors in three concise bullet points.
It’s imperative that you roll with the correct bullet points for your product, so here’s how you can choose the bullet points you add above sales copy:
For your first bullet point, go for easy to swallow product features such as 'handmade from sustainably sourced bamboo' or 'stores up to 100,000 songs'. Avoid things like 'contains 64GB of memory'.
To most people these numbers mean nothing. Sure, they’re important to the product so include them in the product copy itself. You won’t hook many visitors by quoting figures they simply don’t understand.
- For your second bullet point, mention any variations that are available. For example, 'comes in red, yellow or blue'. If your product has no variations, settle for another product feature (but not the same one you used in your first bullet point, obviously).
- For your third bullet point, mention bundled items such as 'includes two controllers' or 'free paint brush included'. Don’t mention items that aren’t included in your bullet points. It’s a turn off for buyers and can be mentioned in the product copy itself.
The bullet points you opt to use are very important, so take some time to perfect them!
Where possible you should update and tweak copy over time. If you notice a product page gets a lot of traffic but few conversions there may be an opportunity for you to re-work the copy, with a view to increasing conversion rates.
This might involve changing the bullet points, or rewriting the copy on the page from top to bottom.
Last but not least… META descriptions!
META descriptions are invisible when people actually browse your website, but they’re still really important. Lots of people copy and paste the same META description across many pages – some people don’t bother writing one at all.
Using proper META descriptions is vital on your product pages because you can include a call to action in them as well as some information about the product you’re offering, or the general service.
You might write something like: 'We stock the PlayStation 2 bundles from just £49.99 including free delivery – buy yours now!'
This META description tells users the price and the fact the price includes delivery. It also gives them a playful push, telling them to “buy yours now!”
In a world where SERPs are crammed to the rafters with paid listings and nine other organic results, it’s really important to make your website stand out.
Don’t neglect the META descriptions on your product pages. Fill them out with product features, USPs and of course a call-to-action.
There are lots of different variables that determine how well (or how badly) your product pages convert, things like the layout, the colour scheme, the positioning of the buy button and so on. Getting your copy right doesn’t guarantee you’re going to make sales, but it does help to increase your chances.
I’ve written thousands of ecommerce product descriptions and one thing I can say for sure is that the only way to get the results is to put the hours in and test every last variable on your product pages.