Writing product descriptions can seem like doing a puzzle. Between balancing bullet points, your need to show up in the search engines, and optimizing for conversion rate, it’s less like writing than it is assembling various jigsaw pieces together.
But fortunately, a good product description for your online store doesn’t have to be as long as your product pages, and it doesn’t have to feel like some SEO exercise, either. You can artfully (and thoughtfully) build vivid, effective product descriptions without leaving out key elements like search engine optimization.
Here’s what you do.
How to Write a Great Product Description – 6 Step Guide
Your first question is also a simple one. Who’s going to read this product description?
Step 1: Consider Your Target Audience
The answer is known as the buyer persona, and it’s one of the most important concepts in copywriting. You should have a clear idea of who your potential customers are. What is their income level? What are they after? What kinds of problems are they trying to solve by researching product descriptions like yours?
Yes, it’s important to incorporate power words and pain points and all of that into your product descriptions. But before you do that, get a clear picture of your ideal customer. Retailers—from companies with brick-and-mortar stores to startups with Shopify pages—need to know that the benefits of your product line up closely with their exact needs. Before you write down a bulleted list full of product features, you need to think about this old axiom in copywriting:
Write about benefits, not features.
The one exception to this rule is, of course, writing a product description where the customer wants to read a list of features. But before you do that, you need to hit on one fundamental aspect of what it is you’re doing by sitting down and writing product descriptions in the first place. Your ecommerce site isn’t going to be effective unless you first figure out who you’re talking to.
Once you know, everything will flow more easily from there.
To scratch the itch of your potential customers, consider issues, such as:
- Pain points: What pains are they going through that caused them to visit your store?
- Curiosity: What sorts of search terms are they entering to find your store, and what do those questions suggest about what’s going on in their minds?
- Purchase decision: What is the key clincher that will lead to someone in your target demographics to make a purchase decision? For example, if you target wealthy customers, purchase price may not be as important as other elements, like high-quality reviews.
Incorporate this knowledge into all of your product descriptions, and you’ll see they seem to come to life. Skip this step, however, and you’ll just be guessing about the best way to create marketing copy in your product descriptions.
Step 2: Incorporate Third Party Social Proof
Ever go to Amazon and make a lightning-fast purchasing decision? Even though it seems like you put minimal thought into this decision, consider all of the little elements of social proof that factor in:
- Product images. Product images often show off the product looking great, or even show happy people using the products—a sort of visual social proof.
- Customer reviews. When Amazon can show a thousand reviews rating a product a four out of five or better, it’s the kind of social proof that looks like cold, hard evidence—even if it’s not exactly a scientific review.
Additionally, the best product descriptions on Amazon will include all sorts of other social proof cues.
But what are those exactly, and how can an ecommerce website like yours take advantage of social proof within the descriptions of the product?
If you want an optimized ecommerce site, make sure to include the following when you can:
- Product reviews. The more people review the product, the more confident your reader can be that the reviews are credible.
- Product images and video. Show off the product! Even simply using high-quality photos and video alone will show that you’re a professional operation. Blurry, low-quality images are a form of negative social proof.
- Badges. If you have a badge that highlights whether there’s a 30-day return policy, for example, add those badges to the product page. This can highlight your return policy with a link, but even better—they look like social proof, validating the quality of what you’re offering.
- Write with implicit social proof. Not all social proof comes in a badge. When you sit down to craft great product descriptions, think about all of the people who have used a product like this before. Write with that in mind.
But that’s all well and good without knowing what to write. So let’s get specific about what makes great product descriptions from a writing standpoint. What are the specific kinds of words you should put on the page?
Step 3: Write With the Benefits-Then-Features Approach
In copywriting, there is usually a split between two types of content. You can either write about…
- Features highlight the specific ingredients that make your product a product. For example, a vacuum cleaner feature might be that it’s cordless.
- Benefits highlight why the features are so important. Using our vacuum cleaner example, we’d say that a benefit of the cordless vacuum is that it’s more convenient to store. Or that it’s capable of going in any room on a single charge. Those are benefits that spring from the features.
To make your product descriptions more engaging, which should you focus on? We recommend using a benefits-then-features approach.
Any product description should include a list of features. This is, after all, why people clicked on the product page—they want to learn more.
But you also have to include some sales razzle-dazzle if you want to ensure that people actually click “buy.” And to do that, you should focus on writing a headline that entices people to want to read about the features.
Let’s talk about a great product description that explained the benefits of a product in detail with just one sentence: “A thousand songs in your pocket.” This was the headline for the iPod when it first came out. Notice how it only takes a few words—without even getting into the specs—to entice potential buyers.
Why does it work so well? Because it’s a handy, benefit-rich summary of all the product details. Anything related to convenience and comfort can be summed up with one line: “in your pocket.” And the technical aspects of it are summed up in “a thousand songs.” Sure, there’s more detail to get into there—such as battery life, size, and product dimensions—but with one sentence, the buyer is already enticed enough to read more.
And that’s the goal of your “benefits-then-features” approach. Like all good copy, your headline about the benefits should entice people to read the next line. You want people—whether they’re business owners or individuals—to explore your copy, and spend time with it. There’s an old saying in persuasion: energy is attention, and attention is energy. The longer someone pays attention to your page, the better.
This is also a good time to mention A/B testing for your headline. Your product title is important, sure, but so is the first thing people read. Whether or not we like to admit it, we’re all headline scanners on the Internet.
That’s why the best product descriptions take the time to consider what makes a great headline. If you want to dominate in the ecommerce business—to write like seasoned entrepreneurs write—you’ll take the time to get that headline right.
Step 4: Start Product Description Writing with a Short Paragraph
Here’s where you can start talking features, but you should also incorporate a tone of voice or brand voice that adds a little personality to the mix. Why personality? Because it will entertain people enough so they skip past the white space and see what you have to say. Part of writing compelling product descriptions is knowing when to show some personality, and when not to.
Think of this part of the process as like writing meta descriptions for a website. You want to summarize both benefits and features in one fell swoop, making your product sound like the perfect product. Here’s how a product description example might sound at this point:
Good widgets start with top-quality parts. We throw in our patented XYZ technology, use high-quality hand-made craftsmanship, and sprinkle on a little fairy dust—and voila, a widget. (Okay, there’s no fairy dust).
Notice what’s going on here. Yes, the product is being described (XYZ technology, hand-made craftsmanship, etc.). But there’s also personality; you can tell a human wrote it, a human who was attempting a little humor.
The key to making this work? Sprinkle it in. Don’t make humor the sole point. Notice that the details are still the emphasis here—the fairy dust line is at the very end, after the key information has come across.
And if you don’t want that much personality, you can always simply write around this while keeping search rankings in mind. When you write your own product descriptions, it’s all about how you want them to sound, and what information you want them to convey.
Step 5: Write the Product Features
Let’s break this one into individual steps. After all, yes, you want to list the features, but there are some ways you can go about this to make sure that you’re doing it the right way.
- Collect the list of features and organize them by most relevant. Your first step is to collect a list of basic facts about the product. Sort them. Put the most relevant—the most key features—at the top. That’s what people are going to look at first. Remember: online writing is about writing for people doing some quick eye-scanning. You have to be ready for it. Cater to their habits by putting your key feature at the very top.
- Open Hemingway reader and look for passive voice. The key to writing crisp, effective features? Keep the language simple. Most specifically, make sure you use active voice rather than passive voice. How can you tell what passive voice is? If you’re writing “the ball was thrown by the boy,” that is passive voice—you’re putting the focus on the passive object, the ball. If you write “The boy throws the ball,” it’s crystal clear. You’re putting the emphasis on the acting word, the boy who’s throwing the ball. Open Hemingway reader and it will highlight the sentences you still have in passive voice.
- Use short paragraphs. Don’t get flowery with your language here. The list of product features is when your target customer wants to read technical details. Get to your selling points and tell them clearly. You don’t have to waste time talking up your selling points, or establishing the tone of voice. Use short paragraphs and short sentences. Your readers, who are scanning, will appreciate you getting straight to the point.
Step 6: Put it All Together
Social media tags, working from a product description template, product features, a benefits-only headline…once you have all of these elements together, you’ll be able to start not only getting a sense of how the product description should go, but how its overall readability will work within the context of your product page.
Now? You have the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. You just need to put them together.
The key to great product descriptions isn’t that they’re keyword-stuffed. Nor is it that they’re so full of personality that you forget to talk about the product. They should be a balance of the two. Include the elements you read about above and you’ll see just how much you can stuff into writing product descriptions the right way. With the right information handy and a little bit of personality, you’ll not only get key information across—you’ll also make people want to read it. And it doesn’t hurt to throw a keyword or two in there, either.
Do a couple dozen of these, and your ecommerce store will come alive with personality, effective writing, and most importantly—sales.