If you’ve ever done any in-person selling, then you know the importance of watching your prospect and customizing your pitch to get the sale. The prospect’s verbal cues and body language help you to gauge how you’re doing and adjust your focus to their interests.
But what if you’re not selling in person? What if you have to rely on your written words to sell for you? Then you’d better be sure you’ve chosen the right words.
Selling products online is nothing new. But with more and more people choosing e-commerce as their primary sales channel, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition has grown exponentially.
Search for almost any product, and you’re likely to get dozens and possibly hundreds of online retailers selling it. When you’re the consumer, that’s a sweet situation. You can easily find precisely what you need and price shop to get the best deal.
But what if you’re the seller? That’s a tough nut to crack. If online selling is your meal ticket, you either need a rare, uncommon product or you’ll have to find some other way to stand out.
In addition to good photos, your product descriptions better be highly persuasive if you’re to succeed at e-commerce. They also need to be unique. If you’re displaying the same manufacturer-provided description as 30 of your competitors, you don’t stand a chance of getting the reader to reach for his wallet.
Here then are some techniques e-commerce and catalog copywriters use to write about products and convert online visitors into customers.
When you write a product description with a huge crowd of buyers in mind, your descriptions end up vague and dull. A better approach is to create a buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a representation of the type of person you see as your ideal customer. A description of that person might include such variables as their sex, age, behavior patterns, marital status and motivations. You may even find you have more than one persona to target.
The more precise you are in your description, the more focused you can be in marketing. “A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization,” according to HubSpot, writing on personas. “As a result, you will be able to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.”
With the personas in mind, you can delve into how these types of people make their buying decisions. You can speak to what’s important to them. You can spotlight the benefits of your product that you know they will appreciate and use words that will sound appealing to them and motivate them to buy.
The higher the price, the better your copy should be. You’ll have to work harder to sell a costly luxury item than say a pack of Bic pens.
Whether in a catalog or on an e-commerce website, no part of the product description is more important than the headline. The headline’s chief purpose is to grab attention and get your visitors to read the first sentence.
Most people use headlines to decide whether or not to read your write-up. They have plenty of choices, so your headline has to spark their curiosity or their eyes are headed elsewhere.
“If you write confusing or complicated product titles and product descriptions, you might be jeopardizing your sale,” according to Beeketing. Studies show that quality headlines and descriptions can increase conversion rates by up to 78%.
A well written, relevant headline lets your reader know what your product is all about. It engages them to proceed from the headline to the first line of copy.
The headline starts off the selling process but it can’t do the whole job. While the goal of the headline is to guide your reader’s attention to the first sentence, your copy will still need to work to keep him engaged. Skilled product copywriters know they must give careful consideration to every word.
Use interesting, thought-provoking language to create a picture in your visitors’ mind to hold their attention and keep them reading. Select words that are consistent with your brand.
If your products are upscale, use words like “luxurious” and “lavish.” If you’re emphasizing affordability, use words like “economical” and “budget-friendly.”
Write the copy as though you’re talking to one person and not the masses. Choose “you” instead of a generic, third-person reference like “users.”
Limit your use of jargon. Unless the visitor is likely to be familiar with the terminology, keep it simple. Appeal to their senses, helping them to taste, smell or feel what you’re selling through your words.
For your most important points, use words that grab attention like these:
Be truthful. People don’t want to be mislead. Give facts and details, not fluff, until you’ve conveyed enough information for your visitor to happily click the buy button.
Because you’re selling online and not in person or in a retail environment, the customer can’t touch or try your product. That means your product description has to do the work for them. It must explain how it solves their problem, whatever it might be, and makes their life better.
Think of promoting a hotel on the beach. You can tell your online visitors its location and that your hotel suites have balconies. Or you can appeal to their imagination. Be the copywriter who pens something a bit more enticing like:
“Relax on your private balcony, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio. Listen to the waves lapping against the shore as the sun slowly slips away for the night, an orange ball of fire dipping ever deeper into the shimmering water.”
Features are characteristics that your product or service has. For catalog and e-commerce listings, give specifics and details, not fluff. Size, shape and color would all be features, for example.
Benefits speak to the value of your product. It’s what the product can do for customers, how it can help them. Benefits hook the customer and are the real reasons people buy.
Let’s say you’re thinking of buying a drill. Its features might be that it’s cordless, has slow and fast speeds, and offers multiple torque settings. The benefits would be you can drill holes faster and easier into any type of wood or metal. Those are the reasons you buy!
When you turn features and specifications into enticing benefits, you prompt your buyer into thinking, “I really want this!” Or, even better, “I really NEED this!”
Another approach is to think of your product description as the perfect answer to your customer’s question. According to Online Daniel, a blog for e-commerce professionals, “Raw and cold information is great when you are writing a scientific paper. But as a store owner your aim is to present your products as the solution for your customers needs.”
Online Daniel goes on to explain that you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. “Let your customers know what can your products do for them. How can your products solve their issues or, more generally, how can your products improve their life? Always keep in mind that you are selling solutions.”
Every brand has its own unique voice, thoughtfully chosen to resonate with its target audience. Your tone in speaking to a new mom would be quite different than say your tone speaking to a corporate CEO.
In general, you want to write product descriptions in a friendly, natural way that gives customers the confidence to try your products and reassures them that you are experts in your market. You want to make it easy for them to envision themselves using your product and to be excited about deriving its benefits.
Back when my son was in college, he ran an online business selling used Lego sets. Ryan would buy collections from other kids, mostly boys in their late teens, who’d long since lost interest in their Legos and were happy to trade them for cash.
Ryan would then sell each set individually on eBay. Sometimes his products were the only ones of their type. But more often he had plenty of competition with multiple sets of the same type for sale.
What was interesting to me was that nearly every time that situation occurred, Ryan’s set sold for the highest price of all the sets available. Often his auctions sparked bidding wars. What was the key to his success? His product descriptions.
While other sellers simply posted the name of the set, a picture of the box it came in, and a few factual lines about the number of pieces and condition of the goods, Ryan included pictures and descriptions showcasing every exciting little facet of each set.
Ryan loved Legos. He’d grown up playing them. He knew every trap door and hidden building feature like it was his own house. And he spoke about the mini-figs (Lego people figures) like they were old friends.
In great detail, Ryan wrote about each Lego set, and his enthusiasm was contagious. His buyers, who too loved Legos, ate up every word and then placed their bid hoping to be the lucky winner. That’s what a good product description can do for you!
A story about your product in use can be a great enticement. Ever hear great speakers deliver a presentation? They mesmerize the room with their interesting stories and amusing anecdotes. You can do the same in writing your product descriptions.
Look for stories to tell. Maybe you can talk about who makes the product or the inspiration behind its creation. Or describing the obstacles overcome to produce this product is another potential story starter.
One fashion designer had me write her catalog promoting her jewelry. In addition to the individual product descriptions, she wanted me to include the story behind her jewelry.
She travels to the remote village of Mompox, Colombia to work with artisans who create her designs in handmade silver filigree jewelry. For hundreds of years, crafting filigree jewelry has been a way of life for families in this rural town. It is considered a rare, ancient art form. The artistic techniques have been passed down through the generations.
Now imagine yourself buying a piece of this unique, authentic jewelry. Wouldn’t reading the story about the Mompox artisans create value and intrigue about the product in your mind?
What you write about your product will likely be met with a degree of skepticism. After all, the prospect knows your goal is to generate sales.
One of the best ways to defeat that skepticism is to use social proof. Testimonials, case studies, endorsements, reviews, ratings and posts on social media like Facebook and Twitter are effective tools of persuasion.
Including a photo of the person speaking adds credibility to a quote. Even better if you can incorporate a video so the customer can see them talking about the product.
Social proof can come from experts, celebrities or everyday users. “It can also come in the form of a stamp of approval by an authoritative figure in your industry. Examples: the blue checkmark on Twitter or Facebook,” according to Buffer on the psychology of marketing.
The leading products on Amazon are often made even more popular by “their honest and straightforward ratings, which make them easy to spot among the millions of other products,” according to Bustle.
E-commerce buyers are more likely to buy if they believe the product is a best seller. Social proof helps highlight the products that are customer favorites.
Third party endorsements carry impact. Get and use them whenever you can. If the testimonials are a bit long or poorly written, have a professional copywriter do some minor editing.
Your e-commerce sales copy should be easy to read, not only because you’ve chosen simple language but also because you’ve used proven copywriter techniques to make your product descriptions more visually appealing such as:
Quality photos are critical. They go hand-in-hand with good copy. Your photos should be as professional as your copy.
“The perceived value of your products and the trustworthiness of your brand is often judged based on the quality of your visual presentation,” explains a Shopify blog post on product photography. That means having high-quality, beautiful product photography can go a long way.”
Take a look at some of the fastest growing Shopify stores to get inspired and see how they employ visuals to complement their copy.
Good photos start with good lighting. Shoot multiple angles to visually answer any questions a buyer might have. The photos should be high-resolution so that the buyer can zoom in without losing focus.
If size is important, show the product next to something that will give the buyer perspective, such as a dime if it’s a small product. You can also include photos of someone holding or using the product to make its relative dimensions obvious. If an explanation will be helpful to visitors, add a caption.
Showcasing your products with sharp images can be the difference between a conversion and losing the sale. This is particularly true if you’re selling your products on marketplace sites like Amazon, where your product photos will be displayed next to those of your competitors.
The good news is that with a little practice you can create decent photos. “Even lifelong photographers admit that because cameras have come such a long way, professional-level photos can be had with a minimal investment in camera and lighting,” according to Pickfu on product photography.
In your e-commerce product descriptions make sure your written descriptions include the phrases and keywords your customers would use in searching for a product like yours. You want your copy to be search engine optimized (SEO) so that Google and Bing will give it visibility in their search results.
Be sure to use the most important keyword phrase in your headline, a subhead and body text. Reference it as well in your meta-tags. If you have photos, use it in the captions and alt tag too. Just don’t overdo it.
A good SEO copywriter should be able to get the target keywords in without making the copy sound awkward or contrived. While SEO is important, it shouldn’t take precedence.
If you’ve stuffed your copy with keywords, it will be obvious to the reader and will serve as a turn-off. Use a human-centered approach. Always write for your reader first, and optimize for search engines later. After all, the reader is your customer, not Google.
The infographic below is a quick summary of how to write winning product descriptions. You can use it as a checklist when creating your copy. (Infographic created in collaboration with Daniel Munoz, editor of Online Daniel, a blog for entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals.)
When you share your knowledge about a product, you’re helping to educate the prospect, and that’s an important step on the journey to making a purchase. When people go to the internet, they’re seeking information. Make sure you answer the questions on their mind.
Tell stories, convey emotion and provide delicious details in your descriptions and you’ll soon have your visitors salivating for your product.
If you lack the time, desire or skill to write your own product descriptions, consider hiring a product copywriter who can provide professional assistance in writing words that sell. You’re sure to get a solid return on your investment in professional copywriting.