Online shop owners often write product descriptions as a bit of an afterthought. In a rush to get a new item listed, we race through the copywriting process, remembering to include standard information like dimensions but failing to really capture potential customers' imaginations and interest.
Because we’re selling online, customers can’t touch and feel our products before buying. That leaves many of us scrambling to describe the tactile aspects of a product when we should be focusing on the intangibles: what problem does this product solve, and how does it solve the problem better than anything else on the market?
Best Format for Product Descriptions That Sell
In journalism, newspaper stories are written according to a concept known as the “inverted pyramid.” It looks something like this:
The idea in journalism is that you start writing your article with the most important information, otherwise known as your lead. Your lead tells people why they should care that a thing happened. Then you add important details and supporting facts.
Product descriptions should be written in much the same way. Lead with the information that will make people care and get them hooked, then finish with details they need. To do this, you need to know who your audience is and what they care about most. Why are they looking at this product and why are they likely to buy it versus another option?
Let’s look at an example of the effect of using the inverted pyramid structure on a product description.
Here is the original product description for something called the SIMON Diaper Bag.
This over-the-shoulder diaper bag is made with durable canvas that is comfortable and strong. The interior is lined with 100% cotton in cream. The single shoulder strap makes carrying a breeze and top zip closure means you can secure your belongings inside. Two side pockets for easy access to important items. This item uses quality nickel hardware that is durable and long-lasting.
Does this product description get you hooked? Do you understand why the SIMON is such a great bag?
Here is a revised description, which uses the inverted pyramid format:
You shouldn't have to sacrifice personal style to care for your baby on-the-go. Our SIMON diaper bag makes it easy to store and find essential baby items while you’re out and about, and you're not confined to carrying your kiddo's stuff in "baby-friendly" colors and patterns. Not only is the SIMON a great bag for carrying baby stuff, the style is so versatile you can use it as a travel bag well after baby is grown.
* Side pocket so you can quickly grab items (fits a standard water bottle)
* Quick-zip side pouch for access to documents like passport, or use for wipes
Dimensions: 42 cm x 13 cm top width, 35 cm deep
Materials: Waxed canvas
“I love this bag because both me and my husband can use it. We don’t have to switch out baby items to a backpack just so he has something he’s not embarrassed to carry around.” — Dianne, mom of 2
This description is greatly improved because it tells us why the SIMON is unique and why the buyer should care. The description solves the potential buyer's problem: finding a diaper bag that matches their personal style.
Remember to Show, Don't Tell
The revised description also includes supporting details that make it easy to understand key product features. This is important when you're selling online because people can't hold your product and see for themselves. Customers don't want to know the dimensions of a pocket, for example, they want to know that it fits an iPhone 7 Plus with case, or a standard water bottle.
Rather than telling potential customers a product is "versatile," demonstrate what those words mean in practice. In the case of the SIMON, we use a testimonial from Diane to show that the product appeals to both men and women. Is a product "durable," or does the fabric hold up even after 100+ washes?
In the 1970s American Tourister ran a classic TV ad where a chimp viciously tried to destroy a piece of luggage. What better demonstrates that a product is durable? Saying that it's durable, or letting a chimp throw it around a cage for a couple hours and demonstrating that it's still intact? This is what you're trying to do with your product descriptions.
What Information to Include in a Product Description
Now you understand a format that works and how to lead with product information that explains why your potential customer should care. What other information do you include in your product descriptions?
Answer the "first objection."
The "first objection" is the first thing customers worry or wonder about your product (besides price). If you're selling at a trade show, it's the number one question you get from people checking out your products. This could be:
- Is it microwave-safe?
- Is it machine washable?
- Is it hypoallergenic?
- Will kids really use this?
Make sure your product descriptions address the concerns you often hear that can make or break a sale.
Awards, Honors, Accolades
If your product has won any praise, honors or awards, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that's a form of validation that can sway a potential buyer to purchase your product over a competitor's while doing online research. Was your baby rattle "voted Most Innovative Infant Rattle by Mom + Baby Magazine, 2013"? Then by all means, include that information.
Reviews and Testimonials
Sometimes the easiest way to demonstrate a product feature is to let someone else write the copy for you. Grab a quote from a product review that demonstrates the importance of a feature or a potential use for a product and use it in your description. Consider this example from a product description for a toy:
"Eron loved playing this musical bear when he was an infant. The songs really soothed him while we were trying to get him to sleep. He's just re-discovered the toy as a toddler and still loves it."
That quote demonstrates that a toy is appropriate for children of different ages and learning levels. It's better than product copy that simply says, "Appropriate for kids 6 months - 4 years."
Customers buying online always have questions about returns. You might have a separate returns policy on your site somewhere, but customers won't always take the time to seek it out. This leaves them wondering if they can return something and if so, under what conditions. Consider adding a short sentence covering your returns policy in every listing.
When in Doubt, Test Your Copy
Not sure if your product descriptions are really "selling it"? Ask someone who's not familiar with your products to read over your copy and ask them what questions they have after looking it over. You can ask for feedback online in Facebook groups or subreddits like Review My Shopify.
Remember that customers are often comparison shopping across several websites when buying your products, so having the best product descriptions that answer all the right questions will result in making the sale.