Thursday, March 28, 2019
Optimizing product descriptions
You offer your clients expertise beyond design and development. Your designs capture attention for your clients, but copy keeps and converts their site visitors. This guide offers tips for creating effective product descriptions. As always, feel free to use this guide as a jumping-off point for your own client resources.
Most customers shop around. Before making a purchase, they check out the competition. For this reason, descriptions need to engage both search engines and customers. Effective product copy is distinct and speaks directly to the target audience. It should leave no outstanding questions. For customers to make a purchase, they need to know that the product is for them.
Successful brands speak to specific customers. They know exactly who they’re trying to reach. This makes it easier to write copy that resonates with their audience.
One way to keep messaging on track is to create customer personas. This puts a face to all the quantitative data that exists about the audience. It’s a reminder of who the product is really meant for. It doesn’t have to be a detailed biography, but it should help you know what a day in the life is like for them. A good persona will help you step into the customer’s shoes. Having a clear persona will help to define the brand and, in turn, the product.
Brand differentiation comes from building an identity around what makes the company unique and valuable. Knowing what the target customers need and who else is competing for their business helps to differentiate the brand. At its core, brand differentiation is about giving customers something—and oftentimes, a feeling—they can’t get anywhere else.
Once a brand is fully formed, it’s easier to differentiate products. Having a brand is about having a point of view. There may be a number of similar products on the market, but having a distinct perspective helps to identify product benefits and attributes that appeal to the brand’s audience.
For example, a roofing company makes reflective roofing tiles. Since most of their customers are first-time homeowners in their 30s, they’ll have a very different brand than a company catering to homeowners in their 40s and 50s. The former might have product descriptions that emphasize savings and homeowner education, while the latter may emphasize environmental sustainability or the product lifetime.
Even though the example products above are very similar, they mean something different to their respective customers. Once these high-level concerns have been addressed, it’s time to bring them down into the product copy.
Back to the roofing company: one product attribute may be that their roof tiles are reflective. This is great, but not inherently interesting. In fact, it asks the customer to figure out why the reflective properties of roofing tiles matter. By then, they may already be on a competitor’s website.
Product benefits make product attributes meaningful. In this instance, a product benefit shows customers that these roof tiles keep houses cooler in the summer and lower their energy bills. Once that’s established, the fact that they’re reflective takes on much more significance.
Most customers aren’t moved by all of a product’s specs or features. They want to know how those specs and features benefit them. Once you’ve given someone a reason to care, they’re more likely to be curious about the details of a product.
Good product copy is a combination of strategy and mechanics. After the product has been positioned and framed so that it’s relevant to customers, it needs to be presented clearly.
Simple, yet distinct
When customers read about a product, they need to know that it’s made just for them. For this reason, every detail should be accessible. Vocabulary that's unfamiliar, or gives them pause, will make them wonder if the product is right for them. If they’re expecting “roof tiles,” don't give them “terra cotta dominoes.” When in doubt, simplify.
Distinguishing plain language from generic description is important. While every detail of product copy should be easy to understand, it should be distinct from similar descriptions of competitor products. If it’s positioned within the broader brand narrative, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Some writers feel the need to oversell the product or dramatize its benefits. More often than not, this loses customers’ trust. In most situations, exaggeration makes people question a brand’s sincerity. It's important to bring the product to life in a relatable way—but don't overdo it and risk losing credibility.
Customers rarely read every word on a page. The way the information is organized can help them get everything they need swiftly. Make sure the page has a clear hierarchy. There should be an overarching message, even if it's just the names of the products, supported by subsidiary messages and product benefits. Key takeaways should be bold to draw the eye. Whenever possible, product copy should be broken out into bullets, not buried in paragraphs.
Using headlines in product description can also help visitors quickly scan and find the information they’re looking for. Common product description headings include:
Materials: What is the product made of?
Specifications: What are the dimensions and weight of the product?
Warranty: Does your client make any guarantees about performance or lifetime of the product?
Care: Are there suggested ways to maintain the product?
Shipping and returns: What should the customer expect in terms of receiving or returning the item?
Keywords help search engines know that a product is relevant to a customer. Generally speaking, more relevant keywords mean a website ranks higher in search results. While it may be tempting to shoehorn keywords into product descriptions, that can detract from the overall message.
When adding keywords to product copy, make sure the descriptions are still true to both customers and brand. If the copy sounds like buzzword soup, it’ll lose the identity that made it unique. After all, these keywords are pulled from the aggregate of everything written about the topic. Too many will literally make the product sound like the competition.
Here’s a guide to adding keywords for SEO.
Images and alt text
When a product benefit can be easily shown, it’s often better to just do so with a photo or illustration. The strategic considerations above still apply, and specs can still be listed to the side. What matters is that the brand and product speak to the customers.
Don’t forget to add alt text to product images. This ensures that there’s metadata describing the image and helps people with disabilities find and purchase your clients’ products.
Learn about building commerce websites in the Circle guide to online stores.