Turn a Product Description into a Great Product Story

“Describe your product. They’ll buy.”– that is about as likely as whistling and expecting a dinosaur to come out of the woods, longing for a pat on its head.

Dinosaurs won’t come tumbling out, and it’s about that hard to woo customers. You’d need to sell your products — but everything you know about selling needs to wait.

On the web, something else takes precedence: It’s called “connect”.

As Mark Macdonald of Shopify.com suggests, start by finding your buyer persona. Figure out what makes them tick. What are her problems? What keeps him ranting about the niche your product is relevant to? You are likely to find insights by thinking about this.

Once you do that, it is time to get to work.

Expert Writing Is The Key. Expert = Not Clever. Just Effective.

Avoid flatulent, useless, and seemingly irrelevant phrases, as Mark suggests. Here’s a look at what Apple does with the iPad Air.

Instead of ranting about powerful processors, lightweight and strong materials from outer space (Unobtanium, anyone?), and an endless list of things most Apple product enthusiasts would never understand, Apple takes a simple approach to copy and product descriptions.

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.apple.com

“Thin”, “Light”, “Powerful”, and “Capable” aren’t hyperbole. “Productivity”, “doing more than you can imagine” are just what you might want.

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.apple.com

Start with a feature, but add simplistic prose.

For instance (and not trying to overdo Apple’s copy here): take the bit about “A7 chip and 64-bit desktop-class architecture”.

That was close, but this can be better: “A7 chip and 64-bit desktop-class architecture for a device that’s as light as your TV remote? Plus, enjoy 10-hour battery life and to study, play, build, and create whatever you want, whenever you want”.

That seals the deal.

Do Your Diligence. Stick To Basics

Russ Jones, CTO of ViranteInc, wrote an insightful post on Moz.com on what Panda update means for your content today.

He writes that websites should aim to have “uniquely useful” content in the wake of Google’s earnest to help users find useful content. Google wants to do that with an honest attempt to measure content quality.

Everything you knew about SEO did change, but there’s nothing wrong in sticking to the basics. Churn out Meta content (tags, descriptions, and titles) just as painstakingly as you’d now work to bring out great content. Work on legitimate ways to build links and do it even if that takes stupendous effort, or cash, or both.

Tell A Story

A good story can suck you in emotionally. If you are writing a blog post, story telling is easy. It’s not that straightforward when it comes to product descriptions. But that’s exactly what you’d have to do. Here’s how stories can take shape:

Product Stories:

Did you stumble on a problem and decided to create something because you thought everyone else would have a similar problem? You ought to have a story to tell. Dig into your past to come up with a compelling story.

See How Some Stories Read:

  • How An Ex-Con Turned His Life Around and Built An $80 K Per Month E-Commerce Business
  • How One E-Commerce Entrepreneur Explored New Sales Channels and Took Revenues From 8K to $96K Per Month

Product Usage Stories or Case Studies:

AirBnB (even though it’s not exactly a tangible product, technically) started with a story, an idea, and endless passion. What makes it even more compelling is its collection of user stories.

Case studies (and please don’t write those case studies the way MBA academicians do) are a great way to tell a story. Danny Schreiber of Zapier.com has an interesting post on how case studies help. In fact, a few places where you should visit to see how case studies are expertly written are as follows:

Ok, But What About Real, Tangible Products?

Have you ever seen GoPro videos?

Videos are loud, and they drive the point home. Need we say more?

What Does It Do For Users?

Most product descriptions are like selfies. The only person who is happy with a selfie is the person who creates it. As an e-commerce store owner, your happiness doesn’t count for anything — you need to think about revenues and sales. To make your customers happy, you need to write outward. So, what does your product do for customers?

Your window of opportunity is limited to a few seconds. Your fancy list of features can wait, but is there a way to please in those few, precious seconds?

Here’s an example (followed by alternative copy that you could use), from Timberland:

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.timberland.com

Alternate Product Description:
Earthkeepers boots helps to keep water out, gives you traction, allows your feet to breath, and gives you flexibility. Face any terrain. Go anywhere. Do whatever you want, and stop worrying about the shoes.

Protect your feet with premium full-grain waterproof leather uppers.
Feel good about leather made with best water, energy, and waste management practices.
Stay dry and comfortable in any weather thanks to waterproof membrane.
You could combine features with benefits in a single line. It’s work, and it’s the kind of work that brings in the money.

Stop Writing Manuals

Don’t bore users. Avoid the temptation to write product descriptions as if you were writing user manuals. Even for boring products, product niches, and dull industries, there are ways for your product descriptions to sizzle as Laura Serino of e-commerce Fuel writes.

Turn the otherwise boring 50-100 words description into a lead for a bigger story. Convert product descriptions into narratives. How about adding an anecdote or two to bring in some personality? What happens when you write product descriptions like you were talking to a close friend?

Keep It CCSC (Concise. Correct. Simple. Clear.)

Think of every word as a cost center for your product descriptions. Every extra word digs into your cash. Keep your sentences concise, grammatically correct, simple, and very clear. Writing is an art and it’s challenging to pay heed to all these externalities.

Look at this product description from iRobot.com for one of its home robots:

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.irobot.com

Stuck-on messes? No period in between this sentence and the next? A wayward comma? How do you prove that scrubbing floors doesn’t happen as often as it should?

Our brains are smarter than us. You might think that these little red herrings are harmless, but they will affect our perceptions.

Images and Videos Can Do Heavy Duty

Images and videos are powerful. They enhance the appeal of your products significantly. While videos are amazing storytellers, product photography is turning into an appealing niche for photographers all over the world with the surge of e-commerce. Peter Crawfurd of Smashing Magazine has a mega post that explains how to improve your images with photography and he also has examples of beautiful product photography.

How does a site with amateur photography – in combination with bad color choices, graphics, and typography look like?

Take a peek at this tea enthusiast’s e-commerce store:

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.teaamo.in

See what happens?

Social Proof. Authenticity.

The more customers love your product (with the proof out there), the more others are likely to buy. It’s called social proof and it’s very hard to get.

Think of it like building a reputation over an entire lifetime. Leverage social media, self-created or existing communities, beta users, and present customers to get your products some social proof.

Working to get the word out by influencers, dedicated guest blogger outreach programs, and getting attention from multiple sources all also get you exposure, credibility, and traffic.

Authenticity, meanwhile, is a combination of popular word, social proof, and everything else about your business that leads to trust.

However, it’s easy to go too far with social proof and authenticity. For instance, you might believe using trust seals and logos that should get you some authenticity might work for you; there are instances when it backfires.

Research and testing can help. According to Baymard Research, Norton and McAfee were the most trusted seals on e-commerce sites. They are both anti-virus seals and not financial seals like VeriSign or others.

Further, not visually reinforcing checkout process makes about 89% of top 100 e-commerce sites get it wrong. While most e-commerce sites do have trust seals and badges, they aren’t close enough to checkout fields. The key is to get these seals close, but not too close.

Here’s how PeaPod gets it right with a trust seal placed right at the point of transaction.

Screenshot taken 08/23/2014 of www.peapod.com

Forget Number Of Words. Aim To Do It Justice

E-commerce store owners have a fixation on number of words, keyword density, and keyword phrases. Forget all of that and aim to do justice to the following:

  • Is your store designed with the best UX/UI design principles?
  • How utilitarian is your store? How easy is it to navigate?
  • How long does it take to arrive at a product page and then checkout?
  • How well is the copy written for the product description?
  • Does the copy or product description go straight to the customers’ heart?
  • Have you fleshed out all benefits a customer gets when he/she buys the product?
  • Did you answer all possible questions your customers are likely to have?

And the last question here leads us to…

Answer Objections. Straight Up.

Keep a tab below the product image – other tabs being “overview”, “design”, “features & benefits”, etc. – called “FAQ” and answer all possible questions consumers might have, even before they buy.

While you can have a dedicated FAQ page, it gets monstrously large if you have a large number of products displayed. To keep it simple, allow every product to have its own FAQ tab with questions answered.

These questions are possible objects and you aren’t going to sell with those objects hovering in customers’ minds.

Avoid Jargon. Don’t Hype It Up.

We are all self-centered, and that’s just how we humans are. Businesses take the same approach. If a technology company peddles products online, the focus is on the products. Talk technology products and jargon is sure to be a part of a normal product description. There’s also a possibility of hype, irrelevant statements, and making unsubstantiated claims.

Unconsciously, customers are turned off. If 60% of your copy uses jargon that only your core engineers, product designers, and staff can understand, how can your product description (salesmanship in print, as we call it) do any justice?

Here’s an example that you’d see on almost every laptop being sold online:

Original copy: Powered by 4th generation, Quad-pro Intel processor, 4 GB Ram, 500 GB HDD, Retina Display

Alternate copy: Powerful Intel processor takes all the gaming addiction you can unleash with a screen size you can’t stop looking at.

What’s Your USP?

It’s hard to get your unique selling point right. It’s even harder to communicate your USP, straight to the customer, within a few seconds. For SaaS companies, web apps, and mobile apps, it’d be easier with a landing page design for the “home page”.

How would you do that with a product store with hundreds or thousands of products?

Encapsulate your USP for every product on the product page itself. Here are a few tips on how you can do that:

  • Build a custom feature box for every product page.
  • Create product pages – individually for every product — with emphasis on images, relevant copy, and a single CTA (Call To Action) – much like landing pages.
  • Use product descriptions to highlight your USP, within the copy.

Product descriptions are often ignored and a vast number of e-commerce stores bleed money due to this at every stage of transaction online.

Once upon a time, product descriptions were search engine attraction pieces. Somewhere along the line, they became the only sales persons on duty to attend to your online visitors.

Today, they mean everything for your e-commerce business.

It’s time to spice up your product descriptions to make every written word and every visible graphic or image work harder to bring you better sales, lower abandonment rates, and continuous revenue.

How do you write your product descriptions or I should I say product story? What do you to make your product pages work harder?

Tell us all about it.


Featured Image: photo credit: Summer Huggins, on Flickr