10 Jul 2019

So you’ve been asked to write a product description

Written by Damian Clarke

If you’ve shopped online you’ll have been frustrated by poor product descriptions. But product descriptions don’t have to be hard to write – it’s about knowing your buyer, providing lots of detail and appealing to their senses.

Know your buyer

Everything starts with knowing your buyer.

If you are writing for a women’s clothing store, then you probably have an idea of your tribe and can write for them.

If you are writing descriptions of more generic products, then an imagination helps. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes based on the product. For example: snow chains. Your reader could be anyone who drives. When you imagine yourself as the buyer, you can start to predict their questions: Are they easy to fit? Are they durable? Will they fit my tyres? How dirty will I get trying to put them on the car? How dirty will the inside of my car get when I take them off again and put them in the boot?

Buyers don’t buy products online. They buy stories.

We must be the buyer’s eyes, ears and other senses. Our words substitute for them being able to hold the product, feel it, smell it, hear it and taste it.

A big part of getting the sense of a product across to its buyer is not to talk about the product at all, but the motivation behind it. Who designed or made it? Why? What obstacles did they overcome?

For example, James Dyson designed his now famous bagless vacuum cleaners after being disappointed by the performance of the Hoover Junior he bought in 1974. He traced the problem to clogged pores in the vacuum bag. He applied a fix that he scaled down from large industrial applications. Over 5000 iterations later, you can buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner with sophisticated double cyclone technology that won’t lose suction as it fills with dust.

Do you want a Dyson, or a Hoover?

But you don’t even know about the features yet!

Description: detail, detail, detail

Once we’ve piqued the buyer’s interest with the story – and hopefully some great photos – we need to reinforce their decision with details that allay their concerns about the product.

Your main feature is what sets your product apart from its competitors. But we must also reassure our buyers that they’re not missing out on other features. It would be awful to lose a sale because a buyer thought that your 24-hour cooler didn’t have a convenient drain when your competitor’s website says its 12-hour cooler does. That’s why details count.

Use sensory words – product descriptions are not formal writing, they’re persuasive. If buyers want your honeycomb chocolate bar to be crisp when they bite it, make sure you tell them. Describe the silky chocolate and the sweet, crunchy honeycomb that explodes inside their mouth.

Appeal to their imagination but justify your superlatives

Creatively NOT saying something can sometimes be more powerful than saying it – especially when you don’t have the words to back up your claim. For example, it’s hard to describe the sophisticated design of your product, but a few key words and a lot of omission can do the work for you. Think about what these phrases say, against what you imagine – sometimes clichés work:

  • Italian shoes
  • Chef’s knives
  • Marine grade weather proofing

And often clichés don’t. Beware of tired terms like “market leading”, “innovative” or “breakthrough” because they’ve been done to death by people more boring than you and I.

Above all, back your superlative with facts that support them. Don’t fob me off with “high quality” if you can specify that it’s carved from a single block of granite. Give me facts.

Technical tips

These tricks can strengthen your description:

  • The rule of threes, which actually works with many prime numbers: three ways to improve your posture; seven ways to improve your image; eleven secret herbs and spices
  • The three-step template: start with a compliment to the customer, mention a benefit that ties to the feature, close with a recommendation: We know you are looking for ways to keep your skin radiant. Our silky moisturiser contains three different lotions to nourish, smooth and sooth your complexion. Try it with our serum-infused makeup remover wipes to change up your bed-time routine.
  • Make sure your site is optimised for easy indexing by the search engines by ensuring that you use terms consistently and your metadata is up-to-date – and use ALT-text behind all your images
  • Use headings to make your descriptions scannable – buyers like to skim-read
  • Write from the general to the specific – start with the basics then drill into the detail

Get the process right to save your time and effort

Templates will keep you consistent across all your descriptions, and will allow writers who come after you to maintain the style that you created. They also help you to cover all the bases.

A style guide is essential. Define the format of your descriptions, key terms and formats for dates, prices, numbers and measurements. Use consistent names for colours, spellings for terms and define anything else that is important to your brand and voice.

Be yourself, or let the brand be itself

Having said all of this, don’t let the tricks drown out your brand voice – personality builds engagement.

Speak to Maureen Shelley

Damian Clarke

About Damian Clarke

Damian Clarke is a freelance copywriter who writes for the copy collective andhis own clients. He is also completing a book manuscript that was commissioned last year and begs your forgiveness for anything odd, or off, in this blog post as he was up working on the damn book until 4am this morning, it was his wifeǯs birthday yesterday and the school run starts in seven minutes.

View all posts by Damian Clarke