The right way to approach product copy

To buy or not to buy?

If you are in the business of selling products/services online, that is the one question potential customers will be asking as they browse through your website. And while you might have already spent a significant amount of time and resources into swaying their decision in your favour via better UI, UX, design, and whatnot, I can almost guarantee there is one thing you are still neglecting: your product page copy.

One in five customers will leave a website and shop elsewhere when product descriptions are unclear, incomplete, and/or unconvincing. How many times, before buying something online, have you gone and Googled the details you could not find in the product description?

You don’t want customers to do the same to you. 

What should product copy do?

Rather than talk about bad or good product copy, I find it more useful to discuss product copy in terms of its performance: does it do its job—which is to engage, inform and persuade potential customers—or not?

To demonstrate what I mean, here is a Marmite-flavoured example:

marmite chocolate product copy

What are your feelings about Marmite? I am in the ‘no way’ camp, but this product description is so appealing and well-constructed it even works on me:

  • It creates a tempting image of the product with sensory and evocative words like scrumptious, masterpiece of creative confectionery, unexpectedly fantastic.
  • It addresses different audiences by speaking cheekily to the Marmite lover and posing a challenge to the Marmite hater.
  • It supplements the descriptive text with technical information (product features, ingredients, sizes) so customers know exactly what they are getting.
  • It uses formatting (paragraphs, bolding, headings) to direct customers’ attention to the strongest selling points.

Let’s look at something less bizarre and more generally appreciated like flowers—just in time for Valentine’s day:

The Wonder bouquet flowers product copy

This is another example of product copy that works:

  • It starts by addressing the ideal buyer personally (You’ve got your eye on someone special) as well as painting a specific scenario that potential customers can empathise with (You know it’s important to make a good impression)
  • It uses both to persuade potential customers of the product’s benefits (The Winner gets you there).
  • It’s concise yet full of informative details: for example, 100% American-grown flowers hints at a greener carbon footprint as well as better product quality and shelf-life.
  • It anticipates potential needs and objections, explicitly stating what customers should expect to get (Goodies are subject to availability, but if we run out, they’ll be substituted for something equally awesome!).

By now it should have become clear why product descriptions matter and what they can achieve.
What’s next? Actually writing them.

Copy from your customers

Market research and common sense tell us that different customers and customer groups have diverse needs when it comes to online shopping and the amount, type, and style of product information they require. Another way of thinking about this: would the above descriptions perform equally well on high-end websites and/or high-ticket goods such as the ones sold at Harrods or Tiffany’s?

Product copy must aim to engage, inform, and persuade prospects and customers, but how that happens is very context-dependent. Type ‘write good product copy’ into Google and there are hundreds of online copywriting guides that offer templates, tips, and best practices to make you a copywriter extraordinaire—at the end of the day, though, it does not matter what best practices dictates but what your customers actually want from you.

In other words, to write product copy that works on your audience, you must first know your audience.

(Duh.)

This is where voice of customer data can make all difference. Think moderated user research, focus groups, surveys, polls; all the qualitative data that you can collate on your audience can give you invaluable insight into:

  • What your customers need and want from your products
  • What information in product copy appeals to them/resonates with them strongest
  • What literal words your customers use to describe your products
  • What issues your customers have that your product/service can solve

Once you have collected this information, you are in a much better position to start writing copy that sells. You may even want to follow the advice of Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers: “take the best phrases you find, and write your copy with those. Don’t change the words. Steal the words.” It might seem controversial, but it’s a smart way of acknowledging that customers usually know more about your products than you do.

As you craft product descriptions, be aware of the persuasion principles you can apply to copywriting to drive user conversions. My fellow Optimisation Strategist Emma has written about the art of persuasion, but there is also a wealth of scientific literature you should consider if you want to learn about and master persuasive copywriting. That is a blog post in itself, so in the meantime here’s a great introduction from CXL to get you started.

Final tip

After crafting your product descriptions, let customers help you again by A/B testing different copy variations. For example, test strategically to determine your copy’s optimal tone and length, or to single out the most effective persuasion concepts for your customers.

 

[Originally published on the PRWD blog, Feb 2016]