E-Commerce Copywriting: The Guide to Selling More

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Quality product descriptions can transform e-commerce conversion rates — it’s common to see increases of 30-100%. As well as converting more visitors, search traffic increases drastically when unique copy is written for each product. Most online retailers use manufacturers’ copy or rely solely on images to sell products. They then use inadequate copy elsewhere on their site and fail to achieve a consistent tone to persuade their audience. This creates a compelling opportunity for savvy retailers — by writing quality e-commerce copy you will create a unique competitive advantage.

Essentially, your copy must achieve two goals:

  1. Establish trust and
  2. Convince visitors that your product is right for them.

Potential customers cannot see or touch the product since it’s not physically there in front of them. This is why it’s important that your copy anticipates the needs of your visitors while convincing them that your company can be trusted to provide excellent products. Persuasion and creating trust are difficult things to do with words alone; yet, they are still achievable.

You must establish the right tone, a mix between informative and engaging, while showcasing your product’s usability, practicality and benefits. If the copy on your website makes sense, it follows that your products and services will meet your customers’ needs. In this article, we’ll discuss some techniques that will hopefully help you learn how to sell more products and create distinctive, appealing copy.

Formatting

E-commerce websites should usually opt for a combination of bullets and paragraph form. When 79% scan the page1 versus read word-for-word, bullets effectively communicate key product details and benefits. Paragraphs add color and texture to your products, eliciting a deeper emotional response.

e-commerce product description on Runningwarehouse2

Running Warehouse3 uses both bullet points and a short paragraph to describe the product. Notice that a paragraph format is used for a general description, which in this case required more than a few words for its explanation. Quick facts about the product are listed in bullets, allowing the customer to gather information quicker than in paragraph form.

Basics of Good E-Commerce Copywriting

To keep your writing as simple and readable as possible, think about these rules while you write and proofread your copy.

Avoid long sentences

Long sentences are usually difficult to digest and therefore inappropriate for persuading your audience. To shorten sentences, avoid pointless modifiers and break up independent clauses into two separate sentences. Avoid wordy phrases such as “for the purpose of” when “for” will do, and refrain from peppering your copy with too many adjectives and adverbs.

Avoid jargon and clichés

Achieve clarity. Clichés are cheesy, unoriginal and usually only distract your readers. Using jargon that visitors may not know will result in confusion. If someone doesn’t understand something about your product, he or she certainly won’t take the risk to buy it. Remember the only goal of your website is to convince visitors to buy your product, so leave out extraneous, flowery language that won’t help customers decide.

Speak simply

Your writing should be easily understood. There’s no reason to use complex words in product descriptions. You are going for simplicity, not trying to impress your readers with your vocabulary. Using large words will either sound like you’re trying too hard or lead to confusion.

Active voice

Write in active voice. This means you should lead with the noun that is doing the action. Active voice is clearer and makes it easier to persuade your visitors to buy your products.

Apple's website copy 4

Apple5 provides a good example of clear and crisp copy. On their MacBook Pro product page, they make sure technical product features are easily understood. Their processors “boost performance up to 50%” and the aluminum enclosure is “thin, light and durable.”

Avoid Common Mistakes

Many mistakes are easy to make but simple to avoid. Make sure your website always achieves its potential by avoiding these common mistakes.

Nothing to say

The most common mistake is to have no copy on product pages. Without copy, you lose a vital mode of expressing your product and building trust. The lift in conversion rates and search traffic are always palpable.

Inconsistent tone

It’s common for one person to write homepage copy and another person to write product descriptions, for example. With different writers and no defined tone of voice, this tends to lead to inconsistency. Your homepage, FAQs and “About”-page should all be written with the same tone. This is also imperative in the checkout pages and in error messages deployed on your site.

Exaggeration

Don’t exaggerate in order to make the product more desirable; this will cost your website authenticity and trust. Always use logically coherent arguments when explaining the benefits and applications of your product. It’s OK to exaggerate the emotional response to a product, but not the product itself. Even if you increase sales through misrepresentation, chargebacks, returns and negative reviews will eradicate any gains.

Ignore convention

With wording on buttons and links, it can be tempting to get creative but this is unlikely to be a good idea. Consumers have inbuilt notions of how to shop from their collective experience across thousands of websites. Stick with “contact us”, “add to basket” and factual, descriptive anchor text to link to product pages. From the experiments I’ve seen, the result is either indistinguishable or negative when creative wording is employed.

Forget to localize

Everyone has heard an example of translation gone wrong. Pepsi’s slogan “come alive with the Pepsi generation” became “Pepsi brings back your ancestors from the grave” to a Chinese audience. Without cultural sensitivity, copy fails.

American and British consumers have different expectations yet are often presented with the same copy. British people view American advertising as too aggressive, or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. So, some retailers believe American copy should be decaffeinated for a British audience. If you are unable to write different copy for different cultures speaking the same language, write copy that is compatible for everyone. Many retailers fail to even consider localization when writing their copy.

Establish Trust

One of the most important things your website needs to do is establish trust. Customers are wary to spend money and risk not receiving what they expect in return.

Flawless copy

The first way to establish trust is the most obvious; that is, to have flawless copy. Grammar and spelling mistakes make you look careless and incompetent. If you can’t put the time into flawless copy, visitors won’t invest time and money into your products.

State the obvious

Be clear when explaining payment, shipping and return processes — do not be afraid to state the obvious. If a customer is uncertain about any of these details they won’t buy your product. It’s that simple. Customers do not want to waste time on wondering whether payment and shipping will be carried out in accordance to their expectations. Keep things straight and clear: actual shipping costs and payment conditions shouldn’t be displayed in tiny font sizes nor be clarified using extra asterisks or footnotes.

A Forrester study showed that 20% of people have abandoned a purchase because shipping costs were unclear, so make sure your terms are easily understandable even when they aren’t a selling point. Free shipping has such profoundly positive results that it’s almost always worth apportioning the costs elsewhere and having minimum order requirements where necessary. For a more detailed look, read the article How the Offer of ‘Free Shipping’ Affects On-line Shopping6.

Zappos make return and shipping policy clear7

For one company that wants their policies easily understood, check out Zappos8. The shoe retailer won’t let you get far without discovering their return and shipping policies. For Zappos, this approach serves two purposes:

  1. Ensuring visitors understand their policies, creating trust and confidence and
  2. Communicating unique selling points of shopping with Zappos, including their 24/7 customer service and free 365 day return policy.

Make sure any error messages are clear and to the point. Simply explain what the problem is and what they need to do to fix it.

Above and Beyond the Basics

Your copy needs to strike the right balance in tone between informative and engaging. To do this, good sales copy will explain details about the product and will explain why each detail matters to the customer.

Under Armour e-commerce description9

For example, the product description10 for this Under Armour HeatGear work-out shirt describes in bullet points what each characteristic of the shirt means to someone who is using it. Under Armour doesn’t just say the product has a “new ergonomic fit” because what does that mean? Instead it says, “new ergonomic fit adds to an overall comfort by reducing abrasion in high impact areas.” Ergonomic fit probably won’t convince someone to buy this shirt, but overall comfort and reducing abrasion will.

It’s important to keep product descriptions straightforward and primarily informative. This doesn’t mean your copy should be boring; it should be positive and inspiring, which will draw readers in. But be careful about how enthusiastic your copy sounds. You want to pique visitors’ interest, but you don’t want to overwhelm them. Make sure informative facts about your products and company are sprinkled throughout.

Dyson's website11

Dyson, which makes vacuums, achieves this well on their homepage, which briefly describes a few of their products and what makes them special in comparison to other vacuums. You can see how they weave the informative in with the creative12: “Other machines are still designed to need replacement bags, belts and filters. Over five years, the maintenance costs are up to $267. With Dyson vacuums there are no bags, belts or filters to buy. So they don’t cost a dime to maintain.” Combining informative and engaging copy will keep visitors on your site and convince them to buy your product. Also, notice the vivid and strong product images on the page. They strongly support the copy, providing a very detailed, useful and attractive impression to the customers.

Customer review of OfficeMax13
Source: OfficeMax Customer Reviews at Bizrate14

During the research phase, copywriters should read reviews written by your customers and your competitors’ customers. This can be a great way to travel into the mind of your target audience.

Copywriters should work with marketers, developers and designers to increase conversion rates by performing split and multivariate testing. It’s possible to do this for free using Google Website Optimizer15. On a large website, this may seem like an untenable task but there are ways to do this efficiently:

  • Start with the highest selling products moving in descending order.
  • Test the pages all visitors experience — checkout, FAQ, delivery.
  • Template copy — perform tests on the copy appearing on all product pages.

SEO: Outranking the Competition

To achieve the most from your e-commerce copy, SEO should be intertwined into the structure of your website with each page having target keywords.

Homepage: Widget Shop and Widgets
Category pages: Wooden Widgets and Metal Widgets
Brand pages: Peter’s Widgets and Sally’s Widgets
Product pages: Peter’s Blue XX1 Widget and Sally’s Red YY2 Widget

Do not use manufacturer’s copy. Individual category, brand and product pages should have unique text. Work with your copywriter to craft a message around each page.

If you have affiliates, provide them with alternative copy or change your own. Through giving them alternative copy, both you and your affiliates can rank for different keyword combinations.

Keyword research and SEO copywriting is a sophisticated process and it can be difficult to find copywriters able to do the task. Look for someone who understands the interrelationship between a keyword’s competitiveness, revenue potential and its relevancy to your website. A skilled SEO copywriter will know how to incorporate primary and ancillary keywords into your copy without destroying your message or credibility. It’s common to have a copywriter work from an SEO’s keyword research rather than have them perform keyword research themselves.

Summary

Most e-commerce websites have no copy on product pages. Alternatively, they have manufacturers’ copy that doesn’t match their tone of voice and that Google considers duplicate content. That’s why the right e-commerce copywriting strategy makes a big difference — it’s possible to increase search traffic by over 50% and conversion rates by over 30% on most websites.

Create a unique tone of voice that matches your brand and that’s persuasive to your audience. Whatever your tone, though, simplicity and readability are vital. It’s important to build trust. You should be informative and creative, explaining to your audience what makes you and your products special. From testing conversion rates to incorporating SEO, there’s also a scientific element to e-commerce copywriting. But, ultimately, the best copy comes from the most persuasive ideas.

(vf)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html
  2. 2 http://www.runningwarehouse.com/descpageMRS-ASDSR8.html
  3. 3 http://www.runningwarehouse.com/descpageMRS-ASDSR8.html
  4. 4 http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/family/macbook_pro
  5. 5 http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/family/macbook_pro
  6. 6 http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1449
  7. 7 http://www.zappos.com
  8. 8 http://www.zappos.com/
  9. 9 http://www.underarmour.com/shop/us/en/mens/apparel/pid1201166-Men-s-HeatGear-Full-T/1201166-410
  10. 10 http://www.underarmour.com/shop/us/en/mens/apparel/pid1201166-Men-s-HeatGear-Full-T/1201166-410
  11. 11 http://www.dyson.com/store/product.asp?product=DC28-ANIMAL&tab=savings
  12. 12 http://www.dyson.com/store/product.asp?product=DC28-ANIMAL&tab=savings
  13. 13 http://www.bizrate.com/ratings_guide/merchant_info__mid--371.html
  14. 14 http://www.bizrate.com/ratings_guide/merchant_info__mid--371.html
  15. 15 https://www.google.com/analytics/siteopt/splash?hl=en

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Craig Anderson is from copywriters Cooper Murphy. The consultancy offers content marketing, web copywriting and ecommerce copywriting services.

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  1. 1

    Thanks for a great article. Working on a new e-commerce site, I have printed this out to show for my client.

  2. 2

    Great article, i’m going to share with the writers at work.

  3. 3

    Awesome article. very helpful in my line of work.

  4. 4

    You seem to have provided an answer for everything – except how to overcome the problem of writing product descriptions for thousands of pages ;)

    Particularly for catalogues, who often have to remove or update product pages every season…

  5. 5

    Great article. There is an art to writing good ecommerce copy, and very few have mastered it. Imagine finding a pair of $300 shoes and seeing no description for it. Everyone in ecommerce should understand these guidelines, no matter their role.

    • 6

      so True. Aside from good product quality, the simple yet enticing description also plays a crucial role in the e-commerce market.

      very informative article…

  6. 7

    Sweeeet article — that is so helpful and I will implement some of these techniques in my Google AdWord writings

  7. 8

    I’m making a copy of this too for myself. Thanks for your post.

  8. 9

    As a person who works in the ecommerce field, I am blown away how companies completely ignore the product photos and descriptions. My own clients usually only add a small 160×160 photo and copy+paste a description from the manufactures website – and then complain when no one is buying.

  9. 10

    Great article. This, though: “Pepsi’s slogan ‘come alive with the Pepsi generation’ became “Pepsi brings back your ancestors from the grave” to a Chinese audience.” is an urban legend. Look it up. ;)

  10. 12

    great read. thanks for the post.

  11. 13

    does anyone know what shopping cart is used to build zappos.com ?
    Thanks

  12. 15

    My eyes just got opened! As a POD (print-on-demand) designer, I have been relying heavily on product images in my blogs. And I realize I’ve been assuming the customer has familiarity with the products & neglecting to describe company policies for speed, shipping & satisfaction. Guess I need to re-think this. Great post – thanks! Will be sharing with my forum friends.

  13. 16

    I work for one of the top ten ecommerce sites in the world (look at my blog and you can figure out who) and this is great information that companies large and small could benefit from greatly. I can see the small ecommerce site that wants to play with the big boys getting a big boost by creating unique product content because I know that most corporate copy is simply passed on or even entered by the manufacturers.

  14. 17

    This is a must-read article for anyone who runs an online web store. There are some great tips here on how to write excellent copy, with some really good examples, which other article writers will often miss.

    Terry

  15. 18

    Thanks for this very instructive post. I have tons of talented copywriters at work but they are not trained to write for the web. This will provide a great initial insight.

  16. 19

    excellent.

  17. 20

    Very userfull…. thank you

  18. 21

    Great article — I guess I’ll share it with a few clients later today. Maybe it helps increasing their conversion rates a bit.

  19. 22

    Five Ogilvy copywriting principles applied to E-Commerce Copywriting:

    No.1: On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.” He added: “unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”
    E-Commerce Copywriting Optimization Tip 1: Nowadays in the E-Com sites… there are just body or just the name of the product without head or body. Include your product name in the Head / Sub head or copy for a particular E-Commerce product. Let the body follow the head ;)

    No. 2: “Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. On average, ads with news are recalled by 22 percent more people than ads without news.”
    E-Commerce Copywriting Optimization Tip 2: State the brand facebook fan rating or similar loud and clear in your headline. Write your headline from a social media perspective.

    No. 3: “Specifics work better than generalities.”
    E-Commerce Copywriting Optimization Tip 3: Be clear and to-the-point. Avoid puns, jargons and other put-offs. Using the right vocabulary will bring you closer to your prospects.

    No.4: “All my experiences says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.”
    E-Commerce Copywriting Optimization Tip 4: I am not a great believer of this point at this age and at this point in time. I think it is ok to skip this and create our own – short copy sells more than long. But make sure short copy is well detailed and packs a great punch.

    No. 5: “It is no bad thing to learn the craft of copywriting by copying your elders and better.”
    E-Commerce Copywriting Optimization Tip 5: Look at your competitors for inspiration and style, primarily the biggest player in your market. They have big budgets and hire the best E-commerce writers. Learn from them and apply it to your business.

    Thanks,
    Satish

  20. 23

    Thanks! Its a good article to increase the understandabilty . Helpful to SEO. Thanks Again!

    Regards

  21. 24

    Thank you all for your kind words on the article. Feel free to email craig.anderson@cmcopywriters.co.uk with any questions.

  22. 25

    great post. especially loved the Under Armor example, reminds us to lay out the following thought for our viewers instead of expecting them to get there on their own

  23. 26

    This is a totally awesome article for creative people working on e-Comerce and even SEO projects.

    Thanks for the great tips in copywriting!

  24. 27

    Craig,

    Thank you for a lovely, well-laid-out, easy-to-read article. Consistent in text, tone and message.

    As a designer / manufacturer, one idea that stood out in your article is to create similar copy for our retail clients who offer our products directly to consumers, in order that the description is clear and accurate, but that it is somehow slightly different than our own.

    I also do something one of my copywriters taught me. As I write, which tends to go on and on, I look at it. Again and again. Then trim out what is unnecessary. And ask myself: What words can be eliminated and still have the same meaning? I actually did that with my post to you as it was twice as long, believe it or not.

    Your article is filled with many gems and the follow up comments are wonderful, too! Thank you for the gift.

    Happy Holidays!

    Susan Newton
    Founder, BadaBadaBingo Fun Games Co! LLC

  25. 28

    AMAZING ARTICLE… I will pass it on!

    Thanks!

  26. 29

    Great article. Love this: “A skilled SEO copywriter will know how to incorporate primary and ancillary keywords into your copy without destroying your message or credibility.”

  27. 30

    Can you provide the source for your claim that “Quality product descriptions can transform e-commerce conversion rates… 30-100%.”

  28. 31

    Great article – thanks for the tips!

  29. 32

    Nice post..

  30. 33

    Excellent, but with one exception. I would have liked to have seen an explanation of “SEO” as not all readers may know what it stands for.

  31. 34

    You forgot to mention the number one sure fire way to write effective eCommerce copy that will boost response rates and generate higher revenue: Hire an experienced, professional copywriter with a proven track record of success. This is the only guaranteed way to ensure the success of your eCommerce site. Copywriting is a craft that is learned and perfected over time. It’s not something that one can do by following a few “steps” in a blog article.

  32. 35

    This was a really helpful article! Thanks for sharing.

  33. 36

    @Craig Anderson
    This is such a nice reading about eCommerce copy writing. I read your entire post and have assumption regarding product page tab section or content.

    I am selling too many products on my eCommerce website which was made by same manufacturer. So, I have added one tab like Manufacturer Details on each product pages. I think, it suppose to create duplicate content issues in my website. You can get more idea by visiting following URL.

    vistastores.com/indoorlighting-elklighting-d1472.html

    Have you any idea to fix this issue? I am looking forward for your valuable reply in same direction! Again, such a nice blog post.

  34. 37

    *in accordance with

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