You know when you sit down to bash out some product descriptions and your mind just goes blank? It’s easy to feel the pressure; they have to do a ton of work after all. They need to highlight the benefits of your product as well as give enough info about features and make sure the shopper’s important questions are answered.
If the descriptions fall flat, they don’t push people towards the Buy button. Sure, your conversion rate may still be decent but could it be better? Nobody would turn down the chance to snare more sales!
This is why we wrote this post. in which we’ve stayed focused on the conversion/psychology side of things. And to help out with insights and ideas you can try, we reached out to 4 conversion-focused copywriters to gather their expertise.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you will have a clear action plan for finding exactly what words your market needs to hear in order to buy. And you’ll have some handy tactics in your toolbox to carve those words into an irresistible product description.
In this guide
Sorry, folks. There’s no getting around this step. Because here’s the thing: if you’re sitting there racking your brains trying to write your product descriptions from scratch, then you’ve gone wrong. If you’re struggling to find the words, it may be that you don’t know your market well enough. You don’t need to be a creative writer to craft good product descriptions. In fact, looking at it through a “creative writing” lens will probably hurt your sales.
Buyers aren’t looking for a piece of prose packed with meaningless adjectives. More often than not they have a problem to solve or some sort of burning desire and they just need to know if your product is right for them. So we need to put our psychology hats on and get to know what makes them tick.
If you have demographic data about your market (age, income, location, household size) then awesome. That’s always good to know. But psychographic data is infinitely more valuable to you when it comes to knocking out high-converting product descriptions.
Psychographic data is The Why in relation to your product. The emotional drivers. What specific problems do they have? Why are they driven to solve them? What does their life look like living with these problems?
We need to get to the bottom of your market’s:
Once we know these things, we can use them to persuade people. The key thing to remember here is that:
“It’s about your prospects.
It’s about the outcome they’re seeking.
It’s not about your product.” – Joanna Wiebe, CopyHackers
Your product is merely the vehicle to help them get to where (or who) they want to be. You’re not selling a weight management smoothie; you’re selling a shiny new life where the buyer can wear anything they want with confidence. You’re not selling a book on anxiety; you’re selling a life where a person can go and order their own drink from the bar without being crippled with fear.
Voice of Customer (VoC) data. Here’s the basics of how it works:
We can collect this data through several methods:
We’re gonna focus on two of the easiest (and least intimidating) research methods to get you started: review mining and email surveys.
Before we get started, it’s worth noting that review mining is a way to gather plenty of customer data fast (great if you have a ton of descriptions to write).
And in the case of email surveys, they’re a high-quality way to gather customer insights. But. If you sell hundreds of products, it may be more practical to go with review mining and reserve the survey method for any high-ticket items or particular products you’re most interested in pushing. The reason we say this is because it could get super labor-intensive sending out surveys for every product in your inventory. Each business is different though so we’ll let you judge if it’s feasible or not.
This is a method widely taught about by Joanna Wiebe over at CopyHackers. It’s a great go-to if:
The hotspots to mine:
Start by heading to the places where people are specifically talking about your products, or products like yours (such as Amazon). This will make it quicker and easier to lift insights that are immediately relevant to what you’re selling. It can be harder to mine areas like blog post comments and Facebook groups as you’ll find yourself gathering more general insights about your market and it’s tough to figure out what’s relevant. If your product-specific mining comes up short, they’re decent secondary resources to turn to.
In terms of what to look for, keep an eye out for anything interesting that indicates desires and pain points. Joanna points out that:
“When you go through user reviews one by one, what’s really important to your prospects rises to the top. You see recurring questions, recurring statements. You hear their frustrations, and you can feel their excitement. This all makes its way into your copy and messaging hierarchy – the things you need to say, and the order in which your visitors need to read them.”
Gathering complaints about products similar to yours is also handy when it comes to differentiating yourself from the competition and showing that you understand the shopper’s frustrations. For example, say you’re selling a smoothie. If you see that a lot of people have complained about other products being gritty, you can leverage this in your own copy: “Tired of drinking gritty smoothies? Our super smooth formula means you won’t have to pick the drink from between your teeth.”
You don’t need anything fancy set-up to collect these customer quotes. Just a simple Google Docs table like this (based on CopyHackers’ template):
Review mining worksheet
To copy and paste snippets quickly (instead of manually going back and forth), Airstory Researcher is a fantastic Chrome extension that saves your clippings and lets you drag and drop them into the document once you’re done.
Here’s a quick video on how to do review mining with the help of AirStory:
Check out a video I made via Loom
And, as promised in the video, here’s an example of the table filled out. In real life, you would need to flesh this out more to give yourself the best chance of writing great product descriptions.
Example of filled-in review mining sheet
You may be thinking: “That’s all well and good presenting me with a table. But how would I actually use this to help write my descriptions?”.
Ok. Working with what we’ve got, we can see some common themes:
So you could write something like:
“Still searching for a non-chalky, healthy meal replacement shake to carry you through those “don’t have time for breakfast” mornings? You won’t need to skip breakfast ever again with this delicious nutritional powerhouse.”
Review mining is really fun (honest) so give it a go!
Just a quick note to give credit: Jen Havice’s teachings in this post and her book, Finding the Right Message, were invaluable when writing this section. Definitely check those out if you want to learn more about gathering VoC data.
Ok. So. The first step is getting organized as this’ll save you a bunch of time later. We’re talking email segmentation. Say for example, you’re focusing on 10 products to run surveys for. If you blast the survey out to a ton of people at once, your responses will be a jumble and you’ll have to sort them into “product groups” later.
So before you begin, set up segments for each product and add in the customers who have bought those products within the last 3 months (so it’s fresh in their minds). The segmentation process depends on which provider you’re using so check out their user tutorials if you get stuck.
After you’ve picked your survey tool, decide on your questions. Avoid closed-ended questions (yes/no questions) and leading questions (Why did you love the really soft jumper?) as these won’t help you at all. You’re trying to collect their words and honest answers. Keep the questions to a minimum – no more than 6 if you can help it. People may get a bit narked if they’re forced to trawl through a massive survey.
We’re not gonna leave you high and dry. Here are some good questions to ask:
Once the survey is all set up and ready to go, you need to write the email asking them to take part. This can be the tricky bit. (Don’t worry, we’ll give you a template shortly).
Jen advises that you:
You could offer a small incentive for people to take part. Nothing too flashy. Because here’s the caveat: if you pop into people’s inboxes offering a $100 gift voucher if they fill in the survey, you could accidentally skew the responses. Think of it like bribery. Make the incentive too valuable and people may feel pressured to give “the right answers”, instead of answering honestly.
That’s not to say you can’t offer one. You could say something like “we’ll send something nice your way afterward…” Which has the curiosity thing going for it as well. People may fill it out just to see what the reward is.
Here’s an outline you can test with your customers as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all email. You may need to tweak it a little to suit your audience.
Subject line ideas to try:
Hi [first name],
I need your help. See, I’m in the middle of working on/improving [product name or line] because I want to be able to give you the best product possible. And I’ve realized the best way for me to make sure I’m on the right track is to ask you a few super quick questions. Did I mention I would be eternally grateful?
It’ll only take a few minutes of your time (scouts honour).
[Insert survey link]
Either way, here’s a little something to brighten up your day:
[insert cute/funny photo or GIF]
Thanks so much!
Why include a photo or GIF? Well, this is actually a tactic that Jon Buchan over at Charm Offensive teaches. It’s a way to lower somebody’s guard by making them smile and it should make them more receptive to helping you out. Likeability is, after all, one of Cialdini’s persuasion principles.
Give people a week to do the survey before sending a quick follow-up email (in the same thread as the original email to jog their memory). Send a second follow-up email a week after the first one. If you still don’t hear back, move on. You don’t wanna annoy your customers! Cases like this are where review mining is a godsend.
You need to go through each response and filter out:
Survey responses analysis sheet (based on Jen Havice’s instructions)
This is an example of what it might look like (the tally in the recurring words column is purely for show!):
Once you’ve finished working through your responses and filling this out, Jen advises that you:
“Start analyzing all the voice of customer data you pulled out from your survey responses by going back through each column and making note of the recurring themes. Chances are you’ll start to find a pattern.”
You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to write copy once you’ve done this market research. Don’t forget to use interesting words or phrases verbatim. Resist the urge to reword things and “tidy” them up as the words lose all their power and start to sound like marketing talk. You’re aiming for real and raw. Plus you’re supposed to be getting out of the habit of writing your product descriptions from scratch!
In case you’re feeling like this is a ton of work, we can assure you that gathering VoC data is 100% worth it. It can help with other areas of your business like product development and content strategy.
Jen covers this in Finding the Right Message:
“More is definitely better when it comes to sifting through this kind of qualitative research. Reading two or three reviews and a handful of survey responses may not give you an representative view of what’s most important to your customers. In fact, it may skew your assessment of what messages need to be focused on.”
As a rule of thumb:
If you’re only doing review mining, aim for 25 reviews minimum (for each product description you’re working on).
If you’re doing a mix of reviews and surveys, aim to mine between 10 and 20 reviews to top-up your research (you’ll need to make a judgement call on this depending on the amount of survey responses you have).
Now we’ve got the research stuff out of the way, let’s move on to some writing tactics you can try using your Voice of Customer findings.
We asked Amy Cocke, a conversion copywriter, for her tips on writing compelling product descriptions. She said:
“Think of where your customer is now. Go into your research. Spend some time writing it out. Not just the problem you're helping them solve. But what life is like for them as they struggle with the problem.
For example: you have a dog harness made specifically for dogs who pull on the leash. So you may talk about your customer's worry that their dog's current collar is bruising their dog's throat when he pulls. How awful they feel as a dog parent when they hear the choking sound their dog makes when they pull against the collar.
Then you can introduce your product. Explain how your product makes those issues go away. Maybe your dog harness has a chest strap placed so when your dog pulls, it doesn't constrict his neck.
Write this way and your product doesn't have to be drastically different or better from your competitors'. Your customers will see an end to something that's bothering them. And that makes them more likely to click the buy button.”
In the copywriting world, what Amy has described is essentially the AS part of the PAS formula:
Problem → Agitation → Solution
So you lead with the problem (dog that pulls on the leash), then you agitate/play on that problem (remind them how awful they feel when they hear their dog choking), then you introduce the solution (the harness).
Here’s a real-life example of this formula in action:
As you can see above, you don’t need to write an essay to get potential buyers hungry for a solution to their problems. SweatBlock turn the PAS formula into a neat little package that pours just enough salt in the wound to get people desperate to solve it. They introduce the problem “teen sweating”, then go into detail about the day-to-day frustrations of living with this problem before presenting the product.
And it’s clear that they know their market inside out as this product description is ultra specific about all the things their prospects have already tried, as well as how they’re feeling.
If you’re gonna take anything away from this section, take this: the Agitation portion of the formula is the most important part. When we asked Alexa Rohn for her input, she seconded Amy’s advice about aiming for the symptoms of the problem at hand:
"Many marketers want to talk directly to the problem when they pitch a product, except few people want to think about or openly admit their ‘problems’.
Instead, hit them with the symptoms. We all know our symptoms. For example, don't tell someone they're overweight (even if it's their problem and your product solves it), say ‘Have you seen a photo of yourself lately and you didn't like what you saw?’ and work into your product solving the symptom from there.”
Basically, people need to recognize themselves in your product descriptions. If you can show how deeply you understand them, they’re more likely to trust that you’re the one to help them.
And the great news is that with all the VoC research you’ve gathered, you won’t need to guess where your market is at or how they’re feeling. You’ve got their exact words describing their feelings and motivations right there to plug into this formula.
Oh, and don’t feel too guilty if you kinda relish writing the Agitation part. It’s quite normal.
Never underestimate the power of stories. As Donald Miller points out in his book, Building a Story Brand:
“Neuroscientists claim the average human being spends more than 30 percent of their time daydreaming . . . unless they’re reading, listening to, or watching a story unfold. Why? Because when we are engaged in a story, the story does the daydreaming for us. Story is the greatest weapon we have to combat noise, because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen.”
Take a look at this product description:
Sorry, but . . .
It’s such a waste of precious real estate! Why do people need this product, like, now? What would life look like with this product? It doesn’t connect the dots at all. Not even one tiny benefit in there.
Here’s the age-old formula for successful storytelling, as described by Donald Miller:
“A character who wants something encounters a problem before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a guide steps into their lives, gives them a plan, and calls them to action. That action helps them avoid failure and ends in a success.”
Have a look at this:
The product description there may be a small snippet, but it has all the elements in that storytelling formula:
Somehow, we have a feeling it wouldn’t be as powerful if it was just a list of odor-neutralizing ingredients. Think back to the SweatBlock example from earlier. That description also followed the same storytelling rules.
Shoppers want to see a clear picture of how their lives will improve once they’ve got their hands on your product. Especially when selling online because they can’t physically see or touch the product, so your description needs to bridge that gap as much as possible. Samuel Birnie over at Nixon Design says:
“We humans like to think we’re rational animals but we actually make decisions based on our emotions. We then look to the facts to justify our decisions. Identify the emotional and rational reasons why someone would want your product or service. The emotional reasons are going to propel the narrative in your copy; the rational reasons are there to reinforce it.”
Example time. This is one hell of an imaginative description that doesn’t just sell a bath bomb, it sells a transformative experience:
It speaks directly to the buyer, making them the hero (“the guardian of your own galaxy”) at the center of this little space adventure. Not only that, but you get a bunch of sensory words: “neon color”, “pop”, “warmth of human contact”, “a hint of 80s aftershave”. We are being drawn into this story.
And that’s it. We’re sold. Anything else we see on the page now serves to confirm and validate our decision. The reviews, the safe ingredients, no animal testing, reasonable price.
Bullet lists are not supposed to be an bland info-dump of features. Or thrown in as an afterthought.
Do those 3 bullet points say anything useful about the notebook? No. Which is a shame because bullet lists can do a fair bit of heavy lifting.
Sandra Muller at The Smarter Writer explains why bullet lists are so powerful:
“When we read slabs of text, our eyes and our brain become accustomed to seeing and reading slabs of text.
But then suddenly…
There’s a bullet list that interrupts our flow.
Our brains notice something different in the shape of the text and we are drawn to it. We slow down and pay more attention without even consciously thinking about it.”
So let’s make sure your bullet lists are worth paying attention to!
We reached out to ask Eden Bidani, a conversion copywriter, for her advice:
“You can use one winning formula, two different ways:
Normal, boring product description: This is a warm, bright red sock.
Feature-Benefit: This cheerful, bright red sock will keep your feet warm even on cold winter mornings.
Benefit-Feature: Keep your feet warm even on cold winter mornings with this cheerful, bright red sock.”
As you might have gathered by now, explaining benefits and outcomes for your buyers is crucial. Not that we’ve beaten you over the head with that or anything.
Hopefully you’ll have gathered benefits from your customer research that you can include. However, you may still find it helpful to list out all your product features and connect them with benefits in a Google Doc table. Once you’ve written your bullet lists, you can check them against the table to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
The key thing is to ask yourself “so what?” after each feature. Say if you’re selling computer glasses with an anti-glare coating.
Anti-glare coating → So what? → So you won’t get bad eye strain
Simba do a good job of making sure all their mattress features are directly tied to benefits:
Head & Shoulders also do well with a benefit-rich bullet list:
You could also try creating a bullet list “sandwich” of sorts. Basically, you want your first bullet and last bullet to be the most powerful benefits you have.
So you start on an interesting one to draw them in, sandwich the good (but not as attractive) benefits in the middle as their eyes move over it, before finishing with something compelling.
When we asked conversion copywriter Kay del Rosario for her tips on writing great product descriptions, she gave us these awesome little nuggets:
“Like all high-converting copy, the best kind of copy is the copy that sells the buyer not on the product and its features, but how the buyer’s life will be better once he purchases the product. You can do this with a classic and powerful copywriting trick called future-pacing.
A recent product sales page for a skirt on the website of the clothing store Anthropologie is a perfect example of future-pacing:
The copy easily transports us into the future - ‘the next occasion on the calendar,’ and makes us instantly interesting and clever, when our future self will ‘swap out the expected frock for a duo of separates.’
Another way to make your product descriptions interesting so that your buyer will stay longer on the page -- and be more likely to complete the sale -- is to use a literary device called anthropomorphism.
Anthropomorphism is making an animal or inanimate object behave like a person. Using anthropomorphism in product descriptions is a powerful tool to use because it can trigger emotion and empathy in the buyer.
Clothing retailer Old Navy uses anthropomorphism in their product description for a denim jacket in a cleverly subtle and effective way:
‘Hi, I’m new’”
Source: Old Navy
This is where we knock down any lingering doubts in the shopper’s mind that could cost you a sale. Your customer research is really gonna come in handy when anticipating these barriers to buying. If your research has thrown up a list of objections, make sure you address those concerns on your product pages. Chances are that future prospects will have the same questions.
If you’ve plugged your Voice of Customer insights into the writing formulas explained in this post, then hopefully people will be eager to buy your products. But there may be smaller, niggly doubts to bear in mind. Final statements you need to include to reassure them they’re making a sensible choice and not being foolish with their money.
Here’s Kay del Rosario’s advice:
“Help your buyer complete the sale by boosting trust.
An easy way to do this is is to make your guarantees clear and easy to follow, and then place your guarantee prominently on every page of your site.
One great way to keep reminding your buyer that she can trust you is through microcopy.
This is small-type copy, strategically placed, that can help your buyer make a decision by answering objections she may have just before she hits the buy button.
Microcopy is great because it uses prime real estate on your sales page that would otherwise go to waste, like the space just below the buy button and the area normally reserved for captions for pictures.
Use the area just below the add to cart button to slip in microcopy that’ll help your buyer get over any last second buying objections by reminding him of your easy return policy.”
Kettle & Fire do a good job with microcopy “anxiety reducers” right underneath their Buy button, knocking down concerns about shipping costs, quality and their money-back guarantee. The massive number of 5-star reviews also work hard, placed near the Buy button:
Source: Kettle & Fire
Same with Simba:
Imagine your potential buyer is sat in the plane, about to sky-dive. They’re holding their breath with worry that they’re making a huge mistake and what if something goes wrong? Hearing some last-minute reassurances is what they need to not chicken out.
Remember that doubt is a conversion killer. So be sure to include:
Another great example of objection-blasting for inspiration:
They’ve got everything packed in here. Safety assurances, money back guarantee, huge number of glowing reviews. And they’ve clearly done their homework as they know their buyers worry about burning and itching, and whether they can still use their fave deodorant.
And that’s it!! We’ve come to the end of this post. So go forth and have a go with the ideas in here.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this: ChannelGrabber can help you roll your listings out across multiple sales channels with a single click, so you have more time to perfect your product descriptions.
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