You may have noticed that over the last two months on Stay on Search, a few articles discussing how important product descriptions can be for an e-commerce’s internet marketing strategy popped up. The first of which discussed the delicate yet vital process of optimizing product descriptions for both search engines and customers. The second highlighted the problems product descriptions can cause to an e-commerce’s overall SEO strategy. With this foundation established, I thought it would only be fitting to close this trilogy by highlighting an actionable plan any e-commerce site can take to improve their current product descriptions. If you have not read the first two articles yet, I highly recommend doing so prior to reading this.
1) Do Your Homework
The first step is to figure out how you can improve your product descriptions and that starts with knowing your starting baseline. If the current descriptions are non-existent or if they were perhaps copied directly from the manufacturer’s database then right off the bat, you know there is a good amount of work ahead of you. However, if a human being from your company has touched them, then chances are it is a decent start. Another important factor is to consider how important product descriptions are to your buyer from a conversions standpoint. Chances are they are important. After reading the first two articles, you should realize that the product descriptions are extremely important to a search engine and from a visibility standpoint.
Put yourselves in the buyer’s shoes. Do your product descriptions act as a bridge helping to complete the transaction with confidence or as a fork-in-the-road that only leads to confusion? If you feel that you are too biased, then seek the opinions of outsiders. The importance of product descriptions (for customers) changes from one industry to another, but it is always important to have unique, fresh content from the search engine perspective. Talk to potential customers (use social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to reach out) or current customers (give them something of value for completing a survey), friends and family could also help or if the budget permits it, use an independent user group (usertesting.com is inexpensive when used in moderation).
Compare your product descriptions to the competition. As the optimizing your product descriptions post pointed out, you’ll need to consider two competitors, search engine competitors (those who continually rank in the top three positions on Google for the product(s) you are selling) and traditional competitors (those who you feel are your competitors when it comes to pricing, advertising or other considerations). Look for consistency between the competitors and figure out if your descriptions are lacking anything obvious. Take note of the format, keyword usage, and the overall voice in which the product descriptions were written. Then make a “product description wish list” that includes what you currently have, what you certainly need, and what would be nice to have.
2) Establish the Plan
Regardless if you concluded that your product descriptions need only minor improvements or a major overhaul, you will need to sit down with your team and put together a plan to address the issues. The standard project management rules and requirements apply, as your team will need to determine; timeframe, milestones, resources, budget, etc. Obviously, your project will largely be dependent upon the budget and resources (you currently have or would have a future need for). Identify the goal of your project, is it primarily to differentiate your product descriptions from competitors to generate greater visibility and traffic from search engines, or are you more interested in providing unique, helpful content that could make an immediate impact on conversion rates. Whether your site sells 100 products or 70,000 products, an important component of any optimization plan is segmenting the products into priority levels. The goal will be to identify the products that are mission important and then move down the ladder from the top.
When classifying products by priority it will be important to sit down with both the individual(s) that monitor your website’s analytics as well as the business leaders making the decisions. Every company has it’s “bread and butter” products that have strategic importance. However, much to the dismay of your business leaders, those products are not necessarily the products with the most visibility or even orders from the search engines perspective. Therefore, it is critical to have both parties identify their top products based on whatever metrics make sense to that particular company.
After you have segmented your products into their respected classifications, the last is to establish the metrics you will use to gauge the success of any optimization efforts. As always, consider both your customers and the search engines. The metrics will also be dependent upon the project’s goal. However a few pre-optimization metrics to analyze and subsequently track through the life of the project are: search engine rankings (for your product’s targeted keywords), search engine visibility (how many long tail keywords are generating traffic to your product page), unique visitors, bounce rate, and of course conversion rate.
3) Set the Plan in Motion
Now that you have compiled your resources, set your timeframe and prioritized your products, it is time to start optimizing. This step could arguably be the easiest. Make sure to follow the plan and push the team to hit their guidelines. Complete the highest priority products before moving into the second set of products and so forth. It is also important to track the optimization itself. This can be as detailed or as basic as you see fit. However, at the very least I’d recommend backing up or saving the old descriptions as well as tracking what changes were made, who was in charge of the optimization, and the date in which they were implemented on the site.
If the main purpose of optimizing product descriptions is to improve e-commerce metrics (reduce bounce rates or improve conversion rates) then you may want to use a small PPC campaign (Google AdWords) as a controlled testing environment. This will allow you to test multiple formats and or styles in order to determine which is the most effective (and of course, Stay On Search has a good article about how to set-up an A/B test).
4) Analyze the Results
Unless you are a supreme marketer who knows without a doubt, that the optimization you implement will surely provide improvements, you will need to analyze the performance of the website, pre and post optimization. It is important to track the results of your optimization from both the search engine and customer perspective. When to conduct the Pre and Post optimization analysis is dependent upon a number of variables such as how authoritative your site is (contributes to how often your site is crawled and re-indexed) and how much web traffic your site receives (you need a significant sample size to draw accurate conclusions). The individual who manages the website’s analytics and reporting should be able to make recommendations for how long to allow the test to run prior to optimization. It will more than likely be a few months out before you will be able to grasp the full effects of your work.
5) Repeat Steps 2 – 4
After you feel comfortable that you have significantly improved your product descriptions from both a customer and search engine perspective then pat yourself on the back for a job well done. However, do not fall into the trap of thinking this plan is complete. Give it some time and re-visit ways to improve your new product descriptions after a few months because after all, nothing is perfect, and as we all know, search engines love fresh content! Think about moving onto the second, third or even third set of product priorities.