Optimizing Product Descriptions on E-Commerce Sites

Posted by Susan Petracco - July 9, 2010 - Ecommerce - 10 Comments

To run a successful e-commerce site, you need to focus on two kinds of audiences – humans and search engines. One of the most effective ways to influence both audiences is with your product descriptions. Fortunately, it is possible to write great product descriptions that appeal to real customers and to search engines at the same time.

The worst thing you can do (other than to have no description at all) is to use one provided by the manufacturer to all of their retailers. Canned copy on multiple sites doesn’t impress the ranking algorithms, and often you can improve upon cookie-cutter descriptions for real customers, too.

Writing your own product descriptions can be time-consuming, but the benefit is substantial. You might also consider hiring a copywriter to handle the bulk of the work, and rely on his or her professional writing background.

Writing Descriptions for SEO

  • From an SEO perspective, try to write descriptions that are at least 250 words in length; this gives search engines something to chew on. E-commerce sites are full of navigation links, images, multiple calls-to-action, and other elements that aren’t textual content. It’s important to include enough words in your description to balance the other elements on the page.
  • Identify your keywords through careful research, and try to include their variations within the product description. It’s ok to repeat the name of the product within the description body, too. But be careful not to keyword-stuff. As with any site, keyword-stuffing looks unnatural to search engines, and it’s not people-friendly either.
  • Utilize your product descriptions to boost your internal linking strategy. Try to include links to related products or categories within the actual description. The contextual benefits of having links within paragraphs of text outweigh simply linking to related products or categories in a list that’s separate from the descriptions. When you link to other pages, use keywords that are beneficial to the page you’re linking to.

Making Descriptions Useful for Customers

  • Take a tip from bloggers – avoid using one long paragraph after another when writing your descriptions. Vary the content and make it easily scannable by using sub-headers and bulleted or numbered lists. This helps your description from feeling too dense and overwhelming for your visitors.
  • Include the item’s basics: color, dimensions, and material are useful for many products. Other products have their own detailed features that are helpful to shoppers. For example, a computer’s description should list the number and types of connections it has. A used car’s description might include its mileage, maintenance history, engine type, and condition.
  • Don’t only describe the features of your products. Also outline the benefits that the product will provide to the customer. How will it make her feel? What can she do with the product? Does it provide a sense of security, or a sense of status?
  • Mention any prerequisites needed to use the product. If it extends another product, make that clear, and also link to the “base” product if you sell it. List any batteries it might need. If the owner of the item needs to be of a certain age or to have a particular skill level, mention that too.
  • A final source to tap is your customer service department. If they receive frequent questions about a certain product, find out what those are and include the answers within the product description.

By the time you’ve addressed the issues in both of these lists, you should have a product description that will be beneficial to your customers and to the search engines – which means a boost to your bottom line. So if you’re currently using canned or too-short descriptions, consider taking time to write custom descriptions to improve your business.

About the Author

Susan Petracco

Susan Petracco is an e-commerce consultant and founder of NetBlazon, an e-commerce development firm. With more than 11 years of experience, she has worked with companies such as Talbots and Serta on a variety of retail initiatives. She can also be found blogging about e-commerce and small business topics at the DoublePlus E-Commerce Blog.