The Problem with Product Descriptions

Posted by Stephen Logan - August 20, 2010 - Ecommerce - 2 Comments

All e-commerce sites have at least one thing in common – products. Whether they’re in the dozens or thousands, each item needs to have its own page. As with any site, those pages also have to be populated.

Now this is no easy task. Obviously the size of the challenge will be directly proportional to the amount of products you’re offering; but creating 200+ word descriptions for your entire range will take time.

Duplicate Content Issues

There are some rather obvious and tempting shortcuts available to you. The first of which is to simply copy and paste a manufacturers description. Who knows the product better than the company who made it? Plus, it’ll only take a few minutes to source and upload. Easy!

Unfortunately this solution generates its fair share of problems. The first of which is originality. If a visitor has viewed a number of sites before landing on yours, there’s a fair chance they’ll have already seen that same chunk of content. Not good for first impressions.

The next relates to rankings. Search engines don’t look too favorably on sites that simply regurgitate copy. Duplicate content can see you incur a ranking penalty or, as is often the case, will just have no positive impact on your SEO work whatsoever. In essence, you’ll have to be pretty strong elsewhere to get anywhere on Google with plagiarized product descriptions.

Finding the Resources

For smaller companies though, finding the resources to actually produce a chunk of optimized sales text for each page can prove a major headache. If time is your biggest hurdle, then you’ll have to consider bringing in a Copywriter. If it’s money, then you’ll have to go it alone and write it all yourself.

The biggest problem though, regardless of your resource restrictions, is that product descriptions are essential. You can’t expect to sell items without some encouragement.

Something is always better than nothing. A paragraph or even (heaven forbid) a manufacturer’s description might not help your search engine aspirations, but at least your human visitors will have a clue what they’re looking at.

Ideally though you need to invest that time or money into some sterling content. It won’t be easy and to get it right will take time, but ultimately you’ll get more from it.

Pressure to Perform – for Visitors and Search Engines

But forget issues of time and effort for a moment. Your product description is your front-line marketing campaign. It is the last thing anybody will read before choosing to either add it to their basket or leave the site entirely. This puts a lot of pressure on getting it right.

The issue here though is the pressure for perfection. Worse still, perfection in product descriptions is impossible. You can’t please everybody. For example most will respond well to sales copy, those of a cynical mindset though might be deterred. All you can do is play the percentage game.

If your website has a regular tone running throughout, it’s vital that this is continued here. Maintaining a stylistic voice will ensure a certain level of uniformity across all content (online and off) will help build customer confidence. It will also ensure that you are catering for the majority of visitors.

It is this majority that you have to really write for. In general people will respond positively to positive writing. They enjoy content that is well organized and easy to scan through. They don’t want to be patronized or left confused – so forget overuse of jargon and complex terms. Unfortunately accommodating all of these elements isn’t always straightforward, even for experienced writers.

Getting Formatting and Readability Right

So when it comes to layout, make sure your copy is broken up into manageable chunks. Provide natural breaks with sub-headings and a brief overview through a bulleted list. Give your page an aesthetic lift with images too; not exactly a content tip, but it will bring life (and context) to your copy and make the whole page a lot more visitor-friendly.

So if you own an e-commerce site, don’t treat your product descriptions lightly. They are your on-site sales team. They’ll help to persuade wavering consumers to become confident customers. As with all content, a well optimized description will also provide you with a decent SEO platform.

You might be tempted to take the easy route and simply beg, steal or borrow for your product descriptions. However, if you really want to add value to your site and boost your chances of improving conversions, professionally produced and optimized product descriptions should prove a worthwhile investment.

About the Author

Stephen Logan

This post was written on behalf of GBO Training, a specialist training programme developed by Pearson in association with Google. Getting Business Online Training is a comprehensive learning resource designed for companies of all sizes who are looking to get ahead on the Internet. From defining your audience to creating a multi-platform marketing strategy, it provides a straightforward guide for anybody starting out online.
2 comments
SEO Copywriting
SEO Copywriting

I think one of the main issues with product descriptions is duplicate content however I think this is something that has been incorporated within the algorithm within Google. My recent post How not to get scammed with SEO companies

Mark
Mark

I have been working closely with one ecommerce site owner whereby this was exactly his problem, just about every page was copied from the manufacturers sites. Once the content was re-written, pages were jumping up rankings with no links apart from internal. My recent post Monster Muscle Client Article – Whey and Weight Loss