Susan writes for a few websites to earn money and enjoys sharing what she has learned.
Selling Things on Websites
The number of online purchases is increasing at a rapid pace. Whether it is the convenience of having goods delivered to the door, or the freedom to shop around the clock while watching TV, buying things from websites is becoming part of everyday life.
To get shoppers to actually select goods and pay for them takes several things. First of all they need to find the product they want, most often through online searches. Next they need to trust the seller enough to key in their bank details in a world where online fraud is increasing. And shoppers also have to be certain that what they are buying is what they are expecting. The words typed onto a website - known as the content - can do all of these things if done well. They can also turn shoppers away if they are done badly!
These facts are true of huge commercial websites, small niche sites, and even places like eBay where writing the description is down to the individual seller.
Writing a Good Product Description
You might want to know this for your own website, or you might be interested in earning money online writing product descriptions. Personally, I learned to do this writing for people who have large websites with lots of products. They need descriptions every time new stock arrives so that the items can go on sale. These big sites need so much content that you can make part-time money writing these small pieces if you know how to do it.
The key to producing good and useful content is to take a moment and analyse yourself as a consumer. If you are buying something, what is it that you want to know as a shopper? Ask yourself what is useless information and what is essential? What makes you feel you can trust the seller? What makes you distrust the seller? What makes you go elsewhere?
- Too many words—who's got time for that?
- Too hard a sell—why are they so desperate?
- No facts to rely on—I need to know what I'm buying.
- Incorrect information—I don't trust you.
- Confusing wording—Do you have a clue?
So, from this list we can conclude that a consumer needs a concise description that isn't too long, isn't too sales-oriented, has plenty of hard facts that are correct and the description is clearly written. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?
Write to Sell
Here is a product - it's a sock. Now you could just put a photo of this sock online, but it will probably not sell at all. Adding a description will make all the difference.
These ankle-length socks are thick, winter-weight knit to keep your feet warm in the colder months. They have a cable pattern and are made from 80% cotton, 15% wool and 5% elastane so your skin can breathe. They come in a choice of three sizes and two different colours and are machine washable.
This is a good description because it lets the buyer know the length and type of sock and what it is made of - the kind of things the photo alone cannot tell you. There isn't a lot of fluffy nonsense that isn't useful, and there is no hard sell, but it is still a positive and upbeat description.
Now if you want to add a bit of brand personality, put in a small amount that is light-hearted and easy to understand. Like 'Treat your toes to a pair of these little beauties'.
Here is a good one I spotted on the website of retailers White Stuff.
Feeling fruity? Our strawberry patterned socks are a sweet way to add a splash of colour to the day. They're made from soft cotton-mix and finished with contrast heel and toe patches.
Composition: 59% cotton, 39% polyamide, 2% elastane.
Care: Machine Washable
This description is fun to read, and it doesn't go on too long.
Be careful to write honestly and do not exaggerate. True descriptions will make you appear trustworthy and prevent disappointment. It can also stop shoppers writing bad reviews of a product.
If your product has a trim, for example, do not call it leather unless you are sure it is exactly that. Instead call it leatherette, pleather, leather-look or faux leather so the purchaser doesn't feel cheated when they receive it.
Fur, if it isn't actual animal skin, it should be described as faux fur or synthetic fur.
Wool should be described as a wool mix if it isn't 100%. Cotton mix if it isn't 100% cotton, etc.
This applies to a designer or an era too. Describe items as 'Chanel-style handbag' unless it is genuine, or 'antique-look pitcher' if it is less than 100 years old, or say 'inspired by Louis VIIII furniture' and 'Art Deco style home'. These are all carefully chosen phrases to describe an item that is not authentic or genuine. It lets the shopper know and stops them being disappointed. In fact, it should mean they get exactly what they thought they were buying.
Describe the colour as well if it is not clear in a photo, especially when items are black, navy blue and dark purple. It is sometimes hard to tell between these colours even in a store. Let's not forget the famous dress that went viral—was it gold or was it blue?
Try to avoid using superlatives in your piece as these are usually false statements.
Don't write 'These are the best socks you'll ever own' for example.
'The most comfortable', 'the nicest', 'most fantastic', 'best fitting', etc. etc. These are subjective statements, they are best left to reviewers to use when they leave comments. How can you tell a shopper who you don't know that these are the warmest socks ever? You don't know that to be true, and you appear a bit desperate.
Positive Phrases Only Please
Make sure to always write in a positive way. Try not to write negative phrases, find a way to turn things around. For example:
- 'Cannot be washed in the dishwasher' is better phrased 'Handwash only'.
- 'Not for outdoor use' is better worded 'For indoor use'.
- 'Meals not included' could say 'Room only'.
- 'Towels and linens not included' could say 'bring your own towels and sheets'.
There is little difference in meaning, but it puts a brighter spin on things.
SEO—Search Engine Optimisation—helps an internet user find what they are looking for. When a shopper searches for 'blue silk blouse' for example, the results that come up need to be about just that, and the search engine finds these results by scanning the words typed on a website. To make the product description work, it should contain the words people will be searching for. This is another reason why simple photos are not good on a website; search engines cannot read them.
Be mindful not to add too many of these 'keywords' because keyword-heavy content is looked upon as spam. Sentences should be natural and not 'stuffed' with searchable phrases. Search engines are cleverer than you would imagine these days!
With SEO in mind, make sure the product is mentioned early on, and maybe other versions of the same thing, for example, mention trousers and pants in the text if writing about a pair of cotton chinos.
Use both words, 'sweater' and 'jumper', if possible to cover both descriptions of an item. Talk about a woman's 'blouse', 'shirt', and 'top' if applicable.
If you are writing about a pair of wool socks, make sure these words appear near the beginning of your text. It sounds obvious, but it easy to forget, especially if you are writing many descriptions.
Make sure these words are added naturally, and they will attract shoppers.
Get the Thesaurus Out
A good tool to use is a thesaurus when writing product descriptions. I have a tip—I keep a small notepad of my own where I write good synonyms and phrases that come in useful. I have this nearby because I find it saves time searching around. I have some phrases in there which I copied from websites which are particularly well written. Of course, you should never plagiarise, but using a few well penned words again in your own article is not a bad thing as long as your article is mainly unique.
The synonyms I use most often are for 'luxury'. I seem to have written a lot of descriptions for expensive items, maybe because these are the kind of companies that will pay for freelance writers.
So, in my notepad I have:
- Treat yourself to
Now these are not all straightforward synonyms, but they are the kind of words I will add to a piece when applicable. I will not use all of them, but it helps when you are struggling for words or phrases.
Start making your own notepad and you will see how it speeds up your writing.
Writing on Content Mills
If you want to make a little part-time money online, you can join content websites like Textbroker and GreatContent where you get paid for writing short articles to order. There are usually a great number of product descriptions available, they are usually short pieces so the pay is low, but once you get into the swing of it you can write them quickly. Most of the time the client asks for unique content that is not too salesy but is positive. Make sure you take a look at the rest of their website so you can see how formal or informal their style is, so you can do something similar. Also, check and double check you have spelled things correctly, and are always grammatically correct.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Susan Hambidge
Susan Hambidge (author) from Kent, England on April 15, 2017:
Thank you Flourish. Yes, there are often hundreds of descriptions needed quickly if a website gets in a lot of stock. It can be done in a day if a content mill puts the work up and several writers take some each. You'll be surprised at some of the big, well-known online retailers who use this. I presume they have an editor checking each one to make sure it is correct and suitable before it goes live.
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 15, 2017:
This is a practical article that can help vendors as well as writers. I had no idea that they farm out this type of work to content mills.