Kate Waddon Copywriting

We all need words. Let me help you find the right ones.

Writing online catalogue copy

 

As more and more retailers expand into the ecommerce market, they suddenly find themselves having to write online catalogue copy for their products.

Your website is your new shop display. You have a hundred words or so to sell the customer an item they can’t actually see. I really, really love catalogue copywriting jobs (hint hint); and here are a few tips for writing online catalogue copy.

Who’s the shopper?

You know your products, and you know who buys them. That’s the hardest part sorted.  Keep asking yourself: how would I speak with my customers if they actually came into my shop?

If the products are gifts, gently nudge the customer – “a perfect present for mums everywhere.”  Is humour appropriate? You don’t have to do the full I Want One of Those; however if you’re selling novelty socks or amusing mugs you need to add a splash of fun, otherwise the copy will appear dreadfully po-faced. After all, the customer is actively seeking out something funny. Just keep an eye on any word play, before it puns away with you… (sorry).

For more technical and practical products, give a straightforward and clear description – this customer needs the confidence that they are buying the right item, and that it will do exactly what they need it to.

Top-line info

To fit in with a catalogue template I once worked with, I had to write an introductory sentence for each product, of no more than 25 words.

As well as fitting the template, this is a helpful way to start populating your product text space. Get the top-line information into the first 25 words, and then hit return.  You’ve already got the product’s name or title – so use these first words to say more about what the product is, and highlight its main benefit or feature. Here’s one I wrote for a book:

“An absorbing account of the historic city of Winchester, former capital of England, told through lively words and lovely photographs.”

What are the benefits?

Be careful to describe the product, not the picture. What does it do? Anyone can see from the photograph that it has a red lid – but they can’t tell that it can hold ten litres…

Description is very important; however when someone is buying online, emphasising what it’s for, and how you can’t possibly live without it, is essential. Think with all your senses (or is it just me that goes around shops sniffing things?).

Tell a tiny story

If appropriate, going beyond the basic description and functions can really help to sell a product. Giving a background story to a product can help to capture interest, and gives you an edge over other retailers selling an identical product. Just a simple sentence can really lift a description.

Of course, this applies only to certain products. A back-story about the discovery of rubber is not very helpful if you’re selling tyres. If you’re selling traditionally-made candles in the other hand, a sentence or two about the production method helps to enhance the heritage-themed brand.

Don’t forget the SEO

What are people searching for? To use the above example, make sure that you get the phrase “traditional candles” in a couple of times. The top-line sentence is a good place to seamlessly slip in a key phrase: “This beautifully-made traditional candle” etc etc.

Be accurate

An online product description has to be accurate. Please please please triple-check any dimensions, materials, packaging information, prices, origins, and warnings. Don’t promise it can make chips and walk the dog if all it does is display a house plant.

Product misinformation is covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. If you are writing more than just the product description (such as delivery information), check out the online and distance selling regulations.

Watch your adjectives

Back to the less heavy stuff. If you’re writing for a large catalogue, this will eventually have you banging your head against a large thesaurus. Be aware of any words you’re overusing (I’m dreadful with “delicate” for jewellery; and after twelve pages of coffee copy, I completely ran out of words for “aromatic”). Always think whether the adjective enhances the product or helps describe it – if it doesn’t, don’t bother with it.

Calls to action

It naturally helps that you have a great big red “Add to cart” or “Buy Now” button next to the product description. I like to add in other calls to action: “Inspire your children”, “Delight a loved one”, “Sort out your tyres”. It keeps your catalogue copy dynamic and speaks directly to the reader.

Relate to other products

Hey, there are matching gloves! We also sell it in pink! You’re buying gin? Then you’ll need tonic!

You get the idea…

Be consistent

It’s easy to hand out snippets of copy to individuals across a business – but at least have them edited for consistency. When you get into a rhythm of writing catalogue copy – and let’s face it, there’s often a lot of repetition – a style will start to flow.

 

In a competitive market, having well-written online catalogue copy can really give you an advantage. Don’t put it off, or be tempted to let the picture do all the talking – it won’t.

It’s the difference between an engaging sales assistant and a surly one.

Communicating with old words

Thinking about my anachronistic job title in my last blog naturally led me off on a tangent. What other archaic words do we casually use every day? I could have gone out and researched all sorts of exciting engineering, medical, and manufacturing jobs and looked at their terminology. But of course I didn’t. I stared at my desk until inspiration hit.

“I’ve cced/CCed/cc’d you in.”

We all know what that means (you’re not as important or influential as the name in the top line, basically), but where does the “cc” bit come from? “Carbon copy” comes from carbon paper, an inky mess of a page that is inserted in between two leaves of paper to create an impression of the top sheet on the bottom one. I am saying this in case my blog is read by anyone under forty who doesn’t frequent antiquarian bookshops or market stalls that use manual receipt books, so will never have encountered this. Many say it’s “courtesy copy”, but that’s a backronym (love that word). So, as we type the “you-need-to-know-this-but-don’t-need-to-do-anything” recipient’s name into the cc box, we’re referencing that messy old method of duplicating documents.

Interestingly, that essential of office politics, the bcc function, could also be carried out on a typewriter. You could set the ribbon not to strike the paper, which leaves names off the top copy but leaves an impression… I like to imagine the original Miss Moneypenny doing this.

“I think I dialled the right number…”

No you didn’t. You technically pressed the right number. But we persist with this one, and even grow it as technology advances: speed-dial, direct-dial, er, dial-a-pizza.

IMG_1836

To illustrate how old this makes me feel, here is a picture of my four-year-old learning how to dial a phone, properly, using an actual dial. In a museum. Gah. (Thanks to Porthcurno Telegraph Museum for this excellent display, btw. Brilliant museum.)

140-character limit

I am too verbose for Twitter, even when I take out on the ellipses and desperate hashtags. 140 characters often seems a bit ungenerous. Back in the day, Twitter was an SMS-based system, and those clunky early mobiles couldn’t deal with more than 160 characters. They’d do that annoying splitting up the text thing. On the whole, I quite like the fact that tweets are limited (see most Facebook posts).

Nobody wants a stylus

Of course, being terribly topical, I should add stylus. Used by the ancient Minoans and Egyptians and reviled by Steve Jobs, these “poking sticks” as they’re called in our house, hit the news last night when Apple announced that its new iPad Pro would come with a stylus.

That’s definitely a very old word for a very new thing.

 

 

For more info about carbon copies, there’s a nice clear explanation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_copy.

 

 

“You’re a what?” The trouble with “copywriter”.

“Sorry, what are you again?” asked the Nice Bank Lady.

“Copywriter. Freelance copywriter.”

“Oh” (scrolls). “There isn’t a box for that… What exactly do you do?”

Moot point. Polite answers only please.

“I, er, write stuff. Websites, blogs, signs, brochures, that sort of thing.” (Not dialogue, clearly.)

“OK, I’ll put you down as “Marketing.”

Copywriter is not a helpful term. “Copy” isn’t really a term those outside the industry know. Years ago, when most publishing was confined to a rarefied world that smelled of ink and rattled to the sound of printing presses, this wasn’t an issue. These days, copywriters (freelance ones like me anyway) work for a different market – one where the traditional language of editing is irrelevant.

Plus of course, the homophone “copyright” doesn’t help. I’ve met a few people who’ve assumed that I do some sort of legal thing involving stopping people using words. Fair point.

So, what’s a copywriter to call herself? Occasionally I’ve dropped the “copy” bit. Then I’ve put it back, unable to face the disappointment of those in the school car park, when they figure out that they’ve never leafed through me in Waterstones. It also feels a bit grandiose to give myself the same job title as Dickens.

I looked into this. As ever, my shallow start was with Wikipedia. I read: “If the purpose is not ultimately promotional, its author might prefer to be called a content writer.” Ooh, I quite like that. But is it too specific? And sometimes it is promotional (I hope). Occasionally I am a “technical writer”, but I’ll just wear that (protective and reinforced) hat when I need to.

As copywriter is an archaic term, why not really embrace the really old and use “Scribe”, or “Scrivener”? Or, as a copywriter in Cornwall, maybe I should adopt the Cornish term “Skrifyades”, translated as “female professional writer”. If only English had a similar succinct word for professional writer… It’s a great word, but hardly supports my mission to have a transparent job title.

Maybe the dilemma has been solved by a charming client of mine. “Wordsmith”, he said. “That’s what you are.”

Do you think the bank has that on its database?