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.
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.
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…
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.