The art of the product description
Product descriptions are some of the hardest working phrases in all of the world's copywriting. They have to meet three criteria to be successful:

· Clarity: the average 12-year-old should be able to understand what the product is

· Detail: the typical differentiators from similar products in its class

· Story: the description must convey some sort of micro-story about the product

Together, these three elements inform your potential customer about your unique selling proposition as well as create a certain state of mind.

Clarity — the first checkpoint

Many businesses, from the smallest companies to the world's largest juggernauts, fail spectacularly in this regard. They want to be clever or witty, or sound very serious and smart. Instead, an unclear description comes off as tone-deaf, self-congratulatory or pompous.

Look at these examples (I made these up, no actual businesspeople were harmed in the creation of these examples):

· Handmade sweater vest, all sizes and colors, durable yet thin cotton — ideal complement to a tuxedo, adds a touch of classic style to your outfit

· Become a true gentleman with this finely crafted sweater vest — guaranteed to last a lifetime and more!

· V-neck sweater vest, cotton, S/M/L/XL/XXL, black/gray/brown/blue/green, 6 buttons (b/w), breast pockets, handmade

The first description is obviously the best, but why? Because it answers most questions prospective customers may reasonably have about the product — in what forms it is available, the material it's made of (e.g. for allergies and washing programs), whether it is ordinary confection or not (it's not), etc. It also front-loads its most important feature.

The second description gives no such information, except "finely crafted", which doesn't automatically mean it's made by hand, but just manages to sound blandly pretentious. And "guaranteed to last a lifetime and more" is an absurd proposition unless the vest is made out of granite or people want to be buried with it. Nicole Ferreira from Oberlo writes: "Ultimately, the words are poor choices if they aren't accurate."

The third description is not as crystal clear as you might think at first blush. For one, does "b/w" mean the buttons are black or white or are black ànd white? And why mention it has 6 buttons anyway — it's a distraction that gives a reader slight pause. Third, arguably its most defining feature comes dead last.

The devil is in the details

Let's move to detail. This matters not just for differentiating factors, so that people can quickly see if the product ticks their most important boxes or how it relates to competing offers, but also for search engine optimization. Think of what words people may actually use when they're looking for the kind of products you're selling.

As the people at analytics blog Kissmetrics say: "make sure you take away common objections" and "Always write for your reader first, and optimize for search engines later."

Returning to our examples, the first one can be landed on from "thin sweater vest" for people who sweat easily, as well as "handmade sweater vest" for people looking for upscale fashion. No one will ever search for "true gentleman" when they want to buy clothes, except maybe to get a vague idea of a full outfit.

An important clarification: "detail" does not mean that you ought to bury your prospective buyer in all the information about the product, which is what the third example does. In an effort to shy away from an overtly commercial tone, some manufacturers adopt a "just the facts, ma'am" approach. But you're not selling facts. Buying is always an emotional decision.

The oldest story in the world

As a last point, we get to the story. Stories are some of humanity's oldest trappings that set it apart from all other species. As such, we are hard-wired to memorize stories much better than streams of data and cold, hard facts.

The first example is, again, the best. It hints at luxury — a "tuxedo", a "touch of class" and brings to mind James Bond, The Great Gatsby or aristocratic refinement. The vest itself doesn't do that, but its suggested context does. This is a far cry from ways in which sweater vests can appear as objects of ridicule in a stereotypically nerdy or un-fun get-up.

The second example tries to bring to mind the same sophistication, but fails by both being too specific, limiting the story to men, as well as being too crassly commercial. The exclamation mark after the hyperbole reminds us of a merchant shouting at passers-by on a street market, which is hardly a place of class.

The third example simply doesn't have a story. It's a cold list of facts and reasonably informative, but it doesn't sell a feeling, a story or a state of mind. No one but the people already hyped up to buy this item are going to find this an interesting description. Or as Lauren Gilmore from PR & Prose says: "Customers want to know a company is human — that translates to your content."

Put your skills to the test

If you want to put these facts to the test, you can. Try them out on your own website or webshop. Don't have a webshop yet? Or perhaps looking for a fast and user-friendly alternative that helps you sell online?

Why don't you give Sayl Retail a chance — Sayl Retail allows SMEs and starters to set up an online pop-up shop in less than 30 minutes and offers integration with social media, chat channels and existing websites or shops. It was actually designed to help people in making good product descriptions, by spotting content that performs badly, checking for typos and uncommon abbreviations. Oh — and it's free.
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