A site’s copy is one important element overlooked in most
web development projects. Text plays a key role especially in
eCommerce sites. In eCommerce one of the worst mistakes you can
make when writing is to only concentrate on product descriptions.
While product descriptions are important, they’re only
the tip of the eCommerce copy iceberg. After all, an eCommerce
site is everything at once for an online retailer — simultaneously
serving as a catalog, store, marketing tool, and company information
source — and the copy responsible for selling both your
product and your company in the highly competitive web marketplace
is at the center of it all.
There are three basic types of writing that an eCommerce copywriter
will use while copywriting for a retail site: informational,
marketing and notification. While the details of each type could
fill a book, we’re only going to cover the basics of each
here — once you understand the fundamentals you’ll
be ready to raise your store’s copy to a new level.
Setting Your Tone
Before beginning there is a couple of concerns you’ll
need to address as you sit down with your catalog and bang out
brilliant eCommerce copy:
• It’s important to understand your products’ target
audience before you begin writing. Who, are you writing for?
Students? Business People? Mothers? For example, a store that
wants to become the ultimate gear source for teenage skaters
wouldn’t use the formal writing style of a site that appeals
to middle-aged businessmen. You’re always writing for someone
else, and you’ll keep your copy focused by not forgetting
who they are.
• Once you’ve identified your copy’s target
audience, decide how to appeal to that audience. Here’s
where your company’s personality has a chance to shine
through, setting you apart from your competitors. Remember, even
though your competitors sell similar products, they aren’t
So decide who you are. Do you want to be considered glamorous?
Hip? Maternal? Consider the Mac vs. PC ads that have been wildly
successful for Apple over the last couple of years. In just a
few seconds, the commercials immediately establish that Apple
products are intuitive, user-friendly, and cool. They appeal
to a certain audience in a unique way, and immediately set themselves
apart from every other computer company on the market.
This is what you’re trying to do with your copy. Decide
who you are, and embrace it. Use this identity to establish a
tone for all of the copy throughout your site, down to the smallest
error message. Each piece of copy is an opportunity to broadcast
your brand — don’t waste any of them.
Information, Marketing and Search Engine Optimization
After establishing your store’s tone it needs to be applied
to the three main styles you’ll use while writing. Informational
copy is the copy you’ll often find in a site’s frequently-asked
questions section and customer service blurbs. All of these examples
share a common thread: The customer is looking for to-the-point
information. Avoid flowery language or fluff copy; after all,
filler can frustrate potential customers. Focus instead on keeping
your writing straight-forward and uncluttered, making sure that
the information an average customer would want to know is easily
accessible and clearly explained. Remember, “straight-forward” isn’t
the same as boring. You’re still writing for the audience
that you identified when you sat down to write, and if you target
that audience with a consistent tone your informational copy
will align itself with your store’s brand and image.
Another type of copy, marketing, is mainly used in promotional
materials and product descriptions. While this type of copy is
extremely common, it’s also some of the hardest to write.
Many eCommerce sites fall into a trap of confusing a barrage
of positive adjectives with selling a product. Don’t make
this mistake! Relying on clichés will only weaken your
copy and, consequently, your brand.
Pause and consider your goals. You identified who your copy
is for during the earliest stages of your writing; now you can
focus on what you’re trying to achieve with it. Customers
are at your store to fill a need, and you must convince them
that you’re best able to help them. Enhance your informational
writing by highlighting your product’s benefits for potential
customers, rather than repeatedly exclaiming to them that you’ve
got a great product to offer. You want a customer to take action
on your site — convert, sign up for your newsletter, etc. — so
tell them exactly why they should take that action, and use effective
copy to provide them with the information they need.
Don’t forget to consider search engine optimization when
you’re writing both your informational and marketing copy.
Search engine optimization is a huge part of writing for eCommerce,
and you’ll want to try and familiarize yourself with the
basics. Start by doing some keyword research to find out what
potential customers are looking for, and what language might
attract them. Incorporate these throughout your site’s
copy, but don’t forget to keep your tone and audience in
mind! The best eCommerce copy has its SEO keywords smoothly integrated
so the average customer doesn’t think twice. Don’t
bog your copy down by trying to pack keywords where they don’t
Good and Bad eCommerce Copywriting
Here’s an example of both good and bad product descriptions.
Each of them is a combination of informational and marketing
copy. Imagine that you’re a small business writing this
product description for both new and repeat customers, and you
want to maintain a polite, welcoming tone:
BAD: This newest model of the Sock-Saver 2007 is better than
ever before! If you liked the Sock-Saver, you’ll love the
Sock-Saver 2007. For the last year, we’ve been examining
your feedback and implementing it into this great product. Now
we’ve brought these changes to you in the form of the Sock-Saver
2007! Save more Socks!
Not only is this description fluffy and poorly organized, but
it offers no real information to the potential consumer. What
are the upgrades? Why would owners of the Sock-Saver want to
upgrade to the 2007 model? Also, there’s no clear tone
or audience established, which makes the description seem cluttered
GOOD: We’ve examined vendor and customer feedback for
our most popular product during the past year and discovered
that buyers wanted more room in the main compartment, larger
drainage holes, and a choice of colors to match a home or business.
We’re now proud to present the Sock-Saver 2007. The newest
Sock-Saver offers all of the missing sock protection of the original,
enhanced with the customer-driven features outlined above. Just
stuff the Sock-Saver full of socks, toss it into the washer and
dryer, and never suffer from one-sock syndrome again!
If you’re a current owner of our original product, send
in a photo of you loving your Sock-Saver for a 15% discount on
the Sock-Saver 2007.
Notice how the tone of the example above maintains the company’s
commitment to its repeat customers, as well as providing plenty
of information for new customers. It carefully outlines the improvements
that they’ve made to the product, explains how to use it,
and offers a number of incentives for all customers to take action
and buy the product. The benefits are clearly outlined in a way
that is exciting for the customer, and maintains the tone that
the writer has selected for the site.
Turning a Dead End Into an Intersection
So now you’ve got some great product descriptions, marketing
materials, and a customer service page under your belt. What
happens to your customer when they stumble upon a dead link somewhere
in your site, need to know a credit card was accepted or make
a mistake during checkout? This is where the last style, notification,
comes in. Customers will need to be notified when they complete
actions and no matter how great your site’s usability is,
mistakes will be made, causing your customers to encounter positive
and negative notification messages. Make sure that these messages
don’t slow customers down, keeping them clear, concise
and helpful. In error messages, quickly identify the problem,
tell the customer what the error is, and how they can fix it.
Follow these same principles for your 404 page. Explain what
the visitor is seeing on the page, taking care to keep your tone
consistent with the rest of your store. Outline a list of common
mistakes that might have brought them to the page, and offer
helpful links to other parts of your store, as well as an e-mail
link so that a customer can report a problem. Unhelpful notifications
abandon customers at a time when they need help, and they are
likely to return the favor by abandoning your site. With both
notification messages and 404 pages, keep the personality of
your site intact, and focus on the positive — i.e., how
you and the customer can work together to accomplish what they
Your site’s copy is the key to your brand and company
identity. Keeping quality in mind throughout all written aspects
of your site will help ensure that you’ll never have to
reevaluate whether your customers “get” you and your
store. Let them know that you’re more than the sum of your