Copywriting is a pretty broad field. It includes blogging, newsletters, social media, articles, emails, advertising, even screenwriting—but for my first year as a full-time copywriter, all I did was write product descriptions.
I’ve already written about my initial frustration with that job, and how I eventually came to see it as an opportunity to develop my writing voice, test new techniques, and fine-tune my style.
In this post, I’d like to share the 9 tactics I learned that guided my approach to writing product descriptions over that year—with some examples.
Here we go.
1. Create a scenario
There is a rule in creative writing: show, don’t tell. The most powerful product descriptions work in a similar vein. Don’t tell them what the product does. Don’t describe why this product is good for them. Instead, tell a story—a story of them using the product. Make it irresistible. Make them stop, forget what they’re doing, close their eyes—and see themselves using the product.
And when they open their eyes, they want that story so badly, they’ll pay to have it.
It’s a tall order and may not work for every product. But if you can pull it off, your description will be far stronger for it.
Example of a “Tell” description:
As a gamer, you know how much a cheap chair can hurt your back and leave you soaked in sweat after a long gaming session. Crank up the comfort on your next game with this Gaming Chair. Designed specifically for gamers, the contoured, padded support ensures you’re always comfortable, and the breathable fabric keeps you sweat-free after those long gaming sessions.
Example of a “Show” description
Close your eyes and remember your last gaming session. Can you feel the action? Hear the soundtrack? Feel the back pain? Now imagine you’re gaming in this Gaming Chair. You slowly sink into contoured, padded support as you turn your game on. You rotate the armrests to fit your gaming style, lean back into the comfort of the included lumbar pillow. Now close your eyes again and picture your next game. Oh, yeaaaaah.
The tell example isn’t necessarily bad. It’s actually a pretty good description. But, by simply describing what the chair does, it leaves a barrier between it and the reader: imagination.
Your reader still has to imagine actually using the chair.
But if you show your reader what that is like, you take that barrier away.
And you’re one step closer to them making that final purchase.
2. Talk about solutions, not features
This isn’t a particularly original point, but its still true. When you write product descriptions, you have to remember that you’re effectively trying to persuade someone to part with their hard-earned cash for this product. If that’s gonna happen, you need to think about what they want, not what you want.
Your readers aren’t interested in features. Features don’t make the heart pound; they don’t trigger emotions.
Instead, you need to talk about problems they have—real, actual problems—and explain how this product will solve that problem.
Example of a feature-focused description:
This Slimming Men’s Undershirt features firming panels that tuck any excess fat away. The discrete form makes it difficult to notice, and the supportive panels help correct posture.
Example of a solutions-focused description
No, your belly isn’t the perfectly sculpted focus of a men’s health magazine, but why does that have to be public knowledge? This Slimming Men’s Undershirt trims down your love handles and midsections to keep those extra pounds your secret. And as an added benefit, the supportive panels of the undershirt will also help you improve your posture.
Not only is the solutions-focused approach more engaging, by presenting a real problem—embarrassment with your shape—and solving it, the product becomes that much more tantalizing.
3. Make it humane and relatable
As I wrote in a previous blog post, when you write copy, it helps to momentarily forget that there’s a written barrier between you and the reader and imagine yourself actually talking face to face with the customer, persuading him or her to buy the product.
Now picture that conversation. If you start using an arrogant tone, or throwing around complex words, or rambling on and on about nothing in particular, it’s only a matter of time before the customer losses his/her patience and moves on to someone else.
You need to talk to them like a real person.
The complex approach:
The secret to a perfectly roasted chicken is a combination of various factors: your skill, your oven, and the moisture of the chicken. Get that wrong, and your chicken will be all but inedible. Fortunately, you don’t have to purchase a new oven or become a master chef or even carry around a bucket of water with you. Our Turbo Roaster will do all the work for you. Simply stick it into the chicken and you’ll have the perfectly roasted in no time.
The relatable approach:
Roasting a chicken to perfection is like finding Waldo: seemingly simple, yet practically impossible. The meat always seems to come out too dry or too raw. Yet now, with our Turbo Roaster, you can have a perfectly roasted chicken in half the time. Simply fill the cup with water, insert the end into the chicken, and roast. Hello perfection.
The difference here is pretty glaring. The first approach reads like a thesis. Nobody asked me for the mechanics of how to roast a chicken. All they want to know is whether or not this turbo roaster is worth their time. And that’s what the second approach answers.
4. Humor helps
A product description isn’t a Mexican standoff. Lighten it up a little. Make it fun, make it breezy. If done the right way, humor can make a big difference. And even if they don’t buy the product, they’ll remember they enjoyed the read. That could get them to come back next time.
When life hands you lemons—then lobs them at you like rocks—it helps to have a reliable backpack to put your valuables in. Like your laptop, books, camera, accessories, lunch, wallet, and any other handy stuff you happen to have. You can even turn the backpack into a right or left sling pack to block the lemons with (as well as gain easy access your stuff).
No, no one buying this bag is really using it as a shield to block a lemon assault. But the humorous approach not only makes the description fun to read, it actually conveys the selling point of this bag perfectly: even when everything goes wrong, this bag will hold up.
5. Know the what before you know the how
There are a lot of things to ask yourself when writing product descriptions. What does my audience react to? What’s the cleverest way to write this? What would make someone buy this?
They’re important questions, and answering them isn’t always easy. You can get lost writing countless versions of the copy, trying over and over again to figure out how to write the perfect description.
But though those questions are important, they’re not the first thing you need to figure out.
Before you try to figure out how you’re going to write the description, first make sure you know what you’re trying to convey.
I’ve found that simply jotting down what I’m trying to say helps me figure out how I’m gonna say it.
6. Ditch the passive tone
This one’s pretty straightforward. Look at your product description as a long call to action. Instead of writing, “This eyebrow tweezer lets you mold your eyebrows to perfection,” write, “Mold your eyebrow to perfection with this eyebrow tweezer.” Turn, “This bracelet dazzles with shimmering diamonds,” into “Dazzle with this shimmering diamond bracelet.”
It’s not a rule. There are better ways to start a description than “dazzle with this shimmering diamond bracelet.” And, either way, you should only do this once per description. If every sentence starts with a call to action, it’ll read more like an edict than a description.
But it is a better way to write a sentence.
7. The best approach is a multi-tiered approach
Here’s another basic one. There are a lot of ways to write product descriptions. You could write a general description, like we’ve been talking about up ‘til now. You could make a bullet-pointed list of features. You could do something in between and break down your description into a detailed, solutions-focused list.
The best descriptions do them all.
Some people just want a list of features. Some people want to see how those features will solve their problems. Some people want a paragraph of copy pitching them on why they should buy this product.
So write to them all and do all three.
8. Forget normal
As you write product descriptions, you may find yourself asking a question:
Who on earth is going to buy this junk?
I once had to write a product description for a beef-scented beard gel (yeah, that’s a thing, apparently). Another time I wrote about a rigid phone mount that permanently attaches to your phone without being able to collapse. I wrote several product descriptions for $12 engagement rings.
It’s tough to write descriptions for products like that. You can’t be blunt and write, “Dude, if you spend $12 on your engagement ring, your engagement isn’t gonna last very long.” You can’t simply make things up and pretend the product is something it isn’t—that’s a surefire way to ruin your brand reputation for good.
The only option is to do absolutely nothing different. The pain point of a beef-scented beard gel is that you’ll smell truly masculine. So write about that. The pain point about a cheap engagement ring is that its not romantic—in your customers’ eyes—to break the bank to say I love you. So write about that.
And if you’re wondering how any normal person would ever think like that, remember that when it comes to copywriting, you need to forget about normal.
Some people like weird stuff.
9. Know when it’s time to move on
In an ideal world, we’d be given all the time we need to write the perfect description for every product.
We don’t live in a perfect world.
If you have the time, go for it. But chances are you won’t have it. When I was writing product descriptions, I had a quota to keep to. I couldn’t push things off to perfect every description.
So pour all you’ve got into it. Give it your best. But for a limited time. And when that time’s up, move on. Not every description will be unique. Not every description will go on your portfolio.
Sometimes it just has to be good enough.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.