Writing for Your Online Store

Posted by Robin on Oct 11th, 2009

What makes writing for the web so different? Here’s one factor:

Pre-Internet, you didn’t need to worry about keywords much. The job of copy was simply to inform and convince. Words serve an additional function now: they act as a map to guide people to the right location.

Keywords are not just important for external search results (e.g. Google or Yahoo); they are also critical for users who are already on your site.

Imagine that you have an online shoe store, complete with a nifty search box. You have a customer browsing your site, seeking the perfect fall boot. She types “knee-high boot brown leather” into the box.

What happens? The boots she wants don’t appear, or get buried amid pages of other boots that don’t meet her requirements.

The problem? They’re labeled “distressed espresso leather boots.” Your website doesn’t know that espresso describes the color brown, or that they are knee-high.

Words Are the Key, More Than Ever
Keywords help your customer find what she’s looking for. That doesn’t mean that the copy should be bland—quite the contrary. The writing must still sell the product gracefully. Good web copywriting strikes the right balance.

For instance, in the example above, the boots could be described as “Knee-high boots crafted of soft, espresso brown leather, subtly distressed to relaxed perfection.”

Here, you’ve included all of the likely search terms, plus additional information that evokes a lifestyle—“relaxed perfection.” The description is still short enough to be effectively scanned by someone in a hurry.

Include the Right Information
Customers shopping online often need more detail, rather than less, in order to be confident in their purchases. I’ve seen product descriptions that leave out vital information, such as the measurements for a piece of furniture.

Website copy has to have enough of the right kind of description—in the right places—to take advantage of search engine results (including the long tail) but not so much that it overwhelms or turns off a potential customer. In the example above, including the heel height and the overall height of the boots is important.

This is why user-generated reviews are so great—they include details that push products up to the top of the search results for more esoteric, long-tail phrases as well as basic searches.

However, even without the added heft that multiple customer reviews provide, it’s still possible to craft your product copy to take advantage of both internal and external search results.

As with any copywriting, but perhaps even more so, web writing demands close attention to the perspective of the customer—not just what they are looking for, but how they are finding it.