Product descriptions can be a huge pain for e-commerce websites of all sizes. Whether you are a large online store with thousands of products that need convincing content to convert a large number of visitors, or a solo-run drop shipping business that needs to test dozens or hundreds of products to find a winning combination via advertisements; good content can be the difference between winning customers over and looking like a run-of-the-mill slack-job of a website.
Most e-commerce entrepreneurs have skills in marketing or product research, though… And are usually scraping content together when it comes to building product detail pages without having the resources or insights on what ingredients they need and what mistakes they should be avoiding.
To answer such questions, I sat down for an in-depth chat about product descriptions with industry veteran Vin D’Eletto from WordAgents; whose company has helped bring life to thousands of product pages for e-commerce businesses. Vin is an e-commerce content veteran and the founder of WordAgents. He’s also managing other online properties where he brings in targeted traffic through SEO.
Here’s our chat in Full:
Harris: First up, tell us about yourself and what your experience is with the e-commerce industry
Vin: My name is Vin D’Eletto and I own & operate a content creation service called WordAgents.com. I also create and manage a number of web properties and drive targeted traffic to them using SEO. You can read this case study to learn more about the latter.
In regards to my experience with the e-commerce industry, my company creates category and product description content for ecommerce businesses on a weekly basis. I have also built out and ranked my own e-commerce-style websites in the past.
Harris: How do you figure out what information to include when writing product descriptions?
Vin: The best way to understand what type of written text you’ll need on both your e-commerce category and product description pages is by reverse engineering your competitors.
I have a defined process for this that seems to work well every time I apply it to one of my own sites or to a client site.
Writing Great Product Descriptions: Step By Step
You begin by creating a list of your competitors; the bigger, the better. We want to reverse engineer their category and product description pages with tools like Ahrefs and SemRush so that we can identify the main head topic for a given category or product.
Since the Google algorithm is basically a machine, and we know that it uses natural language processing and machine-learning to learn the context of your content; it is our job as SEOs to understand how we can give the machine what it wants by writing our content around the main NLP entity or topical head term.
Ahrefs has a great function called “Parent Topic” that, more often than not, can identify the entity quickly for you. It’s not perfect… but it’s good enough for our purposes.
So, typically, I will plug a competitor category or product page into Ahrefs and look at the organic keywords that page ranks for on Google.
Next, I’ll sort their list of organic keywords by traffic to find the highest search volume keywords that they currently rank for on that particular page.
They will normally be the most relevant keywords for that given page. I’ll analyze these top keywords manually by identifying what I think are the best options to be the main target keyword for the page that I’m creating. For example, I were creating a category page for “Dog Leashes,” I would be on the lookout for the term “Dog Leashes” or variations of it with high search volume.
If you find several keywords on the list that could potentially be the main keyword for your new page, try clicking on each one individually to open up it’s respective keyword analysis page. You’ll see what Ahefs considers to be the “Parent Topic” keyword for the entire topic. That “Parent Topic” keyword is normally the keyword I’ll choose as my target keyword for my new page.
From there, we again allow Google to tell us what it wants by searching for this parent topic keyword and analyzing the top 10 results that are presented to us.
The results may be a mix of content types; listicles, editorials, product pages, category pages, and other informational content. We only want to analyze the pages that are also category or product pages, since that is the style of content we will be creating.
While analyzing these pages, I make notes that include the type of information I find during my research. I’ll typically jot-down the answers to the following:
- How the pages are introducing the content. What is the first paragraph on the page and does it accurately and instantly address the intent of the visitor?
- What other “questions” does the written text “answer” for the visitor?
- What content is on the page that I wouldn’t have considered added, but is absolutely helpful to to the visitor.
- What content on the page is fluff and unnecessary.
- What information is common among all of the pages I’m analyzing?
- What information can I add to my content that is helpful to the visitor and is missing from one or more of the pages I’m analyzing?
- The answers to these questions will give you everything you need in regards to what you should be including and what information should be omitted.
Now that you have your target keyword and your notes, it’s time to actually write the content for your new page.
In general, we want to “match and exceed” our competition by amalgamating the information from ALL competing pages and adding about 25% more in regards to both information and length.
Harris: How do you create your HTML Title and H1 Tags for e-commerce content?
Vin: Just like when deciding what we’re going to include in our written content on the actual page, we are also going to let Google tell us what they want to see in regards to Title and H1 tags.
Simply search for the target keyword for a given page and pull up each page that is your direct competition from the first 10 search results.
For each of these pages, note down both the text they used for the Title tag and the H1 tag (oftentimes they’re identical). If you don’t want to do this manually, I suggest a tool called Screaming Frog.
Once you have all the Title and H1 tag text listed in a document, simple break them down into their individual words and create a master list. This master list of individual words from all of the competing Title and H1 tags will be our vocabulary list that we use to create our own tags.
Next, we’ll want to add Google’s related search terms to this list as well. This helps add relevance to our titles and headlines by integrating terms that Google thinks are highly relevant to our main search query.
For example, if my target keyword was “dog leashes,” I would find these related search suggestions at the bottom of the first page of the SERP:
All the terms in bold are words I want to add to my master list.
Now, from my master list of individual words, I will create my Title and H1 tags. I will do my very best to include as many words from the list as possible.
The target keyword should be at the very front of the text. Whatever space is left can be used to intelligently weave words into the remaining space. I like to use the Title Tag tool from Moz to make sure I’m not making my tags too long.
If you can’t integrate all of your words from your master list into a single tag, then you should create two variations; one for the title tag and one for the H1 tag. This way, you can integrate a broader spread of relevant words.
When you’re done with this process, you’ll have new Title and H1 tags that signal to Google that the page you’re working on is extremely relevant to the main keyword you’re targeting. This will result in the page indexing higher and will require less off-site work in order to rank in the top 10.
Harris: What is your interlinking strategy between categories and product descriptions?
Vin: I largely apply a “topic cluster” and “hub and spoke” methodology when it comes to an interlinking category, sub-category, and product description pages. These strategies are used for groups of highly related pages and will help to boost the “relevance” of all pages in the group in the eyes of Google.
Here’s a breakdown of how interlinking should be done for each content type within the overarching group:
These are the “hub” pages within your content group. They should link down to the sub-category (if applicable) and featured product pages. If no sub-categories are involved, then they should link down to all product pages within the category.
If you have to break a category down into sub-categories, these pages should link up to the main category and down to all of the products within the sub-category. You should not link to products outside of the sub-category.
Product pages should link up to the main category page and sub-category page they’re contained in.
They may also link horizontally to other product pages within the category. If a product exists in a sub-category, only link horizontally to other products in the same sub-category and never to products outside of the sub-category. This is highly useful if you have a section on your product pages that list “similar items.”
Finally, product pages can link down to supporting informational content such as “how to” articles describing how to use the product.
Harris: What is the best way for an Ecommerce site to boost topic relevance in the age of RankBrain?
Vin: As mentioned in the interlinking section above, I love to use the hub-and-spoke model to help boost the relevance of highly-related pages.
The RankBrain algorithm uses machine learning to understand context. If you can give it lots and lots of context by covering all of the topics it expects to see in a given category, then you’ll probably have a much better chance of ranking for your target keywords (for all pages) much easier.
In an eCommerce setting, this starts with site architecture. It would look something like this:
- Category Page (Main page for the hub)
- Sub-Category Page
- Product Description Page
- Supporting content
Of course, you will have the Homepage linking down to several categories (hubs) and their spokes. But, the structure remains the same.
After site-architecture comes your keyword map. Essentially, you want to integrate as many relevant keywords into the entire hub as possible to show the machine-learning algorithm that you’re an authoritative source for the main topic.
We can create a keyword map by running keyword reports by reverse engineering ALL competing websites with Ahrefs, running page-level semantic analysis with tools like Ranks.nl, and using tools like Ubersuggest and AnswerThePublic to pull lists of long-tail and related keywords from Google’s auto-suggest feature. Combine all the results from all these tools into a master keyword list.
The second part of the keyword mapping process involves manually going through your master list and assigning keywords to logical and relevant content types (category, sub-category, product description, supporting pages).
Once you have all of your keywords mapped to each individual page you plan on building out for the entire category, you can go ahead and start writing the content or outsource the content production to a content creation agency such as our very own WordAgents.
What’s great about this process is the fact that you’re integrating ALL of the keywords from ALL of your competitors into one, logically-organized resource. While we’ll never be able to get away from off-site promotion, these tactics go a long way in regards to getting started at a better ranking. Your off-site promotion cost should reduce dramatically as a result!
Harris: First scenario (and the most common one from our Facebook group) – Someone picks anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand products from a supplier and opens up a Shopify store. What do they do about the descriptions? Where does the strategy come in?
Vin: I would run the product titles through keyword research tools like Ahrefs and KeywordKeg to get an idea of how many people are searching for each product specifically and how difficult it would be to rank each individual product description page for its target keyword.
From there, I would create a list of “must haves” and “low hanging fruit.”
Must have product pages are just like they sound. They’re the big, well-known products that you absolutely need on your site in order to be taken seriously. This would be in spite of whether or not their target keywords are difficult to rank from an SEO standpoint.
Low hanging fruit pages would be product description pages that have a decent amount of search volume for their keywords and low to very low competition. Ranking these pages on Google first will be the easiest way to start earning revenue.
Harris: There are a tonne of queries about people looking to hire product description writers in the groups I am in as well. The people searching for these don’t seem to be savvy with the prerequisites for good descriptions though. What should they be looking for and what kind of questions should they be asking the potential candidates?
Vin: It’s up to the business owner to first create product descriptions themselves so they can understand what converts the best for them. In addition, the business owner will need to understand how Google crawls, indexes, and ranks their product description content so there is an understanding of how to best write this style of content to achieve the best possible rankings.
Once the business owner knows this process comprehensively, they can create operation guides that describe exactly how their product descriptions should be written. Systemizing processes like this one is one of the easiest ways for a business to scale quickly.
You can go ahead and start hiring writers to create the descriptions for you once you have a flawless operational procedure for them. From there, it’s as easy as testing 5-10 writers and keeping the ones that are able to follow your instructions the best.
Harris: A colleague of mine used to work at a large e-commerce company that had a mix of personalised and automatically generated product descriptions on their website. What is your take on automatic product description tools?
Vin: My stance is always “quality over quantity.” I would, personally, want to make sure that each description is receiving the attention it deserves in regards to content depth and content optimization.
I would say, however, that these tools are probably good to get pages live and ageing. I’d imagine they pull standard features and specifications for each product. This would be good to use for low ROI products that you want to have up on your site, but don’t warrant your (or your writer’s) personal attention just yet.
Harris: I actually polled a bunch of groups about this one today: I asked people to mention how they got their description content for drop shipping products and most of them mentioned taking inspiration from their competitors. Again, assuming these people aren’t familiar with intricacies, what’s the differentiator between good and bad product descriptions when looking for inspirations?
Vin: I answered most of this in my answer to the “How do you figure out what information to include in…” question above, but I’ll go into a bit more detail here.
When looking at this from a conversion standpoint, you’ll want to connect with the reader emotionally. I’m not much of a sales copywriter myself, so I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth here. But, you’re typically going to want to sell the visitor by helping the imagine the benefit they’ll receive by using the product. Features and specifications are nice, but the user is going to spend money when they can clearly see how a product or service makes their lives easier or fills a need they have.
From a ranking and organic traffic generation standpoint, you’ll want to optimize the content in a logical manner using SEO best practices while weaving in all of the target, semantic, and related keywords used to describe the product to help boost the relevance of your product description page.
Harris: So… I gotta ask… How do I get my dinosaur T-shirts Amazon store products to rank at the top for popular searches on Amazon’s search?
Well, my expertise lies within ranking pages on Google… With that said, any platforms ranking algorithm is defined by a set of rules. If you can figure out what those rules are through rigorous testing, you’ll then be able to create your product titles and descriptions in a way that gives you the best chance at ranking at the top of the list for a given product or category.
From what I hear, the biggest factors Amazon rankings are the number of sales and the number of verified reviews a product gets. Now, if there were only a way to game Amazon’s review system…
Harris: “Read more…” truncations. Should they stay or should they go?
Vin: I think the answer to this really depends on the usage.
If you’re using it to hide a full article, similar to how many news outlets and editorial sites do these days, I’d advise against it. It’s always struck me as a bad user experience. Also, according to Moz, Google doesn’t give the same weight to content that is truncated compared to content that is not.
If it’s being used on a blogroll, I think this is just your preference. I typically like to show the full content on my blogroll to stay on the safe side. But, at the end of the day, unless you’re trying to rank your blogroll page, it’s not really going to make a huge difference.
Harris: Unique meta descriptions for product pages, or just use the default short intro descriptions as the meta?
Vin: Meta descriptions have little to no SEO ranking benefit these days. They’re certainly not as heavy of a ranking factor as they were in years past.
I like to create unique, actionable meta descriptions for every page. The logic behind this is that the meta description is likely one of the first points of contact with a potential visitor and it’s a chance for you to “sell” them on choosing your site over a competitor as they’re browsing a search engine.
Common CTAs you can use in your meta include:
- Read our [ENTER PRODUCT KEYWORD HERE] description to learn more about…
- Click now to learn more!
- One great benefit of using [ENTER PRODUCT KEYWORD HERE] is…
That last one is my new favourite. I try to create a bit of curiosity in my meta descriptions. A visitor may read that and want to click your page to learn what that benefit I mentioned is all about. I’ve definitely seen an uptick in clicks after integrated CTAs like this!
Harris: What’s the best way to improve 1000s of product pages that are already live on a store? What to begin with and where?
Vin: This is going to be a huge project for you, so prioritizing products from your inventory is going to be essential. You’ll want to first focus on your highest converting and highest ROI product pages first before moving onto others that may not make as much money for your business.
The first thing I’d do is make sure I understand which keyword is the target keyword for each and every “priority” product. You can’t optimize if you don’t yet know what the goal is in regards to organic traffic generation.
Once I know the target keyword for each respective page, I would then go page-by-page and optimize the heavily-weight SEO elements. Those would include:
- URL slugs
- Title Tags
- H1 Tags
If you do that properly, you should see a boost.
The final optimization would then be for the actual on-page content. I go into that in detail in my answer to the “How do you figure out what information to include” question.
Harris: Lastly, what would be your advice to all the struggling e-commerce entrepreneurs out there?
Vin: I think I’d have to say that you should take things one step at a time. This goes for any aspect of your business.
Start with the easiest part and master it. Then, move onto the next easiest task and master that. Rinse and repeat.
Everyone has visions of being successful. We all want wealth and the toys that go along with it. But, the truth is that this all comes gradually. Very rarely will anyone move from here to there overnight.
Take small, logical, and incremental steps towards your goals. This iterative process will help you get to your goals faster than anticipated and will help build your confidence to shoot for more lofty and seemingly unattainable goals on your next project. It won’t ever seem like you’re making progress. But, when you stop and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, you will absolutely see the distance you’ve traveled.
Take your time. Walk before you run. Do things the right way.
Harris: Thank you for your time, Vin!