We’d just gotten to the beach. The kids were already in the water. My wife was laying out the towels and snacks. I was sweating like a pig turning on a spit, hunched over a tire pump filling our small, inflatable armada.

About halfway through this hot, gritty, forearm-numbing mess a friend drove up, plugged a power inflator into his car charger and was on the water in minutes. Sweet. Fancy. Moses. I was smitten. I studied that power inflator’s every line, curve and attachment so I could buy it online later.

When I got home I went straight to my laptop. I found it on sale for $14.98. My index finger flew to the buy button. But just before I clicked, I noticed that although the pump looked the same as my friend’s, the description didn’t mention the wonderful cadre of valve attachments that came with my friend’s version. I wondered, Is that why it’s so cheap?

And what does 21.2CFM even mean? It must be a unit of measure. Certified federal meters? Concentrated flow metrics? Cubic foot meridians? Does it have something to do with battery power? Air pressure? Is it enough to fill a stand-up paddle board? Is it too much? Damn. It doesn’t say.

My heart was willing, but the product copy was weak.

The product description left too many questions unanswered. I wanted that thing so bad, but I had no choice but to buy another day. At a store. Where I could pick the product up off the shelf and see if the attachments were in the box. Where I could make sure it was actually the size and shape of my friend’s inflator. And that’s where I bought it. Old economy: 1. New economy: 0.

Little content mistakes = big losses

I almost always prefer to shop online, and I’m not alone. Most everybody shops online now. And over 50% of us prefer the experience versus walking into a store. In fact, the only reason I don’t buy online these days is the dreaded “fear of return” factor. If there is one thing I hate about buying online, it’s returning the stuff I bought. Which I never do. Which is why I hate it.

But here’s the real stinger: 72% of people abandon their shopping cart if the product content is lacking. Imagine pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into an outbound campaign that leads people to your product page only to have seven out of every 10 willing buyers — people like me who are lusting after your product — click away to a competitor because you didn’t explain something as simple as what C, F and M mean? Ouch.

Given that a well-written piece of product copy can generate five figures or more in sales and usually costs under $100 to produce, it staggers the imagination as to why most brands don’t get that little product description right.

Advertising grabs them by the eyeballs, but product page copy closes the deal

The key to knowing how to craft the right type of copy for your product page is understanding where buyers are in the decision process when they arrive at your product page. Outbound consumer touch points like social media, e-mail, print, billboard and banner advertising are designed to grab eyeballs, piqué interest and get consumers emotionally engaged.

And then, by the time a consumer reaches the product page, they’ve picked the product off the digital shelf. The role of the copy on the product page is to close the deal. To remove any concerns between them and the buy button. To reassure them that, yes, they can throw that return address sticker in the garbage. Which is why — though the product page still needs to tell a story that aligns advertising and other outbound communications — it needs to have a different tone and different content.

While product page copy is a lynchpin in the sales process, it shouldn’t come across as “selling.” It should be seen as a helpful aid that gives shoppers the most complete picture of the product possible. When it comes to the voice, think “knowledgeable friend” or “influential blogger,” not “slick salesperson.” Our refrain to our writers is: “If you wouldn’t say it out loud to a friend, don’t put it in the product description.” We actually go so far as to tell our writers to read their copy out loud to themselves before posting it live. If you can read it out loud without stumbling or cringing, it’s well on its way to sounding like a real human being. 

Here are the four guiding principles we follow when crafting product copy for our clients:

Number 1: Tell shoppers why, not just what

Paraphrasing the immortal words of Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Most product copy still just tells you what is on offer, but doesn’t tell you why it was created. Our copywriters start every description with what we call the “product intent,” a short intro that answers questions like why it was is created, what problem it solves, and what makes it stand out from the long list of competing products shoppers are likely considering.

Instead of this:
A Waterproof, Breathable Nylon Tent.
Write this:
A serious four-season shelter designed for multi-day mountaineering and trekking.

Number 2: Put it in terms shoppers understand

Help shoppers understand what it is you are selling by translating product specs and features into tangible, real-world terms they recognize from their own life. For example, what exactly does “large-size luggage” mean? Large-size compared to what? A car? A mouse? Abstract words like “large,” “roomy” or “lightweight” leave too much to the imagination. Often, a little concrete imagery like “fits easily in the palm of your hand” or “weighs about as much as a laptop” is all you need to help the shopper along.

Instead of this:
21.2CFM
Write this:
This unit will easily fill your poolside inflatables, stand-up paddle board or airbed in minutes. But when it comes to bike tires, your best bet is a tried-and-true tire pump.

Number 3: Use credible language

Whatever you’re selling, there is almost definitely a community of hardcore enthusiasts chatting, blogging and making videos about it. Borrow and adapt the words, phrases and concepts they use. Speak to the concerns and aspirations they’re talking about. Not sure what it’s like to bend a soccer ball around a wall of defenders, hike the Appalachian trail or build a robot from found parts? Don’t worry, there are thousands of people online who want to tell you. Before you start to write, spend five minutes Googling around the internet, doing a little language research. People are much more likely to trust a description when it sounds like the writer has actually used the product themselves.

Instead of this:
Designed with integrated vestibule to allow space for boots and other items near door.
Write this:
If you do get some snow inside (and let's be real, you will) this tent has you covered with a watertight drainage port in the floor so you don't have to sleep in a puddle.

Number 4: Steer away from subjective claims

While it’s natural to be excited about what you’re selling, a company telling shoppers its products are stylish, attractive or affordable can come off a little like someone at a party telling fellow partygoers how good-looking, smart or humble they are. Try not to let your enthusiasm for what you’re selling cloud your product copy. Stick to concrete adjectives like “stretchy,” “brightly-colored” or “slim-fitting,” and to objective claims like “up to 18 hours of battery on a single charge” instead of a throwaway line like “incredibly long-lasting battery life.” Let shoppers draw their own conclusion as to whether the product is incredible, they’ll love it or find the taste intoxicating.

Instead of this:
You’ll absolutely love this gorgeous white blouse crafted in Italy from silk-chiffon, featuring beautiful ruffle trims at the yoke and dazzling display of swallows.
Write this:
Crafted in Italy and cut from semi-sheer white silk-chiffon, this blouse features an allover black swallow print and delicate ruffle trims at the yoke.

Of course, there is more to crafting product copy that makes people click the buy button. But follow these four guidelines and you’ll come off much more credible and trustworthy than the majority of your online peers. And trust is what keeps shoppers coming back.

Brian Hennessy @kabukulator

Talkoot CEO and founder of Thread Creative