Earlier this year, Google revised its search-results ranking algorithm in a way that will help some online sellers and hurt others. Google constantly makes “corrective” adjustments to its algorithm, in an attempt to provide better search results for users and quash those webmasters who try to “game” the system in order to gain page position.
Google considers product descriptions to be content
In Google’s sights this time were “content farms,” sites that publish low-quality or duplicate content that is intended to drive advertising revenue rather than provide valuable content to users.
An unintended consequence of the change was that many e-stores found their page ranks drop significantly. The largest drops were suffered by retailers who copied and pasted the product descriptions that were provided by manufacturers. Why? Because the re-used descriptions were duplicate content, and all duplicate content was downgraded by Google.
Online sellers whose page positions are lowered can suffer significant drops in revenue. Conversely, sellers whose positions substantially improve may see their cash flow turn into a cash flood. America Online statistics show that on page one of search results, position No. 1 garners 42 percent of all clicks. Position No. 2 drops more than 300 percent, down to less than 12 percent of all clicks. Lowly position No. 10 receives only 3 percent of all clicks. Dealers whose products are not showing up on page one of Google for their keywords won’t get much search traffic at all.
Google rewards good product descriptions
If Google considers product descriptions to be “online content” and rewards good content with improved page position, doesn’t it make sense to spend some time “juicing up” your product descriptions? Dealers who take the time to write good descriptions — or even slightly better descriptions — may find that their page ranks improve significantly. The improvement will come not due to great writing skills but because few dealers in the antique community take the time to write compelling product descriptions.
Most antiques and auction sites display photos of their inventory items along with a physical description of the item: what it is, what it’s made of, who made it, the condition, dimensions, etc. For dealers with thousands of online items, this is all the information that they have time to provide. What too many dealers overlook is that although it is the photos that engage the customer, it is the words that determine (among other things) their site’s page position with the search engines. Without good page position, no one will see the photos anyway.
Good written descriptions satisfy more than just Google’s search algorithm, though. The research team Lightner and Eastman at the University of South Carolina recently completed a study titled “User Preference for Product Information in Remote Purchase Environments“ (abstract). The study addressed the question of whether photos or words were more effective online selling devices. The results of the experiment consistently showed that written product descriptions resulted in higher levels of user satisfaction than pictures, although subjects expressed a strong preference for both words and pictures.
Successful online merchants will tell you that product descriptions are not about “show and tell;” they are about “show and sell.” A good description provides the shopper with item details plus the motivation to buy the item; it will engage, inform and give the shopper a reason to click the “buy now” button. In the online world, a competitor is always just a click away. It’s hard enough for a merchant to develop site traffic; if one is lucky enough (or smart enough) to have site traffic, then give visitors a reason to buy while they’re there. Give them more than just a photo and product dimensions; engage them and sell them.
With this in mind, here are four tips on improving your product descriptions:
1. Know your customer. Who will search for this item? Why do they want it? What are the points of connoisseurship for the item that will trigger a buying response in shoppers who collect this item? Don’t list just the item’s features; tell shoppers how a particular feature will fulfill their requirements as a collector or satisfy them in some other way. It’s the old Dale Carnegie sales formula: Never state a feature without following it with a benefit.
2. Make details come alive, and appeal to the senses. As much as possible, give your shopper the experience they would have if they examined the item in your shop. Give them what they can’t see by simply looking at the photo. Describe the item’s “vital statistics” in a way that helps shoppers visualize its proportions and/or function. How heavy is it? Is it smooth or rough to the touch? Is it “pocket-sized?” What emotion does the item elicit?
3. Use testimonials. Not sometimes — always. Research from the marketing company Econsultancy states that 90 percent of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 70 percent of consumers trust the opinions of unknown users. If you haven’t done so already, collect customer testimonials of your reliability for online sales, how much your customers like your service, how accessible you are, how friendly you are, how much the customer liked the product purchased from you, or how fast your shipping was. Use at least one testimonial on each page of your website. Your shoppers will get to know you through what others say about you.
4. Research your competitors. I’m not suggesting that you steal your competitor’s product descriptions. Rather, search for products similar to yours and see what comes up on Page One of a Google search. Click on the link for the page that has the No. 1 position, and when the page appears (if you’re using a PC) then right-click your mouse. When the menu comes up, select “view page source.” The page that will appear contains the coding for the page you were viewing. On the page, find the lines that contain the keywords for the page. These are the keywords that helped the No. 1 page attain first position with Google. Use these keywords when you write your product description; they work.
Good product descriptions must satisfy two masters: the Google algorithm and the customer. Ultimately, it is the customer that must be satisfied, but unless an online merchant gives Google what it is looking for, no customers will arrive to shop.
Previously published in Antique Trader Magazine