How to write product categories that don’t suck in 6 steps (copy included!)
Here’s a guide to writing e-commerce product category descriptions with a twist. Every single tip is backed up by real e-commerce website copy that I just worked on.
Every business relies on words. But how does an e-commerce site get the words right while focusing on suppliers, sales channels, markets, currencies, legal requirements – and the rest?
That’s why you’ll see the before and after versions of each product category and WHY I suggested the changes I did.
Thanks to a hydration backpack company for generously letting me show this work in progress.
Step 1: Do your Research
Grab your customer’s attention right away by recognising their problem, and offer your product as the solution. In this case, the problem is the nuisance and inconvenience of having to bring bottles on bike rides. The solution? Water backpacks or hydration packs.
I jump right into the copy by empathising with a cyclist’s pain – you’ve forgotten or lost your water bottle:
“There’s nothing worse than getting a couple of miles into your bike ride and realizing you’ve forgotten your water bottle. Or dropped your water bottle while cycling!”
How do I know that cyclists even care? Take a good look at product reviews from real people on sites like Amazon and cycling forums. They’ll tell you what your customer likes, dislikes, and basically give you a free masterclass in how they speak.
The phrase keeping “your hands on your handlebars” kept popping up in reviews. If a phrase is important to your lead, use it IF you can insert it naturally.
Here’s the full product category, before and after I worked on it:
We present to you hydration packs for all your cycling pursuits. A couple of hours road biking or a days long mountain biking require different amounts of water, as our hydration backpacks display.
Dry storage, such as food, gels, First Aid kits, waterproofs etc. need to be carried to support your health and fitness milestones. Dependent on your preference, packs can be secured mainly via the shoulders and torso or stabilised around your waist.
Fulfill your cycling aspirations with a biking water backpack.
There’s nothing worse than getting a couple of miles into your bike ride and realizing you’ve forgotten your water bottle. Or dropped your water bottle while cycling! Keep the adventure going – and your hands on your handlebars– with our massive range of hydration packs.
A few hours road biking or a day’s long mountain biking adventure require different amounts of water. Generally, the longer you will be out on your bike, the more capacity you need. We understand that – our water backpacks range from 2 litres to 7.
The more epic your adventure, the more additional gear you’ll need to bring on your hydration pack. Even our most lightweight backpacks have storage for phone, keys, and snacks.
You can choose to secure your hydration pack via the shoulders and torso or stabilised with low-profile waistbelts.
Remember, studies have shown that riding a bike everyday makes you more awesome than the general population. *
*probably true fact
Step 2: Talk about the customer
People love to hear about themselves. It’s only natural. If you only talk about the product (no matter how wonderful) you’ve forgotten your audience. And believe me, they will stop listening.
The statement “Pressurised water backpacks permit you to spray water with power from your pack” is fine as a statement of fact, but what happens if you talk about the customer’s experience of a Pressurised Water Backpack instead?
Put yourself in their position and try to paint a picture. Think sweaty, visceral and real.
“When you’ve just slogged up a long, hard hill, the energy needed to suck water out of a straw suddenly seems…heroic. That’s the happiness of having a pressurised water pack.”
Completely different, right?
The next part of the original copy gives us another piece of information:
“This allows you to spray to clean, cool and share hydration with friends, family or pets. It improves the hygiene, comfort and enjoyment of any outdoor adventure.”
It’s fine, but a bit vague. Pressurised water backpacks do a lot more, so show the customer exactly what they can do for them – and their running buddies.
My version goes:
“You can use your Pressurised Water Pack to fill water bottles, clean wounds, rinse off mud, and share with your two- and four- legged running buddies.”
Here’s the full product category, before and after versions:
Pressurised water backpacks permit you to spray water with power from your pack. This allows you to spray to clean, cool and share hydration with friends, family or pets. It improves the hygiene, comfort and enjoyment of any outdoor adventure. If a filter is acquired it is safe to use water from streams, rivers and lakes meaning that you need never run short of water. Packs are available which are suitable for running, hiking, cycling and even camping.
Be your friends saviour and your kids hero by carrying a pressurised pack on your precious leisure trips.
When you’ve just slogged up a long, hard hill, the energy needed to suck water out of a straw suddenly seems…heroic. That’s the happiness of having a pressurised water pack.
You can use your pressurised water pack to fill water bottles, clean wounds, rinse off mud, and share with your two- and four- legged running buddies.
If you use a filter, it’s safe to use water from streams, rivers and lakes so you need never run out of water.
In really hot weather, it can be more effective to spray water than to drink it. Your friends will thank you. Your pet will thank you. Think Super Soaker strapped to your back.
Step 3: Use Dynamic Language
If you use passive, abstract language, your reader is very unlikely to get inspired about your product. In passive voice, something is being done to, as opposed to doing.
To judge if something is in “passive voice”, try this simple tip. If you can add “by monkeys” to the end of a sentence and it still makes (sort of) sense, that’s passive language.
In the category on Hydration Pack accessories, I took these lines:
“Geigerrig filters work with their pressurised systems to enable the purifying of water in the wild. This results in safe, clean drinkable water from streams, rivers and lakes.”
and made them more active and evocative:
“Enjoy natural water in the wild using our water filters. Our Geigerrig filters work with their pressurised systems to purify water from streams, rivers and lakes.”
The line “Reversible bladders which are dishwasher safe ensure that the weather, hot or cold will not hold you back” needed to be more dynamic. I changed it to: “Cleaning has never been easier as the fold top can be turned inside out and scrubbed, and it’s dishwasher safe too.”
“Geigerrig provides insulated tubes and garages” isn’t a sentence that’s going to rouse anyone. So I changed the sentence to what Geigerrig tubes actually do: “With Geigerrig insulated tubes, water keeps flowing in freezing weather and cool in hot weather.”
See the full original and new product category:
Accessories we offer enhance your outdoor experience. Geigerrig filters work with their pressurised systems to enable the purifying of water in the wild. This results in safe, clean drinkable water from streams, rivers and lakes. Clean water anytime.
Geigerrig bladders or engines are compatible with most other backpacks. Reversible bladders which are dishwasher safe ensure that the weather, hot or cold will not hold you back. Geigerrig provides insulated tubes and garages.
Our accessory range has all you need to enhance your pack, whether you’re a day tripper, world traveller, or mountain ranger.
Enjoy natural water in the wild using our water filters. Our Geigerrig filters work with their pressurised systems to purify water from streams, rivers and lakes. Clean water anytime.
The Geigerrig pressurised hydration bladder or engine fits nicely into most backpacks and running packs. Cleaning has never been easier as the fold top can be turned inside out and scrubbed, and it’s dishwasher safe too.
With Geigerrig insulated tubes, water keeps flowing in freezing weather and cool in hot weather.
Step 4: Be Concise
Your copy needs to be snappy. Concise. Punchy. You get the idea. Most people hang around a website for less than 59 seconds. So, no pressure.
This rule is most stringent when it comes to your website title or header. Make sure it’s clear, simple and to-the-point. If you can convey your message in two lines, great. For the hydration backpack website, the main message is:
“Ditch the bottle…”
The fact that throttle rhymed with bottle – that was just a bonus.
(Not everything on a website has to be concise. For the “About Us” section or a luxury product description, by all means weave an intricate, compelling story.)
Here’s the old and new product category:
To perform and feel your best hydration is essential. When in your happiest environment where you experience joy and freedom, water backs offer hassle hands free access to water and other essentials. No matter which sport brings you happiness, ‘Waterbackpackspro’ have a hydration pack that suits.
Ditch the bottle and live full throttle. Whatever you do to get thirsty, ‘Waterbackpackspro’ has the perfect hydration pack.
Step 5: Make your Language Flow
A good rule of thumb for whether your copy flows is always read it out loud. If you’re stumbling over your words, someone else will too.
“designed for our multifunctional lives” flows better to native English speakers than “designed with multifunction in mind”.
Instead of “ensuring that your survival, hunting and adventure pursuit demands are met”, I went with “Whether on a mission or just on a trek”. While it gets the same message across, it’s shorter, flows better and, importantly, evokes adventure and exploration.
For sentences that flow together, forget the rules you learned at school. It’s okay to start a sentence with Maybe. Or. And. That’s how people talk, so it helps to build trust.
Let’s bypass stodgy writing conventions and get to the heart of your product.
Here’s the full product category:
Tactical water backpacks need to be strong, durable and flexible for your needs. We are passionate in ensuring that your survival, hunting and adventure pursuit demands are met.
The packs are designed with multifunction in mind which offers solutions for many different situations. The hydration compartments can fit laptops for work travel. Others for technical equipment such as GPS devices, laptops and power cords or camping gear.
Our packs offer strength when you need it the most, for an active life less ordinary.
Tactical water backpacks are the on-the-go gear for Hunting, Climbing, Running, Biking and Hiking, and Outdoor Sports. Whether on a mission or just on a trek, these packs offer a good balance between compactness and storage.
Tactical packs are designed for our multifunctional lives. Maybe you need to fit your laptop into your pack for a work trip. Or you have to bring along technical equipment, like GPS devices, power cords or camping gear.
Some of our tactical packs even come with a built in molle system to help attach on additional items.
You don’t have to be a soldier to use our Tactical water backpacks. We got your back.
Step 6: Make ‘em smile
So the quirky copy (below) I added to the website will never be comedy gold. Or brass, probably.
That’s okay. As a way to make product descriptions stand out and show off your brand’s personality, humour is hard to beat.
Yes, always in combination with tried and true copywriting practices. But if you can connect to a customer’s passion with relatable humour – that’s powerful.
So I ended each product category on an up note.
“Remember, studies have shown that riding a bike everyday makes you more awesome than the general population.*
*probably true fact”
“Remember, if the winter is too cold and the summer is too hot, you are not a hiker. Or so says a bitter hiker.
(Luckily, there aren’t too many of them.)”
“As everyone knows, running was invented to make water taste better. And if that’s not on a sampler, it should be.”