Boring catalog copy is not a good thing.
Boring product descriptions are uninteresting. And prospects and customers uninterested in your copy are easily enticed by copy that is more invigorating.
This realization about the consequences of boring catalog copy came upon me recently via a rather unlikely source: my dog.
I’ve owned my dog for six months now. His name is Doc, and we adopted him from Northeast Coonhound Rescue. Doc is a hound mix, part coonhound and part pointer.
Doc’s kind of a high-energy guy when he’s outside and for that reason, can’t go off leash. (Otherwise, he runs off for five hours to hunt in the swamp, but that’s a story for another day…)
About a month ago, Doc suddenly seemed to dislike going for walks. It got so bad that, at one point, he wouldn’t even leave the house unless we bribed him out with cookies. This was very weird behavior from a dog who previously would drag me down the steps if I even cracked open the door.
Once we got him outside, he would refuse to move. Out came the cookies, more bribing, and eventually, we’d get him going. But even during the walk, there would be bouts of stopping and refusing to budge.
Now, I’ve been around dogs all my life, but Cesar Millan I’m not, so I got the name of a trainer from the rescue we adopted Doc from.
The trainer emailed me and asked all kinds of questions about Doc, to learn about his behavior and background. She also asked me to send a short video of Doc walking (or rather, not walking) on the leash, which I did.
After viewing the video, she responded that based on Doc’s behavior and body language while on the leash, she believed that his problem was that he was bored. That where I wanted to take him was not interesting to him, so he refused to follow.
Huh, imagine that.
And just like my dog, who found some walking routes so tedious to bear that he balked at following; boring, dull catalog copy can have the same effect on your prospects and customers. They won’t want to follow along, either, if it’s not interesting to them.
And when that happens, you’ll have bigger problems to deal with than just a dog who refuses to move.
(Check out my earlier blog post for some tips on spicing up your catalog copy.)
I’m going a little off topic from catalog copywriting with this post, but it’s a relevant one nonetheless.
Do you ever waste time? You know, procrastinate? At work, at home, wherever.
Bit of a rhetorical question…
But seriously, time-wasting and procrastination, when you think about it, must eat up thousands of valuable hours of useful productivity.
After a quick Google search, I learned that we waste approximately 122 minutes of a work day procrastinating. (Where do those two hours go?)
When I worked in the corporate world, I experienced the various and sundry ways that one could wile away the hours, even before the onslaught of the internet and social media.
And when I left to become a freelance copywriter, I envisioned busy days where tasks and projects were knocked off my to do list with assembly line-like efficiency.
Little did I know.
Mr. Procrastinate lurks everywhere, and you can’t escape him. His persistence is second to none and his desire will not be denied!
I fight with him every day. Arriving at my desk with the best of intentions, only to fall victim to him sooner rather than later.
But I’ve recently discovered a simple method that, for me, has actually helped.
And I rely on a humble device that requires no charging, no electricity, no batteries.
Yup, that little bugger has pushed my productivity level through the roof!
And with the help of my little kitchen timer, I’ve begun following a procrastination-reducing procedure described in a book by Ryan Munsey.
The way it works is this: Set your timer for 25 minutes and start working. When the 25 minutes is up, and the alarm goes off, stop working. Then, set the timer again for 5 minutes and take a break from whatever you were working on. (Oops, have to stop writing – the timer went off! Be back in five…)
Ideally, you should physically remove yourself from your desk, your computer, your cell phone, etc. Get up and walk around or do some stretching – I just washed the dishes that were in the kitchen sink!
When the 5 minutes is up, go back to your desk, re-set the timer for 25 minutes, and get back to work.
Do four sets of 25 minutes working/5-minute break, and then take a 30-minute break. After the 30-minute break, repeat the four sets again.
Pretty simple, right?
I’ve found walking away from the desk to be tough, that it makes me anxious (but in a good way), to get back to work. I mean, I actually look forward to getting back at it.
And the ticking of the timer keeps my motivation up. I know, some people may find it irritating, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s my gentle, little reminder that I have another mini-deadline approaching shortly.
So, if Mr. Procrastinate has you by the scruff of the neck, why not give this easy-to-follow method a try?
And be sure to let me know how it works for you…
Staying competitive in the search engine rankings race is never-ending for an online catalog.
Search engine optimization (SEO) for product pages is a continuous activity, and a successful strategy can reap many rewards.
For the catalog copywriter producing content for product pages, you walk the tightrope of writing sales worthy, benefit-rich copy that is also attentive to SEO needs.
Search engine optimization covers a lot of ground, for sure. But the tips I’m about to mention below are easy to put into use and can be a boost to an online catalog’s SEO efforts.
1. A simple way to determine the number of words to use in a product description.
The first recommendation I’ll make here is, don’t exclude a product description. Sounds crazy, I know, but you will see on some product pages just the image of the product with no corresponding text. This is bad for SEO because the search engines can’t see images. Blank pages do not impress Google.
Here’s a method to determine how many words you should use: Count all the default words that appear on your blank product page. Default words are words found on the navigation bar, sidebar, footers, etc. Whatever this number is, the product description word count should at least exceed this.
Since the search engines like content, the longer the product description, the better, and a skillful catalog copywriter will increase the word count with clear, benefit-ripe copy that addresses all the questions and concerns of the customer.
If you’re still scratching your head as to how long your descriptions should be, you may want to do some testing on conversions to see which lengths perform better.
2. Don’t copy content from other web sites.
This practice is seen fairly often online and it does search rankings no favors. Search engines penalize this behavior. (Don’t have the time to create fresh content? Maybe you should consider hiring a freelance catalog copywriter…)
In a similar vein, don’t use a manufacturer’s copy, either. They’ll distribute content to various online catalogs and all that duplicate content gets punished by Google. Also, manufacturer’s copy is frequently less than adequate from a selling viewpoint.
3. Take full advantage of product reviews.
Fresh content. We hear these words constantly in SEO discussions. Product reviews can provide that cherished, new content…for free. And, depending on which source you check, shoppers are purportedly influenced by online reviews from 80 percent on upwards. They seek out reviews prior to making purchases. If a site doesn’t allow for reviews, it’s missing a huge chunk of the action.
The continuous generation of content from product reviews keeps the search engines coming back more frequently, a boost to any online catalog’s SEO efforts.
And from a copywriting perspective, product reviews offer tons of insight directly from customers, which can be spun right into a product’s copy.
Every catalog copywriter who writes product descriptions for online catalogs can contribute to a catalog’s SEO strategy by implementing these three simple tips.
Since I’m a catalog copywriter, when I shop, I suspect that I look at product descriptions a little bit differently than the average shopper.
With every product description that I read, I notice how it’s arranged, specifically, which details about the product get top billing.
As a copywriter, I know that the most important information about the product is its benefit to you, the consumer.
And those details should always be front and center in the product’s copy.
For some reason though, a lot of catalog copy out there doesn’t adhere to this very basic rule of thumb.
A lot of descriptions out there bury the benefits later in the copy, which is unfortunate, since potential customers may not see it there. Why? Because they gave up after the first paragraph or two of generalized, unimportant (to them) information. Information that didn’t answer their compelling question: “Can your product solve my problem?” So they moved along.
Pointing out a product’s benefit immediately is crucial, for both online and print catalog copy.
“But wait!” you say, “If a customer found me online, she already has an idea of what she’s looking for, she’s already thinking about buying, so why do I need to sell her with benefits?”
Why risk it?
Sure, the customer is there because of her search query; her keywords matched yours. Kudos to you, your SEO is working. But your job is not done.
Now, your prospect needs confirmation that your product is what she needs because it will solve her problem.
And this is where your benefit-stating copy grabs her. Immediately. And converts a potential sale into a definite sale.
Would you like an example of copy that was slow to mention a product’s benefit? This happened to me just recently.
I have a horse and he’s developed girth galls. Girth galls are a condition caused by rubbing or chafing around the girth area of a horse. The girth is the “belt” that fastens on both sides of the saddle when the saddle is on the horse’s back and it keeps the saddle secure and in place. These girth galls can become raw and sore and cause the horse much discomfort.
So, now I have a problem that I need to solve. A horse with girth galls. And I’m pretty sure the current girth I have is contributing to the rubbing and chafing. Looks like I need a new girth.
I’ve heard that mohair girths can help horses with girth galls. So I google “mohair dressage girth” and the first result that Google presents me with is a Stillwater Mohair Dressage Girth. I click on that one.
The product page appears, and I begin reading the product description. The first thing I’m told is that the girth is hand-made in the USA from therapeutic, all-natural, 100% mohair.
Hmmm, since the girth is called a mohair girth, I had already assumed that that’s what it was made of, so the copy starts out with redundancy.
It goes on to say the girth will provide unbeatable comfort for my horse. This is a generality; unbeatable comfort as opposed to what? The first paragraph finishes by telling me that the girth will ensure the security of the saddle and rider. I would hope so since that is the purpose of a girth.
At this point, I still don’t know if this girth can help with girth galls.
The next paragraph explains to me in its first sentence how mohair, sheared from Angora goats, is one of the strongest, softest, and most manageable of fibers for creating a very durable and beautiful girth. I must confess, in all the years I’ve been around horses, not once have I ever looked at a girth and admired its beauty.
And still nothing about girth galls.
But the next sentence, halfway through the second paragraph, I hit pay dirt. I’m told (finally) that mohair prevents cinch sores and sweat galling.
My question to whoever wrote this copy is this: Why delay sharing this important benefit? Why not build it into your first line of copy?
Whether you’re writing a product description for a print catalog or its online version, never hesitate to immediately point out a product’s benefit to a potential customer. The sooner you mention it, the better your chances of making that sale.
Some food for thought when you’re looking to hire a freelance catalog copywriter.
What’s most important to you: That the writer knows the products? That the writer writes well? That the writer is reliable and efficient? That the writer isn’t expensive? That the writer has experience?
These are probably just a few of the things that you consider when contemplating hiring a freelance copywriter.
Most likely, you’ll want to hire a copywriter who can meet the majority of your qualifications. But chances are that won’t always be the case and you’ll have to compromise a bit.
But the one qualification that you should never skimp on is the copywriter’s writing ability.
And I’m not talking about just having excellent grammar and punctuation skills. I’m talking about the ability to write precisely about the benefit of a product while using words that strike a chord in the prospect, prompting the prospect to buy.
In other words, a skillful copywriter knows how to transform the written word into a selling tool.
Because the purpose of copy in a print or online catalog is to make sales.
Product knowledge? Sure, it’s definitely helpful, but not an absolute necessity. Unless your product is extremely technical or complex, any copywriter worth his salt should be able to get himself up to speed fairly quickly with research.
I can’t imagine that there are many copywriters out there who at some point took on a project writing about a product that they weren’t an expert on.
Reliable and efficient? Yes, these are vital qualities, but not ones that should surpass the importance of superior, sales worthy copywriting. What does your catalog achieve with the timely receipt of dud-like copy?
Is the writer expensive? Hmmm, I guess that boils down to how you define expensive.
Is the writer experienced? Hiring an experienced freelance catalog copywriter is desirable for many reasons. But remember, weren’t we all novices at one point?
Newcomers who truly want to prove themselves should be willing to provide you, a potential client, with samples of free copy, just to get their feet in the door. This allows you to get a feel for what they might be capable of, at no expense to you.
So next time you need the help of a freelance catalog copywriter, most importantly, make sure that the freelancer writes benefit-rich, persuasive copy. Because you want your catalog to sell well.
Suzanne Quigley - Copywriter