Let’s talk about writing product descriptions

Simple illustration of person sitting at desk, writing with a quill on a very long scroll.

Writing product copy is weird. You’re trying to sell a stranger on something in a very short amount of words while also upholding like, a brand voice. Sometimes you’re writing about products you hate or have no opinion about (which is worse!). Too often you’re writing for a company or person that hasn’t solidified their brand voice but thinks they have a brand voice.

And a lot of times? A lot of times you’re just a person who has to write product copy and site content for something you’re doing and you don’t know where to start. I’ve spent the better chunk of my adult working life writing this stuff and it honestly doesn’t stop being a strange game that gets stranger every day.

All that said, I’ve been doing this for so long I forget that not everybody knows the basics. So, let’s start going over some basics. We’ll start at the top.

 

Product Descriptions: Length and Structure of Romance Copy

The framework of this particular post is from a twitter thread I wrote a while ago after seeing some pretty junky copy. I don’t want to be mean, so all products and the copy I’m going to mention here is totally made up stuff.

Before anything though, let’s go over some vocab. Different places call all these things different names, it’s frustrating.

  • Product Description: The sum total of all the text next to or under the product image when you’re looking at a product page. We’re talking the stats, measurements, fancy descriptive words, all of it. This is not to be confused with the plain ol “description” which is really just part of the whole.
  • Romance Copy or Description: This is the fun stuff that sells the personality and possibility of a product. Think dreamy scent descriptions on a bath bomb, or what’s basically a short story in a lifestyle clothing catalogue.
  • Product Specifications or Details: Here’s where the hard facts go about a product. What oils are in that soap, what that sweater is knit out of and how to wash it.

These are the two main components of a product description. Depending on where your product is posted online and how you’re putting it up there, there will be different terminology and sometimes sub-categories. But them’s the basics.

Outside of forgetting to follow rules like disclosing country of origin or use and content disclaimers, product specifications are straightforward. The romance copy is where product descriptions fall down the easiest.

Simple illustration of person sitting at desk, writing with a quill on a very long scroll.

How long is good romance copy?

The general suggestion is that product copy should be somewhere longer than 300 words and shorter than 600 words. That’s a lot! That’s like, microfiction a lot. No worries, you don’t have to write 300+ words of product description if that doesn’t work for you. But, it does need to be longer than a tweet (and yes, I mean the current 280-character length) though, for REASONS I’ll get to a little later.

How long should your romance copy be? It’s going to vary by product so ask yourself the following:

  • Do I have detailed or robust product specifications to convey as well?
  • Are there statements about the product or brand (like use instructions, health disclaimers or community give-back programs) that need to be included?
  • Is the product conveyed with clear pictures, like lifestyle and detail images to provide visual information beyond “item on plain background”?

If you’ve got a “yes” on any of the above you can shave off a sentence or two. Too much text is too much. This article on Content26 has some examples of copy that is too long and copy that comes up short. It really does vary by product, customer and what the product page looks like.

For our example item, let’s say it’s a novelty shaped bath bomb with two product images that just show it from slightly different angles. Here’s what text has to be included for the product details:

  • Top notes: Clove and lavender.
  • Middle notes: White sage and rosemary.
  • Bottom notes: Camphor.
  • How to use: Drop the whole thing (or use just half!) into a bathtub of warm water and relax into the soothing oils and fragrance.
  • Ingredients: Sodium bicarbonate, citric acid, potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar), magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) coconut oil, Vitis vinifera (grape) seed oil, fragrance, iron oxide.
  • Disclaimer: This product contains essential oils. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using products with essential oil.

BAM, right there is 85 words. With some generous rounding, you only need to write 200 words of romance copy to round out that product description. And honestly, for most folks? You don’t need that much. A lot depends on how your product page looks and at what point the copy visually just appears too long.

Simple illustration of person holding an object labelled "smell", they look dubious

What information goes in romance copy?

Relevant facts, brand and product themes and engaging descriptions are all good fodder for romance copy. Even if your pictures are good (and your image descriptions are good), someone should be able to picture the product from the description.

 

Dressing up details

Keep hard numbers (like material content) and use facts/tips (washing, care, etc.) out of the romance copy unless it’s a key selling point (85% unicorn hair). Looking at our example bath bomb, some good selling point info from the product details are the scent notes, so we’ll pull that into the romance copy as well. It’s okay that it’s mentioned twice!

How can we turn a basic list of facts into fun copy? With descriptor words! So, this:

Top notes: Clove and lavender.

Middle notes: White sage and rosemary.

Bottom notes: Camphor.

Can be turned into this:

Warm top notes of clove and lavender float dreamily above clean and purifying white sage and rosemary with the sharp, cleansing tang of camphor underneath.

And that’s another 25 words!

One thing to remember is a good percentage of folks aren’t going to read all of your romance copy or all of the product description. So important stuff should go in both places, both to repeat important information and display it in two different ways (both within sentences and in a bulleted list).

 

Stay on brand

What your romance copy is for is to give the customer a feeling for the product. What it’s good for, how it can make them feel, fun facts. Think about product descriptions you’ve read that made you laugh or put something in your shopping cart. Why did it work for you?

If you have an overall company, brand or product theme, you’ve got an easy way in. For our bath bomb example, we’ll say the company specializes in folktale and myth-themed bath and beauty products. That means the product has a couple of anecdotes and history snippets we can include:

  • Inspired by the Four Thieves Vinegar tale about robbers protecting themselves during the Bubonic Plague with a magical blend of oils.
  • The essential oils used in this bath bomb are known for their antiseptic, antibacterial and general cleansing properties.

And we can spin that into this:

One of the oldest cleansing and protective scent blends is Four Thieves Vinegar—a blend, the story goes, that was used by four dastardly and enterprising robbers for protection as they stole valuables from plague-struck houses. Our Four Thieves bath bomb is only looking to steal away your stress with a blend of essential oils that are known for their antiseptic, antibacterial and general cleansing properties.

And that’s 65 more! What are we at now, close to somewhere around 100 words? NICE. Oh dang, and there’s still another thing we can add? NICER.

 

Describe me like one of your French girls

What we’ve got left is just straight describing the product. Here are some things to know about our pretend bath bomb:

  • This bath bomb is shaped like one of those bird plague doctor masks
  • This bath bomb is dark grey and large.

Not a lot of info! But enough to work with. Let’s see what we can do, using some of those descriptor words like we did with the scent description:

This dramatically oversized bath bomb is a gorgeously gloomy grey and moulded to look like a plague doctor mask.

Sweet, 19 more words. Okay, let’s start putting this together.

Simple illustration of a person arranging three object labelled: Fun, Intrigue, Info

What’s a good romance copy structure?

If you do it right, almost any sentence pulled from a piece of copy can stand on its own and sell a product. Treat it like an essay or article and get your primary deets up top—which you should be doing anyway, because who knows how things get cut up on a search engine result page.

Here’s a good basic structure:

Fun, short intro sentence! A slightly longer statement that utilises useful wordplay that intrigues and informs. Finish up with drier details or useful product facts.

Okay, let’s see what components we’ve built earlier.

  • Warm top notes of clove and lavender float dreamily above clean and purifying white sage and rosemary with the sharp, cleansing tang of camphor underneath.
  • One of the oldest cleansing and protective scent blends is Four Thieves Vinegar—a blend, the story goes, that was used by four dastardly and enterprising robbers for protection as they stole valuables from plague-struck houses. Our Four Thieves bath bomb is only looking to steal away your stress with a blend of essential oils that are known for their antiseptic, antibacterial and general cleansing properties.
  • This dramatically oversized bath bomb is a gorgeously gloomy grey and moulded to look like a plague doctor mask.

Now, let’s string them together with a couple more phrases to liven it up and some cleaner grammar:

This dramatically oversized bath bomb is just what the doctor ordered! One of the oldest cleansing and protective scent blends is Four Thieves Vinegar—a blend, the story goes, that was used by four dastardly and enterprising robbers for protection as they stole valuables from plague-struck houses. Our Four Thieves bath bomb is only looking to steal away your stress with a blend of essential oils that are known for their antiseptic, antibacterial, and general cleansing properties. Gorgeously gloomy grey, with warm top notes of clove and lavender that float dreamily above purifying white sage and rosemary and the sharp, cleansing tang of camphor.

 

And there’s your romance copy! Next time, we’ll look at what needs to be in the product specifications half of a description, how that varies by product and audience, and what you need to make sure you disclose.

 

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Also published on Medium.