1. Understand: the web is not print

Writing for the web is different from writing for other media. Different types of sites have different types of goals. On an eCommerce or catalog site, users have two main goals of use:

  • Research and
  • Purchase

For both of these use cases, you want to help users get to the information they are seeking, easily. Your copy should enable this process.

It is important to optimize eCommerce content for the web-browsing experience. When users are reading to do something, you need to help them do it. When they are reading to learn something, present the information straightforwardly and in plain language.

2. Help users see your main point

  • State your main point first instead of burying it at the end.
  • The information that is most important should be most accessible. Put it first.
  • Build your content and information architecture around this principle.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make an argument with a grand conclusion at the end. State it first. Give all secondary support or features in order of importance.

3. Write short sentences

Use short sentences. Complex sentence structures make people think too much about what they are reading.

4. Active voice should be used by you in your sentences

Don’t be a Yoda or a legislator. Don’t write like the #4 subhead above. The active voice is the most understandable voice in English. Use the active voice in your sentences.

5. Use lots of descriptive subheads

Many people don’t read very carefully online. You have to help them along. Frequent use of subheads, especially in longer stretches of text, will guide a reader. Write the subheads as if they are all that a reader may read.

6. Make friends with short paragraphs

On paper, a paragraph can be as long as it needs to be to carry a whole thought. Readers are used to that. But online, you need to break a paragraph sooner to preserve white space and help your readers feel comfortable with your text.

If you group too much into one paragraph, eyes will wander. Think two to four sentences, max. Readers are comfortable with that.

7. Leave only one space after periods._

If you haven’t been doing this, start doing it. Here’s why.

8. Forget the marketing-speak

When describing products or services, avoid unclear marketing terminology, confusing technical jargon, buzzwords, and other fluff whenever possible. This is especially important when in-house employees write web content.

Many people in more traditional sales and marketing fields may be quite comfortable with marketing-speak, but it is imperative that you communicate more directly.

Marketing-speak is bad for search optimization too. You should write the way people search for your products online.

9. Think in terms of you and we

The best way to speak directly to users is to address your audience as you — with the second person. When a consumer is reading online, the direct address is a valuable aid to navigation and self-identification with what is being said.

The corollary to this is to also write in the first person plural. When the unseen brand narrator is discussing what the product does, it is altogether appropriate to refer to the brand as we.

This may conflict with brand guidelines developed for other uses. We recommend that you expand your brand guidelines to include eCommerce best practices, including you and we. It will help a consumer identify with the brand, the products, and the information better.

10. Don’t be too repetitive

Some repetition is unavoidable on a site with multiple avenues leading to information. This highlights the need to avoid additional repetitions. If you’re describing a product, avoid saying the same thing twice.

11. Use formats for consistency

Consistency is also very important across an eCommerce site. If you have one sentence in a content bucket for one product and three paragraphs for another product, it’s confusing.

Each distinct type of content should adhere to a format. This provides uniformity across the site. And uniformity greatly benefits the user experience.

Obviously, not every content bucket will be applicable to every page. But where those buckets exist, they should meet a user’s expectations as set by other parts of the site.

12. Keep your brand’s voice strong

Adhering to best practices should not drown out your brand voice. If anything, it should strengthen it. By speaking to users with the syntax of this media modality, you will establish your voice effortlessly. If you try to impose a voice without regard for your audience’s expectations, your brand will get lost.

13. Optimize for Search but not at the expense of the message

The way search engines index your content is based on a multitude of factors. Those factors change all the time. The best way to maintain relevance is to describe your products and services well.

Add value to your descriptions and make them inviting. But don’t overload your site with keywords in the hope of artificially boosting yourself. The more traffic you get, the more relevant search engines will think you are. Gaming the system will hurt you more than it helps.

14. Say something unique about each thing

It is especially challenging with large product catalogs to find unique selling points for every product. This is especially the case when there are few differentiators between products. But do it anyway. People love to compare products and prices, so give them the information they need to compare.

It is also a great opportunity to push the upsell while maintaining the dignity of the lower-tier product. When the upper-shelf product sounds better, people will feel right about the value they are getting. When they buy entry-level, they will know what they are getting and feel good about that.

Further Reading

To learn more about optimizing content for the web, read:

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Letting Go of the Words by Ginny Redish