by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

When COVID-19 shut down the world, many businesses selling directly to customers, including those in agriculture, pivoted to selling online, even those that had not done so before. Many businesses have continued online sales in addition to those at their reopened brick-and-mortar salespoints. To help businesses offer better copy on their websites, Amanda Basse presented “How to Write Product Descriptions that Convert” as a recent webinar hosted by the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center.

“Optimizing your product descriptions is one of the lowest investment improvements that yields one of the highest returns,” Basse said.

In addition to informing an essential part of the customer’s decision-making process, “it is the final touch before sales,” Basse said. “After all the work you do to get people to your website to make a purchase, this is the final touch.”

Accurate product descriptions can also benefit businesses by minimizing returns, which can help businesses grow their bottom line. Basse said that 50% of shoppers have returned a product that did not match the product description and 87% of consumers rate product content “extremely important” when deciding to buy.

She said most business owners do not possess big budgets to invest in ecommerce optimization (improving their websites to boost business). But product descriptions require only a time and creative investment.

In 2021, online retail sales represent 18.1% of all consumer sales worldwide, according to eMarketer. The organization expects that to jump to 22% by 2023. To keep pace with these trends, farmers selling retail goods online need solid product descriptions.

Basse said product descriptions should augment the product by selling to real people, not just describing the product’s attributes to satisfy search engine optimization (SEO) – the keywords that help search engines find things.

“It’s important each page is optimized for SEO, but you cannot write product descriptions just for SEO,” Basse said. “It should be communication as to why people should buy your products.” She added that product descriptions should help visitors to the website quickly assess if the product is for someone like themselves. The product descriptions act as a 24-hour sales assistant.

“They’re also to persuade your customers,” Basse said. “These are compelling, customer-centered reasons for customers to consider buying your product. Product descriptions are no different. Speak directly to why they need your product.”

SEO should be woven into the product descriptions organically. Stuffing them with keywords (known as “keyword stacking”) not only makes the copy sound forced, but it can actually hamper the website’s success. “Use keywords naturally,” Basse said. “This allows your page to show in search engines or Amazon results. If your product descriptions are cookie-cutter, how will you stand out?”

Another way to stand out is to focus on the ideal customer. It may seem counterintuitive to focus on one ideal customer rather than to appeal to all, but developing a solid following of faithful customers requires it.

“Write your product descriptions to speak directly to your target audience,” Basse said. “Speak to them personally. Ask yourself every question you would have about the product and answer the questions in a conversational way.”

Since buyers want more than just the products’ specifications and mundane features, Basse encourages sharing how the product solves customers’ problems and why they should choose your product over a competitor’s. List your products’ benefits and sell customers on the experience.

“While you may feel your product is the best, you have to back it up,” Basse said. You should support your claims with any data available – if you’ve won a contest or have any farm certifications. Also use any good customer reviews to build confidence among consumers.

“Think of all the reasons your customers might be on the fence and address them head on,” Basse said.

“A lot of people are looking for socially conscious products,” Basse said. Organic certification, best farming practices, low carbon footprint and IPM are all examples of socially conscious features that many consumers want in a farm product. Farmers should brag on any of these and more. Locally made, handmade and farmstead offer other examples. If any of these features are part of your farm’s production, they should be included in the product description.

And while words are important, images can also help sell your goods. “Be sure to include as much as possible regarding the different angles and uses of your product in the images,” Basse said.

For example, if you make a value-added product like salsa, don’t stop with showing it with chips. Offer images showing it spread on enchiladas, spicing up grilled chicken breasts and stirred into soup (with recipies available, of course). This can help more people feel like your product is for them.

She also said that the image’s alternative texts should be optimized for SEO. “When you upload your images on your website, there’s going to be a little area for alt image descriptions,” Basse explained. “Optimize those for your keywords. It won’t say ‘Image 457-A’ but it will describe what’s in the image.”

Long descriptions may seem better, but the opposite is true. “Make it fast,” Basse said. “There is no reason to have a very lengthy description unless you need it. If you have something that requires a longer description, do so, but if you’re talking just to talk, cut it back.”

Most people shopping online skim pages to see if they need to read further. “Use an overall highlight, a synopsis,” Basse said. This should briefly describe the product, focusing on its main selling points. “It should end with a selling point,” she added.

Again, Basse stressed the importance of SEO. “You should think on SEO on every single page of your website,” she said. “It’s your product descriptions. Think of your keywords and build from there.”

The more specific keywords that are used, the easier it is for Google to rank them. As with any writing, spellchecking is essential. “Triple check everything, including your social media,” Basse said. She recommended Grammerly, a free online tool.

“If this is completely overwhelming, you can optimize by your most visited pages, if you have Google Analytics, and start optimizing with the most trafficked – or outsource it,” Basse said. She uses websites like ProBlogger, Fiverr and Guru to find product description writers.

A “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)” page can also help visitors become customers by building their confidence in your products by answering their questions.

“One of the big one is exchanges and returns,” Basse said. “How long will it take to ship? In an era where they can get it the next day on Amazon, they want to know.”

Basse concluded by stating that effective product descriptions will boost sales.

“You want to make sure you use your product descriptions to speak with your customers as a salesperson would,” she said. “Make sure the product description reflects your brand and your target audience. It can help bridge the gap between what your brand is and who your customers are.”