For high-volume online retailers, SEO can play a major role in growing not only organic traffic but conversions and overall sales:
- One month after migrating from Demandware, BackJoy saw a 102% increase in sales from organic traffic and a 71% increase in revenue
- Nine months after migrating from Magento, iHeartRaves experienced a 130% YoY increase in organic traffic and a 227% increase in revenue
- In under a year after moving to Shopify Plus, TULA’s site sessions jumped 95%, organic search traffic 101%, and total transactions 297%
In this article, we’ll examine five steps to optimize your SEO for product descriptions. If you’re curious about getting similar results … schedule a Shopify Plus demo today.
You’re confident about your storefront’s onsite performance. Your page speeds are top notch, your images are professionally shot, and a recent iteration of testing has taken your conversion rate optimization to a new level.
Unfortunately, even if your product descriptions are optimized to sell, that fact alone may not be enough to impact the bottom line. After all, no one can buy your products if they can’t find them.
And, if you’re not number one … you might as well not exist.
Worse, according to Statista, the average CTR for paid search in ecommerce is a mere 2.69% (that’s the equivalent of being eternally ranked immediately below position five).
SEO for product descriptions brings up a host of difficult questions:
- Which keywords should you target?
- What’s the perfect description length?
- Should you write for engines or people?
- Where and how often should you use keywords?
Getting the answers right is essential. Here’s how to do it …
- Write for Buyers, Not Bots
- Major on Benefits (Include Features)
- Target the Right SEO Product Keywords
- Let Buyer “Awareness” Drive Your PDP Length
- Create Unique SEO Product Descriptions for Each PDP
1. Write for Buyers, Not Bots
The number one rule for good SEO any time, anywhere, is to write for people first … not the search engine web crawlers.
Here’s why: what’s good for your audience is good for search engines, because their main concern is usability.
The whole point of search is to help users find exactly what they’re looking for. If your product descriptions align with this goal, you’re going to please Google and rank well.
When writing your descriptions, always ask yourself:
Does this help the online buyer? Does it inform them, enlighten them, and, ultimately, help them make a purchase decision?
If you start from square one using this approach, you’re already on the ideal path to writing amazing product descriptions for SEO.
SEO for Product Descriptions: Merchant Spotlight
In a savvy display of both SEO and multi-channel ecommerce, iHeartRaves commands the top two organic results for “sequin bra”:
“The impact that Shopify had on our SEO strategies was groundbreaking,” says Katie Knoll, the Digital Marketing Manager at iHeartRaves and The Emazing Group.
“We could have never achieved such results with Magento. We were able to lock down top spots for some of our most valuable keywords, bringing in new customers and more revenue than ever before. We would have never been able to scale without Shopify!”
Interested in what Shopify Plus can do for your SEO?
2. Major on Benefits (Include Features)
You cannot write an informative, accurate description of a product unless you understand that product inside-out. Vague knowledge of a product will lead to an equally vague description, one that is unhelpful for your online buyers as well as the search engines.
Here’s a good example. Does this writer know anything about the winter boots they’re describing?
This description could be referring to any winter boots. Worse, it doesn’t connect to the buyer’s information need. It’s heavy on features, but light on benefits…
SEO for Product Descriptions: Features vs. Benefits
You may be jazzed about your products’ features and ready to shout them from the rooftops, but all your buyers care about are the benefits.
Here’s the difference:
Features are impersonal. Features describe what a product can do, what it looks like, or how it works without relating those things to the buyer. Features are great, but why should the buyer care?
Let’s return to the above winter boots for an example of an entirely features-driven product description:
“The Cougar Creek Boots Feature A Canvas Upper With A Round Toe. The Man-made Outsole Lends Lasting Traction And Wear.”
This description tells you what materials the boots are made of. What it does not tell you is how boots made of those materials will improve your life beyond “lasting traction and wear.”
Even that little bit tells us next-to-nothing.
- Will they stand up to getting wet?
- Lasting traction and wear as compared to what?
- Will these boots get me through harsh winter seasons?
Even if these boots could get you through a week living in a sub-zero arctic tundra, we’d never know.
It doesn’t matter, anyway, because the buyer bounced from this page 10 minutes ago. That’s bad for SEO because the longer users stay on a page, the better Google will rank its relevance.
So, what’s a better way to inform online buyers and get them to linger on your product page?
Benefits describe how product features will work for the buyer. Benefits address exactly how your product will improve their lives.
Describing benefits is far more helpful for your audience than listing features. Adding product benefits makes your description relevant to the buyer, and that makes it better for SEO.
A good, benefits-driven description looks like this:
It not only mentions features (“a waterproof rubber foot” and “a soft fabric lining”), it also tells you how you will benefit from them (the rubber “blocks moisture from getting in” and the fabric lining “ensures toasty warmth and comfort”).
Note how quickly you get a clear picture of what it would be like to wear these boots when you read this description. It covers all the main points that matter to a buyer in two sentences.
When you stick to the benefits of your products in your descriptions, your persuasive power and SEO will be equally as effective.
3. Target the Right SEO Product Keywords
Your job of correctly optimizing SEO for product descriptions must include using the right keywords. This will help search engines understand your pages, which will help internet searchers find what you’re selling.
So, how do you find the right keywords, and how do you use them strategically?
It’s all about narrowing down to the right phrase, and it all starts with a solid keyword tool. SEMrush is a great option, as is KWFinder or Moz Keyword Explorer. These tools let you research specific keywords and give you valuable data about factors like:
- Search volume (how many people are searching for a given keyword)
- Keyword difficulty (how hard it will be to rank for a given keyword)
- Related terms you can potentially use in your content (e.g., longtail keywords)
The right keywords will almost always fall into that last category known as longtail keywords. Why? Because the longer the search query the higher a buyer’s intent of purchase. As Yoast found, you should use this type because they have a higher conversion value – they lead to more sales.
For example, let’s say we’re selling a product that fits the general definition of “face oil.”
To narrow down our keyword, we should consider our ingredients (or, substitute the benefits and features, if we have a retail product).
If we add our top ingredient for face oil, we might identify something truly unique, like squalene oil. (For inquiring minds, squalene is a substance found in shark liver oil, known for anti-cancer and skin-protecting effects.)
Let’s say our product specifically also has Vitamin C and Rose Oil in it. We can add more key ingredients, and get a targeted phrase: squalene vitamin C rose oil.
Check out how the competition numbers go down when we narrow down our keywords (screenshots from KWFinder).
Starting with “face oil,” we’re up against some fairly big sites: in the top results are pages from The Huffington Post as well as Sephora, and we’re looking at numbers on the keyword difficulty scale that score past 40 out of 100. Possible, but by no means easy.
But, just by adding “vitamin c rose” to our product, “face oil,” we can identify an “easy” keyword to rank for:
By narrowing down, we’re no longer competing with major sites to win first-page placement for our keyword ranking.
Check out how the brand Biossance — a Shopify Plus merchant — uses this exact keyword phrase for their product, a fantastic example of how to “SEO” your product descriptions.
SEO Product Descriptions: Strategic Keyword Placement
Once you have some good keywords in hand, you can strategically place them in your product descriptions.
Do not, by any means, keyword-stuff. This is easy to do in short descriptions (300 words or less). To avoid it, use your focus keyword no more than a few times:
- Once in the page’s URL
- Once in the product description title
- Once or twice in the body copy
- Once in the alt image tag
Improve your SEO and include your keyword in your link text, but only if it meshes with the product title.
Let’s return to the Biossance facial oil for a good example of how to use keywords in your product descriptions.
Throughout this product description, the keyword “squalane vitamin C rose oil” is used:
- Once in the URL
- Once in the page title and H1
- Once in the image alt="Squalane Vitamin C Rose Oil"
- And sparingly in the body copy
This shortlist above is all you need to rank (and to avoid penalization for repeating your keyword ad nauseam).
4. Let Buyer “Awareness” Drive Your PDP Length
Your process of optimizing SEO for product descriptions also needs to include writing at the right length for good search engine results.
Unfortunately, there is no set length that works for every product. Instead, best practices demand that you base the length of your descriptions on what your audience needs.
And, your audience’s needs will differ based on their level of awareness.
Low Buyer Awareness
Online buyers with low awareness of your product will need more convincing – they have no idea who you are, what your product is, or that they have a need for it. This means you have to describe your product thoroughly to bring them to the level of awareness needed for a sale.
The example we looked at above from Biossance thoroughly addresses buyers, even those at a low awareness level.
The first part is a general summary, and — below that — there are tabs the user can click on to learn more about the key features, ingredients, product usage, and brand guarantee. This is a fantastic way to lay out product copy in a way that is both user-friendly and informative.
Not to mention there’s even a YouTube product video below the copy for those who appreciate an alternative format to copy. Way to go, Biossance!
High Buyer Awareness
On the other end of the spectrum, online buyers with high awareness are already fully cognizant of both the product and why they need it. They require far less convincing to reach for their wallets, so you’ll need less copy to do it.
Everybody knows what a t-shirt is and what it’s for. Most buyers have a high awareness level about this staple. We don’t need a novel-length description to explain it.
Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers breaks down the correlation between buyer awareness and description length in this great chart:
Of course, awareness can be features-dependent, too.
Think about selling everyday cotton t-shirts, for instance, like the one described above. Everybody knows what they are, what they’re used for, and how to care for them. You don’t need to explain their purpose or describe their special features in detail.
But, what about organic cotton t-shirts? What about hand-sewn t-shirts with embroidered details? Or designer t-shirts made from high-end fabric?
As you can see, as soon as the special features of a product increase, the need for a longer description grows, too.
This is why your product description length for SEO depends on your particular targets, their level of product awareness, and the type of products you sell.
5. Create Unique SEO Product Descriptions for Each PDP
Another must for good SEO is to avoid duplicate content at all costs.
In general, creating similar descriptions for all the products in your online store can cause problems for search engines trying to index your pages.
According to Moz, when you have product descriptions that look like near-duplicates, search engines don’t know what to do with them. This can drive down visibility for all of your pages.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, each of your product descriptions needs to be unique, including product titles.
If you can’t write a unique product description for certain pages right away (because of sheer volume, for instance), add a “no index” meta tag to those pages.
This tells search engines to essentially skip the page.
It’s better to keep your product descriptions off Google’s radar rather than risk getting docked for spammy-looking behavior. (The search engines WILL penalize you for posting hundreds of pages that look like near-duplicates.)
Once you can get around to adding unique content to those pages, go ahead and remove the “no index” tag.
SEO for Product Descriptions Takes Work … But It’s Worth It
There’s no doubt about it: SEO for product descriptions can be tricky.
The key is to think of the online buyer’s information needs first and foremost. Then, follow best practices to make sure your product description SEO skills will net the attention of search engines.
That’s the simple rule of thumb for writing winning product descriptions that do their job without a hitch.
About the Author
Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. After dropping out of college at 19, she founded her content agency, Express Writers, with nothing but $75. Her team now has over 55 staff members and has worked with over 5,000 clients worldwide.
Julia was in the top 30 content marketers for 2016, has authored two bestsellers, and hosts The Write Podcast. She loves to teach profitable content marketing through her comprehensive course. She's also a wife, mom, and coffee addict.