Writing category and product descriptions is a vital, yet often-overlooked skill. It’s something that everyone involved with SEO for an ecommerce website is likely to encounter at some point.
Perhaps you’re here because you’re just now encountering category and product description writing for the first time. If so, welcome.
Or perhaps you’ve done it a million times before but without an SEO focus, or without putting much thought into the mechanics of optimising this type of content. Whatever your reason for reading, I hope you can take something away from this blog post. Feel free to use the contents box to skip to the relevant sections if you’re here for something specific.
In this post
- Why bother with ecommerce content?
- Keyword research for ecommerce pages
- Writing optimised category pages
- Writing product pages
Why bother with ecommerce content?
Written content is the lifeblood of SEO. It is one of the easiest things for search engines to interpret, and they keep getting better at it over time.
Category and product content helps search engines to make sense of your product offering. Where an image might be hard for a search engine to interpret, a paragraph of text is an opportunity for them to pick up clear keyword signals and to understand the context of your offering. Google’s John Mueller confirmed as much when asked about category content by Marie Haynes.
I’ve seen the impact of adding category content countless times. Take a look at one of our client’s rankings for ‘paper cup’ after adding new content to their category page:
They went from ranking nowhere to page ⅔ almost instantly and now hover around page 1. For many less competitive but related terms, they rank in the top 3.
Ecommerce content is also vital for users. Product descriptions communicate key information about the item in question, while category content gives visitors a chance to be exposed to more of your range and to get a feel for your business.
I’ve encountered the opinion that this kind of content is ‘just for SEO’ too many times. That attitude will lead to poorly written content that’s never going to look great for your website. The best ecommerce content is written for a human audience, without neglecting SEO best practices. I’ll go into the specifics in much more detail shortly.
Before I get to the practicalities of writing content for category and product, we need to take a brief look at keyword research. You can’t write optimised content if you don’t know what your audience is searching for.
Keyword research for ecommerce pages
Keyword research takes an important role in ecommerce SEO strategies. It is not only helpful for identifying what your audience is looking for, but how. You’ll often be limited in the ways you can refer to different products and categories, but good keyword research can help you maximise your options.
Transactional search intent
Ecommerce category and product pages are always best suited to transactional keywords(the terms that people search when they are ready to make a purchase). Some distinctions are obvious:
- [buy breath of the wild switch] – clearly transactional
- [breath of the wild walkthrough] – clearly informational
In the above examples, you definitely want to pay attention to the ‘buy’ term for your product page, and you can safely ignore the ‘walkthrough’ query. But what is someone looking for when they search for [legend of zelda breath of the wild]? If I search for it, from position 2 down I get a strange mix of branded results, People Also Ask, Wikipedia and Amazon.
Should I target that query from a product page? Or maybe with the products’ main category? Or should I have a different landing page altogether? A keyword this broad should rarely be the focus of a campaign unless you consider it vital to commercial performance. Focus instead on those that have clear transactional intent.
Keyword research for ecommerce content writing is as much about understanding the context of your keywords as it is about understanding individual volume and difficulty scores.
And watch out for aggregators that might be ranking. Sites like Which? (and many others) will often take the top spots for queries that include words like ‘best’ and ‘cheap.’ It’s rarely worth targeting these with products or categories unless you have a good reason to do so.
The keywords that you should focus on for your category and product pages are those that clearly have a purchase intent. Generally speaking, a product page should be targeted to terms relating to a particular item, like [nike react vision], while a category page should be targeted towards general terms like [mens trainers]. Every single page that you sit down to write content for should have a clear, unique target keyword (or multiple keywords if there are close variants).
If the size of your site allows it, setting out a keyword targeting map that assigns all pages their primary keywords is the best way to focus your activity before you start.
At the very least, each page should have unique, targeted metadata. This can be auto-generated for larger sites, as long as there is some way of pulling in your keyword targets. You can often use the page header as the source of this unique keyword, so long as it is concise and focused. This example from SportsShoes is spot-on:
To do this quickly, I recommend setting up a spreadsheet with URLs and page headings in columns A and B. You should be able to export these from a technical SEO tool like Screaming Frog or Deepcrawl. Then, in column C, use a simple CONCATENATE formula like the example below to generate a title like the SportsShoes example above:
=CONCATENATE(B2, “ | SportsShoes.com”)
If you don’t have optimised headings, there’s really no better way to start than to create these first and use them in new title tags as you go.
I’ll cover some additional aspects of targeting and optimisation for both products and category pages in the following sections.
Writing optimised category pages
Don’t write ‘SEO content,’ write good content
If you take one thing from this article, it’s this: write good content. Everything else will follow. I’ve seen countless category pages with a couple of sentences or even paragraphs smashed together ‘for SEO.’ Content ‘for SEO’ isn’t helpful to humans and usually flouts Google’s quality guidelines Please don’t write it.
High-quality category content, on the other hand, can achieve a number of things:
- Showcase your best-selling products
- Point out products your customers might not have thought of
- Link to related categories to help users continue to browse
- Tell your customers why they should buy from you (e.g. fast delivery, handmade products, price match, payment plans etc.)
To achieve high-quality category content without falling prey to the Scylla and Charybdis of ‘SEO content’ and completely unoptimised content, keep it short and focused. If you limit yourself to a few sentences (100-200 words is a good range if you like absolutes, though there really is no perfect word count) and make sure that all of those sentences communicate something of value to potential customers, I can almost guarantee that you will end up with good category content.
Category content is a great place to highlight next steps for your visitors through internal links. If someone already knows what they want, they’ll skip right past your content to the products, so we can assume that anyone reading the content wants some more guidance.
Imagine that you’re an assistant in a brick and mortar electronics store and a customer asks for guidance on HD TVs. You might point out a couple of popular brands, give them examples of a good TV at a couple of different price points, or show them some different features.
Your category content can do the same thing, only instead of physically walking a customer to a product or display in the shop, you’re providing them with a link through to a product page or sub-category that gives them the right information and guides them closer to a purchase.
In a similar way (forgive the extended metaphor), internal links drive value to the pages they reference. Just as highlighting Samsung TVs in a store would make Samsung stand out to the customer, contextualised links to different pages in your category copy help search engines to see that those pages are more important. If you have products or categories that you want to improve in search, adding internal links on other pages is an important action.
Writing product pages
Product pages often have an easier time ranking for specific keywords than category pages, as products are so much more specific and fewer sites sell exactly the same things. The main goal of a product page is for it to appear when someone searches for that item, like [buy castles of burgundy board game], rather than a more general search like [buy board games].
Product pages also tend to be quite well optimised naturally. Most sites already include the name of the product in their metadata and reference the name of the product a good number of times in the page copy. But there are still a handful of tactics you can employ to steal a march on the competition.
Avoid duplicate content
Many ecommerce sites fall into the trap of using the same product description on multiple pages or the same description as other sites. The problem of duplication throughout one site usually occurs where there are variant products, such as different sizes or colours. The solution to this particular issue is technical rather than creative and involves setting up variable products or employing some kind of canonicalisation.
The issue of duplicate content across multiple sites is easier to address and falls more cleanly into the scope of this article. It usually comes up when multiple sites are selling the same products from one brand, common in a huge number of industries like fashion, electronics, sports, gaming and many more.
In many cases, product manufacturers or suppliers provide standard descriptions. If this is the case with your products, I recommend rewriting the standard content if at all possible if you want to see the best results. Where duplicate content exists, priority will usually be given to the most authoritative site or the site that published it first.
If you need to keep the description intact for whatever reason, ensure that the rest of the page is completely unique. Add your own intro paragraph, add customer reviews, add your own USPs – do as much as you can to differentiate the page from those of your competitors.
Manual changes can be difficult for large ecommerce sites, so consider automated, auto-filled solutions for new or additional content that autofills a sitewide template with different product attributes such as ratings, price and brand.
E-A-T is something of an SEO buzzphrase, referring to the well-founded idea that Google puts a great deal of stock into its perception of a website’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. For a buzzphrase, it’s actually quite important.
It is widely believed that Google’s updates in the past couple of years have made factors relating to E-A-T a more prominent part of the algorithm, particularly for sites where someone’s financial wellbeing is at stake. To some degree, all ecommerce sites fall into that category, as their aim is to facilitate financial transactions. This means that ecommerce sites which appear safe and trustworthy are likely to perform better.
Many factors have a bearing on a site’s E-A-T. On the product page itself, it is vital to communicate how customers can pay for the product and add any other pertinent details, such as delivery times and guarantees. You don’t have to wax lyrical about these details; simply include information to the extent that a curious customer should be satisfied. Ideally, you should also provide a way for customers to contact you if they need more information.
Unique selling points
Finally, use your product pages to shout about what makes your site better than the competition. A short list of USPs is a great way to ensure that a customer chooses you rather than a competitor selling the same thing. If you know you’re not as competitive on price as some other sites, USPs can help you make up that ground, and they can help set you apart from ecommerce giants like Amazon.
Is your product handmade? Say it. Eco-friendly? Say it. Made in the UK? Say it.
Do you offer additional services? Say it. Fast delivery? Say it. Easy returns? Say it.
You get the picture.
As with E-A-T focused content, USPs don’t have to be unique to each product. It’s great to emphasise specific product qualities where they exist, but you’re absolutely fine to include the same company USPs across multiple pages without running afoul of duplication issues (so long as the rest of the content is unique).
My final tip, which is pertinent to this point and to all that I have written so far, is to let your brand’s personality come through in everything that you write. Whether you’re the sole marketing manager for a small business, or you’re part of the content team at an international ecommerce giant, your company will have a voice and (hopefully) that voice will appeal to your target market. Avoid templated, lazy content where possible and express your brand in a way that compels users to engage with you.
If you do that, and if you write content that actually helps people, you’ll be in a great position to see gains in organic search.