Why Your Shopify Product Description Word Count Matters
There's something of an ongoing debate amongst people who run storefronts online. How do you write product page descriptions? Do you keep them short, sweet, and to the point, or do you go long, layering on detail after detail?
Your word count matters, that much is clear. The question is, why?
Pandas and Storefronts
Years and years ago, before 2011, stores across the web often ran one of two kinds of product pages. One kind of product page had virtually no information on it at all. You'd get a product name, you'd get a photo, and that was basically it. You might get a sentence or two describing it as a bare minimum to list their product online for sale, but that was about it.
The other kind, more often than not, simply took the product description from the manufacturer of the product. After all, someone already wrote that description, and it's an accurate description of the product, so why not use it?
So what happened in 2011? Google's Panda update. While it was primarily targeted at sites that produced huge swaths of low-quality content to game the search results and get a majority of the exposure, it hit a lot of other kinds of content online as well.
Panda's focus was on short, low-quality content. While the main intent was to scratch off a lot of the low-quality article spam sites out there, it also hit a lot of storefronts that had little or no description on their product pages. Panda was the foundation of what we now consider to be modern content marketing, where lengthy, deep, unique, detailed content is required to rank well.
As a writer in 2011 and 2012, content mills and freelance hubs like Textbroker and Writer Access were packed.
Thousands upon thousands of businesses suddenly realized that their sites were no longer ranking, and the thing they identified was their product pages. Products with no descriptions were bad, but products with copied descriptions fell under the copied content rules, and either way, all of these companies suddenly needed unique product descriptions for every product they sold.
As it turns out, this has proven to be a good thing for both businesses and consumers. Consumers have always cited product descriptions as an important part of how they make their shopping decisions, so providing more and better detail to them helps businesses actually make those sales.
How Short is Too Short
How short is too short for a product description? Let's take a look at some random stores that rank on Google for a keyword. I chose "leather boots" here.
Ignoring Amazon for a moment, here are some of the sites that rank for that keyword, and the word count of their product descriptions.
- DSW. Their product description is a ways down the page, and it's a meager 30 or so words, plus another dozen words for details like boot features.
- 6PM. Their product descriptions take the form of bulleted lists of product features, which range from around 100 to 200 words worth of detail depending on the product.
- Frye. Their product descriptions are also relatively short, but longer than DSW, with around 40-60 words of content.
All of these sites rank well enough to be on the first page of Google for this query, so it's clear that there's not really a low end for product description. However, there's more to the story than just the description. All of these pages are covered in other useful information. They have an array of photos of the product and, further down, customer reviews for the products. Much like blog comments, reviews can boost the word count, keyword saturation, and user value of a page.
I would say that there's not necessarily even a low end for how short a product description can be, so long as the description is adequate at conveying key details about the product. Whether that's a 6PM style bullet list of features of a Frye-like more narrative description.
How Long is Too Long
So what about Amazon, which I very notable skipped in the above ranking? Amazon is widely know for having very large product descriptions. Are those product descriptions responsible for Amazon being the mega-retailer they are? Probably, in part, but it's not as though you could write similar product descriptions and shoot up to Amazon-levels of fame and fortune. There's a lot of other factors going on.
The Amazon page for leather boots has a wide range of products, and when you click through to one, you are absolutely bombarded by information. One example I clicked, once I totaled up the text on the page, not counting reviews, reached around 600 words of content, with a ton of images, product comparison tables, and even calls to action for other related products. And that doesn't count the Q&A section either, which doesn't really apply since it's also user-generated content and not seller-specified product descriptions.
A larger analysis of product pages on Amazon, performed by Skubana, found that a lot of the top performing product pages have 300 or fewer characters (not words) in their descriptions, however. Amazon product pages are, indeed packed with content, but not much of that content is necessarily in words. It's in images, in tables, in reviews, in Q&As, in related products, and on and on.
The risk of too-long product descriptions is that users who want to find specific information about a product will have a harder time finding it. Even for complicated products, it's easy to keep a description short than it is to fluff one up, which often requires repetition and facts that aren't important to the product itself, like facts about the company producing it.
More Important Than Length: Quality
The length of a product description doesn't really matter, at least not in the sense we usually think of length. What really matters is the information in the description.
In order to produce a high-quality product description, you need to think about your product from the customer's point of view. Imagine someone who has a vague interest in your product, but knows next to nothing about it. What kinds of questions would they ask?
Let's take the leather boot example. You'd have questions like:
- Is the boot made of real leather or fake leather?
- Are there different colors available?
- What sizes are available?
- Are the boots meant for work or fashion purposes?
- What's the internal lining of the boot made out of?
Burgan has a ton of words of content, but how much of it is relevant? They have a "how to use" bullet point, as if shoes are somehow hard to use. They have a whole lot of redundant "this is a military-style boot" jargon that doesn't add much to the description. Heck, look at the last bullet point:
We create blog content that converts - not just for ourselves, but for our clients, too.
We pick blog topics like hedge funds pick stocks. Then, we create articles that are 10x better to earn the top spot.
Content marketing has two ingredients - content and marketing. We've earned our black belts in both.
"THE SIZE: These Combat tactical boots come in various sizes, make sure to check out sizing chart for best fit. These designer army comb shoes are comfortable and a great outdoor essential for airsoft players and the choice for girls and ladies looking for that urban emo goth punk street fashion look."
How much of that is relevant to boot size? Almost none of it.
Now look at the Caterpillar boot. Their entire set of bullet points is shorter than any one bullet point in the Burgan boot. Their product description, lower down, is only a couple dozen words, and half of it is about the brand, not the boot itself.
These are two extreme ends of the coin. I have questions about the Caterpillar boot that aren't answered, because the information isn't there. I have questions about the Burgan boot that aren't answered, because the answers are buried in jargon.
In order to produce a high quality product description, on a Shopify store, an Amazon listing, or anywhere else you're trying to sell something, you need to be concise and answer questions a user might have.
How to Write a Better Product Description
When you want to write product descriptions, you need to keep a few things in mind.
Don't worry too much about length. A product page can be perfectly effective with less than 50 words of description for a product. Conversely, a product page might need 500 words of content to answer all of the questions a user might have.
To a certain extent, this depends on the kind of product. For example, a PC part has a lot of technical details a user might want answered to make sure the part fits with their existing build, and leaving out some of that technical detail means the user will look elsewhere for that information – and possibly buy from the site that gives it to them, rather than yours. Conversely, something simple like a toothbrush doesn't have a lot of unique aspects to it, and there are only so many questions a user can ask.
Write for your customers, not for the search engines. This is a general tip for all of content marketing, but it's also perfectly specific to product pages as well. Remember that Google isn't the one giving you traffic, and they aren't the ones buying your product. They are merely a tool to facilitate letting other people do that.
Those people want to find a specific kind of product. By presenting your product as it is, Google can play matchmaker between the user's desires and your page. If a user wants to find a boot made of leather, your product page needs to convey that you sell a product that is both a boot and made of leather, so that Google can appropriately match them up. If you bury the fact that your footwear is a boot in a bunch of unrelated content, it's less valuable to the user.
Anticipate user questions and concerns. Users will have questions about a product they're investigating and researching before they buy. It's your job to anticipate those questions and answer them in your product description. Typically, you do this with both features and benefits lists.
A features list is a list of impersonal facts about a product. What it's made of, what it does, how large or small it is, what kind of technology it uses, and so on. These are technical specifications and important details that determine whether or not a product is right for the person looking at it.
A benefits list is what a product can do for a person. How the insoles in the boot lift the arch, how the steel toes protect the foot, how the leather is durable to keep the boot lasting for years with proper care. Providing the information users want, and making it clear, and concise, is almost an art form. It can take a lot of experience and optimization, and yes, even feedback from your users to get it right.
Understand the user's familiarity level. The level of detail you need to provide in your product description is directly related to the level of awareness a user has of your product. If your product is a plain t-shirt, chances are the user is familiar with just about everything about it. They'll care about the size, the color options, the material it's made out of, and maybe what method was used to print a graphic, but that's about it. Conversely, if your product is a complex piece of technology, or a strange new device with a unique purpose most people wouldn't be able to intuit, you'll need to provide more information.
To a certain extent, this relies on the rest of your website and marketing. If you've built an entire blog about explaining what your product is, you may be able to dial back the information on the product page itself. Or maybe not! It depends on where your traffic is coming from.
If your users are primarily coming from other parts of your site, where you can assume they read about the product, you don't need to be redundant. Conversely, if they're coming from Google or from some random blog links or social media posts, you need to write more about the product because you can't assume a baseline level of knowledge.
Don't forget keywords. I often talk about how keywords aren't too terribly important as anything more than a guide for content marketing, but that's for blog posts, not for product descriptions. Product descriptions are short and dense, and as such, they need their keywords front and center. There's not enough there for Google to go deep on semantic analysis and word association, so you need to be up front and clear with your keyword usage.
By the same token, it's generally better to avoid keyword stuffing. Look at that Burgan boot on Amazon again, and look at the product name; it's stuffed with keywords. That works for Amazon SEO, but not for Google SEO, and since you're running a Shopify store, not an Amazon page, you need to comply with Google SEO.
Overall, length for product descriptions matters, but it matters in reverse. You don't let your length determine what your product description should contain. You determine what information needs to go in your product descriptions, and let that determine length.
You can, by that same token, test different options. Try out variations with longer and shorter product descriptions, and see what works best. The results might surprise you, but there's one thing I can tell you for certain: your results are going to be unique to you.