How to Write Meta Descriptions that Drive Traffic and Conversions

You’re working hard to market your company. You’re writing your product descriptions, optimizing your images, and mastering most of the other elements of effective search engine optimization (SEO).

Still, if you’re like many business owners, one aspect of SEO could be giving you trouble: meta descriptions.

What is a meta description?

A meta description is a summary of up to 320 characters in length that describes the content of a web page. Search engines show it in search results when the meta description also includes the keywords being searched. Meta descriptions entice users to click through to a page and are part of effective SEO.

When you type a search query into Google, let’s use “temporary tattoos” as an example, you’re led to a search engine results page (SERP).

This page is extremely complicated, but for now let’s ignore all the ads, images, and videos, in favor of the more traditional “organic” results.

Temporary tattoos search engine results page

The blue words at the top are the “Title Tag.” They’re the title of the web page. Below them you’ll see a description of no more than 320 characters. This is the meta description.

Dissecting a home page meta description

Reading other people’s meta descriptions will make the process look deceptively simple, but that simplicity is the very thing that makes them so hard to write. The 320-character limit means the meta description can’t be much longer than a tweet.

The good descriptions give you a brief overview of what the site is about, as well as a compelling reason to click the title tag. It all happens so quickly and painlessly, many searchers won’t even notice themselves making a decision.

They’ll simply click on the link, satisfying their curiosity without having to think about it. Here’s a good example of a meta description.

Death Wish Coffee search engine results page

All together, it’s just twenty one words. Clever naming helps Death Wish Coffee pack a punch here. With the first three words, “Death Wish Coffee,” you already get an idea of what the company sells (coffee) and what defines its brand (hardcore, but tongue-in-cheek about it).

Death Wish then says it’s the “top online coffee-seller.” With these words, it positions itself as the best, lets the reader know it’s an ecommerce store, and reaffirms that it sells coffee.

The next few words back up Death Wish’s claim that it’s the best. After all, it’s an ethical company (“fair-trade”) that uses the best (“organic”) ingredients, all while making sure the customer gets the strong cup of coffee they want (“high-caffeine”). Even the word “blends” positions them as coffee experts, the sort of people who put care into making sure their product is the best.

The second half of the meta description repeats the core concept of Death Wish’s brand in a way that resonates, saying, “… we have the world’s strongest coffee!”

Counting it all up, we have four words that are variations on the word ‘coffee’, two claims that it’s the best at what it does, and three different ways of backing up that claim. All in this one sentence: “Death Wish Coffee Company is the top online coffee-seller of fair-trade, organic, high-caffeine blends, and we have the world’s strongest coffee!”

Now that’s good copywriting.

Dissecting a product page meta description

Writing meta descriptions for your product pages is a little easier than writing them for your home page, because your product pages aren’t supposed to speak for your business as a whole.

Instead they’re speaking for something that offers a tangible benefit to shoppers:

  • Selling spatulas? Let the reader know that this spatula will make cooking so much easier.
  • Selling lawnmowers? Have the reader imagine a fast and easy journey through the grass.

For a good example of a persuasive meta description, let’s check out the search result for So Worth Loving’s stickers.

So Worth Loving search engine results page

Immediately and in all-caps, the description makes you realize that a lot of stickers don’t last as long as you want them to. Then, SWL promises that their stickers solve that problem.

Capitalizing the meta description is a bold move, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend capitalizing the whole thing. But here it works, because the capitalization doesn’t seem like it’s there just to grab attention. It also does the work of separating the note from the rest of the text. After the note, this description works well because it keeps the focus on the reader.

You do need to give some idea of what differentiates the product—So Worth Loving does this by emphasizing the durability and by letting its site name suggest that the sticker is going to be really, really cool. But after that, it’s all about letting the customer visualize themselves with the product.

The description suggests the joy a buyer might get when they see the sticker as a “best little reminder,” offering various ways the sticker could easily fit into their life: “Stick them on your car, laptop, water bottle, wherever you want to see them.”

The ending in particular works beautifully. It starts the sentence by suggesting the product will make you feel some powerful emotion, but then it makes you click the title tag to find out what that emotion actually is.

Though some SEO experts will tell you to make sure your meta descriptions all finish with complete sentences, the half-sentence can do wonders for your click-through rate.

If you’re going to use this strategy, it’s good to get your meta description as close to the 320-character limit as possible.

How to write a meta description

Now that we have an understanding of meta descriptions, you’re probably wondering: what are the best ways to apply this knowledge to your business?

First, focus on what would compel a searcher to click on your title tag. That requires answering two questions:

  1. What are you offering?
  2. Why should I buy from you?

For product pages, the first query has a simple response: you’re offering your product. The second will be resolved by the simple fact that you’re the one selling the product.

Meta descriptions for your home page are a little trickier. As we saw in the Death Wish Coffee example, the best thing is to repeatedly emphasize your brand. That’s the one thing your whole store offers, and it’s the reason they should buy from you.

Let readers know what you do, tell them about your unique selling proposition, and convey this information multiple times, because the meta description isn’t a place for subtlety. Struggling to come up with an effective meta description for your home page is common, so it’s best to be patient and think hard about your brand.

If you’ve been around for awhile, what do returning customers say about your business? And if you’re new, what made you think this business would get customers?

Talk to people about your business, formulate the description like you would an elevator pitch. You’ll probably want to go through a couple drafts. It’s important to get things right, because this will be the first exposure many customers have to you and your brand.

When to write a meta description

Believe it or not, this article isn’t going to claim you should hurry and make sure all of your pages have meta descriptions.

For one thing, Google automatically creates these descriptions by pulling from the content of your page, and that process lends more flexibility than a copywriter can manage. Optimizing a page for one keyword is hard (but worth it!). When people land on a page via a variety of search terms, it becomes too difficult to optimize properly.

Also, for businesses with hundreds (if not thousands) of pages, going back and writing meta descriptions for every single one would be a Herculean task.

Instead, it’s best to focus on the pages that get the most traffic from search engines. Take your top ten or twenty pages and ask, “Are we really selling the product here, or is there a way we can improve the click-through rate?”

Moving forward, whenever you or a writer you’ve hired puts together a new page of content, it’s a good idea to have them write a meta description in the resource’s details page of the Shopify admin. Not only will this improve your SEO, it will also force you to condense the idea of the page into just a few words.

This becomes the “topic sentence” for the page, essentially, and it helps you determine whether the page’s copy continually fulfills the promise of the meta description.

Meta descriptions are your best salespeople

Ultimately, the meta description is a promise you make to searchers. Among a sea of competing web pages, it calls out to them and says, “This is the page you’re looking for.”

When writing your meta descriptions, make sure to remember the three key things we talked about in this article.

1. Your description can’t be more than 320 characters

It’s okay to write a meta description that cuts off halfway through the sentence. Just make sure you know you’re doing it.

2. Focus on the customer

The descriptions for your product pages should focus on how this product could make the customer’s life better. The home page description should sell the way your brand matches the customer’s wants and needs.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

You don’t have much time to make an impression. Once you’ve found the message you’d like to convey, make sure every phrase and word choice conveys the message.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the art of writing meta descriptions. Once you’ve applied these tips to your own websites, you can say goodbye to low click-through rates.

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Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

Are These 6 Ecommerce Copywriting Mistakes Costing You Sales?

You’re writing, and writing, and writing. You’re polishing your category pages. You’re toiling over countless product descriptions. You write for humans, while always keeping one eye toward search engines.

But let’s admit it: Sometimes you wonder, is your copy working hard enough? Are you persuading web visitors to buy?

Let’s look at six ecommerce copywriting mistakes that might be costing you business and explore how you can fix them.

Mistake #1: Too much product focus

This mistake is easily made. Even experienced copywriters make it.

As a salesperson and business owner you’re excited to share how special your products are (of course!). You want to talk about unique features and splendid specifications.

But you know what? Your buyers aren’t interested in all these features and specs. Buyers want to know what’s in it for them. Each time you list a feature such as a thread count of 400, pair it with a benefit such as for a luxurious feel that provides a better sleep.

A product feature is a fact about your product, while a benefit explains what’s in it for the buyer. A benefit explains how your product increases pleasure or takes away pain. And that’s exactly what your customers are most interested in.

Your oven, for instance, might have a fast preheat system (feature) which makes you more relaxed about getting dinner ready in time (this benefit is an increase in pleasure—feeling more relaxed) and it makes cooking less stressful (this benefit is taking away the pain of stress).

Before you start creating your product pages, outline a comprehensive list of features and benefits. Consider benefits that increase pleasure and benefits that take away problems, pain, and hassle. Planning what you need to write helps you write more persuasive copy, and it helps you to write faster.

Mistake #2: Meaningless drivel is soiling your pages

Formerly top-shelf words like “world-class”, “market-leading”, and “innovative” are used so frequently they’ve lost much of their impact. Now they’re just filler—taking up space without adding meaning.

Put on your devil’s advocate hat, and ask yourself for each sentence and each word: what does this mean? If you can’t come up with a specific answer immediately, then cut or rephrase until your text is concrete and meaningful.

❌ Meaningless drivel: “Innovative office chairs from a world-leading manufacturer.”

✅ Try instead: “Office chairs with lumbar support used in over 150,000 offices in the US.”

Meaningless drivel distracts and wears your reader down. In contrast, facts and figures increase your credibility. Where possible, include numbers and write them as digits (7) rather than words (seven) because numerals stop wandering eyes.

Mistake #3: You’ve taken an adjective overdose

Adjectives help us to explain what our products look like (appearance), what they do (features), and how they make our buyers feel (benefits). In moderation adjectives are useful, but an overdose gives your reader a headache because it makes your content hard to read. An example:

This relaxed, romantic collection of beautiful cookware has a unique look, up-to-date yet completely classic with a result that’s perfect for your kitchen.

The problem with so many adjectives is that it slows your reader down and confuses them. What about simply saying:

This romantic cookware collection suits most kitchen styles.

When using adjectives, follow these essential best practices:

  • Use only one adjective before a noun. Rather than relaxed, romantic collection, go for romantic collection.
  • Don’t use adjectives to state the obvious. Don’t simply describe what a product looks like if you’re showing it on a picture.
  • Choose sensory or emotional words. They make your reader feel something. Words like nice, good, or effective are rather bland. Opt for delightful, dazzling, or tantalizing instead.

Too many adjectives make your copy slurred and incomprehensible, but in moderation adjectives make your copy compelling and magnetic.

Mistake #4: Over-reliance on factual information

When potential buyers read stories, they forget they’re being sold something. Their barriers to your sales messages go down and your content becomes more engaging and persuasive.

People don’t think in abstract terms and facts. Our brains are wired to think in stories. Stories make your content meaningful as they help your readers visualize using your product.

“Facts give stories substance. Stories give facts meaning.” —Lee Lefever

A story can be ultra-short. Imagine you’re selling an office chair with lumbar support. You can tell a simple story about a customer who tries different chairs and continues to suffer from back pain. Meet Sarah. Sarah finds it hard to concentrate on her work. She paces around during meetings. She’s grumpy.

Then one day Sarah buys your chair and after just 1 month her back pain is finally gone. Her colleagues notice she’s more cheerful at work. Her boss remarks she’s more productive. And when she gets home, she’s not as tired and cranky as she used to be. Even her dog notices it.

A simple story can help potential buyers visualize the benefits of your products—especially if they’re complicated; but stories also add personality. You can tell stories about the development, testing, or sourcing of your products to make your products more fascinating or to increase the perception of quality.

Follow these tips to apply the seductive power of mini-stories:

  • Learn from investigative journalists. Dig deeper to uncover fascinating details. Talk to your suppliers and customer service representatives. More importantly, talk to your customers. The more you learn the more stories you have to tell.
  • Keep your stories concise and concrete. Focus your story on just one simple idea.
  • Avoid the obvious. Tell unexpected stories to engage, entertain, and sell.

We’ve all been educated to focus on data, figures, and facts. Facts increase the credibility of your product description, but facts on their own don’t make your content persuasive. Facts are cold. Facts don’t have soul or personality.

The most persuasive product descriptions include both story and fact. Stories engage your reader, while facts help justify their purchase.

Mistake #5: A complete lack of personality

Many big-box ecommerce sites sound like what they are: big corporations without a soul. They don’t connect, they don’t engage, they hardly sell the value of the products they offer. They simply provide bread, butter, beer, and toothpaste.

But nobody likes chatting with a faceless corporation. Nobody likes ringing a soulless call center. So why create text that sounds like a dull corporation?

To connect with your readers, you need a dash of personality on your ecommerce site. Think about your tone of voice—if your website was a real salesperson talking to a customer, how would you like her to sound? What stories would she tell? What jokes would she crack? Which words would she choose?

“Copy is a direct conversation with the customer.”
—Shirley Polykoff

Before you define your tone of voice, consider who you are writing for. Try to visualize one buyer and consider how you’d talk to her in real life. Don’t sound like a big corporation. Be human. Because that’s how you engage potential buyers.

Mistake #6: You edit in less than 5 minutes

Professional copywriters can’t write in one go. They plan. They write. They edit. Unless you’re superhuman you need to carefully edit your content.

Imagine you’re talking with your favorite customer. Now, read your copy aloud. Is your favorite customer laughing at your bombastic phrases? Does she start to glance at her phone because you’re boring her?

Re-write and polish your text until you’re able to persuade your favorite customer to buy your product:

  • What objections does your favorite customer have to buying your product? Have you addressed each objection?
  • Price can often be an issue, so be sure to justify your price by explaining how much value your customer will get.
  • Check your engagement level. Is your content focused on your customer? Count the number of times you’ve used “I”, “me”, “we”, and “us” versus “you.”
  • Ensure you’ve included a benefit for each feature.
  • Cut unnecessary words. Reduce the number of adjectives. Kill adverbs like “just,” “really,” and “actually” because they don’t add meaning.
  • Read your text backwards as this makes it easier to spot spelling and grammar errors. Even better: ask a colleague or professional to proofread your text for you.

Whether or not you’re a good writer doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re a good editor and that you understand the differences between crappy, good, and great copy. Once you know what makes copy good, you can get to work to improve yours over time.

The truth about ecommerce copywriting

Many big ecommerce sites treat their web visitors like numbers. You have a huge opportunity to be different. To be human. To have personality. To engage and delight potential buyers.

Your starting point should always be your ideal customer. Sell the benefits he enjoys. Always remember who you’re writing for. And don’t speak at him. Instead, try having a conversation. Give advice. Be helpful and engaging. Customers will reward you for it.

While Supplies Last: How to Use Scarcity and Urgency to Increase Sales

The fear of missing out can have a powerful effect on shoppers. A split test done by WhichTestWon showed that when a countdown timer was placed on a product page, it converted nearly 9% better than a variation of the product page without a countdown timer.

Countdown timer split test

via WhichTestWon

Creating a sense of urgency among your website visitors can help make more people buy and less people “go home and think about it”.

There is potential for visitors on your website to procrastinate and try to delay their decision to buy. According to a study done by Centre De Recherche DMSP, consumers that were seen as high procrastinators had a 73% chance to not make a purchase decision immediately. Consumers that were determined to be low procrastinators still had a 26% chance. Introducing a product or time shortage, your customers will be less likely to delay their buying decision.

A study was done by DigitalCommons at the University of Nebraska in 2013monitored and surveyed 14 shoppers. Study participants shopped at various stores, with most stores using perceived scarcity strategies such as limited quantities and limited-time sales. The study found that the retail stores that had perceived scarcity produced psychological effects such as consumer competitiveness, the urgency to buy, in-store hiding, and in-store hoarding.

While your objective isn’t to turn your website visitors into rabid shoppers, you do want to encourage people to act immediately, and that’s where scarcity comes in. You can introduce perceived scarcity to your store by creating a product or time shortage.

I’m going to share the two kinds of scarcity you can create in your store and a few actionable examples you can use to create urgency.

Limited Time Sales and Offers

Creating a time restriction is one of the easiest and most effective ways of creating urgency and scarcity in your store. This is because customers don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of an offer. For example, putting together an expiring sale or offer can force customers to make a decision faster than they might have without a time limitation.

As noted in DigitalCommons’ study, this plays into the theory of loss aversion, where most people prefer to avoid losses than acquiring gains. Time restrictions ramp up that psychological trigger.

Offer Flash Sales

Pet Pro Supply Co. has recurring flash sales on their website, offering very limited-time discounts on hand-selected products.

Pet Pro Flash Sale

via Pet Pro Supply Co.

Pet Pro Supply Co. also has a separate Flash Sale page which is prominently featured on their website. The product page is optimized for the flash sale by showing the sale price, and more importantly, the exact date and time the flash sale ends. This reminds the person browsing the product page that they need to act soon or miss out on the deal.

Include Product Page Countdown Timers

Instead of just showing the date that the sale ends, include a countdown timer on your product page, like MakersKit does for their items that are on sale:

MakersKit countdown timer

via MakersKit

This visualization helps increase the effectiveness of the time scarcity of this sale.

While sales under a time limitation work really well, they aren’t the only thing you can use to create urgency.

Create Timed Shipping Offers

Express shipping offers, or even free shipping offers, for customers that act quickly enough, is another great incentive. Fab&GO, a womenswear shop, offers next day shipping if customers act fast enough.

Free next day shipping

via Fab&GO

If a customer wants to get her shoes shipped by tomorrow, she needs to act within the next 5 hours.

Another idea is offering free shipping to the customers that act quickly enough. Kit Out My Office, a store selling office furniture, uses a countdown timer across the top of their website. Free shipping scarcity

via Kit Out My Office

This is a constant reminder to those browsing the website that if they want to take advantage of free and quick shipping, they need to order within the next 2 hours. This keeps customers from putting it off later, and more often than not, forgetting about it altogether.

You want the customer to purchase, ideally, the first time they come to your website. It’s very unlikely they will ever return, even if they are very interested in purchasing. According to MarketingSherpa, e-commerce companies reported only around 30% of their traffic was returning visits.

Limited Quantity

You can use stock shortages to your advantage. Instead of looking at limited quantities of your products as a limitation to the sales you can make, look at them as a way to show scarcity to your customers and increase the perceived value of your products.

Show Stock Quantity

The easiest way of doing this is to simply show the quantity of products in stock on the product page itself and bring attention to the quantity you have left. Tradlands, a shirt store for women, does this effectively by showing the quantity when choosing a shirt size on their website.

Limited stock available

via Tradlands

Tradlands also instills urgency in the way they describe their quantity. “Quick, only 1 left” is a far more effective way to describe how many shirts are left than “Stock: 1”.

Similarly, Retro City Sunglasses shows the remaining quantity on their product pages as well as on a page specifically for sunglasses that are “Almost Gone!”.

Limited stock

via Retro City Sunglasses

Sell Limited Quantities

Another way to create scarcity with limited quantities is to tell customers how many you have to sell instead of telling them what’s left. In most cases, using this strategy works best when selling a “limited edition” or “limited run” of a product, where you only manufacture and sell a specific quantity.

For example, Mindzai sells limited editions of some of their toys.

Mindzai limited edition

via Mindzai

In this case, we see Mindzai is only going to create and sell 100 units, not only making this particular item special to own for collectors but also create scarcity.

Create Urgency in Your Copy

You don’t only have to show the quantity or sell a limited amount of a product to create scarcity. The language you use on your website, marketing materials and emails can create a lot of urgencies as well.

Just look at this email I received from Mizzen+Main the other day.

Limited quantity scarcity

via Mizzen+Main

Take note of the way that Mizzen+Main describe their new shirts. Instead of simply saying “hey, new shirts are on our store, check them out,” Mizzen+Main makes me want to head over to their store immediately by letting me know that “they’re going quick!”.

They also justify their scarcity claim with “Our last product launch resulted in our fastest sellout ever. Get them quick!” at the end of their email.

As I mentioned earlier, the way you describe your product or phrase you call to actions can create perceived scarcity as well. For example, across the top of JerkySpot is a call to action to “Order Now” but it also makes note that “Supply is Limited”.

Create Urgency in Your Copy

via JerkySpot

Letting your customers know that your product can sell out at anytime helps create a sense of fear and urgency. Customers don’t want to regret not taking action when they could have, and using the right copy on your website can remind them of that.

Use Scarcity Responsibly

Finally, it’s worth noting that with great power, comes great responsibility.

With the right product and customer, scarcity can work really well. However, creating false scarcity or trying to trick people is not the best way to go about this practice.

Obviously manufactured scarcity can turn off customers and hurt your brand.

The scarcity you create needs to be based on something. Why are you only selling those shirts for a limited time? Why is this a limited-run product? You can’t just throw a countdown timer onto a product page and expect it to sell more. The countdown timer should show an expiring sale or an offer (such as next day shipping).

At the same time, scarcity is not always a remedy for poor sales. There needs to be some demand for your products in the first place for this all to be really useful. Much like when Apple launches a new phone or tablet, the demand for their products is already there. The limited amount of Apple products at launch simply intensifies the demand and desirability.

Lastly, don’t over do it. You don’t want to come across as if you’re pressuring your customers. The primary function of perceived scarcity in your business is to encourage procrastinators to make a decision, not to force people to buy things they don’t want. A consequence of creating scarcity, when used improperly, is that it can create buyer’s remorse.

If customers make a purchase they were pressured into, it can cause them to regret their purchase, want a refund, and feel differently about your business.

Your Turn

If scarcity makes sense for your store, consider applying one example to your business. Even a small change, such as how you describe the quantity left for a product, can have a big change on conversions. If you have any questions on how to create perceived scarcity and urgency, or you’d like to share how it’s worked for you, feel free to comment below. I engage and respond to everyone.