Teardown Tuesday: Product Detail Pages Are the Gateway to Your Cart

Copywriting blog and teardowns

A few months ago, a perfectly nice fellow named Michael wrote to me with a problem…

He was launching an online outlet for furniture, and, with 100s of products lined up and more arriving regularly, he was challenged by how many product detail pages he’d have to write.

After all, every single product needed a product detail page.

Hiring a copywriter to do all that work wasn’t in his budget, so he’d have to take the work on himself.

(I’d normally advocate writing your own copy. But only because you might do it best. Not because you don’t want to crack yer wallet.)

He summarized his action plan for gettin’ all that copy written like so:

“I’ll write brief but high quality copy on the product. Factual bullet points on the materials, size and function. A longer description of the maker–this could be longer form.”

That’s probably the exact plan that 100s of ecommerce businesses have for their product detail pages from day one…

…But what the hell does it mean? Even if you knew what “brief but high quality copy” looked like – and I don’t, not even with 10 years of copywriting under my belt – approaching copy on your product detail pages in this way is, well, a conversion slayer. And not in a cool “oh, you totally slayed that” way.

If your best plan for some of the most crucial pages on your site is “be brief, be factual and talk about the maker”… let me ask you this:

What page immediately precedes the Cart on most ecommerce sites?

It’s the product detail page. Most etailers and ecommerce sites have loads of product detail pages, and each one:

  • sells 1 specific product or solution
  • that addresses a few specific problems or pains
  • in ways that other products can’t
  • for 1 or 2 audiences
  • at 1 specific price point

To do any of the above effectively, your product detail pages can’t be mass-produced. At least not if you want them to convert visitors into customers.

A $1500 writing desk that a 37 year-old woman would buy requires a different page than a $29 novelty lamp that a college student might want. Forcing your content into the same layout is hard to avoid across a large site – but failing to use your copy to highlight what your ideal prospect needs and wants to see is… kinda unforgivable. If you care about conversion.

Each individual product page has a single goal for the business: drive the visitor into the cart to purchase the product in question. And when will a visitor add something to their cart? When they’ve 1) had an emotional response to the product – or, more likely, to the benefits associated with it – and 2) justified that emotional response with logic and reason. And how do you get them to do that? With copy (and design).

The tried ‘n’ true conversion strategy of starting with emotional appeals and supporting emotion with logical appeals applies on your product detail page just like it does anywhere on your site.

So as hard as it may be to fathom writing 100s of product pages – one at a time – it’s just as hard to fathom selling many of those products if you don’t.

Josh over at gets it. Last week, he wrote to me to ask if I would do a teardown of a product detail page that he and his team have been working on. It’s awesome that they’re working so hard on their product pages, so I was more than happy to give my two cents… in just under 4 minutes… even though I aimed for 2 minutes…

Let’s Tear Down’s Product Detail Pages
(Let Me Know What Glaringly Obv Tweaks I Missed)

I understand that a lot of product detail pages – especially for larger sites – pull content from databases of product info. So it’s more complex to optimize them than it is to, say, write your home page…

But if you recognize that copy is at least as important as product shots when selling something – and if you wouldn’t dare to slap together crappy product shots – do your bottom line a favor and try this:

Start optimizing your product pages by
working on the elements in stages throughout the year

One quarter, block off time to rewrite the product headlines in your database – so they’re clear and emotional, not technical. The next quarter, run A/B tests on your calls to action. The third quarter, add a testimonial to your body copy. In less than a year, your product pages could be performing twice as well – which would never have happened if you didn’t break this task into pieces.

When it comes to optimization, you don’t have to do everything at once! That’s the idea behind our October bootcamp – check it out

And if you’d really like to optimize the copy on your product detail pages but you truly don’t have the time, consider crowdsourcing it – at least for now

Final note: If copy doesn’t work, it’s “expensive”. If copy does work, it’s the best investment you’ll make on your site. But I may be biased. 🙂



About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • James Barron

    thanks for the info about freelancer contests, first time ive come across it, looks interesting

  • Josh from

    Thanks for the review! We’ll definitely look into those things and see what changes are possible. I imagine the most difficult change would be the product name change, but I’m sure we could figure out a way to integrate your idea somehow.

    We considered hiding empty reviews, but it sort of fell behind in the priority list.

    I like the idea about moving the payment trust marks to a different spot. I hadn’t considered separating any of them, your point was well taken. When we just tested new product page designs, placing the trustmarks on top clearly won, but we haven’t yet tested splitting any of them up.

    Testing add to cart button text should be easy too, and it could be helpful. My initial expectation would be that it wouldn’t influence these types of purchases as much, since they’re not impulse buys, but rather long thought out purchases with buying cycles that sometimes take weeks. But every little bit helps, and it’s always worth it to test!

    We did make our price prominent partly because we have learned that our customers find price highly important in their purchasing decision, but it’s very possible that by bringing a customer’s focus to a benefit like free shipping or something would do us a better service. Can’t wait to test these ideas and find out how we do!

  • iain

    Hey Joanna,

    Just got say that I love these teardown Tuesdays -even if it’s wednesday for me 😉 , as a visual learner I get so much more out of this and reading a blog post the same thing

    Not much to add to the teardown as still learning myself, but totally agree with the points you raised. If anything I make this free shipping and the guarantee images more colourful so they stood out more.

    One request for the future, if you mention specific copywriting “hacks” during the teardown, could you post links to any relevant articles at the bottom of the page.

    For instance in this one, you mention about friction copy on the add to cart button. I’d be really interested to find out more about this, and if you’d written about it before, added a link to the bottom of the page, I definitely would have clicked on that and kept on reading. which theoretically is what it’s all about isn’t it. Keep me on the site longer.

    Love your work,

  • Kat

    Joanna, Many thanks! The product descriptions whcih I simply in my business call the “service” pages can seem so technical and BORING (trying to make the SEO Gods happy)! Your tips of appealing to the potential customer’s emotions with quick solutions to their issues is spot on. I’ve just revised my website and will be slowly but definitely revising my service pages! Thanks for the great insights!
    Kat Holden
    Kat’ Home Repair Referrals

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Cool, Kat. 🙂 I think if a person thinks of their product or service pages as anything but “landing pages”, they’re in trouble. If you think of a product detail page as a landing page intended to get X product in the cart, then – at least for me – it becomes clear that your copy and images have to move people closer to that goal. It’s not just about listing out a spec sheet or a checklist of features; it’s always about persuading, compelling, encouraging, making it easy to buy. It’s always about the page goal.

  • Marny Bassett

    Praise be to Joanna–you totally nailed it. Writing product descriptions is my pride and joy, as well as my bread and butter. I’m over the moon that you appreciate how important they are. I write PDs for some heavy hitters in the clothing industry, Orchard Brands, Quiksilver, Roxy and Volcom to name a few. While some clients focus more on messages that support their branding initiatives, others want the ugly nitty gritty. In either case, a well written PD can make all the difference when it comes to wishy-washy customers.

    Rock on Copy Hackers.

    Marny Bassett, The Fashion Copywriter

    • Joanna Wiebe

      A life of writing product descriptions, Marny?! Wow. As someone who’s written enough of ’em, I can only say that you must *really* like it + have some great tricks up your sleeve to making writing descriptions your bread and butter. You’re about as specialized as they come. 🙂

      PS: I love your tagline – “You buy it because I write it.”

  • Ruben

    i wonder if they have a way to compile stars/reviews from around the web and show them here, sort of like an rss feed type thing. not sure if it’s doable.

    also, they may already be doing this: if you have 35,000 products, which are your top 1%, top 5% and top 20% products (in sales volume) and focus on those first, and give those most of their attention.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, it’d be great to pull in reviews from elsewhere. I wonder if these types of products – i.e., industrial-strength or unsexy appliances – get reviewed much.

      • Josh from

        There are ways to pull in reviews from elsewhere, but it comes with some negative baggage, including less control over the reviews and making sure model numbers and such match up. On many of our products, SKUs and model numbers are not incredibly standard (selling these sorts of products online is very new), so it can make matching between sites difficult. And like Joanna is thinking, there aren’t many people reviewing these types of products. However, I’m hoping to start an email campaign soon to try and bring in more product reviews, and once there’s enough, I’d like to start to show ratings (when they exist) on our product listing pages (search/category pages) to single out products and draw people’s attention. We’ll see how long that takes…

        Ruben, with so many product lines to update, we’re constantly refreshing content and prioritize based on seasonality and sales and such. Never want to leave anyone behind, but little reason to update a product that gets no traffic (unless that’s why it’s not getting traffic!).

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