Designing Delightful Descriptions

Every effective listing description has three key elements.

by staff writer
- Mar 27, 2008
How many times have you come across an eBay listing for something that sounded really cool in the title, only to find very little useful information about the product once you opened the link?

Unfortunately, it happens a lot. To a buyer, an incomplete or ho-hum description is a drag and a turn-off. But for a seller, it's a missed opportunity—not only for potential sales and profits, but also for building your online brand.

A lot of smart people have done a ton of research into audience behavior with regard to various forms of media. And without getting bogged down in academics, let's just say, studies show folks don't waste time looking at boring stuff.

Just as with advertisements and news articles, a snappy title on an online listing helps to grab the audience's attention. But once they've ventured deeper within your listing, you'd better follow through with some compelling and helpful product information or risk losing their business.

A few basic ingredients

Every effective listing description has three key elements: photography, a persuasive description of the item, and clear terms and conditions of the auction.

We won't get into photography too much here, but suffice it to say, you should strive to use clear photos that provide a good representation of the product you're selling. A white background works best, but if the product itself (or its packaging) is white or light-colored, a darker background is a better bet. Let logic dictate, but in all cases, opt for a clean and uncluttered setting that won't obscure or distract viewers from the awesomeness of your merchandise.

A good rule of thumb is to provide at least two photos of the product: one full-image and a detail close-up. The more images you can supply, the better.

When it comes to creating the text for your description, good grammar and spelling are essential if you want buyers to perceive you as professional and trustworthy. Write it out first in a word processor with grammar- and spell-checkers, then copy and paste it into your listing template, whether you're using eBay's lister or that of a third party, like Auctiva's one-page lister.

Use keywords to increase your visibility in online search engines, and include abbreviations for commonly used terms like LTD (limited edition), NIB (new in box), or NBW (never been worn).

Make the description exciting and informative, and tell the truth. If it's a once-worn pair of Manolos, don't try to pass them off as new. Use compelling words like stunning, bold, or amazing to stir enthusiasm, and provide plenty of detail. Give shoppers reason to bid on your item, and not the other guy's.

If you're stumped, find out what competitors (other eBay sellers with peddling the same item) are saying about the product, and say something similar, but avoid copying another seller's ad word-for-word.

Give 'em what they want

Be sure to provide a complete description of the item—and tell buyers exactly what it is you're selling. This may sound like an obvious point, but it's an important factor that is sometimes taken for granted by sellers.

For example, an item described simply as Disney's Cinderella could be a book, a DVD movie, pajamas, a figurine, a cake pan, etc. You get the picture. Speaking of pictures, they can help in this department, but don't rely on images alone to tell the story. Spell it out so buyers aren't left to wonder—and wander away to another auction.

Provide as much information as you have about the item. Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. What would you want to know? Some common questions you might consider answering with your description include:

  • How long have you had the item?
  • When was it made?
  • Is it still under warranty?
  • What condition is it in—mint, like new, shows wear?
  • Do you have the original packaging and/or documentation?
  • Are there any flaws? (Be honest. Buyers can be brutal with negative feedback.)

Emphasize the value and savings for the buyer. What would the item sell for at retail? What extras, if any, are you including?

Technical features are another plus. Include as many as you know. You can usually find the information on the manufacturer's Web site. It's best to provide these facts in a list or table for easier reading. Some worth mentioning:

  • Manufacturer
  • Model/part number
  • Size, weight, dimensions
  • Materials
  • Specifications

It can also be helpful to tell the story behind how you came to have the item, why you're selling it, and any interesting historical detail associated with it. This engenders a sense of personal attachment to the product, adds character to your listing, and helps build a relationship between you and the buyer.

State your terms

No listing description is complete without a disclosure of your terms and conditions. Specify what forms of payment you accept. Include an estimate of shipping and handling charges, or better yet, provide a shipping calculator. Potential bidders would rather continue shopping around than hassle with trying to figure out what it will cost to have an item shipped to them. State whether you will accept returns, and under what conditions.

Try not to get mired in details, but be as clear as possible to avoid a barrage of e-mailed questions. If you still find you're getting a lot of inquiries about the item, you can always go back and edit your listing to add, clarify, or emphasize information that bidders are asking about.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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