How Journalism 101 Can Improve Your Ecommerce Website

Although it seems like centuries ago, I can still remember my very first journalism class. I loved writing and Journalism classes were probably the only ones during my college career where I had perfect attendance. Upon graduation, I quickly realized that in the "real world," earning a decent wage was important, so I left my love of writing behind and went into sales and marketing, where the money was considerably better.

Then, the internet came along and changed all of that. I have been able to set up successful eCommerce websites that pay my way in life and, because I no longer am tied to a desk, working for "the man," I have the flexibility to write what I want, when I want to. I have been published many places, writing on a variety of subjects, both under my own name and as a ghost writer and, of course, I write some things for the Store Coach ecommerce training course and blog as well as for my own blogs and eCommerce websites.

My websites don't get the most traffic in the world. I'm far from the boldest link builder on the planet. Most of my links come naturally when people see things, like them and link to them. My eCommerce websites do convert extremely well, though, which is why I'm able to earn a comfortable living from them. I average somewhere between a 4% and 8% conversion rate, all depending on the website and niche, which most people would say are pretty darned respectable conversion rates for eCommerce websites. Although some of that success I owe to my years in sales and marketing, I attribute most of my conversion success to the things I learned from my very first journalism class.

What I remember most from that first Journalism class is the "inverted pyramid" style of writing and trying to answer the "Five 'Ws' (and 'H')" in every article we had to write. Although I write in a somewhat free-form style on blogs, I try to stick very closely to those principles of journalism when it comes to my eCommerce websites. Here's what they are and how you can use them to boost the conversions on your eCommerce site:

The Inverted Pyramid and the 5 "W's" (and "H")

The "inverted pyramid" style of writing essentially is one in which you put the most important things first and gradually add less important, supportive material afterward. This style of writing was created so that newspaper editors could quickly snip the bottom off of articles if they needed to in order to fit the layout of the newspaper page they were to appear on.

In theory, the perfect journalistic article will answer who, what, where, when, why and how. In practice, though, it is seldom possible for a beat writer to answer all of those questions when covering a breaking story - especially the "why." If you examine the typical newspaper article, you will see that as many of the 5 "W's" and "H" as possible are answered in the first two to three sentences. A story might begin like this:

Three Gunned Down in Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Last night, at approximately 11:30PM, a bar fight erupted at Hooligans Nightclub in downtown Orlando where three people were shot. John Jones, Buford Smith and Frank Ward are all in critical condition at Florida Regional Medical Center after being shot multiple times by an unidentified white male who pulled out a gun during the brawl. Police have several leads and expect an arrest to be made shortly.

Who: John Jones, Buford Smith and Frank Ward (and the unidentified shooter)

What: A shooting; a bar fight

Where: Hooligans Nightclub in downtown Orlando; Florida Regional Medical Center

When: Last night at approximately 11:30PM; an arrest expected shortly

Why: A bar fight (a further explanation of the "why" might be answered in later sentences)

How: With a gun

In the next several sentences, more details will be added about the shooting - the ages of the victims, the approximate age of the shooter, the prognosis for the injured, why the fight may have occurred, what actions are being taken by police to locate the shooter, etc. You can see, though, that if an editor needed to cut the article off after three sentences, he or she could do it without losing the most important aspects of the story. In fact, an editor could cut the article to two or even one sentence and still retain the most important parts of the story.

"Great," you're probably thinking, "that'll really help me the next time I set up a Crime Watch website!" You might be surprised by how important knowing this can be for eCommerce store owners - particularly on product pages!

Using Journalism 101 for your eCommerce Store

Although we can certainly write forever on a single web page without fear of there not being enough room, a site visitor's attention span is typically pretty short. They want the salient facts quickly and will read further if they want to know more. For that reason, it is important to get to the most important things first and work your way down to the "nice to know" things later on your product pages.

The Headline: The headline on any page is super important. It's sole purpose is to get visitors to read more. Although you probably won't be able to catch someone's attention quite as well as a "Gunned Down" headline would, the most important thing is letting whomever is viewing the page know that they are on the right page. If they expected to be on the "Acme X-31 Catapult" page but, instead, the headline said "Roadrunner Speed Enhancers," they would probably leave the page immediately. So, first of all, make sure your product name and brand (if there is a brand) are in the "headline" (typically the Product Name field on an eCommerce website). If you want to add a word like "Discount" to the product name, it certainly is a bit more of an attention getter - "Discount Acme X-31 Catapult".

The Five "W's" and "H" in eCommerce:

Who: Who manufactures the product? Who could benefit from this product? Statements that contain things like "great for students," "perfect for the do-it-yourselfer" or "your teen will love this" are certainly ones that should be included on a product page.

What: What features does this product have? What are its detailed specs? What can it be used for? What other products (hopefully, that you also sell) can it be used with? What are the shipping costs (don't let this be a surprise during checkout)?

Where: Where can it be used (indoor/outdoor)? Where is it made (Made in the USA is a BIG plus right now)? Where does it ship from? Where do you ship to (especially helpful to define if you have free shipping)?

When: When can I expect it to be delivered? Is it in stock? When will it be in stock (if it isn't)? If there is a special price, when does it end?

Why: Why do they need this product? Why is it better than similar products? Why should they buy it from you?

How: How does this product work (owners manual PDF; video)? How does this product compare to similar products? How do you handle returns? How does this product make something in their life easier or better? How will this product make them happier/more popular/smarter/better?

The eCommerce Pyramid:

In most cases, the more information you can provide, the better. Answer the important things first and don't forget the "why." Why someone should buy a product and especially from you is probably the most important conversion factor on your website and it's the one thing that is missing from the majority of website product pages!

Regardless of what you are selling, most of the time, the first thing a customer wants to know is the price. (How many times have you been frustrated by a website that doesn't immediately tell you the price?)

Next, write a unique 2-3 sentence description of the product that includes its most important features and how those features will benefit the potential buyer.

After your brief 2-3 sentence intro, a bullet-point list is usually a good idea. The bullet-point list should include all of the features (the "what") as well as "why" they should buy it from you - free shipping, fast delivery ("when"), low price guarantee, satisfaction guarantee, great warranty, etc. and possibly the "where" if it is made in the USA or if you only ship to a specific geographical region (especially if "free" shipping is involved).

Finally, for the site visitor who wants to know more, include a unique full description that further delves into how the product can benefit them, who really loves it, why it is better or how it compares to similar products offered on your website or elsewhere on the web. Include a link or tab with the owners manual (if you can get it), technical specifications, testimonials or anything else that a consumer might possibly want to know. Make sure that a site visitor has absolutely no excuse to go hunting elsewhere on the web for more information about the product!

Now, there is such a thing as too much information. If your product is made in China, there is nothing positive that will come from mentioning that, for instance. If a product isn't as good as other products you offer, stating "this is the worst" of the product line is not as good as saying that it is "made for budget-minded people." If there is a newer model and you still sell the older one, too, don't call the previous one the "old" model. It would be better described as the "original" or "classic" model. Pick the things that will shed the product in the best light for the typical customer and only highlight those things.

Let's Not Forget the Things I Learned in Sales & Marketing!

I learned a ton of things in my 20+ years of sales and marketing - "nice doggie" never works and "no" doesn't always mean "no," but often means "I need more information," for example. The two most important things I learned, though, are really both the same thing, said in a different way:

  • People buy benefits, not features
  • People do not buy things, they buy solutions to problems.

Listing all the features in the world is great for the consumer who absolutely knows what he or she wants. Unfortunately, most people really aren't experts when it comes to many of the products they purchase. They want to know that they are making the right decision, not only about the product they ultimately choose to buy, but whom they choose to buy it from. Although the consumer is buying a physical product, what you are really doing is solving problems they have, namely, what they should buy, where they should buy it and why.

You really need to take off your "seller's hat" and put on your "confused customer hat." Think of every possible type of person who might be thinking about buying that product. Make a list of the questions they might have (you might even be able to find some of those questions on forums or in places like Yahoo Answers or Quora) and answer them all. Also, try to include "feel good" (or "bandwagon") phrases - "super popular," "voted the best," "best selling," "the most talked about," etc.

And, don't forget about what concerns people the most about buying things online. When will they get it? What if there is a problem? What if they don't like it? How secure is their information? Can they speak to somebody before or after the purchase? Is there a low price guarantee? Is this an established, trustworthy place to buy from?

Congratulations; You Have Now Graduated from eCommerce Journalism 101!

I suppose that somewhere above, I should have emphasized that ALL of your copy needs to be completely unique. I would hope that by now, everyone realizes that - at least all members of Store Coach should! If you simply copy the same manufacturer's descriptions that all of the other lazy web store owners have, you will register a big "so what?" with both the search engines and site visitors. You certainly won't do anything to help your conversion rate!

I guarantee you that if your product pages include everything mentioned above, your eCommerce website will convert far better than most of your competitors' websites do. Not only that, but it should fare better in the search engines, too. Now, go out there in the cyber world and make your mark!

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