Presenting a compelling product story
Through vigorous testing over a decade long ecommerce career, today's guest has come to a conclusion: the product is the most important page on the whole site, and he's got outside-the-box wisdom on how to optimize it.
The Unofficial Shopify Podcast
Kurt Elster: Today on The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, we are going to talk about optimizing your website. Well, hold on, that’s a little broad. We’ve had that conversation before many times, and so we’re going to talk about specifically which page we should optimize, why we should optimize it, how we should optimize it, what goes into it. We’re gonna talk about optimizing your product detail page. Because our guest today strongly feels it has a hugely outsized importance, to the point that he is a conversion rate optimization specialist who only works on a single product page per client at a time. I think that’s absolutely fascinating and I’ve been following this gentleman on LinkedIn for years now and I have found him to be a consistently valuable resource. You have heard me parrot his advice here and you didn’t know it, and I probably didn’t give him credit, but you have. I swear.
Joining me today is Rishi Rawat from Frictionless Commerce and we’re gonna talk through how vigorous testing over the last 12 years has led him to the belief that the product is the most important page on your entire site and what to do about that. So, Rishi, thank you for joining us.
Rishi Rawat: Thank you for having me, Kurt. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a very long time and I’m really excited to talk about this topic. There’s only one thing I know for a fact, which is 30 years from now, I will be talking about the exact same topic. It is the calling of my life. It is the reason I exist, so it’s a huge privilege to actually have a chance to talk to you about it, and through you, talk to your audience about it, and have a meaningful impact, give them insights and specific ideas that they can implement themselves and have dramatic effect on conversion rates.
Kurt Elster: So, before we jump into that, I want to know who are you. Why should we listen to you? Who the heck is this guy? How long you been doing this? What’s going on here? How did you come to be so weirdly passionate about product pages?
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. No, you know, that’s a… I want to talk about my story because I think some of your audiences will respond to it. Let me start off by saying the most valuable thing I own, people who are listening to this podcast can’t see my fingers pointing, but it’s pointing backwards to a Sears catalog. It’s a 125-year-old Sears catalog I bought from eBay and I… Every time I feel like I’ve written a piece of copy that is really good, I open up the Sears catalog and I feel terrible about myself, because I realize how good these copywriters were 125 years ago. They were using font size four, which we never use on the web anymore. They were sketching product images because there was no photography. And they were shipping these catalogs to small towns in inner America where people who had never been to Chicago, had never seen the Sears warehouse, and they were making a very simple promise. They were saying, “Pay us up front. You’ve never heard of us. Pay us up front and the next three to four weeks you’ll receive a package which may or may not be to your liking.”
And when you think about that context, you realize that the way to bridge that gap is through incredible storytelling, and that’s what I learned from this catalog. And so, my quest has been how do we bring this craftsmanship of storytelling to the web? And what happened was I was working for an agency in Chicago, and I really got into infomercials. I really-
Kurt Elster: I love them.
Rishi Rawat: Everyone in my agency would say, “My God, that’s not how brands work.” And I was like, “Well, I looked at some studies and I found a really interesting fact that said Bowflex at its peak was selling a billion dollars’ worth of equipment just through infomercials every single year.” So, my thought was like if my advertising friends were looking down on infomercials, who the heck was buying these products? And I wanted to be a part of that action. I didn’t care about branding for the sake of like… We can’t measure stuff. It’s gonna have value. You can’t measure it. But you’ll know it 10 years from now. I was really interested in this whole direct response phenomena.
And so, that kind of got me interested in eCommerce, because eCommerce is the ultimate direct response, and what was happening was that this is… Around 2008, this is the time when brands for the very first time were kind of going direct to consumer, and it started off with big brands, and I realized something really fundamental, which is that Sears, or JC Penney, or Nordstrom, were essentially the Googles of the world. What would happen is that brands would pay them money to be on their shop floor, so that the consumer could discover those products, and Google came along and said, “Hey, people are searching for these products on us, why don’t you come in front?”
Now, the challenge back then was that they had channel conflicts, so when I would talk to clients they would say like, “Well, we also sell through JC Penney, so we can’t really do much about it. We can have the same price, but we can’t have the same benefits because we have a contract.” And I knew right then that this is the old batch of retailers who had these draconian contracts. There’s gonna be a new batch of retailers who are gonna go direct to consumer, and when that happens, it’s just gonna change the world.
And so, that’s kind of how I got started in 2008, and what I was doing was testing and optimization. I started off with Google Analytics just to understand how people were behaving. I’m very fascinated by buyer psychology. I would present these reports to clients, and they would say, “This is really interesting, but how do we know it’s gonna work?” And I was like, “Well, let’s A-B test it.” And this is before we had tools. We only had Google Website Optimizer, horribly difficult to use. We ran our first bunch of tests through that, and we saw amazing results. And in the course of 12 years, I tried to understand… I’m a lazy guy. I don’t want to test across the entire funnel. I want to test where I can have the most amount of impact for the least amount of effort.
And in that discovery process, we discovered that the product page, this is all data talking. I had no interest in product pages. I have no interest in copywriting. I just wanted to get higher converting outputs and that journey brought us to the product page. And then ultimately, we realized that it’s not even just the product page that matters. It’s actually the product description, this little box that people ignore, that makes all the difference. And so, we just bet the whole farm, and the neighbor’s farm, and everyone’s farm on that one idea.
Kurt Elster: So, you went from, “I watched infomercials,” yada yada yada, “The product description is probably the most valuable element on the entire website.”
Rishi Rawat: That is correct.
Kurt Elster: That’s the journey condensed.
Rishi Rawat: That’s the journey condensed.
Kurt Elster: I love it. I love it because… Well, I have lived almost my entire life in Chicago metro, and so I grew up with Sears as a fixture, and the Sears houses. I don’t know if everyone realizes this. When you said, “Oh, 125 years ago they’re inventing direct to consumer and mailing this catalog, and people had to buy sight unseen.” Some people were buying actual houses from Sears. They would ship it to you, and you assembled it on site. And the street I grew up on in Park Ridge, Illinois, along with my producer, business partner, cohost, Paul Reda, he lived a few blocks down, there were Sears houses. My parents owned one briefly as an investment property. It was kind of interesting.
And then you discovered these infomercials, which are also interesting to me, because once you get past your ego and start looking at how does… Clearly, this is successful, or they wouldn’t keep doing it. I don’t know. Maybe that’s flawed logic, but the ones that I always pay attention to today are the Bell + Howell ones, like the tactical product ones, and they fascinate me. Because they’ve essentially… He’s essentially reframing often existing products and then sends you to a website or you call, but mostly it’s like an ad for a website, and I just… I find them absolutely fascinating. I would love to know more about those businesses. But what’s interesting about it is like the product usually is not that unique and it’s certainly not premium. They’re usually inexpensive. And their focus is on first tell a really compelling story about it and talk you through the benefits of why you need this, and like it usually focuses on a pain, just like classic storytelling stuff condensed into 30 seconds, and then at the end there’s always that average order value bump where they’re like, “Well, order now and we can add a second one or some accessory for only $8 more.” There’s your AOV bump.
These infomercials really are quite fascinating to watch. So, geez, geez! So, you’re working for an agency, you made this discovery. Now you’re out on your own as a freelancer focused solely on product detail page optimization, correct?
Rishi Rawat: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Okay, and we know the product detail page, really the importance there versus like the homepage, collection page, everything else on the website, its job really is to help people get to the correct page, the right product. And once I’m on that product page, that’s where the purchase decision happens, correct?
Rishi Rawat: Yeah, that’s right. Go ahead.
Kurt Elster: So, what goes into… Well, talk me through this concept of purchase decision and why we think it’s just really 99% tied to this product detail page.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. I think that’s the most important question is like why does the product page matter itself? So, obviously you have a broad set of listeners, and they are at different stages of their business, but in the work that I do with clients… So, with Shopify sites that are doing $2 and $15 million in sales, what those clients are doing is they are predominantly advertising on either Facebook or Google … ads, and those ads are directly tied to the product page. 99% of those ads are directly taking people to the product page.
So, that’s a practical reason why I am so focused on product pages, is because that is the point of entry. It’s not necessarily something that people are navigating to after four minutes. It is the point of entry. And the other detail to keep in mind over here is that the product page is the last… It’s the last stage of the window-shopping experience, because beyond the product page, we have this highly emotionally charged aspect of asking the user to take out their credit card. We have 10,000 years of evolution that have trained us not to do that. You know, the invention of money happened 5,000 B.C., so we have 10,000 years against us, so my view is that the product page is the final page where I can actually build an argument for why this product matters, why you should pay attention to it, how it’s gonna help you make progress in your life, and that’s the reason why in very simple terms, the product page is the only page that matters to me.
Even if you have 50 products, you know, if 90% of your ad spend is driving people to individual product pages, that’s the big mistake that retailers make. If I talk to a CEO and if they sell 50 products and I ask the CEO, “Describe your business.” They will say, “I have a 50-product eCommerce business.” But for the consumer who has got a very specific problem, sees an ad for a very specific solution, clicks on the ad, and goes to a very specific product page, you are a one-page website. That’s all.
Kurt Elster: You’re right. You’re absolutely right. For most businesses, or for most purchases, it’s really a single product I’m interested in and it’s a single… and I’m trying to solve a single pain, even if it’s… Depending on what it is, like I need new jeans? Okay, I’m just shopping for a single pair of jeans. But even on like a large drop shipping-ish catalog store, like something that sells car parts and has thousands, tens of thousands of products, I’m usually only trying to fix one thing at a time, like I just need this single… Give me my air filter and I’m done.
And so, we’ve got as far as the consumer’s concerned, the product detail page is the most important thing. And I know that’s where the purchase decision is made, and I know that’s where people drive their traffic because of how PPC works these days, and I also know it’s where a lot of merchants didn’t put enough attention. And you could see this yourself, like I’m a heavy Instagram Story user. I’m always watching people’s stories. It’s an easy way to connect with friends. And so, the story ads, I see them, and then I swipe up, I see an interesting product, swipe up, and then I recognize immediately like I’m on a Turbo theme product detail page with too little information. Like it just doesn’t have particularly more information than the ad gave me. And so, I just close out. I’m not buying and that’s the end of it.
What are the most common mistakes you’re seeing people make with these product detail pages?
Rishi Rawat: Well, the most predominant one is clients will sometimes have these arbitrary rules that say something like, “My product description should be no more than two paragraphs long.” That’s-
Kurt Elster: No! This one drives me nuts. This is a pet peeve is like, “Well, the product description has to be short because nobody reads.”
Rishi Rawat: That’s right.
Kurt Elster: Uh oh.
Rishi Rawat: That’s right.
Kurt Elster: The trigger warning. Tell me about that mistake.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s irrelevant. I think the product… Every word is a tax and therefore you want to make sure that that tax serves a very specific purpose. You want to make sure that that copy is at long as it absolutely needs to be in order to maximize conversion rates. That’s the metric that I’m focused on. I’m not focused on I need to complete the story in three sentences.
Kurt Elster: So, long copy or short copy, the answer is long as it needs to be, which is a maddening answer. Remember in school, you’d say, “Well, how long does this paper have to be?” As long as it needs to be. And I know that’s the right answer. For you, what’s your… I bet there’s a rule of thumb. I bet if I was like… You know, this one is two sentences. Would that be okay? I suppose it depends what I’m selling. If I’m selling like, “This is a pack of wood screws,” eh, two sentences is probably fine.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah, so I actually have a really… So, this is a very interesting question and it’s gonna take us down to a really interesting rabbit hole. So, one of my… and I hope your listeners will appreciate this, because I know a lot of them are hustlers and they want to kind of find shortcuts to life. So, one of my guiding principles is conserving energy. I’m not a particularly good copywriter. I don’t like to spend 100 hours thinking about a problem that can be solved in less than 100 hours. And so, when I was confronted with this question, clients would ask me all the time, long copy versus short copy, I kind of realized that I’m not gonna make an effort to build a case for what the length should be. It’s the exact same question as what should my conversion rate be. Well, it’s a meaningless question.
Kurt Elster: Right.
Rishi Rawat: So, what we did was, and we ran a very interesting experiment. Actually, I can share it because it’s public domain. It’s a fascinating story and I think you’ll really appreciate it. So, it’s a technical product. It’s an air purifier. And people buy air purifiers for a whole bunch of reasons, and we know from psychology that there are four types of modalities of shoppers. Humanistic, impulsive, methodical, and competitive. And really, the two groups that I’m paying attention to are methodical shoppers and impulsive shoppers. These are dimensions of speed.
So, here’s the story. It’s a very technical product and the challenge for us was, for copywriting, was do we go into all the details for what the HEPA filter does, how it works, how it clears allergens? This is a $900 product.
Kurt Elster: Whoa!
Rishi Rawat: Or do we take the risk of saying, “Hey, let’s just kind of summarize this.” And so, I thought to myself, I said, “This is Sophie’s Choice. This is a really bad choice.” So, what we did was on the product page, we had a basic opening, which applied to all types of modalities, and then below the opening, we asked a simple question. How much time do you have today? And there were two buttons. I have two minutes and I have time. I knew that methodical shoppers who are detail oriented will click on, “I have time.” And people who want to just get… You know, a grandma who wants to just buy a decent air purifier will click, “I have two minutes.” And so, if they clicked, “I have two minutes,” we gave them the elevator pitch of our whole sales pitch. If they click, “I have time,” we showed them four pages of copy. And conversion rates went up by 30% of this already best seller by simply giving shoppers the option to self-select what their preferences are.
Kurt Elster: That’s incredibly clever. So, what did the layout look like? Was it like a land… Was it a tab? A pair of buttons? A landing page, like a squeeze page?
Rishi Rawat: It wasn’t a squeeze page. It was exactly the product page that the client already had. We basically hid their entire description. We wrote a new opening paragraph, and we had these two buttons below it and there was white space above and below, so it’s visible, and if they click on it then dynamically the copy changes based on that selection.
Kurt Elster: Oh, that’s really clever. So, you didn’t have to choose between long or short. The customer chose.
Rishi Rawat: I just basically let my laziness guide me and I basically said, “I have two choices. I can either spend 100 hours researching users to find out what they want, or I can just give them two options.”
Kurt Elster: Oh, I love it. I love that you go, “Look, I don’t want to waste my time. I’m fundamentally interested in conserving energy.” Which is a great way to view what we would pejoratively call laziness, and then just completely reuse it as your own competitive advantage. It’s very clever.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. I mean, and we do this all the time. I just… We call this technique active participation. One of my principal pet peeves about eCommerce, this is the trillion-dollar opportunity that’s being left right now, is that when I talk to people about why they want to do eCommerce, their answer is because it’s a more cost effective and efficient way of getting to the buyer. That’s actually not the right answer to me. For me, the great thing, the reason why eCommerce will kick the ass of direct response TV commercials and Sears catalogs is because those Sears copywriters could never… Their users could never interact with them.
With eCommerce, we have this amazing ability to interact with shoppers at scale, and yet we don’t do it. Here’s the thing. I mean, here’s how I know it’s broken. When I go to a product page, and I’m talking about like multimillion dollar brands, I go to the product page. Have you noticed something really interesting? The product description is exactly the same for a certain product SKU irrespective of where you’re coming from, what time of night you’re looking at that page, whether it’s mobile, whether it’s desktop, whether you’re coming through an affiliate link versus not. It’s exactly the same story. To me, this could mean one of two things. Either that brand is so smart and they’ve crafted a story that is so perfect, that works for all audiences, or they are completely leaving dollars on the table because they’ve been… They’re not smart enough to or they haven’t realized that they can actually personalize the story based on the intent of the buyer that they’re trying to sell to.
Kurt Elster: We have now moved into advanced techniques, and I need to know more. So, you’re talking about personalization, and your examples are personalization based on device, based on referrer, which I think referrer is probably the big opportunity there, because that’s where you can start to unlock intent a little bit more. And time of day, which is very clever. Walk me through some examples of that.
Rishi Rawat: I mean, you know, it doesn’t… By and large, it doesn’t exist. I’ve actually never seen out in the wild an example of a product page where depending on where you’re coming from and what type of… what device you’re coming from. But in our case, I really want to simplify this, because the purpose of this conversation is to really talk about actionable stuff. So, what I would say is that there are two types of personalization that exist in the world. One of the types of personalization is basically based on some kind of a decision tree, where you kind of put some code and you say that if someone is coming through this affiliate source, I want to change the copy in this way and then dynamically change it in other ways. I’m actually not a fan of that kind of automation because of this concept of anti-fragile. What happens is when you create these really complicated decision trees, it sounds really fun when you’re doing it, but six months from now you have no idea why you set it up the way you did, and if something changes, which does all the time… Clients change prices all the time. I’ve had cases where clients have promos running and they don’t even know where those promos are being activated from, and that promo doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s just a complicated scenario.
So, my view, the way I think about personalization is let the user personalize. Let them raise their hand and personalize the experience by interacting with certain elements on the product page. Let them click on a button. Let them click on a link. And then based on that interaction, change the copy. It’s almost like a choose your own adventure type… I kind of look at those old books where you kind of choose your… I love that idea and I don’t understand why it doesn’t exist for eCommerce. Why are we making so much effort using machine learning and automation to try and triangulate what the behavior is of shoppers versus just… I love-
Kurt Elster: When you could just ask them.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. I mean, I think about like old-
Kurt Elster: What brings you in today? When I worked in a bike shop, that’s what we asked people. Like, “Hey, what brings you in today?” And if they didn’t have an answer, if you want to start, you’d ask a different question. You’d wait a little while, ask a different question. Hey, what kind of riding do you do? And one of the two questions would immediately reveal like, “Okay, this is the intent. This is the next step.” And so, you knew how to help them. And so, it created a really great customer service environment in this weird little mom and pop recumbent bike shop that my friends and I used to work in.
How do I bring those experiences to a website?
Rishi Rawat: Now we’re kind of getting into the core of it. Let’s first of all understand the model that we’re trying to emulate. I want to emulate a mom-and-pop store from 150 years ago, where there was a little store, in a little town, where the store owner knew all the people that were coming in, and you would go in, and you would have a conversation with this person. And I’ll tell you why I’m not a… I’ll kind of get to something very interesting. So, your question is like how do we implement this.
So, I’ll give you an example again. Another test that we did for a German running shoe brand. They make running shoes made of Merino wool, a very specific type of wool, and it’s got lots of incredible properties. What we found was that there was a lot to talk to buyers about because what we found was that some consumers were concerned about is this machine washable, some consumers were concerned about I’ve never worn Merino wools before, is this gonna itch me?
Kurt Elster: Is it itchy?
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. Some people were concerned about performance. Some people were… There were so many different things people were concerned about. So, again, we cheated. What we did was when you come to the product page, we kind of have a basic description, and then below that, we just said, “Can you please tell us the attributes that you care about the most?” And we gave them a checkbox list of like 17 different checkboxes. Now, here’s the thing: There’s also a button that says all of them, so we wanted to give an option for people who said, “I want to learn everything.”
But then we also allow people to cherry pick the details they care about. One of the checkboxes was your return policy. The other checkbox was environmental impact. Not everyone cares about environmental impact, so we didn’t want to like shove it down their throat, but if they did care about it… So, what happened was this is where the cheating comes in. It’s almost like they are telling us what they care about and then based on their selection, when they click on the submit button, we showed them copy that was literally laid out based on selections that they made, and conversions went up by 35%.
Kurt Elster: So, dumbing it down, you say, “Hey…” Well, how is this framed? Is it like product configurator, or just like what brings you in today? Let us help you find the right product?
Rishi Rawat: So, this is the million-dollar opportunity. So, one of the things, one of the tools that is available to us are wizards, and the problem with wizards are we throw them in front of the consumer too early in the process. So, we either show a popup and say, “Let us help you find the right product.” Or we kind of show it right when they land at the website. I don’t think… I want the user to be… I want the sunk cost fallacy to kick in. What we find is that when you look at analytics data, what you find is that most people bounce in under 30 seconds. And once people cross that, what we call the unfamiliarity barrier, they tend to stick on a lot longer.
So, I want them to cross that. I want the user to be invested enough because at the end of the day, I cannot persuade someone who’s not motivated to at least some extent to buy these running shoes. So, the way we play the game is we actually start the product description exactly the way the product description is, and at the end of the first paragraph is when we start asking these types of questions, like we’ve got… What we did in this case was we said, “There’s a lot that we need to talk to you about and we want to personalize that based on what is most meaningful for you, and please select the options that relate to you the most.” And people made whatever selections that mattered to them.
Kurt Elster: So, really by making these selections, each one corresponds to a piece of copy. And really, my checkboxes are like, “Display none, display visible,” on each of these items.
Rishi Rawat: That’s exactly right.
Kurt Elster: That’s awesome.
Rishi Rawat: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Kurt Elster: So, really, and I don’t have a ton of experience with personalization, but when we’ve been successful with personalization, it really… Really, what we were doing was using it to uncover what was irrelevant to the person and then hide those elements. That’s what was so clever about it. Not that we were like sticking their name in and being like, “Hey, it’s raining in Chicago.” Not garbage like that. Just getting rid of stuff that they didn’t give a crap about. That’s the magic to personalization.
Rishi Rawat: And the great thing about this is that the way we want to be sold to, not only… Here’s the thing, Kurt. The way you want to be sold to is very different than how I want to be sold to. And so, by understanding your proclivities and by understanding what your interests are, as a marketer I’m getting access to the bucket that you fall into, which allows me then to show copy that is… For example, if someone picked the, “I care about the environmental impact,” but they didn’t select the return policy, what this tells me is that they really don’t care about… They’re not price sensitive but they care a lot about the environment.
Now, we didn’t do this, but theoretically we could have actually reframed the entire sales pitch around environmental impact, because we know that… and taken the focus slightly away from price point because this consumer doesn’t care about the price point, because they’ve already told us that’s what they care about.
So, there’s implicit signals that they’re giving us by selecting or unselecting certain details. So, you can take it really far. We didn’t take it that far. Again, I’m lazy. I want to kind of get to the biggest impact I can get to in a 90-day period. I don’t like to think beyond 90 days. So, we didn’t do it, but theoretically one could.
Kurt Elster: I love it. And that’s such a good example, because yeah, if you have someone where… All right, sustainability, environmental impact is my big concern. Then we know it is also very likely that that person is then less price sensitive. You’re right, and that’s implicit there. And that one hits home, because sustainability is my personal pet issue, and when I’m on a website, I’m looking for an excuse to buy. I’m like, “Just please sell me on this. I’m not gonna open my wallet unless you’re making the effort to sell me,” assuming there’s not an immediate pain or problem I have to solve.
And so, that, for me, that button to press is, “Oh! Sustainability!” This is a good thing to do to reduce your carbon footprint. That kind of thing. But that’s certainly not the same for everybody. And you use the phrase like we want customers to raise their hand and self-select what they’re interested in. That is what is so brilliant here. You’re right. We’re not trying to use some algorithm and machine learning database. We’re not trying to trick anybody. We’re just straight up asking them what’s important to them.
Rishi Rawat: A lot of that third-party data and machine learning data is flat out wrong. It’s reading the wrong… You know, this is the reason why a lot of product recommendations aren’t that smart. I’ve been looking at that software for a long time. It’s really hard to predict human behavior. It’s so much easier to just say that. “Tell us who you are and then we personalize a sales pitch for you.”
Kurt Elster: Yeah, it’s oftentimes the… Well, I think in any relationship, communication is the cornerstone that empowers any great relationship. Well, with a brand and a customer, people refer to that as a relationship. The brand-customer relationship. And so, if you’re not talking to your customers, well, that’s not a great relationship. But the website itself could talk to them. It could ask questions. It doesn’t have to be so one sided. This is really-
Rishi Rawat: 24/7. Exactly.
Kurt Elster: The wheels are spinning. I’m like, “Okay, I’m starting to get ideas here.” Tell me what tools I should use. What tools do you use?
Rishi Rawat: So, tools to research?
Kurt Elster: Does it matter?
Rishi Rawat: Yeah. So, the only tool that I use is we have an interrogation process where we interrogate the inventor to really understand what the product’s about, but I actually have a very controversial view on this.
Kurt Elster: Are you waterboarding your clients? What’s going on here?
Rishi Rawat: We’re not waterboarding them but we are peppering them with some very uncomfortable questions, so actually this takes us to one of the parts of the topic that I want to talk to you. We’ve talked about how we can kind of surface the story through these checkboxes and how much time do you have and that’s all fun. I think what I want to talk to people about as well is how to craft the product story. How do you… You know, we talked about the product description, and we said the product page matters and product description matters, but what the hell do I fill in the product description?
And I think this is where a lot of retailers fall for the trap of relying, overtly relying on features and benefits, and I’m not saying that features and benefits don’t matter. I think it’s great if you want to start off, but if you… I know that your listeners want to do a lot more than just start off. And so, then the question becomes we need to write the product story, and then of course the first question there is what is the product story and what is it built off? And I want to kind of just talk about the two core pillars of the product story.
And it’s very controversial because I have seen very few product stories that actually focus on this. Step number one is why we exist. Step number two is why this product must exist. Now, pay attention to the framing I’m using over here. I’m saying why this product must exist. I’m not saying why this product exists. I’m not saying why this product is better than my competition. It doesn’t matter. Why should the world even… Why is the world a better place that your product exists?
And then the first one is why do you exist. Because the way I look at it is that there are two… If it’s a relay race, there are two hurdles that we’re trying to get the consumer to cross. When they first come to your website, they don’t care about your brand. You are not even in their attention set. They have a problem and they’re looking for a specific product that can solve that problem. The first thing the consumer thinks about is why should I give you my attention. Why should I give you, a brand, my attention? And once you cross… You have to cross that burden. You have to cross that hurdle because no matter how amazing your product is and how phenomenal it is, if the consumer doesn’t trust you as a company first, the genius of the product is meaningless.
So, the first hurdle we want to cross is why we exist. And then right after that, I mean, they’re just right next to each other. The next one is why this product must exist. Both are very fundamental questions and in order to get to that, that’s where we do the interrogation. I pepper my clients with very uncomfortable questions like, “Here are your 15 competitors. They’ve got better prices than you. They are pretty much exactly the same.” And I keep on asking questions to understand how they defend themselves, because I look at copywriting as almost like a court drama where I’m a lawyer and I’m trying to convince the jury.
And I know that jury is gonna fry me if I make one mistake. And so, I want to make sure that every conceivable question and objection that they could have had, I have a response prepared for and that’s where the interrogation process comes in.
Kurt Elster: So, once you have completed the interrogation and you have negotiated the release of the client… Oh wait. No, not that part. Once you have completed the client interview process and you’ve uncovered the detail that you need, how does that translate into the product description and the product story? Is there a framework you follow? An outline? How do you get to the deliverable in this case?
Rishi Rawat: Now that we’ve kind of extracted the soul of the story, which is the way we exist and why this product must exist element, we have a sequence of steps that we kind of follow. So, the first thing I like to do is in technical terms we call it to make sense of the control, which basically means that I am reading the copy that we have right now on the product page to understand how we are currently telling that story. Because if I… That’s what I’m competing against.
Whenever we’re writing copy, our objective is to destroy the controls. We want to understand what’s being done so we can kind of take it 10 levels higher. The next step is to identify hidden assets. What happens, and this is a really important detail that I want to share with people, is that I think of an eCommerce website like a house. And in that house, we have many rooms. And some of those rooms have really interesting treasures. But the consumer is on a product page, and they have… They’re in one room. And so, what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to be… This happens all the time. A client will have this really amazing video on their how-to page, or they have this amazing story on their about us page, but when I look at the analytics data, I find that only 5% of people are ever navigating to that page, so you have this amazing asset that no one is seeing, which is basically a hidden asset.
So, we want to identify these because we’re gonna actually bring all of them back to the product page. I’m actually a big fan of keeping the user on the product page itself, so if I want to talk about the founder’s story, I bring it to the product page. I can show it as a popup if I have to. But that’s the next step, is to identify all of these assets. Do an inventory of all the amazing things that you have on your website and then just make sure that the most important of those are kind of available on this product page itself.
The next step is to educate yourself. So, I mean again, it depends on who is doing this work. In my case, I’m doing it on behalf of my clients. They’re selling a room air purifier. I have no idea what that product does, so I want to kind of go to Google and I want to see, I want to find news articles about interesting stats and figures about why air purification matters, what some of the competitors are doing, and stuff like that, and I know it’s… Even for founders, I think it sometimes seems like I know everything there is to know about my product. There’s so much content that’s out there that’s external to your website that you aren’t even looking at. It just helps to do a search to understand how other people are solving these problems that you’re trying to solve for, as well, and it’ll give you a whole bunch of ideas. And then start guessing about the buyer, so think about all the questions that the buyer could have.
And really, after that, start writing on a piece of paper your story, your product description. Don’t put it on the product page, just type it out on a piece of paper, and what we like to do is we like to give ourselves a 24-hour break, because what I find is that lots of times the brain is constantly fighting ideas, but it may not be available and accessible to me as I’m writing the description right now. So, I like to come back to it after 24 hours and reread it, and I get tons of new ideas based on that, and I just keep on following that process until I’ve kind of nailed my description. There is no really cheat sheet for the product description. It’s just the discipline of working on it again… You know, the number one thing that I talk to, it’s amazing. I talk to clients, I talk to a certain brand that does $100 million in sales of their best seller, and I ask them, “When’s the last time you rewrote your product description?” And they said, “What do you mean, exactly?” I said, “The description on the product page.” They said, “Well, we haven’t touched it since we launched the website three years ago.”
And so, this is what we are competing against. We’re competing against the fact that product descriptions are not touched at all. Not only do we have bad descriptions, those bad descriptions are completely unchallenged for years. And so, all I’m trying to get the listeners to do is to just challenge that assumption that their description is good enough. It might be great, but it doesn’t hurt to kind of go through the discipline of actually rewriting the whole thing again, and if you end up with something that looks exactly or very similar to what you have, pat yourself on the back for having nailed it. But if it’s different, then you might have discovered something, a potential hook, a potential angle, a potential perspective that you were missing out on that you can now incorporate.
Kurt Elster: When you’re looking for inspiration, who does it right? Who has just really phenomenal product descriptions where you know they’re going through this effort?
Rishi Rawat: So, my favorite, I love looking at really, really small, niche websites, and my favorite one is a Michigan-based bread company called Zingerman’s, and I’m sure you’ve heard of them. They are known for artisanal breads, and they have olive oils, and now of course they’ve expanded to a whole bunch of things, but what… Their product descriptions are just works of art because for example, if you’re buying olive oil, the copy… It’s almost like the copy is written by the person on their team who actually went to Italy and hung around in the village where the olives were harvested and then they were pressed, and then they were bottled, and aged, and he had meals with the locals, and so he comes back, or she comes back, and their description is… I feel like I’m sitting on a plane traveling with them. It’s just absolutely incredible and they do this with every single product that they carry.
They go into incredible detail about the cows from where the milk comes from, how those cows are treated, how many days the milk is sitting in a certain location, and so anyway, to me Zingerman’s, zingermans.com, is if you’re looking for inspiration on how to write copy, and look, here’s what I would say, is that even if you are selling a technical product like an insulated cup, and you might… I don’t want you to think about Zingerman’s and say, “Well, they’re selling olive oil and they’re selling brownies and I’m selling a different type of product.” The same principles, we’re still selling to human beings, and we’re still trying to persuade. The same principles apply. You will learn a lot by just looking at how Zingerman’s does their product descriptions.
Kurt Elster: Similarly, the one I like a lot is J. Peterman catalog, as in like J. Peterman from Seinfeld. That was based on a real company, the J. Peterman company. And they always… The joke was they have like these crazy stories for their product descriptions for the catalog in Seinfeld. That part, that was all true. That was art imitating life. And so, I’ll include Zingerman’s Bakehouse and JPeterman.com in the product description.
Rishi, this has been phenomenal. If you wanted people to take something away from this, if there’s an action you want them to go take, what is it?
Rishi Rawat: My action for them is to spend… Here’s what I would say. Spend at least three hours a month looking at your product pages, reading the product description. Walk in the shoes of the people you are trying to persuade. And also, I would say that if 80% of our sales are happening on the mobile product page, do not look at your desktop product page. I see this all the time where they’re… Every mockup is for the desktop when the sales are mobile. So, look at the mobile product page, and my other recommendation would be that start writing copy. Start reading the description and start writing copy for how you can start to improve it. Just invest three hours a month on this and you will be amazed at the kinds of insights you’re having.
You already have… This is the number one I get from clients is that they’re like, “Well, we don’t really have a great story.” If you’ve survived this long, you have a story. You either don’t know what that story is, or you’ve heard it so many times that you feel embarrassed to kind of talk about it publicly. But the thing is that the people we’re trying to persuade are people who have never seen you before. They need to hear that story to care, and caring is what gets them to hang around for another 30 seconds. Hanging around for another 30 seconds is what gets them to buy. That’s the path.
Kurt Elster: Yeah. Around the time that you are deathly sick of your own story and your own brand is about the time that people may start to remember.
Okay, Rishi, where can people go to learn more about you?
Rishi Rawat: I’m very active on LinkedIn. I’m posting insights. One of the things that I do is I spend maybe three hours a day just studying what other retailers are doing. I recognize there are people out there who are doing things that I will never get to do, so I want to learn from them, and I like… I know for a fact that Zappos and Macy’s are too big to experiment. I know that most of these interesting experiments are happening on really small websites, and so I like to spend tons… I spend at least three hours of my time every day just looking at what these other copywriters are doing, and I take note of those ideas, which I share on LinkedIn and also on my newsletter. If you’re interested in joining my newsletter, I would recommend you go to Frictionless-Commerce.com/join and you can sign up for my newsletter. Every Monday morning, I share one insight.
Kurt Elster: I’m on that newsletter. I enjoy it. Rishi, thank you so much. I have to go update some product descriptions.
Rishi Rawat: Thank you so much for your time, Kurt. It was an honor. Thank you.