We accidentally curate who comes to the meeting, who has a seat at the table where decisions are made. We almost randomly decide who is interviewing and being interviewed, who is brainstorming, who is reviewing the work…
What if we did it with intention? What if we thought deeply about who sits across from us during the key conversations?
Convenient should not be the dominant driver of this choice. Nor should existing protocol.
“Who’s not here?” might be the most important unasked question.
Recently I was passing through Philadelphia airport and I couldn’t help but notice thousands of iPads located one at every seat in the restaurants and waiting areas. It seemed like a distraction so I investigated.
In order to maintain its power, common anxiety (sometimes called worrying) needs your help. Constant reminders, moments of conflict and concrete examples all pitch in to keep our worry on the warpath, amplifying it and further frazzling us.
The feeling of experiencing failure in advance happens to many of us. But with active encouragement we can make it much worse.
Without our help, it’ll likely fade away. But if we work at it, we can keep it going for hours.
Not only do each of us experience worry, the feeling of imminent failure, but we often escalate it with our words and actions.
“Don’t you know that this is the biggest meeting of my career? How could you have forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning!”
“The inspector is coming, and if we fail, they shut down this franchise. I want you to redo this entire section, and work overtime doing it. In fact, call in Jim and Bob from their day off, right now.”
What’s happening here? We’re connecting the feeling of worry (it’s not really the biggest meeting of the year, it just feels that way, and the inspector has never failed us before, it just feels that way) with the real world. That gives us the ability to turn that worry into a concrete component of the actions that we’re taking. By doing so, we further reinforce the tactile and imminent nature of our feeling.
The thing that just happened is real, our action is real, therefore the anxiety must be real as well.
It takes this continuous narrative to keep the worry roaring along.
What happens if instead we say,
“Yikes. This big meeting that’s coming up has me stressed, and I was hoping my lucky jacket would be here from the cleaners. But it’s not, so I’ll need a minute to find an alternative. Either way, the meeting is going to go fine, it always does.”
“The inspector is coming and our perfect record is something we’re proud of. Would you spend a few minutes going over these three spots so we can know that we did our very best?”
You could make the choice to actually work to amplify your fear of the negative outcome instead of working on the real problem. But you can’t do both at the same time. Either you’re amplifying your worry or you’re working on a solution to the problem.
The alternative, a path worth seeking out, is to create a positive cycle, where each action we take creates a bit more confidence and calm, not less.
We can choose words and tones that are softer, that don’t raise our blood pressure (or the ire of the person who’s working to support us) and that more directly get us to where we’d actually like to go.
And it’s free.
The Situation Room might be a profitable TV show, but you don’t have to live there.
In order to solve a problem, you need to sell it first. To get it on the radar, and to have people devote time, resources and behavior change to address it.
Human beings in our culture are wired to pay attention to problems that are:
Visible–right in front of our eyes, not microscopic or far away.
Non-chronic–rationalization is our specialty, and the reason we learn to rationalize is so that we don’t go insane when faced with long-term, persistent issues. We bargain them down the priority list.
Symptomatic–this is a version of ‘visible’. If the problem has symptoms, and the symptoms are painful and getting worse, you have our attention. Symptoms that are stable or getting better feel much less urgent.
Painful–some problems have symptoms that aren’t so bad. And so we ignore them.
In our control–because helplessness is a feeling most people seek to avoid. The more certain the potential solution, the more likely it is people will acknowledge that there’s a problem.
Keep us from feeling stupid–because we don’t like feeling stupid, so we’d rather ignore the problem.
Status-driven–this one might be surprising. It turns out we like to focus our attention on things that will move us up the social hierarchy.
Expensive–problems that cost us money right now are ideal for this culture, because expensive = urgent.
Solvable–see that earlier riff about rationalization and chronic problems. If a problem doesn’t seem solvable, we’re a lot less likely to stake our attention on it.
This explains why cigarette smoking among the youth took so long to (partly) extinguish. It was a high-status activity, with no real symptoms for decades. It’s not painful and the visible side effects (thanks to billions of dollars in culture-bending spending by the tobacco companies) were seen as positive by many who participated. While the anti-smoking cause was definitely helped by the weight of evidence and persistent efforts by the medical community, it was higher taxes and enforced smoking areas that turned the tide. They made the problem expensive and a little shameful. People who didn’t want to look stupid or feel poor didn’t smoke.
Other problems that have a similar set of problems: Selling pre-need funerals. Addressing climate change. Balancing the budget. Bringing your kids to be vaccinated. Getting out of personal debt. Learning science and math. River blindness somewhere else…
If you’re working to sell a problem to your public, it’s tempting indeed to point out how shockingly irrational all of the instincts above are in practice. More effective, though, is to remarket your problem with a story that resonates.
Every web-browsing human being reads a product description, almost every day. Most product descriptions are eye-bleeding horrors of lousy copy and unclear information. That means some of the most-read digital content is some of the worst.
We can do better.
This is my sort-of-system for better product descriptions. Use as you see fit.
Two Kinds Of Descriptions
You’re writing two product descriptions:
The SERP snippet, to improve rankings and generate clicks
The product description page, to generate sales
Both impact rankings. But writing just for rankings will kill sales, and vice-versa. You have to find the right balance.
I beg of you, please don’t go and rewrite 10,000 product descriptions to the exact formula I outline here. It’s a starting point. Be creative.
The Product Description Page
This is the classic “product description.” Folks read it when they’re making their buying decision. They’re looking at two things that your writing can impact:
If UX is solid and the product is good, a great description will explain features and establish value so well that the customer clicks buy.
I focus on three elements of the product description page:
The on-page title
If you don’t have bullets, may I suggest adding them?
There’s lots of other stuff: Images, call to action, price, for example. I’m not writing about those here. I know my limitations.
Check For Duplication
If you’re rewriting an existing description, check for duplication.
Copy two sentences from the blurb
Put them in quotes
Paste them into Google
Do these sentences appear on other sites? That might be OK. But for SEO, duplicate content is a problem. Also, ask yourself: If your product description matches one or more other sites, what reason do folks have to buy from you, instead of them? If you can’t answer, you need to rewrite.
If you need to rewrite the description, don’t worry. Follow the rest of these recommendations, and it’ll happen naturally.
The On-Page Title
Note: Writing titles for Amazon is an entirely different discipline. Start with these recommendations, but you’ll need to include more product detail. It’s annoying, I know.
Your on-page product title starts as the product name:
Fast Roller TX 1000
But it must pass the Blank Sheet of Paper Test: The title, written on a blank sheet of paper, should make sense to a knowledgeable stranger. The Fast Roller is a road bicycle tire. Try this:
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire
That sounds like an SEO wrote it. When you’re wearing your SEO hat, though, you don’t write copy. You optimize it. Never optimize while you write.
I want something tighter. Remember, the blank sheet of paper test says a knowledgeable stranger. So this will work:
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire
Maybe there are two TX 1000s, though: One for each valve type. Then I end up with:
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire: Presta; and
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Tire: Schrader
You want higher rankings, though, so you’re tempted to write a fifty-word title. Use your judgment. An overweight title won’t pass the blank sheet of paper test:
Fast Roller TX 1000 Road Bicycle Tire Flat Proof Presta 700C 150TPI Bike Rolling Thingie With A Valve And Tube And Stuff
The knowledgeable stranger will give up. Think before you start keyword stuffing.
The Blurb: Write An Appeal
Fill the blanks:
If [thing or need] then this is a perfect [product].
"If you [want puncture-resistance] then this is a perfect [road bike tire].”
That’s your appeal. It’s not the only way, but it’s a robust introduction.
You can combine multiple appeals:
“If you want puncture resistance and great handling, then this road bike tire is perfect.”
“The TX 1000 provides puncture resistance without sacrificing weight, for a tire that delivers great handling and low rolling resistance.”
Again, I plead. I beg. I implore. Don’t use this as a formula.
The Blurb: Point Out Results
Something about this product makes it uniquely valuable. I hope.
Tell me how you outperform:
“In testing, the TX 1000 showed greater flat-resistance than all major competitors.”
Describe unique features. Get specific!!!
“The TX 1000 is the only tire with an unobtainium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”
I won’t call this the USP because the term’s so overused it makes me ill.
The Blurb: Find The Unnoticed Obvious
Find one important unnoticed feature related to the appeal. For example threads per inch (TPI) affect a road cycling tire’s puncture-resistance and handling. If no competitors talk about TPI, we should:
“150 TPI means a supple, flat-resistant sidewall.”
Now, I have:
“If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”
The Blurb: Remove Words That Should Never Be Spoken
Plague words. Ew. Additionally, really, indeed, obviously. Shudder. Dump them all.
I’ve got a whole list of plague words right here. If you use ’em, delete ’em.
“If you want puncture resistance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”
I also dislike overuse of unrivaled, unmatched, best, fantastic, or any other phrase that doesn’t apply to your product or your category of product. If you’re Rolex, maybe you can say unrivaled. If you sell shoelaces, stop it.
The Blurb: Remove The Breathless
Avoid the painfully obvious. Without bicycle tires, I get sparks and hemorrhoids. And only an idiot wants a tire that combines high rolling resistance with vulnerability to sharp objects. I get it.
Don’t tell me I’ll love this product, either. You’re already implying that. Saying it out loud seems needy and pushes me away.
“In cycling, tires are important. Performance and flat resistance matter. If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a really supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation. You’ll love this tire!”
I know I need a bicycle tire. Tell me why I need this bicycle tire.
The Blurb, Resplendent
Here’s what we’ve got:
“If you want to balance puncture resistance and performance, then this is a perfect road bike tire. 150 TPI means a supple, flat-resistant sidewall that doesn’t sacrifice handling or increase rolling resistance. The TX 1000 is also the only tire with an unobtanium valve for greater durability and easier inflation.”
On to the bullets.
The Bullets: Find The Questions (And Answer Them)
Bullets are punchy little bits of information. Readers scan for them. Use them to dispel concerns and answer questions. Finding good bullet content is easy:
Go to Amazon.com. Search for your product, or a relevant one. Scroll down to “questions.”
If there are any, find the five most-read and most-asked. Write a brief response to each one. Keep those answers handy.
Do the same on other sites: Walmart, Jet, and vertical-specific sellers all have “questions” sections.
Those will become bullets in your product description. You might even repeat items from the blurb, like “150 TPI.” Use your judgment.
I found many questions about tire weight, tube versus tubeless, and sidewall color. So my bullets could be:
10 grams (a guy can wish)
Requires a tube
You can skip bullets if you want. Maybe you don’t need them. That’s fine. I mean, who needs to answer all those pesky customer questions, right? That’s my over annoying parental way of saying you need bullets. Bribe the developer. Get the branding team drunk and ask for written approval. Whatever you have to do.
Destroy the FAQ
The FAQ is where copywriters go to die. If there are frequently asked questions about a product, write brief answers for those, too. Add them to your bullets, or the product description. Or add a separate section for related FAQ.
If you’re reselling someone else’s product, look at the manufacturer’s FAQ.
Those can become more bullets or part of the blurb.
Everyone wants to know if we guarantee this tire. We provided this answer, so I turned it into a bullet:
10 grams (a guy can wish)
Requires a tube
Guaranteed rim fit and flat resistance against normal debris. No rampaging hippos
Product specifications? Your call. I don’t think you need specs for a capybara plushie. You might if you sell roofing shingles.
Product ingredients? I like to put them after the bullets, but it depends on the product. A bag of popsicle sticks doesn’t need a list of ingredients. I hope.
Just Get To The SEO, Ian
If you did all of the above, you’ve got an optimized product description page. If you want to take it further:
Make sure you don’t avoid your keyword. You sell bicycle tires, not inflatable wheel support.
Start with the important stuff. Ingredients rarely belong in the first paragraph. Your appeal does.
If you’re not sure what a meta description tag is, read this.
The meta description has zero direct impact on rankings. It does, however, impact clickthru. These are a few things I try to do:
First: Include the features for which you believe people will search. Those get bolded. Their presence will reinforce that this is the right product. If someone searches for “rolling resistance,” “presta,” and “schrader,” and I have that word in my meta description, the search snippet will look like this:
The searcher is more likely to click.
Second: Use the highest-performing ad text. A few years ago, Wil Reynolds made this recommendation. It blew my mind: Use the highest-performing PPC ad text as your description tag. You’ve already tested that text. You know it gets high clickthru from a SERP. Blew. My. Mind.
I don’t recommend doing this for the on-page, visible product description. Ad text is optimized for search results, not a product page.
Finally: If it’s relevant, include differentiators: Shipping time, available colors/sizes, genuine original, etc. Anything that matters to your audience. On the other hand, don’t tell me you have genuine original socks. I care exactly not at all.
Try to use all available characters. As I write this, the accepted maximum is 300 characters. It changes all the time. Do your research.
Done! Or Not.
You’ve written a great product description page. You’ve got a great SERP snippet. Nice!
Keep an eye on page performance. Look at clickthru rates. Revise. Keep trying to beat previous performance.
Writing descriptions can be tedious, but it’s a solid conversion win with SEO implications. Done right, it can strengthen your brand.
We know what it sounds like when you’re great at AM radio, classical music or even reality TV. We can imagine the tone and content you’ll need to be really good at being on Broadway.
Jack Dorsey has made it clear that Elon Musk has mastered Twitter. He wrote, “I like how [he] uses Twitter. He’s focused on solving existential problems and sharing his thinking openly. I respect that a lot, and all the ups and downs that come with it.”
Before you decide to master a medium, it’s worth considering the ups and downs that come with it. It’s not free. It costs. Is it worth it?
Does being good at this medium help you achieve your objectives beyond simply being good at the medium?
Yes, you might attract a crowd on the Bachelor or at the local fight club. You could probably be a world-class javelin catcher as well. But to what end?
If you’re going to put so much effort into a form of media, it’s worth deciding if it helps you or only the people who run the platform.
If you don’t want to go to Toledo, don’t get on the bus to Toledo.
At the first, a tractor-trailer filled with heavy boxes shows up. The sole worker on the dock is tasked with unloading the trailer, asap.
He puts on his gloves and begins hauling the boxes, one at a time. He’s manhandling them off the truck and straining to stack them to the side. Eight hours later, he has a strained back, blisters and an empty truck. A day’s work, hard earned.
At the second dock, the sole worker looks at the truck and then heads next door, to the larger company and their foreman, a woman he met on the bus to work last week. “Can I borrow your hand truck and ramp for an hour?” It took guts to ask, he might have been rejected, but his calm manner and ability to connect worked.
An hour later, the truck is empty.
Who worked harder today?
For most of us, hard work is measured in insight, emotional effort, and connection. It’s been a long time since the economy fairly rewarded people based on brawn alone.
And now, consider the third company, where the person at the dock planned ahead and had everything ready as soon as the truck was scheduled to arrive…
Or consider the keyboard workers, one of whom does a repetitive task all day long, and the other who did the labor to find a plug-in or macro that would do it in a few minutes…