I had the pleasure of being a guest on The Online Rich podcast and thought I’d share a portion of the fun and enlightening interview I did with Rich Reister.
Scroll down for detailed information about:
- How singing “Happy Birthday” was the beginning of my copywriting career
- One primary challenge Amazon product listings have to overcome
- Why sensory copywriting is a necessity with Amazon listings
- Where – specifically – keywords should go in titles, bullets and descriptions
- Why using irrelevant keywords can cause your listing to fail
- Using HTML in bullets and descriptions
- Business advice from me
- Resources for writing exceptional Amazon product listings
Rich: Hi, Karon! Thanks for being a guest today. Tell us about who you are and your background.
Karon: Oh, gosh. I started in marketing in general when I was in between high school and college. The summer before I went away to college, a local radio station had a morning team that I absolutely adored. I listened to them all the time.
My sister and I called up one day and sang “Happy Birthday” in harmony to one of the DJs that was on the morning show. We ended up chatting with them after we got off the air.
The receptionist for that radio station threw her back out and was going to need surgery. She would have to be out for months. The general manager, who was also one of the DJs, called me up and said, “You mentioned that you’re out for the summer. Do you want a gig as our receptionist?” So I said yes.
I had been there a couple of days when one of the salespeople walks into the office and says, “I need copy for this spot. The client is in a hurry. We have to air the spots this afternoon on the afternoon drive.” (Which was a couple hours away) “Can you write the copy?” Sure, I can!
I took the information. When another person, just an office worker, walked down the hall about two minutes later I said, “Rachel, what’s copy?” She started laughing. I had no idea what it was or how to write it, but it just seemed like it was a natural fit for me. I ended up writing the spot and they put it on the air! That was my first exposure to copywriting.
Rich: What is sales copy?
Karon: It’s the text on the page or, if you’re using video, it’s the words that the announcer or the actress speaks when doing a voiceover. If it’s a blog post, copy is the text in the blog post. Words, essentially.
Rich: On an Amazon listing, the copy is the bullet points and the description, and the title?
Rich: Why is it important to have good copy? Why can’t people just write some stuff about what their product is?
Karon: There are definite advantages to buying things in-person, because all of your senses are at play. You can touch it and feel it. You can smell it, if it’s food or perfume. You can hear it, if it’s an object that makes a noise, maybe a sound machine for people that have trouble sleeping. All of your senses are at play.
You miss a lot of sensory perception online, which is one of the greatest barriers. This is one of the complications that people face. If I’m buying cookies online, I don’t have the added enticement of being able to smell them, or to feel fabric, for example.Online, your copy (words) has to take the place of and fill the gap that is left by your senses. Click To Tweet
The only one you get regularly is sight. Sometimes you get sound.The copy is the salesperson. It should introduce people to the particular product and walk them through how to interact with it with all five senses. Click To Tweet
Granted, if you’re selling chocolate chip cookies, you don’t care about hearing the chocolate chip cookies, but you would want to see them and to smell them, and want to know what they taste like. Yes, they taste like chocolate chip cookies, but why are yours different than the 35,000 other brands of chocolate chip cookies on Amazon?
All of this makes a connection, if it’s done properly, with the product and the user, so that all of that in-person type of interaction can take place in some sort of way. It’s not going to be exactly the same as standing in a store and saying, “Can I sample that cookie?” But you can make it way closer than if you just give the facts, figures, and specifics. “There are two dozen cookies in a metal red tin that weighs two pounds. We bake them fresh daily and we ship them the day that you order them.” That’s all great information, and it’s necessary, but it’s not going to assist with making the sales the way that persuasive, descriptive, and sensory copy would do.
Rich: You’ve looked at a lot of Amazon listings. Tell me, what does good sales copy look like that is persuasive? And what are some of the bad sales copy things that you see?
Karon: The good stuff is persuasive because it is sensory. Let’s say you’re selling cinnamon buns. You can describe the features and the benefits, like we talked about with the cookies. That may engage them some. It will certainly inform them, but there is a difference between informing and engaging.
Instead of the listing saying something like “Homemade with love, these cinnamon buns are beyond delicious. You’ll have a hard time putting them down,” you think of something that tries to incorporate as many senses as are applicable. Maybe “Definitely not Grandma’s cinnamon rolls. Baked fresh right in your own oven. As the aroma of these gourmet cinnamon rolls begins to waft through the air, your nose will start to tingle and you’ll immediately know they’re worth the wait. The scent of cinnamon and baking yeast begin to rise through the air as the spices and the sugar and the buttery topping bubble away in the oven. Your taste buds will praise you with every bite.”
Rich: That is pretty good, Karon.
Karon: You get the point. That’s so much better than just “Homemade with love. These are delicious cinnamon rolls.” That may be, but it doesn’t really get you involved in the copy.
Rich: I see, so you want to really engage the person with imagining the sense of smell and feel, and all of the other senses, and to engage them that way.
Karon: I read something on Amazon a while back. I want to say it was in the jewelry category. The way they phrased it was to help your customer imagine the experience of your product. I loved that.
That’s exactly what it is.Online customers can’t stand in a store and interact with your product, so the copy has to help them imagine the experience.Click To Tweet
Rich: I got it. Is this because people buy on emotion and how they feel when they experience something?
Karon: They do buy on emotion, but writing in a sensory way is not necessarily about emotion. It’s about allowing them to connect with your product in a similar way they would if they could touch it, feel it, taste it, and smell it.
I shop online a ton. I will tell you that I am one of those that will go to a store and look at shoes in person, so that I can try them on and I can see this leather is not as soft as this other leather is, and that brown has a lot of orange in it, maybe I don’t want that after all. All of those things are hindered with online shopping.
Rich: Got it. Regarding an Amazon product listing, let’s just talk about the title. How does someone work keywords into their title? I know there’s a good way to do it and a bad way to do it. Right?
Karon: There’s pretty much a good way and a bad way to do everything, and that plays out with Amazon as well. When it comes to keywords or keyphrases on Amazon, there are three levels, in my opinion.The most important, I-absolutely-have-to-rank-well-for term, should be in your Amazon title. There may be room to put another keyphrase or individual words in the title as well, but in the first 80 characters of your title you need to have that must-rank-well-for term.Click To Tweet
Some categories on Amazon — off the top of my head, I’m thinking apparel and grocery — have hard stops at 80 characters. Amazon’s system in Seller Central, or if you’re doing a flat file, will not let you exceed 80 characters. There are some that have 50 legally, but Amazon allows you to go past that limit. Most of the time, you can do 200.
This is going to be for people that can do 200. If you’re one of those who have to have 80 or 50 characters, you’re going to do good to get a full phrase in there and the necessary information. You want those deal-breaker pieces of information in there with your keywords.
For instance, tape measures. If somebody was shopping for a tape measure, they come in all sorts of lengths from 1 foot long to 100 feet long. Obviously, the length of the tape measure is going to have to be in there.
Sizes, if they’re applicable. Draw organizers — if you’re going to put an organizer in your kitchen drawer, it has to be able to fit into the drawer, so the size is a deal breaker. If it’s too big or too small, then the customer can’t buy it because it won’t do the job.
Rich: And don’t keyword stuff, right?
Karon: No, don’t keyword stuff. Again, Amazon is not like Google. If you use it once, Amazon has it.
Rich: That one word, if it’s used.
Karon: Or the whole phrase. If you have it in the title and you have different words in the bullets, and you have different words and phrases in the description, then go through and take all of the duplicates of what is leftover in your keywords and what you’ve already used in the three sections of the listing, and that’s what goes into your backend. Not to exceed 250 characters / bytes.
Rich: If you’re doing a title, your bullets, and a description, I usually don’t have very much to put into the back-end keywords. A couple years ago people would probably do all kinds of crazy things, because you had a lot more room to just stuff things in there.
Karon: Right. Stuffing will turn around and bite you in the back-end, in more ways than one.
Rich: Tell us how.
Karon: Relevance is enormously important when it comes to Amazon. Here’s the example that I always use, because it’s such a good one.
We had a client that we were working with a couple years ago. They sent us keywords and phrases that they wanted to use somewhere in the listing or in the keyword section. They were selling those plastic dinner plates with the lid that have three sections, for the entrée and the side items. One of the things that they had as a keyphrase they wanted to use was “plastic cereal container.”
First of all, it’s not a plastic cereal container. Second, it does not function like a plastic cereal container. For some reason, in their mind, they were just trying to get as much traffic of people that were searching for any kind of plastic container to land on their listing.
If searchers got past the images that show up in the search results, if for some reason they were in a coma and they didn’t notice that this picture was not a plastic cereal container and they click to the listing, they’re going to take one look at the product page and say, “What?” These are not even shaped the same. There’s no way I would want to store my cereal in this three-section dinner plate. I wouldn’t want to put my entrée and my side items into a container that is shaped like a cereal box. They just don’t work. You’re getting people to your listing that are taking one look and bouncing away, they’re leaving without doing anything.Amazon tracks every movement on every listing, down to the millimeter. They know what all of these shoppers are doing. Once you start to get a certain number of bounces, Amazon realizes this page is not doing too well and they bump you down in the search results.Click To Tweet
Rich: Because you have a bad conversion rate.
Karon: Bad conversion rate, yes. They’re not doing anything, they’re not making a purchase. Amazon is all about the bucks, they want the money, that’s the bottom line to them. Having those phrases, instead of getting everybody that looks for plastic containers, because “if they want a plastic dinner plate they probably want a plastic cereal container too,” that’s not the mindset of most shoppers. It will turn around and deflate the efforts that you’ve made, because Amazon will begin to see that you’re getting more bounces than conversions.
Rich: It’s all about relevance. The plastic cereal container isn’t relevant to what they were selling; it’s not what they’re selling.
Karon: Exactly. It’s like selling the white graduation dress that we talked about. If you put that term into a listing for a wedding dress, they’re nowhere close to being the same. They’re both white dresses, but they’re not serving the same purpose. All of your keywords in your listing and your back end need to be highly relevant to the precise product that you’re selling.
Rich: OK. What’s your opinion on people using HTML in their bullet points, so you get fun little pictures in your bullet points?
Karon: As a shopper, I’m not a fan. And it’s against Amazon’s Terms of Service; they explicitly tell you to not put HTML in the bullet points.
Karon: This is also against Amazon’s Terms of Service, but I don’t mind all caps in the front. Actually, when I’m shopping around, that gets my attention on my phone and on a computer. All of the colored arrows, stars, and checkmarks and everything, for me personally, I think it looks trashy.
Rich: I really like the all caps, it helps me read it when I see bullet points. Are the all caps okay under the terms of service?
Karon: No. Amazon tells you to begin each bullet point with a capital letter. Some style guides and some pages on Seller Central will specifically say do not use all caps, others don’t, but all of them say to begin each bullet point with a capital letter. But I like the all caps in the front as a shopper; I think it helps to highlight those without looking ridiculous.
Rich: Okay. For the description, if you’re not brand registered, you really can just write a few paragraphs of text. There’s really nothing else that you can do with the description. Am I right?
Karon: Sure you can!
Rich: Tell me.
Karon: The legal tags for every Amazon category are the paragraph tag, the open tag, the close tag, and the line-break tag. You can separate paragraphs with that. You can create bullet point-ish lists by using asterisks, or something else, and putting a line break at the end.
Rich: I see. These tags that you’re talking about are little HTML tags.
Karon: Either the paragraph tag or the line-break tag, those are the only two that are legal in every category. You would use the paragraph tag to get the line spacing, or you could use just all line-break tags and just enter two to get a double space in between the paragraphs. You wouldn’t have any bolding in there, but you can do separate paragraphs and you can do bullet-type lists. They don’t have an actual bullet in the front, but you could use an asterisk, a dash, or a caret in the front of each line. Then at the end you would just put the line-break code so that it wraps one time, and not two times like a paragraph would do.
Rich: Would you recommend people do that with their description, to make it easier to read?
Karon: Yes, absolutely. One big giant block of text, especially considering that three-quarters of all Amazon shoppers are on a mobile device, that’s a lot to expect somebody to read all shoved together like that. They’re just not going to. You might as well not put anything in there. If you do it with absolutely no HTML tags at all, you need to keep the description extremely short, because it just won’t get read otherwise.
Rich: Right. It’s hard. People are kind of lazy; they like to look at pictures and a few words and make a decision.
Going back to your business, what’s one of your most rewarding moments in working with people on their Amazon listings or on their ecommerce businesses?
Karon: I love to hear from people who have purchased our ebooks and our training courses who are learning to do it themselves. A lot of Amazon sellers either need to do it themselves, for financial reasons, or they want to do it themselves. I try to do an especially extra-good job on our training products. My teaching style doesn’t include a lot of fluff; I’m a pretty matter-of-fact person.
It is so exciting when somebody reads one of our ebook or goes through a video-based course and then sends a message back that says, “Holy cow!” One guy had been selling on Amazon for a year, I think, and had made maybe three sales the entire time. When he went through one of our courses, he realized all of these things that needed to be changed and how to change them.
He sent us a message back and was just so excited. There were all kinds of exclamation points in this message from this guy that said, “Within three hours of making these changes that I didn’t know I was supposed to be doing, we got three sales that day. We had only made three sales the entire year before.”
It’s really exciting when you can help, because this is people’s livelihood. Whether they’re doing it part time or full time, this is paying for the groceries, this is paying for the electric bill, and maybe allowing a mom to only work part time instead of full time out of the house so that she can be with her kids.
Or maybe they don’t have kids in their home and they’ve been saving for a bigger house or something like that. This is not just people learning to write copy or do keyword research. This is making a difference in somebody’s life.
Rich: What’s one piece of advice that you can give to someone who is just starting out on Amazon? They have their first product; what’s one piece of advice for them?
Karon: For their business as a whole… get help. That was one thing that I put off for years and years, because I didn’t think I could afford it. I get that and I understand. I remember working in one corner of my dining room on this itty-bitty tiny desk with a computer that I’d borrowed from my parents, 19 years ago, when I started Marketing Words. As quickly as you can, get professionals to do what you stink at.
I am not a techie person in the least. I would beat my head against the wall; it would take me hours to learn how to do something, set up a page in WordPress or whatever it might be.
I would have to go through the ebook or the course and learn how to do it. I would have to try to do it and fail six, seven, eight times before I got it right. In the meantime, all of this frustration and stress is building and I’m wasting time that I could be spending on money-making activities. Way back then, when it was only me and not a team, I only made money when I was writing. Anything else I was doing was costing me revenue.
As soon as you can afford it, anything that you just absolutely stink at, whether it’s graphic designs, accounting, organizing your schedule, whatever it may be, find a reasonably priced professional that you can outsource it to. Then you can be making money and they will get it done.
Instead of it taking me five or more hours to get something done, these people do these things all day long every day. It literally would take somebody that knew how to do it 20 minutes to set up the same page that it took me five hours. As soon as you can, find affordable professionals that can do the stuff that you are absolutely no good at; get that off your plate so that you can make more money.
Rich: Yes, exactly. Get help as soon as you can for the things you stink at. — Karon Thackston’s advice.
Rich: Karon, this has been a super-valuable conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. Where can my listeners learn more about you and follow you? There’s a lot of valuable information that you’ve put out there. Where can they find you?
Karon: Absolutely. If you’re interested in learning to do this yourself, the training products are at MarketingWords.com/products. Those are our ebooks and our video-based courses. Go to MarketingWords.com/blog if you want to see the blog posts. You can sign up there, also, to receive notification when we send out blog posts, as well as notification about videos, invitations to webinars, special offers and discount codes, and things like that. You will find us online — usually I’m hanging out on YouTube or Facebook. Look me up on Pinterest, and Marketing Words is starting to do more in Instagram, too.
Rich: You have some good YouTube videos. Anyone listening should go watch some of these, because Karon shows so much. She’ll look at a random Amazon listing and say, “Here’s what I would do differently.” I just watched one of those that you posted recently, and it was very valuable.
Karon, thank you so very much. I really appreciate you joining me today.
Karon: Thanks for the invitation. It’s been a blast.
Rich: To you who are listening to this, thank you so much for joining me. Whether you’re in your car, on a run, or just sitting there chilling with a coffee, thank you for listening. I live for ecommerce; I love this. The past two years this has been my passion. Knowing that you’re on the other end listening just makes it feel so good, it makes it so fun and exciting. Thank you for listening. If you want to catch the show notes or the discounts that Karon just gave for Marketing Words, they will be on TheOnlineRich.com.
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