Writing Good Item Description on eBay

In: Selling Tips

14 Mar 2009

If the listing title is the headline of your ad, the listing description is your ad’s body copy. Which means it’s time to put on your copywriter’s hat and get down to the nitty-gritty details.

What makes for good copy? First, you have all the space you need, so say as much as you need to say. Unlike with the title description, you don’t have to scrimp on words or leave anything out. If you can describe your item adequately in a sentence, great; if it takes three paragraphs, that’s okay too.

When you’re writing the description for your ad, be sure to mention anything and everything that a potential bidder might need to know. Note any defects or imperfections of the item. Include your desired payment terms and your preferred shipping methods. If the object is graded or evaluated in any way, include that assessment in your description. In other words, include everything you can think of that will eliminate any surprises for the buyer.

You should probably put the most important and motivating information in your initial paragraph because a lot of folks won’t read any farther than that. Think of your first paragraph like a lead paragraph in a newspaper story: Grab ’em with something catchy, give them the gist of the story, and lead them into reading the next paragraph and the one after that.

There are certain key data points that users expect to see in your item description. Here’s the bare minimum you should include:

  • Name (or title)

  • Condition

  • Age

  • Original use (what you used it for)

  • Value (if you know it)

  • Important measurements, contents, colors, materials, and so on

  • Any included accessories (including the original instruction manual, if you have it)

  • Any known defects or damage

If you don’t know any of this stuff, that’s okayas long as you admit it. If you’re not that familiar with the type of merchandise you’re selling, just say so. Better to plead ignorance up-front than to have a more savvy buyer cause problems for you after the sale.

Because other users will be bidding on your item sight unseen, you have to make the process as easy as possible for potential bidders. That means describing the item as accurately as possible, and in as much detail as possible. If the item has a scratch or blemish, note it. If the paint is peeling, note it. If it includes a few non-original parts, note it. Bidders don’t have the item to hold in their hands and examine in person, so you have to be their eyes and ears.

That’s right; you need to describe the item in painful detail, and be completely honest about what you’re selling. If you’re not honest in your description, it will come back to haunt youin the form of an unhappy and complaining buyer.

Although you need to be descriptive (and in some collectibles categories, you need to be obsessively so), it doesn’t hurt to employ a little marketing savvy and salesmanship. Yes, you should talk about the features of your item, but it’s even better if you can talk about your product’s benefits to the potential buyer.

Let’s say you’re selling a used cordless phone, and the phone has a 50-number memory. Saying “50-number memory” is stating a feature; saying instead that the phone “lets you recall your 50 most-called phone numbers at the press of a button” is describing a benefit. Remember, a feature is something your item has; a benefit is something your item does for the user.

Don’t forget to spell-check and proofread your listing. Bad grammar and misspellings can cause potential bidders to doubt your veracity and even to totally disregard your auction.

And if your listing starts to get a little long, you should break it into more readable chunks. Use separate paragraphs to present different types of information, or just to break one long paragraph into several shorter, more readable ones. You can even use eBay’s formatting options to use different type sizes and colors for different portions of your listing description.

Breaking up your description enables you to put a lot more info into your description. When it comes to informing potential buyers, it’s impossible to be too complete. (And if you don’t define a detail, the buyer willin his or her mind.) Don’t assume that buyers know anything; take the time to spell out all the details about payment and shipping and the like.

The very last things you can put into your listing, at the bottom, are some extra words. Remember, not every person uses the same words to describe things. Remember, they’ll be picked up by eBay’s search engine if they’re anywhere in the description area.

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