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Are your product pages just poor summaries?

This week I’m going to discuss something which is probably the most important thing on your website, yet it’s something which most companies do quite poorly. I’m talking about the bedrock of every manufacturer’s site: the product page. I’m not sure we’ll have designed the perfect product page by the end of the week, but we’ll be getting a lot closer than most companies manage to get.

Step one picks up on the topic we covered last week, and that’s to include all the information you can about the product. To me, there are no excuses for presenting just a summary of the product information, and forcing people to “download” (i.e. look at) an inconveniently-formatted brochure or data sheet to find out the whole story. Why do so many of us do this? I’ll tell you why: sheer laziness.

If you think about it, the brochure or data sheet, with its limited pagination, is the document which might be excused for only having a summary of the product information. A web page can go on forever at no cost. If you want to roll out the red carpet to your website visitors (and my goodness, you should be wanting to), then you need to offer them everything they might conceivably be interested in. It’s cost you a fortune to get a prospect to your website. Don’t put up barriers. “Is this blue widget available in a 120V version and an IP67 housing?”, your potential customer might be thinking. But it doesn’t say. Actually, he could find out …if he spotted the “download the data sheet” link in the corner, and could be bothered to click on it, wait for the PDF reader to load, then scroll around an unsearchable, graphics-heavy document designed to go in A4 folders, not be viewed on a computer screen. And if he was lucky enough to stumble across the information. But in the back of his mind, a little voice says: “one click of the back button, and I could be on that Google results page again, where I remember there were a bunch of other suppliers”.

There’s an even better reason for making sure your product pages contain everything which you’d put in your brochures and data sheets (and perhaps more). That’s the fact that Google struggles to index the content of PDF documents, and (thanks to their designer’s poor formatting, which isn’t Google’s fault) rarely ranks them highly or displays them nicely in the results anyway. For most companies, Google sends more visitors than any other source, and by hiding the technical data which people might be looking for, you hide your content from Google. That’s just plain daft.

A web page is not some sort of “advert” to get people to “download” a PDF document. Some business marketing managers are obsessed with their PDF brochures, considering a visit to a web page to have been a success only if the visitor “downloads” the brochure. They shouldn’t need to. If somebody goes to the effort of “downloading” a brochure, it confirms they’re interested in the product, for sure, but surely the information should have been available to them without that inconvenient step? It’s like welcoming somebody on to your exhibition stand, and when they ask a technical question, saying: “I do know the answer, but I’m going to make you wait and ask my colleague instead, because we’re judging the success of this exhibitions on the number of people who ask my colleague a question, not me”.

The only plausible excuse I’ve ever heard for not including as much information as possible on a product page is that “it makes my page look really boring”. But that doesn’t stand up. Write the product page like a good news story, with the best stuff at the top, then decreasingly important material as you go down. Give people the chance to bail out (with a “next step” link) at more than one point down the page. They’ll move on when they’re ready. Just don’t be lazy.

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