Best Practices for Style and Grammar for eCommerce

This post builds on the content series and lays out a few simple tricks to grow your online sales with content that builds brand trust and drives traffic. Let’s begin with the steak and potatoes of online selling, also known as style and grammar.

Future Tense
Avoid future tense when possible. Future tense has its place as a literary device but adds unnecessary words and leaves readers feeling disowned and uninterested. Read the example below and note the contrast between present and future tense.

Future tense: Filet mignon will satisfy your insatiable palate and is going to delight your friends with rich flavors.
Present tense: Filet mignon satisfies your insatiable palate and delights your friends with rich flavors.

Ultimately it’s a stylistic choice but look at how many additional words are used (in the above example) to convey the same message. You have to remember, online consumers are more inclined to scan for content, so why not make your copy accessible to begin with?

There is no separate inflection in the English language for future tense, and it’s usually expressed using the auxiliary “will” or “shall.” Ask yourself, which would you rather own, a furnace that heats your home on cold winter days or a furnace that will enable you to heat your home?

Future tense is wordy, spatially distant and spoils the shopping experience. Your goal is to bring consumers into a proverbial third moment of truth, in which they experience, interact and emote with products. Writing for eCommerce is a far cry from writing Ulysses or Macbeth and it comes down to a hard science. In general, third person, present tense is the best practice for writing descriptions and as discussed earlier, active voice is the clearest and most direct voice in the English language. See below for further explanation.

Points of View
Third person (the best choice for eCommerce): Uses “she,” “he” or “it”
Second person (the reader is the subject of the action): Uses the pronouns “you” and “your” to specify perspective
First person: Uses the subjective “I” or plural “we” to recount personal experience

Examples of English Verb Tenses
Present tense (the best choice for eCommerce): Andrew sweeps the barn.
Future tense: Andrew will sweep the barn.
Past tense: Andrew swept the barn.

Economy of Words: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” – Stephen King

Language is one of the oldest distribution systems in history and regardless of historical placement, it serves one purpose—to move information from one point to another. Beginning with Gutenberg’s press and burgeoning in the 1990s, mass media continues to change the communicative process and makes language quicker and more pervasive.

With all this surface level change, writers lose sight of language’s primary function—to distribute meaning over distances. Think of writing content as expediting information to consumers and your aim is efficiency and readability. Drop the gimmicks and word clutter and concentrate on delivering informative copy. Even veteran writers eliminate 30-percent of their content as they draft documents. Writers often overuse adjectives to the point of repeating information two or three times. “Most adjectives are … unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun” (William Zinsser).

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the function of each word in your sentence?
  2. If you removed any one word from your sentence would it retain its meaning?
  3. Is your choice of tense adding words without adding meaning?
  4. Are you writing in passive voice and is it fattening up your paragraphs?
  5. Whom are you writing for? (in this case you’re writing for restless, click crazy consumers)
  6. Are you using adverbs for no reason other than to fill space? Adverbs are words that end in “ly”
  7. Are you using adjectives that are unneeded (luminescent glow stick emit bright rays of light)? The adjective in the bracketed example is redundant and repeats information.

Here are two sentences that can be stripped down to expedite and make meaning more accessible. Note, I’ve highlighted words that obstruct meaning or are redundant.

Bad Sentence: Scientists in Tokyo have made a discovery that dog paws use a network of blood vessels to effectively transfer heat between digits to adjust to freezing cold surfaces including, snow, ice and wet pavement.

Good Sentence: Scientists in Tokyo discovered that dog paws use a network of blood vessels to transfer heat between digits to adjust to freezing surfaces including snow and ice.

Bad Sentence: Just simply push one single button and the logs will automatically ignite without manually starting a fire and they will illuminate your family room with warmth and natural light.

Good Sentence: Push one button and the logs automatically ignite, illuminating your family room with warm, natural light.

Five Common Grammar Mistakes
Here are a few amateur hour mistakes that even professional writers make

Compliment versus complement
Compliment: A polite expression of praise or admiration.
Complement: Add to something in a way that enhances or improves it.

It’s versus its
Apostrophe “s” is used to show possession in the English language but in some cases the apostrophe takes the place of omitted letters in contractions. Never use an apostrophe to show possession when using the word its. Do not use an apostrophe after a possessive pronoun such as my, mine, our, ours, his, hers, its, their, or theirs.

Run-on sentences
A run-on sentence occurs when two independent clauses (a tricky term for simple sentences) are separated by a comma without a conjunction. Example: This cabinet is made of dark mahogany the hardware is finished in satin nickel. Avoid cramming information into sentences or bullets by combining independent clauses without conjunctions.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction
Starting your sentences with and or but is bad grammar. Don’t do it!

Affect versus effect (oh, I’m guilty of this one myself sometimes)
The easiest way to determine whether you should use “affect” or “effect” is to determine whether you are using it as a verb or a noun. Generally, “affect” is used in a verb phrase and “effect” is used as a noun.  

Example: Side effects include swelling feet, sweaty palms and headaches.
Example: Poor grammar will affect your overall Amazon rankings.

As always, we welcome your input and look forward to the conversation; click here to leave a comment. For an overview on the purpose of this blog, take a look at the initial post here.


This article was written by:
Kyle Roble, Senior Content Writer



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