Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

8 Easy Rules to Write Product Descriptions That Sell

marketing tactics

The customer is now on your page, looking for the perfect product that fits his/her need.

The very last step is convincing the customer to click the “add to cart” button.


With an effective product description.

Which means – the product description is one of the most important aspects of your online shop when it comes to conversion.


Even though it holds incredible power, good product copy can be hard to write.

It can be especially mind-numbing when you have a long list of items on your product page to work through.

We’ve broken it down into 8 easy-to-follow rules about product description writing that will help you create product copy that sells.

1. Know Who Your Target Audience is

The first step to writing product descriptions is to define your target audience.

You want to be able to define which features would be of most interest to your potential buyers.

This begins with understanding your buyer persona, a break down of the characteristics of your potential customers. Your buyer persona will help you understand which features will be most valuable to your customers.

As you are writing your product description, keep these questions in mind:

  • How did this person arrive to your page?
  • What are his or her interests, generally?
  • Why would this person be interested in your Shopify store, specifically?
  • How would this person describe the product to a friend?
  • What features or benefits would interest this person the most?

By keeping these questions in mind as you write your product copy, you will be better able to write a product description that sells.

For example, take a look at this product by The Salt Lady.

how to write a good product description for ecommerce seo - salt lady lamp example

The buyer persona is not just any person who is shopping for a lamp.

Instead, the buyer persona is likely interested in all-natural remedies for the home, especially when it comes to allergies. In this case, the potential buyer would likely be interested in learning about these remedies in the product description.

Rather than focus on the decorative features of the lamp, like most other product descriptions for lamps, The Salt Lady focuses on the features that would appeal to her buyer persona the most.

This leads perfectly into rule #2 for writing product descriptions.

2. Focus on the Product Benefits

As a business owner, you are understandably excited to share all of the qualities of your products. You want to show that your product has the best features and most unique specs.

The buyer, however, is not necessarily interested in the mundane features of the product. Instead, they want to know how it can benefit them.

A product feature is a factual statement about the product that provides technical information. A product benefit, on the other hand, tells how the product can improve the buyer’s life.

If we take a closer look at the product description of the very unique item from above, we can see the key features of the product as well as the benefits.

how to write a good product description for ecommerce seo - product description improve buyer's life

In this product description, the product features include 100% pure Himalayan salt, a weight of 4-6 lbs., and an on/off cord and light bulb set.

how to write a good product description that sell - product benefits

The product benefits include reduced EMF pollution, purified air, and reduced symptoms of allergies, asthma, and headaches.

Another example can be found in the product description at The Yankee Candle Company for their sample-size votive candle.

So what makes this candle so special? Well, the answer lies in the direct benefits that it will bring to the buyer.

how to write a good product description that sells - direct buyer benefits

They clearly outline the benefits of owning this tiny candle, most of which center around convenience. Rather than pushing the generic scent or even the role of a candle in the home, they are highlighting the benefit of having this particular sample size candle.

The main benefits that customers can expect from this candle are:

  • You can sample this scent without investing in a bigger, more expensive candle.
  • It is the perfect size for small moments throughout the day.
  • It is a great addition to a bigger focal point, such as a centerpiece at dinner parties.
  • It is safe and easy to use. You can essentially light the candle and walk away.

The content of your product description should convince the potential buyers that it will improve their lives in obvious, measurable ways.

Before you begin writing your product descriptions, make an outline of the features and benefits of your product. Think about how the product either increases pleasure or reduces a pain point.

For every feature that you list, figure out how this will directly benefit the buyer.

If the feature is 100% Himalayan salt, then the benefit is reduced allergies.

If the feature is a 1.75 ounce candle, the benefit is that it can be used in small spaces, such as a nightstand, a bathroom, or an end table.

Translating features into benefits like this will help you write more persuasive product descriptions and more quickly.

3. Tell the Full Story

A good product description should give all relevant details, convince the buyer of its benefits, and pack an emotional punch.

Emotions influence buyer behavior, so your product description is the perfect place to elicit emotions.

How do you do this?

By filling in any gaps that potential buyers may have about the product.

Sivana Spirit does an excellent job of this in their product description for their Natural Amethyst Ring.

how to write a good product description that sells - features and key storytelling referralcandy

The product description includes features, sure, but it goes further into the story of the key feature: the amethyst.

It does this by focusing on the traditional spiritual benefits of amethyst. It focuses especially on the ways in which it can be used, making it easy for the customer to imagine having this ring in his or her life.

Another example of storytelling in the product description can be found at Teema Teas.

how to write a good product description that sells - teema teas product storytelling

In the product description for the “Immortality Tea”, we learn about the historical significance of this type of tea as well as its many benefits.

By including the story about its traditional uses, the reader automatically envisions the tea being carefully cultivated hundreds of years ago and shared among the people in rural China.

It allows you to imagine a life with this tea. It kind of makes you want to have this tea in your life, as well.

By telling a mini-story about the product, you are much more likely to connect with the potential buyers on an emotional level rather than a transactional one. This is key to converting your potential buyers into actual buyers.

When it comes to telling a story in your product description, try to answer these questions

  • Who originally made this product?
  • What inspired them to make this product?
  • What was the journey of making this product?
  • How would this product look in the buyer’s day-to-day life?

Setting the scene like this will help the buyer envision this product in a way that features and specs could never do. If you can get the buyer to imagine the product as an emotional conquest or companion, then they will likely forget that they are being sold to.

4. Use Natural Language and Tone

If you read your description aloud, does it sound like a real conversation that you would have with your friend?

Or does it sound like a computer-generated string of words?

If your product description isn’t something that you would say to your friend about the product, then it’s time to inject a little life into them.

Bringing this natural tone–one that you would use in a real conversation–will help your customer connect with your brand.

Nasty Gal does this exceptionally well, using the tone of “fun loving girlfriend” throughout the entire site, even in the product titles.

For example, rather than selling regular high-heel shoes, they are selling sassy shoes that one young woman might recommend to another.

how to write a good product description that sells - nasty gal fun loving girlfriend tone

This girlfriend tone is carried throughout the website, from the product titles, product descriptions, color scheme, down to the very name of the company.

how to write a good product description that sells - nasty gal product tone title website

Another example can be see with Mrs. Meyer’s all-natural dish soap.

how to write a good product description that sells - mrs meyer all dish soap

The product description uses natural language that you might use in a real conversation with your friend. There are no empty adjectives or sweeping claims. It’s just a helpful description of the product that highlights its benefits.

The tone sounds natural and is in line with the general tone of the brand, overall.

Using a consistent tone that matches the brand builds trust with the customers and makes certain e-commerce brands much more memorable than the thousands of others currently selling products on Shopify.

5. Use Power Words That Sell

There are certain words and phrases that naturally elicit an emotional response in humans. Luckily for Shopify store owners, this also increases sales.

By being mindful of these words and phrases, you can more easily convince your customers to take the leap and make the purchase.

Jon Morrow at Smart Blogger describes these as “power words.” He has an entire list of words that can help make your product copy more enticing.

how to write a good product description that sells - jon morrow smat blogger power words

Bangs Shoes packs power words into their product description that make you forget that you’re about to drop $60 on a pair of shoes.

how to write a good product description that sells - bangs shoes power words

These shoes are a “delicious” experience that will help you “rock” life, whatever that means to you. They bring “positivity” as you are out “exploring” and make your entire experience a whole lot better.

You can almost hear your best friend telling you about these shoes and that is exactly what they wanted as they were writing this product description. Because who can turn down a product that is recommended by your best friend?

As you write your product descriptions, look for any descriptive words or adjectives that could use a little bit of dressing up.

Rather than using words like “nice” or “high-quality”, opt for power words like “stunning” or “sensational”.

By sprinkling these good descriptive words into your product descriptions, you are subtly convincing the buyers that your products are exciting, impressive, and worth the purchase.

6. Make it Easy to Scan

People have short attention spans and read only about 16% of what’s on the page. So your product description needs to be able to capture that coveted 16% in an effective way.

You can do this by making your descriptions super scannable.

As in, the buyer is able to find exactly the information he or she wants without wasting time sifting through other pieces of information.

Make your product descriptions easy to scan by including bullet points, short paragraphs made up of just a few sentences each, lots of white space, and different size fonts.

Health Warrior does a great job of making a scannable page for their chia seed bars. They include different size fonts, a short paragraph, and bullet points of the key benefits of the bar.

how to write a good product description that sells - health warrior easy to scan

As you are writing product descriptions for your Shopify store, look for easy opportunities to follow this same scannable structure.

Ingredients and specs can easily be put into bullet points. The story and highlights can easily be put into a short paragraph. The product title can be put into a heading.

By making your product description easier to read, you are less likely to lose a potential customer during the process.

7. Optimize for Search Engines

In virtually everything that you do on your Shopify store, you should be optimizing the content for search engines. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the easiest way to attract new customers to your page, which is the very first step in convincing a person to buy your products.

Optimization begins with keywords, which are usually the search term that buyers use to find the product that they are shopping for.

With a little bit of keyword research, you can quickly discover which keywords are best for your Shopify store.

“Women’s black dress pants”, for example, is a keyword that could easily be optimized in your online store.

how to write a good product description that sells - search engine optimised womens dress pants

With a quick search for women’s black dress pants, you will see the top results include some variation of the keyword, such as “black dress pants for women” and “women’s casual & dress pants”.

Look for the bolded words in the descriptions to get an idea of what Google currently favors.

If we click on one of the listings on the first page, we can see how they use this keyword on their site to appear in the search results.

marketing strategies

They use the keyword, or a variation of it, both at the top of the product page, as well as in the product title.

For good measure, and in line with best SEO practices, Shopify recommends placing your keyword in your

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Image tags (called ALT tags)
  • Product descriptions

For a better idea of which keywords you could use for your product, run your keyword through LSIGraph to generate a list of related keywords. This tool crawls the internet to find which pages are ranking the highest on search engines for your selected keyword. Then it lists the most commonly used keywords on those pages.

This will give you an idea of what is currently performing well on search engines and can be used in your product titles or product descriptions.

how to write a good product description that sells - lsi keywords related variations

With this list of related keywords, we can see that the word “cheap” is a popular search term and could easily be used within your product title or description.

Keep in mind that it is best to have the main keyword within your product title as it carries the most weight with search engines.

Will adding the keywords to your product titles and descriptions earn you a number one ranking on the search results page?

Probably not.

But it will definitely help make your product easier to find for those who are actively seeking your product.

8. Use Good Images

Even if you master product description writing, you must still have quality images to go with it.


Because 63% of customers think that a product image is more important than the description or even the reviews.

So an important aspect of your product description is actually in the photo itself.

Quality photos will show the customer all of the key features about your product. They will also allow the customer to imagine having this product in her life.

For example, Vitamix, a brand that sells professional grade blenders, uses quality images and videos on their product pages to help make the sell.

how to write a good product description that sells - vitamix classic blender use good images

Rather than telling you about the engine or the capacity of the blender, they show you a picture of a blender filled with food items as well as an inspiring video about the motor.

You will also notice that they use enticing power words and list the benefits within the very short, scannable product description.

By showing what the blender is capable of, both in technical and practical ways, the customer is able to immediately imagine having this blender at home, in real life.

Canon does the same by providing both video and quality images to display the features of their PowerShot camera.

how to write a good product description that sells - canon powershot looks great

The features are displayed in a way that feels a bit like you are poking and prodding at the camera yourself. If you held this camera in your hands, you would likely pull at the screen, extend the lens, and use the flash as you tested it out.

But since you cannot hold the camera in your hands, the images do all of the poking and prodding for you.

Why does this work?

Because research shows that customers who are able to hold a product in their hands are much more likely to have the desire to own the product. The same can be said for images or videos that encourage touch.

Understandably, you maynot have a professional video service to prepare something so spectacular. But you can, at the very least, be sure to provide quality photos of your product that clearly display its benefits.

Create (And Test) Your Own Product Description Template

Even with these eight rules to writing product descriptions that sell,  you may still want to use a product description template.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all for product copy.

Instead, try to make your own description template. Take the time to consider the quality criteria that your target audience is looking for and be sure to include it in your descriptions.

A few helpful questions to guide your writing may be

  • What problem is your product solving?
  • Which power words have you included?
  • Did you include the full story?
  • Would you say this to a friend?
  • Does your image clearly display its key features and benefits?

Once you’ve found a nice formula for your product descriptions, test them out. Implement these rules on a set of your products and monitor the results. Pay attention to whether or not it helps increase your sales or boost your organic traffic.

If the new product descriptions indeed increase sales, then go ahead and make similar changes to the rest of your products within your Shopify store. If not, then examine your changes and look for opportunities to improve them.


These eight rules are based on consumer research and have been proven to be effective in increasing sales. The main takeaway is that your product descriptions shouldn’t push your product so much as cut to the main points about why it will improve your customer’s life. And if you can convince your customers of that, then your sales will increase.


Another way to get more sales is to bring more traffic with SEO and backlinks. You’ll find step-by-step guides and more on the Ultimate Shopify Marketing Resource for guides, success stories and case studies.
ultimate shopify marketing guide

Marquis Matson

Marquis Matson

Marquis Matson is an SEO analyst, content marketer, and writer. She specializes in search engine optimization for ecommerce sites in the yoga and wellness niche. She lives as a digital nomad, spending time in Ecuador, California, Thailand, India, Australia, and more. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, at marquismatson.com, or contact her directly at marquis@anafore.com.

How GE Maintains Global Presence Via Social Media

general electric social media marketing

General Electric, GE, is an American corporation headquartered in New York City, and a B2B brand.

GE’s business activities stretch across the power, water, oil and gas industries but also deals with software development, financial services, automotives and more.

As a brand that does not usually engage directly with the average consumer when it comes to business, GE has done remarkably well for itself in establishing a global presence on social media.

Dubbed “The Most Exciting Brand on Social Media” by Beta21, let us distill the ways in which GE humanises its brand, and keeps itself social.

1. The ‘GE Works’ Equation

Image: GE Annual Report 2011

GE has a strong brand vision that underpins all its marketing efforts.

With expertise in many fields of industry, what brings all these diverse businesses together is GE’s focus on championing science and innovation in general, with the hopes of creating “a world that works better”.

Marketing efforts by GE are thus geared towards building a brand image of “thought-leaders in advanced technology.

Resultant social media campaigns and marketing material are thus focused on putting together inspirational and thought-provoking content that build off from this underlying theme.

Word-of-mouth tip: Having a strong brand vision is of extreme importance in putting together a coherent and impactful marketing strategy. GE’s vision of creating a world that works better is simple, yet effective — one that buyers can identify with and feel good about.

2. YouTube – Stories that Humanise the Brand

GE’s Youtube feed is a treasure trove of amazing content.

At the heart of every video is the message that GE’s new innovations and state-of-the-art technology has created a revolutionary impact on industry and helped make human lives better.

The 2014 video “Childlike Imagination – What My Mom Does at GE” is a particularly successful example of GE’s use of storytelling to humanise the brand:

The video features a little girl describing what her mother does at GE, from a whimsical child-like perspective. The video ends with the little girl saying, “My mom works at GE,” driving home the important message that GE does great things.

The video was a huge success, garnering more than 2 million views on Youtube.

GE’s executive director of global digital marketing Linda Boff has said, “We’ve found when we’re able to tell relevant stories — both about our challenges as well as our successes — in always-on channels, people reach out to us and share their experiences as well. That’s allowed us to build relationships over time.”

Word-of-mouth tip: Youtube is a great platform for putting out visual content. GE’s unique approach of letting people see what goes on behind the scenes and by showcasing the technologies that have changed the world goes a long way in humanising the work done at GE and increasing brand reputation.

3. Snapchat — Celebrating Past Achievements through Storytelling

Image source: AdWeek

GE launched its Snapchat account in style, choosing to coincide with the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first moon landing.

The boots that Armstrong wore when he landed on the moon were purportedly designed with GE silicone rubber.

In celebration of this fact, GE turned to Snapchat to announce the release of a custom edition moon boot known as “The Missions”, produced in collaboration with retailer JackThreads.

To generate further hype over the new product launch, GE invited Buzz Aldrin, the second man to reach the moon, to take over the Snapchat account for a couple of hours.

Following up on this campaign using its other social media feeds, GE launched a second phase of the campaign on Vine and Instagram, asking fans to submit their own reenactments of the “first steps on the moon”.

GE’s use of Snapchat as a social media marketing tool is a strategic one.

Although most users of Snapchat are young millennials who do not represent GE’s core group of consumers, GE’s head of social media and global brand marketing Sydney Williams has said, “For us the focus on this audience is because they represent the next generation of customers, investors, and employees.”

Word-of-mouth tip: GE’s constant drive to seek out new platforms to experiment with has been one of its greatest successes. For brands that do not engage in conventional B2C approaches, this forward-looking strategy of using the most popular social media platforms to increase brand awareness amongst the next generation of consumers and leaders is crucial.

4. Vine – #6SecondScience

Image: 6secondscience.tumblr.com

GE’s approach towards Vine, the six second video sharing app, has been highly fun and interactive, but also incredibly educational.

GE’s viral campaign, #6SecondScience, is an online fair where people can share cool science stuff with a global audience.

GE’s most popular #6SecondScience Vine post is one that shows what happens when milk, food colouring and dish soap are combined.

The resulting reaction produces a visual ephemera of vibrant colors spreading out from the center. Certainly a sight to behold.

That Vine has gone viral, generating more than 21 million Loops.

GE even created a Tumblr compilation of all the #6SecondScience Vines, providing a one-stop platform for all the science geeks to watch these amazing videos.

GE’s use of Vine is as honest and genuine as it gets. Product placements and advertising are visibly absent. All content produced is carefully curated, and underpinned by its brand ethos of inspiring innovation.

Word-of-mouth tip: GE’s effective and purposeful use of Vine is inspiring. Putting out genuine and down-to-earth content without hard selling is a refreshing change for consumers, and a deeply appreciated one. These short 6 second videos are also great at capturing short attention spans, and driving home the brand message.


Read next: Storytelling for Brands: The Ultimate Storytelling Guide

Andrea Lee

Andrea Lee

Andrea is an undergraduate majoring in international relations and East Asian politics. She enjoys a good run in the city.

45 Of The Best Commencement Speeches Rolled Into One

commencement speeches

Commencement speeches are an academic tradition nearly as old as academia itself.

Men and women who have made their mark on the world impart their advice to a class of bright-eyed graduating students. Speakers span a diverse range of backgrounds and professions. From politicians like Winston Churchill to the venerable Mother Theresa and celebrities like Kanye West, countless words of wisdoms have been shared across thousands of speeches.

In spite of the variety of commencement speakers… here’s something mind-blowing:

EVERY commencement speech in history repeats the same 14 motifs.

We’ve gathered examples of speeches from each category and included meaningful quotes from each of them. In addition, we’ve illustrated a short story inspired by each of these categories.

We hope this infographic adds some major inspiration to your week, enjoy!



Jon Tan

My coffee expenses and my office rental are one and the same.

Terrified of mathematics and carbohydrates.

5 Ways To Use Personalization To Engage Your Customers

customer engagement


The following is a guest post by Kriti Sarda from Unbxd. Follow her on the Unbxd Blog.

It’s tough enough for ecommerce retailers to bring steady traffic to their sites.

With a quality customer acquisition strategy in place, and with effective tactics like SEO, social media marketing and content marketing, site owners do succeed in driving traffic to the site. And that’s awesome!

But what happens after visitors land on your site? How do you engage with them and make sure they stay on your site?

What is the key to customer engagement?


“56% of consumers say they would be more inclined to use a retailer if it offered a good personalized experience.”

[source: O2’s ‘The Rise Of Me-Tail’ study]

Shoppers today are willing to share information with ecommerce sites, and in return they expect to see products specific to their preferences.

Personalization helps sites do exactly that. So how can site owners use it to increase customer engagement and guarantee conversions?

In this post, I’ve listed 5 simple ways to personalize your ecommerce site.

1: Personalized Product Recommendations – attributed by Amazon.com to account for as much as 35% of their conversions

[source: SmartInsights]
  • Personalized recommendation engines– such as the service provided by Unbxd, analyze a visitor’s on-site behavior to identify brand, category, price preferences and so on.
  • Recommendations widgets like ‘Recommended for you’, ‘You may also like’, ‘People who bought this also bought’ etc. help visitors discover more products related to the products they’re looking at or have seen before.

In the image below, Amazon showcases products similar to ones I’ve seen earlier.


Further reading:

2: Personalized Discounts – target individual visitors with discounts on products they’ve already shown interest in

Discounts are a tried and tested way to increase sales. Tailored discounts take this tactic a step further.

Webengage is a personalized notification tool that lets you customize notifications and offer personalized discounts to visitors on your site.

According to SmartInsights, you should be smart about the way you offer these cart abandonment discounts, to avoid cannibalizing your own sales (when customers expect discounts and intentionally wait before buying.) You can do this if you:

  • Only offer the abandonment incentives to potential new customers, and/or…
  • Only offered abandonment incentives to high-value customers who have been inactive to tempt them back, and increase their lifetime value (LTV)


Further reading:

3: Location-Based Personalization – 62% of adults under 34 are willing to share their location get more relevant content

[Source: JiWire]

That’s a notable shift in online shoppers who don’t mind sharing location or other personal details to get more relevant results.

Certain sites use location-based personalization to customize information like currency, shipping address etc.

This makes it easy for visitors to discern if a particular site ships to their location and helps them get on with their purchase journey immediately.

Gap, for example, identifies the location of the customer and shows a pop-up asking visitors to confirm their country and currency details. It uses this information to show prices in the relevant currency and avoids confusion at the checkout stage.


Further reading:

4: Word-of-mouth referrals from friends – trusted by 92% of consumers over all other forms of advertising

[source: Nielsen]

Referral programs– such as those provided by our friends at ReferralCandy– allow customers make recommendations to friends and family, inviting them to sign up or buy products. Here, both the customer and their referrals receive either a discount or some sort of a reward. A sweet deal for everyone.

Receiving a discount from a friend or family member is a lot more personal than receiving yet another ‘Mega Sale’ email and this is how referral programs can establish a human connection.

An example of what a referral link might look like.

Further reading:

5: Personalized Emails – 6 times more effective than bulk emails at lifting transaction rates and revenue-per-email

Email is a critical piece of any ecommerce marketing strategy that helps convert browsers into buyers. Sending personalized emails to visitors keeps you on top of your visitor’s minds, making them more likely to convert.

Here’s an awesome example of a personalized email by ModCloth. They sent me an email reminding me about a dress I’d added to my shopping cart:


Further Reading:

BONUS: 6. Personalized Customer Support – customers who chat are 3x more likely to buy again

[Source: Olark]

While shopping online, visitors often need help with sizing, shipping information, return policies etc. If it’s too much of a hassle, they might simply bounce off the site.

An immediate, proactive response from a knowledgeable customer support rep can help visitors make a quick decision and complete their purchase.

Olark helps you do exactly that. They track on-site behavior such as product clicks and cart additions, which you can then use  can be used to provide personalized customer service.

Here’s how Olark tracks real-time cart information of a visitor:


Further Reading:

So there you go! Not 5 but 6 awesome ways to use personalization to engage your customers.

What do you do to engage customers on your site? How has personalization worked for you? Let us know in the comments below.

A recap of the tools mentioned in the post:

  • Unbxd – Personalized product recommendations with actionable insights and reporting
  • WebEngage – On-site customer acquisition suite
  • ReferralCandy – Automated, customizable customer referral programs with analytics
  • Olark – Personalized emails to engage your customers

Editor: The above is a guest post by Kriti Sarda from Unbxd. Follow her on the Unbxd Blog!



ReferralCandy is a customer acquisition tool used by hundreds of ecommerce retailers and business owners around the world.

It’s Definitely Time To Drop The Hyphen From Ecommerce

Anthony Tanner saw this coming.

Way back in ancient 2011, the very prescient blogger at EcommerceDoctor.com suggested dropping the hyphen from “e-commerce”, making it ecommerce. At the time “e-commerce” was still a more popular search term, so he was risking significant social ridicule to assert his opinion.

He got it absolutely right, though. “E-mail” became “email”. “Ebook” is more popular than “e-book”. “Web site” became “website”, and “web log” became “blog”. Major players like Shopify, Bigcommerce and others use ecommerce without a hyphen.

Wikipedia and HowStuffWorks, on the other hand, are a little slow to the party. (It’s somewhat understandable- codified tomes are the last to adapt to changes “on the ground”.)

C’mon, Wikipedia! Get with the program!

Google itself can be a little inconsistent about this, using Ecommerce in the header and reintroducing the hyphen in the bullets: (the following is from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1009612?hl=en)

Et tu, Google?

How are we supposed to navigate this mess?

According to The Economist’s style guide:

“There is no firm rule to help you decide which words are run together, hyphenated or left separate. In general, try to avoid putting hyphens into words formed of one word and a short prefix, so asexual, biplane, declassify… upended, tetravalent, etc. But long words thus formed and unfamiliar combinations, especially if they would involve running several consonants together, may benefit from a hyphen, so cross-reference (though crossfire), demi-paradise, over-governed, under-secretary.”

Phew, that was a trip! But look again and pay careful attention to how the reasoning flows. “Unfamiliar combinations… may benefit from a hyphen.” 

  • Language ultimately exists to serve meaningful communication.  This was why we initially needed the entire phrase “electronic mail”. When that term started to become common use, it became “e-mail”, and finally, email. The term is now so common that we need retronyms to emphasize the distinctino from from “regular” mail, or “snail mail”.
  • Language constantly adapts to suit the needs of communication in any given context. This is why modifiers like “LOL” have emerged to communicate tone. Consider “I’m going to kill you, lol”. It might seem like “bad english”, but the “lol” actually serves an important purpose in communicating the tone of the sender. It adds meaning to the message.
  • Ecommerce isn’t the only word to lose its hyphen. Other words that have lost their hyphens include “bumble-bee”, “chick-pea”, “cry-baby”, “leap-frog”. This is a natural process that happens to heavily-used terms and phrases.
  • Ultimately, language is an art more than a science.Time and again people have defied whatever’s been codified in grammar and style manuals… and gotten away with it. Shakespeare himself brazenly made stuff up all the time.
  • The only way to get really good at language is to use it, frequently. Read and write heavily enough, and you’ll find that linguistic choices become significantly easier. At that stage, language becomes your plaything. It exists entirely to serve your message.

So, agreed that we all drop the hyphen? Great!

What about the capital C, though? Kill it. You don’t see anybody typing “eMail” anymore, do you? That looks a little silly now. It will be no different with “eCommerce”. Let’s get that one out of the way early.


Drop the hyphen, drop the superflous capital C. It’s “ecommerce”, just like “email”.

PS: Anthony Tanner seems to have dropped off the radar entirely. I wonder what he’s up to these days.


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

When To Change Your Company’s Logo – Does It Really Matter?

MailChimp had a logo redesign lately.

People were discussing it on Hacker News, r/design, Brand New, everywhere.

I spent quite a few minutes studying and geeking out over it myself. Forumers really dug into the details, getting philosophical about the implications of design. Many agreed that the brand is better off. Some can’t tell the difference and see it as a waste of money. Some suspect that it might all be a psychological trick.

Pictured: Jessica Hische‘s skilful, subtle-but-awesome transformation of MailChimp’s  logo.

It’s really interesting stuff. And it’s also a huge waste of time.

Now, it’s perfectly sensible for already-successful brands to hire designers to refine their image.

If you want to build a successful brand yourself though, lengthy discussions about the designs of other brands’ logos don’t help.

They distract you from what you really need to be doing: creating value for your customers.

It’s okay to start with a mediocre logo.

The evolution of Shell, which used to literally sell seashells.

In fact, it seems to be the only way to go. Almost all great brands we take for granted today had inelegant, bloated or ugly logos when they started out.

This happens because businesses are built in the real world, in real time, and are too busy creating value for their customers to worry about unattainable perfection in design. They’d never get started otherwise.

Here’s the before/after of MailChimp’s Chimpy logo:

MailChimp Logo, Before and After

Once you’ve seen the new logo by professional designer Jon Hicks, the old one by MailChimp cofounder Ben Chestnut looks flat and unprofessional in comparison. Which it was! But it was good enough.

Here’s a relevant snippet of the MailChimp story:

“We limped along with this design for a long time. Then, as our business grew, and our audience spread out from the “Web designers and creative professionals” niche to a more broad “mainstream” audience, we started to get complaints that our chimp was a little “unprofessional.” This was around 2006.” – Ben Chestnut, MailChimp co-founder

Why did MailChimp “limp along” for a long time? If they were aware of the failings of their design, why didn’t they fix it? They were too busy focusing on creating value for their customers. They couldn’t afford to waste time in their earlier, formative stages.

Strong businesses survive weak branding.

At some point around 2008, MailChimp temporarily removed Chimpy altogether and “went corporate”, complete with cheesy copy and stock images. This was generally considered to be a bad move.


Constant Contact is one of MailChimp’s competitors. Well played, MailChimp.

 Despite this, their business actually improved during that period of time!

“I immediately got some hate mail for removing the chimp, but I also got some praise. Turns out lots of designers and agencies were hesitant about showing MailChimp to their larger clients. After removing the monkey mascot, we apparently looked “less risky” and the could finally switch over their larger accounts. Turns out after launching that new website design, our business grew faster than it ever had before. We got huge spikes in signups.” – Ben

If you asked me, I would’ve told you that removing Chimpy would’ve been a horrible idea. And I would’ve been wrong. Experimentation and reiteration is the only way.

There’s no point having a great logo if your business is dead.

Consider Vine, which has a logo that received mostly negative comments from designers:

“Looks like Pinterest. Also, the ligature between the ‘n’ and the ‘e’ is really unnatural. Ew.”

Should Vine care? Nah. They’ve got far more important things to worry about. The logo was designed and launched in a day, after all. If their business continues to grow and thrive, we can probably expect a beautiful redesign in a year or two. You’ll hear all about it in the forums.

MailChimp has the luxury of being talked about because they’re great for sending out email newsletters. Nobody would care about their branding decisions if they weren’t useful and valuable to people to begin with.

“When you’re doing awesome stuff you can be bold with your branding, and have some personality.” – Ben Chestnut, MailChimp founder

If you’re running an online store or business, your top priority should always be to “do awesome stuff”. Even the iPod got prettier over time after first enabling you to put your entire music library in your pocket. As Steve Jobs said, design isn’t just how it looks like, design is how it works.

So focus on the “how it works” bit. Get things to work great, and you’ll have great designers banging on your door pleading to let them fix your logo. A much more appealing prospect than a beautiful logo on the door of an empty store.

Image credit: Jessica Hische, MailChimp Blog, BrandNew


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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