Writing Great Copy for Your eBay Sale

One of the keys to success on eBay is combining good merchandise with good ad copy. In the absence of a face-to-face sale, whereby you can reel in the customer with your winning personality, you must rely on what the potential buyer reads in order to sell your product. Does this mean you need to be “a writer” to sell on eBay? No, but good writing sense helps. In my six years as an eBay buyer and seller, I have witnessed the complete spectrum of ad copy, from the divine to the disastrous.

This guide comprises some of the best advice I’ve received over the years with regard to succinct, professional prose. I use these guidelines in every auction description I write. Some may say, “The way a listing is written doesn’t matter; it’s the product that counts.” I disagree. How a listing is written is not only a crucial part of the product presentation, it is also a reflection on the seller. Consider the following when writing your item description:

Spelling Counts

I teach a course on music history, which requires that my students write research papers. I am often asked, “Does spelling count?” The answer: Absolutely! If you submit a listing for a machine that makes frozen alcoholic drinks, take a moment to look up the words daiquiri and margarita to ensure you’ve spelled them correctly. Do you offer a money-back promise? If so, please double-check the spelling of guarantee before pressing “Submit.” Type your item description into a word processing program equipped with a spell checker.  Be aware of usage issues as well, because…

Grammar and Punctuation Count, Too

Can you spot the errors in the following sentences?  These examples are paraphrased from actual auction copy I have read over the years:

        A.  A diamond’s value is determined by it’s cut, clarity, color and carat weight.
        B.  I except PayPal and money orders.
        C.  This offer will not last place your bid today!
        D.  this auction is for a 1906 postcard by one of japans most famous artists

Sentence A contains a mistake that likely tops the list of “Most Often-Committed Grammatical Errors.”  The word “it’s” is simply shorthand for it is. [Read the sentence again, substituting “it is” for “it’s.”] The sixth word in sentence A should be its. When proofreading your item description, be sure to break all contractions into individual words. If a particular sentence doesn’t make sense, you’ve used the wrong form.

An exception to this rule is the possessive form. But be careful with this as well, because it’s (meaning “it is!”) easy to become confused and put in apostrophes where they don’t belong:

  • INCORRECT: Banana’s are at auction today.
  • CORRECT:  Bananas are at auction today.
Avoid adding an apostrophe where it is not required.  “Banana’s” – when referring to more than one banana – is incorrect.  The English language dictates that in order to make something plural, we generally just add the letter “s” or the letters “e” and “s.” So banana becomes bananas. The same is true for cars, dogs, piano benches, horses and books.  No apostrophe.  An apostrophe is normally used to indicate contraction or possession – not number. [Of course, then there’s the exception of “its” – a possessive indicator with no apostrophe at all.]

Are we having fun yet?  :0)

Sentence B represents another habitual mistake: confused homophones. A homophone is one of two or more words that share the same pronunciation, but have different meanings. Except sounds the same as accept. “I accept PayPal and money orders” is correct. Be on your guard and know the difference between more commonly confused homophones: their/there and here/hear .

Sentence C is a standard run-on. Two independent clauses (“This offer will not last” and “place your bid today!”) are joined without signals or connecting words. A better way to say it: This offer will not last – place your bid today!  A connecting word would also complete the thought: This offer will not last, so place your bid today!

Sentence D simply lacks punctuation of any kind. I see this tactic often in my students’ writing. In an age of instant messaging and internet shorthand, this is a problem on the rise, especially in education. As an eBay seller, you must avoid this device.

PLEASE AVOID TYPING YOUR DESCRIPTION IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, ESPECIALLY COMBINED WITH THE OVERUSE OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As almost anyone who’s ever done anything online already knows, it is inappropriate to communicate in all caps on the internet (not to mention annoying). It’s hard on the eyes, and tantamount to yelling. If you must type a line in all capital letters, do so only on one or two carefully selected sentences that require special attention.

In other words, there’s no need to shout in order to drive the point home. Know that your muscular, effervescent prose can stand on its own – even while whispering.  🙂

The Thesaurus is Your Friend

Try to break the habit of using the same tired descriptors (nice, cool, beautiful). Having a thesaurus on hand is quite helpful. Find one online or peruse these most illustrious eBay offerings.

Create Your Own Template

If you sell a large number of the same item, as I do (mostly books), then you might consider designing a template description. Mine is stored in Word, and I have only to plug in the necessary titles and comments (complete with HTML coding). I’m happy to share it with you if you need ideas.

Apply the Golden Rule

“Speak” as a seller in the same way you’d like to be addressed as a buyer. Avoid phrases like, If you don’t like this policy then don’t bid. There is no harm whatsoever in saying instead, Please read the Terms of Sale carefully before placing your bid. Don’t treat your potential customers like children. I know from experience that sometimes, folks just don’t read or pay attention. It happens. However, try to refrain from punishing all for the sins of a few. In general, your customers are intelligent beings; treat them as such and you may score some repeat business.

Less is More

As tempting as it may be to utilize all the fun HTML tools at your disposal, avoid the overuse of font sizes, colors and styles. Your basic item description should flow seamlessly from sentence to sentence, without forcing the reader to refocus too often on changing text. For example, there is little cause to use a 24-point font, except in the case of making an extremely important point, or displaying an unusually large heading to attract attention. Use text effects (size, color, style) like salt. A little bit is tasty; a glut of it is almost impossible to swallow.

Read it Out Loud

As silly as it sounds, reading your copy to yourself is one of the best ways to find and fix errors. Ask any editor and he or she will tell you that reading one’s work aloud is crucial to identifying mistakes in grammar and flow. Write your description, then read it as if you were a radio announcer. Does it sound convincing? Will it hold the interest of a potential bidder? Let’s face it: our listings are commercials for our products. It’s up to us to give them the perfect “spin” in an effort to attract bidders, and nothing accomplishes the task like sparkling ad copy.

Finally…

Be honest, and represent your product accurately and fairly. If it’s not in perfect condition, don’t list it as such. Experienced eBay sellers know that the Feedback feature is a necessary checks-and-balances system, designed to preserve the integrity and consistency of products offered for sale and auction. Do your part to manifest that responsibility. Best wishes to you on becoming – or remaining – a successful eBay seller.  [Notsellar, please!]  🙂

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