It’s a big, big world of e-commerce out there. How can you get your products to stand out from the crowd? How will your customers search for them, find them, share them – not to mention, buy them, too?
If you are super-cool, super-rich, and/or just have a few products, you probably solve this problem by hiring naming consultants and letting them go ninja with the linguistic programs. However, if you have a higher product volume with fairly frequent turnover, then you likely keep the naming process in house.
Is this you? Do you perhaps have 20 new shades of eye shadow that needed to be named yesterday? Are you tearing your hair out because your automotive parts company just greatly expanded inventory, and now you must at least somewhat standardize the nomenclature of the entire product list?
If so, never fear. Your favorite digital agency is pleased to offer you these quick and dirty tips for creating product names that can multi-task across all relevant channels, from page title metadata to H1 headers and social media descriptions.
In naming products for retail e-commerce, follow these basic guidelines:
- Products must have unique names. No duplicates. If possible, avoid numbers and punctuation, and use alpha only. If you use registration marks, trademarks, etc., be prepared to have these not be able to appear in every single incarnation of your product names (lest you break your website and/or the web).
- Try to keep the length of product names below 25 characters with spaces, if possible. Even shorter. Also try to keep the character lengths of product names at least somewhat consistent across a product list. Otherwise, be prepared to annoy everyone from the UI engineer to your SEO and paid media specialists.
- Include a root noun (or even better, a keyword!) that describes what the product actually is – blanket, cup, wheel, perfume, etc.
- No cutesy, I mean unique, spellings. Keep the goofy word mixups for your brand, if that fits your market, but don’t inflict it on your actual product names. No Rockerr Gurrl Pretzyls, thanks. Rockerr Gurrl, okay, maybe. Pretzyls – no.
Are you on deadline? Then you may go now. However, if you do have a moment, read on for the pragmatist point of view on why and how product naming actually works in the digital age.
And here’s the secret: Size matters. Above all, your product name must hit the sweet spot in balancing brand visibility, user experience, and technical constraints. The most consistent way to manage this across multiple channels is by being smart about space – thus the emphasis on limited character length.
Why Size Matters
In the old days, your product name appeared in limited places, and quite likely most of them were internal to your company and/or distributors – such as databases and inventory lists. If it were a special product, maybe the name appeared in a few external print marketing materials. Likewise, perhaps physical packaging constraints affected your product names, but that varied by industry, wholesale versus retail, etc.
These days, e-commerce has changed the playing field substantially. Now your entire product list has the potential to appear directly in front of both consumers and search engines. Heck, ideally the consumer occasionally types the product name into a search engine (see note on no cutesy spellings, above).
Consider just a few of the places that your product name will likely appear in the digital world.
- For the product description page on your website, the product name will appear at a minimum in the URL, as well as in the on-page title (or H1 tag).
- Search engine results will display that product name in both the page title metadata and page metadescription for the product description page.
- For an e-commerce site, that product name will also need to appear in promotion pods, related products listings, site search results, category and sub-category listings, and more.
- Customers might want to share that product through any number of social channels, ranging from Twitter to Pinterest.
- You might want to promote that product along with a package of other products through email offerings, for example, or through paid media.
Trust me on this: All of these technical locations represent fields that are subject to very different constraints in character length. For many of these locations, the product name will also likely appear alongside an image or text relating to your brand. Even more importantly, the product name will hopefully appear beside a conversion button – for example, “BUY NOW”.
If your product name is too long, it will compete for limited space and push everything else aside or down. With long product names, you risk losing everything from brand leverage to an actual purchase. Likewise, long product names can result in cut-off data fields. There are few better ways to irritate a customer than to click on a product listing, and it turns out not to be the product they needed.
How to Get it Right
So now you are terrified of the lurking e-commerce Armageddon that I have described. You have grabbed your red pen and are ready to edit every entry in your entire product list down to less than 25 characters.
Slow down. Much as it pains me, I will admit that perhaps digital does not trump all, and that you do want to consider the ripple effects on your legacy systems that also use these same product names. Check with other stakeholders and discuss before you proceed. This is especially true if there are multiple distributors using your product list data in their own e-commerce efforts.
There are also a few technical industries where you probably should not be too hasty – hello, specialist mechanical companies that manufacture the rear left sprocket cambershaft whatsit doohickey. If the analytics show that customers find you by typing in longtail keyword searches, don’t go too nuts on the edits.
Likewise, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The analytics might also show that certain product names are really working for you, even if the product names might be a little too long or appear weird to the normal eye. Right now, I am indeed thinking of the “Toyo MT size 35/12.50R20” tire example that my cousin texted me. (Be warned, though, that certain punctuation symbols can break everything from URLs to CMS fields.)
One last caveat. Internally, we have had many discussions on the pros and cons of using attributes in product names. An attribute describes the product type – like wood, metal, rubber, etc. Again, let the analytics be your guide. If your customers are searching by a distinctive attribute, then include it. However, be selective and only include attributes in your product name that customers actually find meaningful.
For product names that don’t fit into any of these exceptions, then you still need to slow down and do some research before starting your edits.
Competitor research. What is your competition doing? If your product names look roughly similar to those across your industry, don’t be too quick to congratulate yourself. Weigh the safety of sticking to a (probably pre-digital) cultural norm, against the potential payoff for being the first in your space to actually get digital right.
Keyword research. This is sort of the low-budget equivalent of using a fancy linguistics program, I suppose. Use Adwords, Google Trends, and other tools to explore the keyword potential in your product list. Sample your lists for top and bottom sellers across and within categories.
There you go – I have now given you just enough advice to potentially make you very dangerous, so proceed with caution. However, remember that the long-term goal here is to make your products discoverable. If customers and search engines can’t find you easily and quickly, then what’s the point? Getting product naming right is a key step in not only surviving, but thriving in the digital marketplace.