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eCommerce Product Descriptions – Sometimes You’re Better Off Without Them

It’s okay to feel excited when you find some actionable conclusions from your customer surveys. You almost know for sure that the moment you implement the necessary changes on your website, your website sales or conversions will increase. You give the users what they want, how can it possibly go wrong?

Our customer, FreestyleXtreme, also implemented their customers’ suggestion on their site. Except that their conversions had a twist in store for them.

About the Company

FreestyleXtreme is a UK-based eCommerce retailer that offers motorcross lifestyle clothing online for riders and action sports enthusiasts. They ship almost all over the world and their website is available in 17 different languages.

Test Background

FreestyleXtreme conducted a customer survey to understand the pain points of their target market. In the survey, one of the most requested additions to the website was more product information.

The team at FreestyleXtreme read several case studies where including product description improved conversion rate. This convinced them even more about their decision to populate their website with product descriptions.

A lot of thought and effort was put into writing descriptions. The team made sure that instead of just listing product specifics, they explained the benefits of each product feature in the simplest manner possible.

Finally, they did it. The product descriptions were added to the website.

Test Hypothesis

Out of curiosity, the team now decided to run an exploratory split URL test. The test hypothesis was whether detailed product descriptions increase conversions.

This is the Control page on which the test was conducted:

FreestyleXtreme Control Page

As you can see in the above image, the product description was added at the top of the page.

The Variation which was tested against this page was the same product page that was the original page on the site (before the product descriptions were added). You can see the Variation page below:

FreestyleXtreme Variation Page


More than 7000 visitors were tested for each version. The Variation with no product description beat the Control by 31.38% with 96% confidence level. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a win for our customer, FreestyleXtreme, as they had already implemented product descriptions on many pages of their website.

Here’s the comparison image that summarizes the entire case study for you:

Click to View the Larger Version

FreestyleXtreme Comparison Image

The reason why the page without the product descriptions won is probably because of the poor layout of the Control page. The product descriptions were added at the top of the page, which pushed the product images and call to action button below the fold.

Images play an important role in increasing conversions. People prefer to see what they will be getting. Only if they are pleased with the product image, will they invest any time to read about product specifics or descriptions.

An eCommerce site can very well survive without the product descriptions but not without the images. So, your visual hierarchy should always be planned in a way that it naturally draws visitors’ attention to images as one of the primary elements on the page.

It is cases like these why it is suggested that you must always run the test first, before you make any change permanent on your site. What is considered as a “best practice”, might not work for you. You never know.

Thankfully, FreestyleXtreme hasn’t given up and now plans to run a follow-up test soon with a more organized page layout. Because addition of product descriptions was requested by their customers, this seems like just an error in execution of the test idea.

Hopefully, the follow-up test that will again test the page with product descriptions will turn out to be the real win for FreestyleXtreme.

Comments (10)

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  1. I wonder if the difference between the two isn’t down to the description at all but down to just how far down the page the Add to Basket button is IE its well after the fold.

    Personally I’ld want to test a version with an Add To Basket ABOVE the image.

  2. My comment is basically a variation on the comment by Ben Walmisley. Namely the product descriptions at the top pushed down the images (similar to Ben’s point about it pushing down the CTA).

    In a way you made the same point yourself Smriti: “The product descriptions were added at the top of the page, which pushed the product images and call to action button below the fold.”

    Right. So one can’t conclude that product descriptions in themselves lowered the conversion rate – it could simply be their placement.

    Again on a variation on Ben’s point, I’d want to test two pages with product descriptions: one with the descriptions above the images (this this) compared to one with descriptions below the images.

    Finally, conversion isn’t the only part of the revenue picture. Product pages without textual (i.e. keyword-rich, relevance-rich signals) will almost certainly do worse in search than those that do, meaning you might get a greater number of conversions from those that hit the page, but fewer visits – possibly even, then, a lower ROI (thought I think in this case one can have one’s cake – product descriptions AND high conversion – and eat it too).

  3. @Ben – Yes. I’m sure that must have played a role in conversions as well. Adding the call-to-action above the fold is definitely worth testing.

    @Aaron – Good to see you here. 🙂 I completely agree with you.

    Chances are, it is about the placement of description rather than product descriptions themselves. But for this case, it does hold true that the version without the description had better conversions.

    Hopefully, we’ll hear about a follow-up test soon from FreestyleXtreme.

    And SEO is a great consideration. The possibility of better search engine rankings for the version with product descriptions cannot be ruled out. Thanks for bringing that up.

  4. Looks like I have been beaten to making some of the key observations on this test.

    As others have said, it was the placement of the product descriptions that led to the failure in this instance and not the fact that they were there.

    I would like to see the product descriptions added underneath the Add to basket box.

    As Aaron has pointed out, the descriptions can do a lot for driving traffic into the website, which is also a way of improving revenues.

    If I were to recommend a test to this company it would be to test a page of the following:
    – Remove the black backgrounds from the product page.
    – Make the product title larger
    – Add a product price to the top right of the product content area
    – Add the product description below the add to basket box
    == Would be interested to see how this performed.

  5. This strikes me as a product which is highly visual and simple. In a case like that, text/description should probably take a backseat to images.

    Echoing the comments above, I’d like to suggest testing a version where the text comes beneath the pictures. I’d also suggest testing a different version of the bullets beneath the pictures:

    • This kit is a replica of the kit worn by off-road riding star Ricky Dietrich.
    • Multiple panel construction allows for a comfortable and ergonomic fit.
    • Wicks moisture away with microfibre fabric.

    My thinking here is that this shorter version of the selling points will probably be more persuasive than 7 bullet points about a product which is not complex enough to warrant that much space. (With high-end medical and industrial machinery, 3-5 is generally ideal, and I can’t think of any reason that the target audience here would be more patient than procurement officers).

  6. Without a doubt the quality of images is key and many people make purchasing decisions based upon the image of what they will be buying even in the absence of any kind of detailed product description. That said, as others here have commented here, the layout of the images, description and ‘add to basket’ option is fundamental.

    The information on two pages can be identical but the layout can differ to such an extent that one page becomes user-intuitive and friendly the other totally confusing. As Brian points out, it would be nice to test with the description below the image and bullet points are usually sufficient to convey the main selling points to prospective buyers.

  7. This is very interesting. Goes to show how important “above the fold” really is and/or the fact that people don’t like to read 🙂 I wonder if this is why Youtube began showing the titles below videos?

    Either way, you hit the nail on the head, Smriti when you mention testing. Without it, we’d all be completely lost.

  8. This isn’t a very good “case study” and here’s why.
    Some of these points may have already been covered by other commentators:

    1) the title of this article needs to change.
    and what this article is insinuating to sets a bad precedent for eCommerce owners, removing content like that is going to completely ruin the website’s performance in search (in search engines etc).
    you’ll be left with no traffic to convert with in the first place.

    you can already see the traffic for this site has started tanking:

    people use KEYWORDS to find your websites. the content needs to be compelling, it has to be unique and ENGAGING content about your products if you want any hope of them finding you.

    2) It’s not that the description is ruining the conversions – it’s how it’s presented, where it is placed.

    3) why the hell is the the call to action below everything else?

    here’s my 2 pence:
    this site is in dire need of a design update. there’s too many links out, too many distractions, there’s not enough trust factors. what is their UNIQUE SELLING POINT? No idea, because there isn’t any messaging about this. Is it the price? is it the quality of said products? Don’t know because.. the content has been removed.

    We have to be very careful with presenting an over-simplistic “test” without an considerations for the downstream effects: what’s going to happen to your SEO campaigns, what’s going to happen to your PPC etc.

  9. @Kevin – Absolutely!

    @David – Agree with your points. I’d like to keep the black background. It somehow goes well with the overall personality of the bikers, I believe.

    @Brian – Completely dig your idea about making the product descriptions more crisp. Exactly what I had on my mind.

    @Marcus – If the product descriptions are made more crisp, like Brian suggested, what do you think about keeping the product descriptions before the CTA or maybe next to it? After all, visitors might be interested in knowing basic stuff, like the fabric, etc. if not anything else?

    @Eric – Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

    @Trent – Interesting points there, especially about a clear value proposition and trust factors.

    The title might have been a little misleading but the main reason we chose to publish this case study was to show that doing a ton of research and having a great test idea can also sometimes fail, if you fail to execute it properly.

    And while descriptions can affect the rankings, I’m not sure if relying on SEMrush link is a good idea to justify this and jump onto a conclusion. We don’t know if they have changed their SEO strategy during this time, or if there had been any other changes that caused the drop in traffic.

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