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Writing Copy for Online Auctions

By Patricia Michaels

The phrase writing copy comes from the advertising world, and it means a type of writing used to sell anything, from ideas to goods or services.

Copy writing is both an art and a science. You are trying to persuade as many people as possible to bid on your items by using words and phrases. While the art of writing copy may take years to master, the science of writing copy is a bit easier.

In order to place bids on your items, potential customers need to be able to find your items. Generally speaking, they find your auction item in one of two ways. They can either browse through pages of items in a general category or they can do a search on a specific type or brand of item.

Far and away, search engines play the leading role in getting your auction items seen by potential customers. Therefore, writing copy for the search engines is the ideal approach to take for writing copy for online acutions.


Title tags serve as the initial item identification tool. Generally speaking, short, accurate descriptions are the keys to effective titles.

Keywords, the most common words or phrases used for a search, are the most important aspect of writing titles for search engines. Typically all items can be broken down into three types of keywords:

Item Brands

Items Types

Item Names

For example, if you have a Royal Daulton Mad Hatter Toby Jug for sale, your title would say exactly that, Royal Daulton Mad Hatter Toby Jug. By using the brand, type and name of the item, you maximize the number of times your item will show up in search results. Any customer searching on the specific phrase Royal Daulton Mad Hatter Toby Jug, or Royal Daulton or toby jug would be able to find your listing.

By comparison, an inaccurate, incomplete or mispelled title such as, Royal Daulton Man or Royal Dalton Man, would decrease the number of potential customers because search engines are machines that match search terms with titles rather than interpreting titles to match search terms.

There are a variety of strategies employed to attract the browser to click through a listing. Some of the more prevalent, but often frowned upon strategies, are those titles that use innocuous phrases such as 'look' or 'must see'. Those phrases add nothing descriptive to the title and are generally considered nonprofessional.

Since the space allotted to titles is limited, descriptions that add only a few extra characters are always useful. For example, using dates, such as 1956 to describe a Knickerbocker Doll, or acronyms, such as LE (Limited Edition) and NIB (New in Box), at the end of titles are also effective ways to draw potential bidders to click through to your listing.

Finally, there may be times where bending these rules of title writing might be to your advantage. There are items whose names might be less salable than a substitute description. For example, a Norman Rockwell collector's plate called, "The Understudy", where the understudy is a picture of a clown, might not be as inviting a title as Norman Rockwell Clown.

As the folks on Madison Avenue continue to remind us, certain things, such as sex, puppies, kittens and clowns always sell. After some practice, you can get a feel for when using a description sells better than using the actual name.

Item Descriptions

A quick check of the search function in most online auction sites shows that they have an option for customers to search by both title and description. Therefore, many of the same rules of thumb that apply to writing titles equally apply to writing descriptions. The big difference between writing titles and writing descriptions is the amount of space provided for the tasks.

While there is limited space allocated for, there is almost an unlimited amount of space available to describe the item. Generally speaking though, a short paragraph is sufficient to provide accurate descriptions for the majority of items you will sell. All the items you write copy for should contain three basic elements

Item Identification

Item Measurement

Item Description

Just as in the title tag, the first part of your description should identify the item, again using the same key words that appear in the title.

Since pictures do not always provide a complete or even accurate representation of an item, measurements should be provided for all items. For example, a picture of a woman's wrist watch can show the basics of the watch. However, they can not show the length of the bracelet or the size of the watch face.

The most important aspect of describing the item is accuracy. To start, auction items can either be new, in their original box, or they can be used. All things being equal, used items have a higher potential of having a flaw that needs to be accurately presented to potential bidders. So, for example, on all the types of ceramic, porcelain, clay, crystal and glass items, there could be chips, cracks, scratches or crazing on the item.

Additionally, there are times when the flaws are apparent on the pictures you have posted. Do not assume that the customer sees the flaws on the picture. When you describe the item, you can add a phrase such as "see picture #1".

Finally, it's almost as important to know that the purpose of writing copy is to sell the item. Writing copy, just like any other type of writing, is intended for a specific type of audience. It's always a good idea to keep a series of questions in the back of your mind about the potential audience, as you plan on writing the description. Who is likely to purchase this item? For whom are they purchasing it? Is it for a collector? Is it for a family? Is it for an office worker? A sentence or two describing the item in a way that appeals to your audience is always a good idea. It takes time and practice to effectively integrate these types of sentences into your descriptions.

About The Author
Patricia A. Michaels has successfully sold over 2,000 items at auction and has been an internet publisher for about 10 years.

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