First, and foremost, keep in mind that the sole purpose of a product page found on the Internet at a product site is to sell you something. Free stuff is available but the page(s) that describe it are usually quite clear. Sale pages, however, will go to great lengths to describe features, use superlatives, have come-ons, and maybe even mask the fact that money will be asked for and/or how much the product costs.
Second, and maybe even more important, is that words mean things; specific things.
For example, a “free scan” is just that: a free scan. There no promise in those two words to fix anything that the scan uncovers. This is an important concept as come-ons like free scans are often used to show errors that are then used to justify why a product should be purchased to fix those errors. There is nothing wrong with this and it’s not bait-and-switch as the words did not say or imply there would be a fix; that came from your interpretation of the words and perhaps the surrounding text on the product page. In short, it’s a meaning that you put on the words and not a meaning in the words themselves.
In line with the words mean things concept, product endorsements on the product page may or may not be helpful. Providers are fond of displaying ringing endorsements; maybe even with pictures of the people and graphic signatures. Such endorsements, however, are almost universally giving praise to the product without any details whatsoever about how the product specifically helped in a given situation. Thus, while it might be useful to know that so-and-so finds the product useful; that knowledge is tempered by the fact that you have no idea why so-and-so found the product useful. So, if so-and-so praises the product for some unnamed purpose you may have an entirely different purpose in mind for the software and the endorsement therefore would not apply to you. But, you rarely have enough information to know that. So, while you may read product endorsements, give them little weight in your purchase consideration unless you personally know one of the people quoted in which case you’ll want to ask them directly about the product.
Similarly, look carefully for use of jargon: complex, industry-specific language. Sites that are full of jargon are either trying to sell to a very technical audience or they are trying to impress you with technical talk. Either way, if you don’t understand what the page says and how the product can help you, then consider carefully if you need that product and how that vendor might act if you have a problem with the product.
Third, ignore formatting. As this is being written the product page format in vogue is the narrow column that runs down the middle of the browser window with solid color on both sides or maybe a background graphic on both sides. The copy is laced with superlatives, different color text, different sized text, and so on. Ignore all this. The pitch…
Simply the BEST dog food on the market!!!
…tells you absolutely nothing about why you might want to buy the product and what benefits it will have for your dog over and above table scraps or the cheapest brand you can buy at the local market (yes, I know dog lovers would not do either; I’m using hyperbole for effect here).
The same is true for most bold, different color text on product pages. Read right through the formatting and see what the words actually say.
In a similar vein, be careful with pages that go on and on and on. Most such pages use the techniques above to keep you reading until they get you down to the end where the final hard-sell is. By this time your eyes may have glazed over and the vendor hopes you’ll just click on the big “buy” link and give them your money.
Pictures should be considered to be words in disguise. Big, fancy product box pictures and other such page decorations are just that: decorations. Few products come in an actual box these days; most are direct downloads with the possibility of getting a backup CD and maybe abbreviated manual (usually an install guide and maybe a feature index) for an extra fee. Screen shots of the product may or may not be useful depending on what they show. Look carefully for meaningful pictures and not just random screen shots that really contain no meaningful information.
Look for links to other pages on the product site. One technique in use now is to bring users to a product landing page that stands alone and has no other links to any other page on the vendor’s website. The technique hopes to corral you into making a decision based on the landing page information alone. If this happens to you see if you can find other links manually. For example, if the URL is http://domain.com/product/productname.html and there are no links on productname.html then manually enter first http://domain.com/product/ and/or http://domain.com/ into your browser and see what page or pages those addresses bring up. What you are looking for are support links and maybe a knowledgebase about the product on the product’s website. A support forum may also be useful. Knowing what problems people have had with a particular piece of software and, perhaps more importantly, how they were solved (or not) should influence your purchase decision more than glowing praise from people you don’t know. If you can’t find such information on the company’s website you can search for it on the Web if you continue to feel the product is useful to you.
As advertising techniques get refined, the specifics of what to look for may change but the primary points on this page will continue to be important:
- The vendor wants to sell you something. It’s up to you to find out if that something will be of value to you.
- Words mean specific things. Don’t read more into the words on the page than is actually there.
- Watch the context of the words. Fancy formatting, nice pictures, and glowing endorsements tell you nothing about the product itself. Find that information instead — even if it’s on a different page than the product page.
Now, for the perfect example, please see…