7 steps to create an online product catalog that sells

Increase sales and market your small business with a cost effective online product catalog.

Your catalog – What, Who and Why?


Your business is design, manufacture, service or retail. You could be a Shopify, Etsy or eBay seller. You have products or services you need to sell, online, offline or both, and you are asking the question – How do I create myself a successful product catalog? Not just an aesthetically pleasing or comprehensive but a powerful sales tool which delivers critical conversions and products sales for your business.

We aim to answer that for you with seven effective steps to producing a product catalog which will entice and reach even the most passive of customers.

How to begin making your cost effective product marketing and promotion solution that sells…

Consider three elements as you start your catalog creation journey…What, Who and Why.


What are your products or services, how well do they fit to an informative or promotional style? What is the best way to present them, what level of information and sale nudging is needed and what are your industry “norms” or your competitor approaches? Informative catalogs may be more suitable to employees, experienced buyers and professional services.  Promotional style, sales oriented, bright and engaging pages are more applicable to product sales, consumer services and attracting new buyers.


Which of course brings us onto the audience; who exactly are your customers or buyers and what do they expect? What works in your marketplace and why? It’s ultimately critical that a product catalog is tailored to the product buyer, as any mismatch will jeopardize sales hugely.

Consider timber sales. The experienced business or trades buyer needs only to know wood type, dimensions and price. The home DIY enthusiast, amateur builder or crafter needs to know which type of wood is more relevant or suited to their project and why. The former, an experienced B2B buyer needs a simple, easy to use, even tabular layout to quick find their requirements, price and order. The latter, a consumer buyer, wants to know the properties of each type of wood, how long it will last and may be engaged by quick DIY guides, tips, information about complementary wood care products.


Answer the why, the “What’s in it for me?” for your buyer, matching your product or service to their needs and answering any questions, overcoming any objections and your “sale” is made.

We can use the example of a home improvement retailer. Their buyers’ reasons for purchase can include:

Fulfilment of need – they require materials, lighting or furniture. The catalog should be factual, include dimensions, price and key information.

Problem resolution – the product may need to be a certain size, shape, color or fit for an existing project.  Think space saving storage or furniture design for owners of smaller or city homes, explaining how space can be maximized by each product will convert the sale.

Satiation of desire – the buyer strives to attain a lifestyle or gain pleasure from a purchase decision, a beautiful room or home.  Allow the buyer, through the product catalog, to visualize themselves or their home with a certain style to win them over.

Money – getting better value or saving money is of course a massive motivator for purchase decisions. The product catalog can emphasise price, old price/price reductions, value for money and feature top sellers, deals and discounts.

Answer the buyer’s subliminal “What’s in it for me?” and your product catalog is well on its way to being a successful tool in your online product marketing portfolio

With good understanding of What, Who and Why  we can move to answering How to create myself a successful product catalog.

1-organizeStep 1. Organize content and products


Know your product or service well

Understand both your products and the target audience. Realize where top sellers, discounts and deals need to be featured and how your products need to be grouped.

Know your competitors

How do your competitors structure their catalogs and does this work or fail? Take inspiration but do not copy and certainly don’t take up ideas that don’t work. Make sure you understand both the collateral they produce and how successful it is.

Plan out your structure

Plan or design your cover content and inner cover pages or first and last pages. Is your design branded, seasonal, or designed to engage your audience? Are you including an introduction, CEO’s message, editor’s notes, guides or contents page for ease of navigation? Bestsellers, discount and deals can be advertised boldly to encourage customers to read on.

Order form

Do you need an order form? You may not be looking for mail orders but some customers still like the opportunity to plan out their order in a table form before placing their final choices online.  Include quantity and shipping, billing and contact information.

Header and Footer

Header text or imagery can convey the brand or title. Use contact details within the footer.

Group products effectively

Good product grouping, or product layout will maximize results and can include:

  • Efficient ordering, by product, name, model, as appropriate
  • Listing bestsellers and exclusives early with more space on the page to allow the customer to fully focus on the best products
  • Grouping by category, topic or function
  • Hierarchical grouping, where key products are listed with their accessories or components
  • Group products to meet a need or a problem and look out for opportunities to cross sell products or make connections between products to drive sales

Whatever you need to include, make sure it is written and presented with your target audience in mind. Add a detailed product description, product selection guides or comparison charts on some or all products if appropriate. Warranty information and product testimonials or reviews may help.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?

At www.CatalogMachine.com it’s easy to setup and manipulate catalog structure, table of contents, headers, footers, rich content, product data, images and all with a totally flexible layout. Design catalog templates are available and product pages are drag and drop for straightforward structuring.

You can have a clear high level view on your catalog structure, products and pages and effectively update at any time.

2-prepareStep 2. Write copy and prepare images


Product copy/descriptions – what is important?

Write with the core product benefit in mind for your reader, building the other information around the core benefit. Solving the problem or meeting the desire of the customer is often more important than how a product works, who made it, and how well it sells. Ensure a product’s value, and value to the buyer is detailed alongside the benefits and any relevant exclusivity.

Make sure you have all the information before you start so you avoid copy that is scattered and bitty. Be consistent and logical, following a similar tone and framework for each product. Be truthful but aim to answer any objections before they arise in the customer’s mind.  Tell the customer why they should buy, be enthusiastic and set the scene to allow your customer to visualise owning the product.

Consider a beautiful piece of furniture which is aesthetically pleasing, achieves an ambition of grandeur or style for the customer and has practical benefits too, like excellent storage space, and is well made, therefore long lasting and great value.


  • Keep descriptions concise and easy to read. Avoid overly flowery or technical language unless detailed technical language is relevant to your audience and product
  • Speak to your audience in their language (compare engineers to teenagers)
  • Keep to good grammar rules but try not to be too boring or obvious
  • Make sure copy flows well and is interesting, a conversational tone might work well
  • Paint a picture for your reader – again the important “visualisation” for your consumer


Keep product descriptions well written but short. Maybe 50-150 words, focus on the main selling point but utilise features and benefits as much as how it works.


Catchy informative headlines can draw in the reader, and may be important for your online SEO. Try “Cost saving coloured LCD lights” rather than just “LCD lights”.


A beautiful image is “worth a thousand words” and it is true. Great product photography can make or break sales. Poor quality will vastly diminish the product’s value. Consider whether extra shots are needed to show aspects, accessories, colours or uses. If your products are bought in from a wholesaler or manufacturer, make sure you have obtained high quality, high resolution images from your supplier and have the rights to use them.

Link to your website

Lastly incorporating your website and product URLs into your online catalog is a great way to channel a consumer to buy and lead them to more product information such as detailed product specifications.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?

www.CatalogMachine.com has powerful content and image management, editing tools, quick update facility and the ability to import your product information and images from places like Etsy, Shopify or your Magento store. CSV import and export are included adding ability to get your data from many sources and edit externally.

3-layoutStep 3. Lay Out Pages

Consistency is important for a professional product or service catalog. However a well-placed change in layout or surprising page design can really grab a reader’s attention.

Bestselling and high profit generating products should receive prime position and the most space allocation. The right top hand corner is the first place our eyes fall when reading. This is prime position and can draw in the reader to browse the whole page.  Consider making these listings bolder or larger. In catalog design, a larger image can lead to greater sales.

Balance images and text throughout for the right mix of information and engagement. Only group products which are similar or related. Grouped items which are not related don’t work well.

Maximise opportunities to cross sell, placing companion products together on a page can increase sales 5-15%. Upselling is an effective way of increasing order value and sales.

Lay out products in a way they can be quickly identified and the price compared.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?
At www.CatalogMachine.com you can create easy to use templates which include rich text, images and advanced formatting options. Layout is completely flexible for adding those attention grabbing pages or bestsellers. Catalog Machine is designed as a do it yourself catalog and ideal for adding many products, text and images but without the need to use an expensive design agency.

4-designStep 4. Design

For non-professional graphic designers, creating a catalog can be a challenge. Keep it simple to ensure the process is painless and successful but also to avoid a poor clumsy over design.

Keep your catalog focused on the products, again an overly detailed design could detract the reader from their purpose. Make sure design, image and copy are product oriented, clear and concise.

Establish a design or template that you will use throughout, changing only for the eye catching bestselling, feature or surprise pages, then reverting to the familiar flow. Keep colours, typography, font and layout styles consistent and ensure your brand is prominent and well used throughout. Don’t clutter but don’t leave too much white space either.

Consistent typography is vital. Limit the number of typefaces to two or three, use fonts that are easy to read and legible in size and design. The spacing and placement of text along and aligned with images should be unchanging throughout.  Product titles, headers and content text should always follow the same format. The text should support and not detract from the product or image. “Bold” font options can be used to highlight features/benefits where appropriate.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?
www.CatalogMachine.com has advanced design options but lots of basic choices and template options too. Positioning is drag and drop and entirely flexible. A wide choice of fonts, backgrounds, icons and other design elements are available.

5-marketStep 5. Market

A product catalog is a powerful online product marketing tool. Use your marketing material and collateral to give inspiration for your catalog features.  Featured, or those “surprise” pages we mentioned, with alternative, super engaging content can be powerful sales tools. Try:

  • Testimonials. You can even link to product reviews on your site or independent review sites
  • Guarantees and assurances
  • Company history or CEO’s message
  • Visible mark down of product prices
  • Featured products
  • Bestsellers, deals and discounts
  • Guides and use cases that highlight the best ways to use your products

Use both the opportunities for snippets of text to fill gaps in pages and product descriptions themselves as marketing opportunities.  Market your products with the goal of selling them, good, concise descriptions, answering any objections and showcasing your goods.

Take opportunities throughout your catalog to link to more detailed descriptions on your website, channelling customers to where they can quickly buy on your website.

Think about which marketing tools work for you on your other sales channels, your website, physical premises if you have them, or online stores like Shopify, Etsy, Magento and eBay. What works here that you can reproduce in your brochure to aid you in your digital catalog design.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?
www.CatalogMachine.com has useful design tools to create powerful marketing features, flexible product and pricing structure, and special templates for promotional products. You can add featured and flexible content to any part of your Catalog Machine online catalog.

6-distributeStep 6. Distribute, Share and Promote

When your catalog is complete and you have proofed and re-proofed for errors, it’s time to distribute it to start those sales rolling in. Use any digital channel you can access: email, website, social networks. Target your specific audience through savvy social media marketing application for maximum return.

Social marketing of your online brochure can propel your products across the web like no other medium, if you have the right audience, or apply advertising astutely.

Make sure you cross sell by promoting your website alongside your catalog and your catalog on your website.

When you feature your digital catalog on your website, feature it and give it its own page and menu header so it can be easily discovered by your visitors. You can then link to your website and your catalog when promoting externally, again channelling your audience exactly where you need them – where they can buy or make further enquiries.

Do you need an html or pdf copy of your catalog which you can email in reply to enquiries? A URL will work better for bulk email marketing efforts. You can also consider printing copies to use at physical locations, trade shows and events.

Email marketing of a digital product catalog is a practical way to engage passive or previous customers with your entire product lineup.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?
Catalog Machine is a great tool for digital catalog delivery with an online html version, sharing and publishing tools, “send” catalog links or email attachment options. You can embed your catalog into your site and generate and download a PDF for offline use or create your own business catalogs subsite at www.CatalogMachine.com.

7-testStep 7. Test and Improve

An important element of any project or investment is to test and review performance and seek feedback from your audience.


  • Digital catalog creation software can be accompanied by precise analytics, often powered by or compatible with Google Analytics.
  • Data mining the results can help to understand traffic sources and patterns, visitors and their behavior.
  • A/B split testing of catalog versions (small variations of the same base catalog presented to similar visitors) helps to select winning  combination of elements and products for the best performing catalog.

Analysis, experiments, then recommendations, can help to improve an online catalog quickly and with much return. Unlike print catalogs, a digital or online catalog can be constantly improved with little additional cost.

Using Catalog Machine to create your catalog?
www.CatalogMachine.com collects in depth analytics and can even offer multiple catalog versions for A/B split testing of success. Your online catalog at Catalog Machine is always up-to-date, easy to maintain, copy, or update 24/7..

Seven steps to success

So those seven steps in effective DIY product marketing once more…

  1. Organize content and products
  2. Write copy and prepare images
  3. Lay out pages
  4. Design
  5. Market
  6. Distribute, share and promote
  7. Test and improve

Design is one key aspect of a product catalog but also vital is its organization, copy, layout and then what you do with it once it’s produced, how it’s promoted, shared and then how much you learn from the results, good or bad.

Designing a cost effective, successful online product catalog can be a simple, straightforward task with the right approach. If you are looking for online software to help you along, try www.CatalogMachine.com.

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