Christopher Silvestri is a former software engineer who launched Conversion Alchemy, an agency combining website copy with user-experience design, two years ago. He believes high-converting ecommerce copywriting requires an understanding of the target audience, which takes research.
He told me, “I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy.”
Heat maps, polls, and usability tests are Silvestri’s go-to tools. He and I recently discussed those tactics and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Conversion Alchemy.
Christopher Silvestri: Before 2015 I was a software engineer. I am also a drummer. I wanted to tour more with my band. So I started learning about internet marketing and various business models. That led me to copywriting in 2015, 2016.
I did it on the side for a couple of years. When I moved from Italy, where I’m from, to the U.K., I shifted to full-time. I worked with an agency for two years. I then transitioned into usability testing for start-up websites. That’s where I learned user experience skills as well.
I launched Conversion Alchemy two years ago. It combines copywriting with UX design. I work with software companies and ecommerce businesses — usually six, seven-figure companies that are stagnant. The businesses are profitable, but they can’t get to the next level.
Bandholz: Copywriting is critical for Beardbrand. I’ve had Neville with Copywriting Course on the show. I’ve had Sam Parr with The Hustle newsletter. The public school systems do not prepare people to write in an engaging way. It’s by the books, dry, corporate speak. I don’t care if the grammar is good if the story sucks.
Silvestri: I started from the perspective of an Italian who learned English. Copy for marketing should be conversational — effective and clear. It’s much easier than writing novels, for example, where you have to use big, fancy words.
Bandholz: What mistakes do ecommerce brands make with their copywriting?
Silvestri: Some frequent ones are writing from their own perspective. They use the word “we” a lot, especially on the “About” page. They speak about what “we” do, what “we” offer, “our” product. Instead, they should write from a customer’s view in a way that entices him to read more and buy the products.
Bandholz: One of the first pages I visit on a site is “About Us.”
Silvestri: That’s common. It’s typically the second most visited page.
Bandholz: Putting a face with the brand.
Silvestri: It’s part of my research, identifying the people and personas behind a business. When I think about personas, it’s more about the kind of decision-makers they are. Do they make decisions quickly? Do they decide on an emotional level or logical? How much do they know about their product? About the market? The industry? What’s their awareness level?
Using a lot of pictures on an About page and the website generally is essential. It emphasizes the human element, which is very powerful.
Bandholz: How can our content appeal to first-time visitors and repeat customers?
Silvestri: A strategy of primary, secondary, and tertiary personas focuses on the main sections of the website to appeal to your target customers. Navigation is a big component, too. Test the navigation and optimize the filters so new and repeat visitors can find what they need quickly without friction. And make sure the design and layout include fundamental elements useful for the types of visitors you want to attract.
It starts with understanding your customers. I do a lot of customer interviews and surveys. The right open-ended question can generate many insights. You start seeing the same terminology repeatedly. That’s when you realize you are on to something with your messaging.
For example, I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy. It’s essential to interact with customers and then write how they speak.
Bandholz: How do you get those customers to open up and share candidly?
Silvestri: I start with the moment they considered buying my client’s products. What other products or brands did they think about? What drove them to choose my client’s items? If they switched from a competitor, I try to understand why. I also try to understand shoppers’ concerns about us or our products to overcome obstacles.
I always ask customers if they encountered hurdles or friction points during the buying process. That can be very revealing, pointing out major issues.
The most important tactic is inquiring about the whole buying journey, from the beginning to the end.
Bandholz: How many responses do you collect for accuracy?
Silvestri: It depends on the website traffic. I always try to run surveys for at least two weeks to cover all the days. The minimum number of responses is typically around 500. With website polls, I aim for a 70% completion rate.
Polls are helpful beyond the immediate project. For example, you could survey visitors about an important change to the website. You could place the poll on a specific location, such as a product page.
Be careful, however, about page speed. Some of the polling and heatmap tools can slow down a site.
One caveat with polling and heatmaps is ensuring you’re testing the right people. That can be difficult with niches.
A few tools I’ve worked with are UserTesting, Userfeel, and Hotjar. I started with UserTesting. It’s now enterprise-oriented. But with, say, five videos in a couple of hours, it can uncover probably 80% of the problems on a website.
Bandholz: A pet peeve of mine is font size. I encounter many sites with small fonts, which are harder to read.
Silvestri: Bigger fonts are always better. A lot of websites use a light gray font, which is also hard to read. It’s design 101 to check a font’s contrast with the background for readability.
Bandholz: There’s a lot of risk with a website launch. How can you test it before going live?
Silvestri: You can run user testing on the mockups. Most platforms allow it.
I sometimes use Figma, a free UI design app to create prototypes. I then send people links to the prototypes. They are navigating a fake website basically, but it provides many good insights that can uncover problems.
Bandholz: Where can people reach out to you and connect?