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Ecommerce Writer on Tactics, Tools, etc.

Christopher Silvestri is a former software engineer who two years ago started Conversion Alchemy, an agency that combines website copy and user experience design. He believes that high-converting e-commerce copywriting requires an understanding of the target audience, which requires research.

He told me, “I used to work for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But by reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and doing surveys, I started to absorb the language of prospects. This is the voice I used on the website copy.

Heatmaps, surveys, and usability testing are Silvestri’s go-to tools. He and I recently discussed these tactics and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about the alchemy of conversion.

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 internet marketing and various business models. This led me to writing in 2015, 2016.

I did that on the side for a few years. When I left Italy, where I come from, for the UK, I went full time. I worked in an agency for two years. I then moved on to usability testing for start-up websites. This is where I also learned user experience skills.

I started Conversion Alchemy two years ago. It combines copywriting with UX design. I work with software companies and e-commerce companies – usually stagnant six or seven figure companies. Businesses are profitable, but they cannot scale up.

Bandholz: Copywriting is essential for Beardbrand. I had Neville with Copywriting Course on the show. I had Sam Parr with The Hustle newsletter. Public school systems don’t prepare people to write engagingly. That’s according to the books, dry, business talk. I don’t care if the grammar is good if the story sucks.

Silvestri: I started from the point of view of an Italian who learned English. Marketing copy should be conversational – effective and clear. It’s a lot easier than writing novels, for example, where you have to use big, fancy words.

Bandholz: What mistakes do e-commerce brands make in their copywriting?

Silvestri: Some frequent write from their own point of view. They use the word “we” a lot, especially on the “About” page. They talk about what “we” do, what “we” offer, “our” product. Instead, they should write from a customer’s perspective in a way that inspires them to learn more and buy the products.

Bandholz: One of the first pages I visit on a site is “About Us”.

Silvestri: It’s usual. It is usually the second most visited page.

Bandholz: Putting a face to the brand.

Silvestri: It’s part of my research, identifying the people and personalities behind a business. When I think of the characters, it’s more about the type of decision makers they are. Do they make decisions quickly? Do they decide emotionally or logically? What do they know about their product? About the market? The industry? What is their level of consciousness?

Using lots of images on an About page and on the website in general is essential. It emphasizes the human element, which is very powerful.

Bandholz: How can our content attract new visitors and repeat customers?

Silvestri: A main, secondary and tertiary persona strategy focuses on the main sections of the website to attract your target customers. Navigation is also an important element. Test navigation and optimize filters so new and repeat visitors can quickly find what they need without friction. And make sure the design and layout includes foundational elements useful for the types of visitors you want to attract.

It starts with understanding your customers. I do a lot of interviews and customer surveys. The right open-ended question can generate many ideas. You start seeing the same terminology over and over. That’s when you realize you’re onto 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 by reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and doing surveys, I started to absorb the language of prospects. This is the voice I used on the website copy. It is essential to interact with customers and then write down how they talk.

Bandholz: How do you get these customers to open up and share frankly?

Silvestri: I start with when they considered buying my client’s products. What other products or brands have they thought of? What made them choose my client’s items? If they switched from a competitor, I’m trying to figure out why. I also try to understand buyers’ concerns about us or our products to overcome obstacles.

I always ask customers if they encountered any obstacles or sticking points during the buying process. This can be very revealing, highlighting major issues.

The most important tactic is to learn about the entire buying journey, from start to finish.

Bandholz: How many responses do you collect for accuracy?

Silvestri: It depends on website traffic. I always try to conduct surveys for at least two weeks to cover everyday. The minimum number of responses is usually around 500. With surveys on the website, I aim for a 70% response rate.

Surveys are useful beyond the immediate project. For example, you can ask visitors about an important change to the website. You can place the survey on a specific location, such as a product page.

However, pay attention to page speed. Some of the polling and heatmap tools can slow down a site.

One caveat with polls and heatmaps is to make sure you’re testing the right people. This can be tricky with niches.

A few tools I’ve worked with are UserTesting, Userfeel, and Hotjar. I started with UserTesting. It is now business-focused. But with, say, five videos in a few hours, he can find probably 80% of the problems on a website.

Bandholz: One of my pet peeves is font size. I come across many sites with small fonts, which are harder to read.

Silvestri: Bigger fonts are always better. Many websites use a light gray font, which is also difficult to read. This is design 101 for checking the contrast of a font against the background for readability.

Bandholz: There are a lot of risks with a website launch. How can you test it before putting it online?

Silvestri: You can run user tests on mockups. Most platforms allow this.

I sometimes use Figma, a free UI design app to create prototypes. I then send people links to the prototypes. They are basically browsing a bogus website, but it provides lots of useful information that can reveal issues.

Bandholz: Where can people contact you and connect?

Silvestri: My website is Conversion Alchemy. On Twitter, I’m at @silvestrichris.