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Learn what’s not working and how to improve conversions on your website, in minutes and without any research

The Alchemical Transformation Process™️ 

Have you ever wondered why your website is not converting visitors into customers?

Maybe you’ve just launched a new design in the hopes of it bringing in the moolah, but you’re still getting crickets.

Whether you’re in SaaS or eCommerce, or even services there’s only one thing you should learn about to fix it.

And it hasn’t changed in millennia. 

It’s human behavior.

While our ancestors weren’t exactly browsing websites day in and day out, the underlying mechanisms of how we think and make decisions are pretty much still the same.

You have a thought -> You start taking action toward realizing it -> You interact with the environment -> And ultimately the environment changes as a consequence. 

Then the environment – or the decision you took – changes you and the cycle repeats itself.

I like how alchemy’s ancient and mystical practice uses a similar transformation model where the human spirit is broken, remade, tested, and reborn again. 

It might sound extreme, but I think your website has to take visitors through the same journey to truly “transform” them. 

Because copywriting is not just words on a page.

It’s salesmanship in print. 

And the art of sales is taking someone from their current situation, and transforming them into the person they want to be. Into the result they want to achieve. 

It’s taking them through a journey from their “before” to their “after”.

And the best way I found to understand what goes into creating that kind of journey with copy, was to study every single Conversion Rate Optimization methodology and tactic, seeing what works best by using it, and creating my system.

Enter The Alchemical Transformation Process™️.

How it works and why it works

I created this process so anyone can look at any website, even without years of copywriting or UX experience, and quickly understand what’s going on, what might work or not, and how to fix it.

Like anyone in the field, I’m a student and I’ll keep being one.

And I didn’t pull this stuff out of my ass.

Here are some of the models that inspired this:

I just wanted to make all of it even simpler and demystify some of the complexities. 

How we use it

The Alchemical Transformation Process™️ is divided into 3 stages:

  1. Empathize & Guide
  2. Clarify & Sway
  3. Shield & Lead

Each stage is made up of 2 steps. Why? As mentioned earlier, every stage is a transformation. A before and after.

And because it makes them sound cooler.

Jokes apart, the way we use it is simple.

We go through each stage, one step at a time, and look at our website. 

Starting from the landing page. That’s typically the homepage, but could also be a blog article or a product comparison page for example. Any page that we know, with data, is the page our visitors start their journey on.

Then we give a score to each stage based on how the website did. 

It’s not mathematical but it gives us a good bird’s eye view of the overall performance of the website. 

The second thing we do for each stage is to work through it with priorities in mind.

Jumping into an analysis is dangerous unless you prioritize what matters. You could end up trying to fix something that takes ages to implement and has a very low ROI.

Jumping into an analysis is dangerous unless you prioritize what matters. You could end up trying to fix something that takes ages to implement and has a very low ROI. Share on X

I based these priorities on years of working with clients on my own and as UX lead at an agency, where prioritizing was essential if I wanted to be effective working remotely with a team.

Here they are:

  1. Fix what’s broken (usability and tech)
  2. Adjust what’s not resonating (messaging and visuals)
  3. Add what’s missing (layout, messaging and visuals)

Fixing the usability has priority, and should be done asap if the research backs it up. Adjusting messaging or design that doesn’t resonate is critical right after, and could be as quick as changing a couple of words and testing them. Adding what’s missing comes last as it’s usually much harder to know what needs to fill in the gaps.

With these priorities in mind, we go through each stage

Let’s take a look at how it all works. I’ll provide a checklist for each stage, so you can start mixing the theory with the practice.

Empathize & Guide

  • Empathize: to understand and share the feelings of another
  • Guide: to show or indicate the way

This is where we start the interaction with our audience. It’s the make or break. Mess this up and you’ll see your bounce rate skyrocket. 

Do it well enough and you’ll have a chance at converting your visitors. 

(There’s a reason why MECLABS institute attributes a 4x multiplier to this first area that they call “Motivation” -> C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a)

In the first step, Empathize, our goal should be to match what our visitors are thinking when they land on our page. That’s it.

Here we apply The 10/90 Messaging Layout Rule that Joanna Wiebe at Copoyhackers came up with. 

In short, how do you know you’re organizing the page for maximum “empathy”?

The best way is to make sure that the first 10% matches the expectations and messaging your visitors have in mind.

The remaining 90% can be used to convince them. 

So when it comes to our Alchemical Transformation Process™️, whenever I want to understand what is going on and if it should be improved, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  • Where do visitors come from (considering the landing page we’ve chosen)?
  • What’s their intent? (are they here to buy, to learn, to understand, etc.)
  • Are they using mostly the mobile version or the desktop one?
  • What messaging have they seen on their way here? Are we matching it using the same or similar keywords? (great for SEO too)
  • Would they know for sure that this is the right place for them after landing?

If this is not your website and you don’t know some of these, you can use a tool like Ubersuggest to at least get some data on intent and on who’s linking to it. If this is your site, then head to your Google Analytics right now and find out (assuming you set it up!). 

This step has a lot to do with words, but also with branding.

Your design and layout matter. 

They create a particular vibe or “gut feeling” for your visitors. It’s all about giving them something that’s relevant and that resonates with what they have in mind. 

If you want to learn more about this and get into the weeds, study the “limbic map” to understand how emotions play a big role in creating empathy.

In short, what needs to happen is to create a linear and cohesive experience between where visitors come from and where they land. 

With the next step, Guide, we pay attention to where we are directing our visitors.

As soon as they land, do they know what they should do to learn more or get whatever they want to get here?

This boils down to:

  • Effective and comprehensive navigation menu
  • Clear CTA buttons (both visually and copy-wise)
  • Helping visitors overcome the paradox of choice
  • Showing clear consequences for actions
  • Setting expectations for what happens next
  • Addressing objections and questions visitors might have

Clear signs that you’re doing this right, are for example a clear primary call to action (consistent and repeated strategically) and maybe secondary ones, leading to pages that you use to provide more information.

Using click-trigger copy below your buttons to explain what happens when people click and reduce anxiety for them.

Using your navigation menu to quickly inform visitors of what you do and who you do it for (like dropdowns for Persona pages, Product categories, and Use case pages for example). To name a few I usually look at.

If your visitors are lost after landing on your page, it doesn’t matter how well you’re empathizing with them, they won’t stick around much longer. Or sometimes even worse, they’ll head down the wrong path, misled by your links and CTAs. Only to leave after browsing a couple of pages.

There’s a very interesting concept that’s useful to keep in mind here. It’s mostly used in UX, but I find it super applicable and easy to remember when it comes to writing copy, too.

It’s the principle of “information scent”:

“represents the user’s imperfect estimate of the value that the source will deliver to the user, derived from a representation of the source.”

NNGroup

If that’s just gone over your head, in simple terms it means that users will head one way or the other on your website based on how strong theinformation scent is. Information scent is dictated by link labels, the context of where links are and by the users’ previous experiences.

These 3 factors are what you should always remember when guiding people through your conversion flow.

Alright, so what about our priorities here? Here’s a quick checklist you can use to make sure you’re covering the Empathize & Guide” stage:

Fix what’s broken

  • Test your CTAs, links and buttons to make sure they’re working and sending people where you want them to go
  • Check your navigation and make sure you’re including the core pages your audience needs to see
  • Compare Mobile and Desktop versions, do they work as expected?
  • Are you using any hover tooltips? Make sure the copy is visible on mobile too
  • What are loading times like on all devices? You can use Google Page Speed Insights.
  • Is the user experience coherent and cohesive throughout your pages?
  • Are you using the proper visual hierarchy for your messages? (clear headline and crossheads, clear formatting, easy to skim, etc)

Adjust what’s not resonating

  • Where do people come from for the most part? List 2-3 sources and make sure your message and design match all of them.
  • Are you matching your visitors’ intent?
  • Is your positioning on point? Are you clearly telling people what you do, who you do it for, how you’re unique, and how it works? If you’re unsure and want to work on it, let’s talk.
  • Is your branding conveying the right emotions/feelings and sense of trust?
  • Are you mentioning and clearly writing to your target Personas (primary and secondary)?
  • Are you using storytelling and a compelling story arc to entice visitors?

Add what’s missing

  • Are there any objections you need to address and counter?
  • Are there any calls to action (whether buttons or text links along with the supporting copy) that you need to add?
  • Are there any navigation elements that might be helpful to add?
  • Are you presenting your offering, your range of products or services, whether through a section on the page or through your navigation menu?
  • Can people get in touch if needed from any page?

Want to see this in practice? You can watch a great case study of a website doing well at the Empathize & Guide stage, in one of my website teardowns.

All right, now you know whether this website is doing a good job at keeping, engaging, and directing visitors where needed. 

It’s time to see how it tries to explain and persuade them toward its conversion goal.

Clarify & Sway

  • Clarify: to make (a statement or situation) less confused and more clearly comprehensible.
  • Sway: to persuade someone to believe or do one thing rather than another

There’s one big mistake most business owners make when it comes to engaging website visitors and persuading them to buy: they think everybody knows what they’re talking about.

So they launch into fancy, clever, or “creative” copy that just sounds fluffy and confusing.

How do you actually deal with it in a way that truly makes a case for your product(s)?

You clearly and compellingly explain what you do and how. 

Duh!

Yet it’s one of the hardest things for companies somehow. The reason is that they are so entrenched in their market and business, that they have a hard time approaching it with the fresh perspective they need.

That’s usually when I come in, but in truth, to start getting outside of your own head and into your prospect’s, you just need to be aware of a couple of mindset shifts and steps.

I mentioned the MECLABS heuristic at the beginning and if there’s one place you should start from to understand how this plays out, it’s that. At the basis of the Calrify & Sway stage, there’s the concept of “Value”.

What is value? It’s what you do for customers to help them solve their problems. But since you’re not running your business in a vacuum, you also have to consider the competition. Your value is also affected by how you solve people’s problems.

Pretty straightforward. In order to start explaining and persuading visitors, any website should clearly state:

  • What they do
  • How they do it

And remember, in the Empathize & Guide stage, we were supposed to match what visitors were thinking when they landed.

So the “what you do” should more specifically be “what you do to help people with what they’re thinking”, aka their specific problem or desire. That link is important. Create a disconnect and your visitors might stop reading.

Is that it? Just explain what and how, and call it a day? Not really.

Look at what’s next to the V in the MECLABS heuristic formula:

C = 4m + 3v + 2(i-f) – 2a

The “i” stands for incentive, while the “f” means friction. 

So Value on your website and in the minds of your prospects, is always counterbalanced by these two forces. The more compelling the incentives, the less people will care about the friction you can’t eliminate.

Where does the friction come from?

It’s anything from the usability of your site (how easy it is to read, browse and understand) to your market and the external forces fighting for your audience’s attention and wallet. 

Where does the friction come from?It’s anything from the usability of your site (how easy it is to read, browse and understand) to your market and the external forces fighting for your audience’s attention and wallet.  Share on X

Your competition or alternative solutions could also mean friction. The switching costs involved in moving from other ways of doing what you do could mean friction. But also simple human nature. Your prospects could be lazy, unmotivated, scared and doubtful.

That’s where your incentives come in. They should be designed to enter the visitor’s mind and compensate for the friction that you can’t eliminate (for example the fact that your competitor’s product is way more advanced than yours).

And I emphasized “can’t eliminate” because you should always do your best to reduce friction if possible before declaring defeat.

When it comes to incentives, don’t think of the scammy bonuses or discounts you see on most info products sales pages. It doesn’t have to come to that. An incentive can simply be telling them in a compelling way, the reason why they should believe you and trust you. 

Maybe you have deep insight into the industry. Maybe your customer support is much more hands-on. Or maybe you’re just better than the competition at explaining your value in plain terms that your audience can understand. Marketing can be a big differentiator when product is not.

Marketing can be a big differentiator when product is not. Share on X

Yes, it’s a big topic, but we don’t have months to study it. We are looking at this site and we need to figure out whether or not it can be improved, in a few minutes.

So what do you do?

The first rule is to always check that the right sequence is respected and applied.

No, by right sequence I don’t mean copywriting formulas.

I mean using a framework that’s based on human and natural decision-making, that you can tailor to your message.

The site should Clarify & Sway starting below the fold, using this structure:

  1. Explain what the company does to help prospects with a clear and compelling section crosshead + paragraphs going into more detail)
  2. Make sure point 1 connects with visitors’ expectations and motivations (see Empathize & Guide) and it’s not written in a silo
  3. Point out how the company does it (and how it’s different/unique) 
  4. Include reasons why prospects should believe them (and believe in themselves)
  5. Make it clear why prospects should trust the brand

Steps 1,2 and 3 are all about explaining and persuading. 4 and 5 give all of it the extra weight and impact you need to move prospects closer to converting. Note that we’re adding nuance to number 4, which is about belief…

…it’s important that prospects also believe in themselves. Think of all the risks involved in purchasing your product, switching costs, for example, All the time required to start extracting value out of what you’re selling, all the new skills they might need to learn, or the effort involved. 

That’s why reassurance is such a big component here. And often an underappreciated tool in persuasion. It’s not that visible. You only understand what happens when you speak with customers and ask deeper questions. 

(If you want to learn some of these tactics, I write a daily newsletter you can read in 2 minutes for breakfast)

I love how entrepreneur Alex Hormozi explains in his Value Equation:

Alex Hormozi – Acquisition.com

On top you have a dream outcome (what people want to get or achieve) multiplied by the perceived likelihood of achieving it (their belief), all divided by the time and effort it takes them.

Thing is, the likelihood, the time and the effort are all in their minds when they get to the page. Nothing is actually “real” yet. Not until they buy the thing and try it out. That’s what I mean by belief – both in your brand and in themselves. 

Once you reviewed the page to find these sections, look deeper at the copy and how it flows.

  • Are you explaining what your product is composed of or outlining the entire range of products you sell?
  • Are all the features and related benefits listed in a way that’s clear, compelling, concise, specific, emotional, and vivid for your target audience? (To learn what to look for, I can’t recommend the “7 copy sweeps” process by Copyhackers enough) 
  • Are your CTA customized and in line with the copy surrounding them? Do they help visitors overcome objections and fears?
  • Are you using social proof? And are you using it the right way? (Pro tip: use specific testimonials next to paragraphs to back up your claims).
  • Is the copy easy to skim for faster readers?
  • Are you showing – with a clear step-by-step process – how getting started works?
  • Are you linking to pages that move prospects forward in the conversion process, so they can gradually learn more and more without feeling overwhelmed?

Ultimately at the end of your Clarify & Sway stage, your prospects should know exactly what you can do for them, how that works, and that they can trust you.

Here’s your checklist to cover the “Clarify & Sway” stage:

Fix what’s broken

  • Are you clearly telling visitors, in this sequence:
    • What they’re thinking (above the fold)
    • What you do to help them
    • How you do it
    • Why they should believe you (and themselves)
    • Why they should trust you
  • Check for the proper formatting on desktop and mobile. Copy should be easy to read and skim.
  • Are you using design the right way to focus the reader on your value section? (using enough white space, proper alignment, right color selection etc.)

Adjust what’s not resonating

  • Are you including the most important benefits and features in the copy? 
  • Are you listing critical customer requirements that your product checks?
  • Run the 7 copy sweeps mentioned above to check if your copy can be improved
  • Are you including your target Personas in the Value discussion? Mentioning their roles, their problems, and how you fix them?
  • Are you talking about different use cases (if applicable)? 

Add what’s missing

  • Are you using social proof to support and back up your claims (can be testimonials, but also videos, customer logos, featured publications, badges, and awards, etc.)
  • Are you outlining the step-by-step process for working with you? Is it concise and visual?
  • Is there an FAQ to address potential questions? is it customized for the specific page?
  • Is the browsing experience fun and engaging (animations or interactions where appropriate)?

Want to see an example of the Clarify & Sway stage done well? Watch one of my website teardowns.

Now that you’ve reviewed whether the site is doing a good job of explaining, engaging, and persuading visitors, let’s see how it does at closing them!

Shield & Lead

  • Shield: to protect from a danger, risk, or unpleasant experience.
  • Lead: cause (a person or animal) to go with one by holding them by the hand, a halter, a rope, etc. while moving forward.

The last step in our Alchemical Transformation Process is all about protecting and hand-holding our visitors.

That’s right, your job is not done, even once they make the decision to buy. There are all sorts of issues that can creep up as they go about their merry way to checking out or signing up.

Here we look at what can cause anxiety. And to counter any anxiety, we have to make it as secure and as trustworthy as possible for them to move forward.

What is this anxiety caused by?

It might be questions prospects have that have not been answered yet, or things they are unsure about. It might be objections they come up after browsing the website. Or it might be risks (either real or perceived) that they face.

Think of it like this: all of these questions, uncertainties, objections, and risks, build up a wall in front of our prospects. Only if you’re able to build a door they will move forward. But there’s a catch…

Even after moving past this wall, people still need to be able to finish what they started, smoothly and with confidence. And it’s your job to make sure they do.

How do you build these doors and hold their hands through the process?

First, it might not necessarily be one single door that you’re building. You can build as many doors as you need. What matters is that you make their choice easy. 

Examples of anxiety-reducing doors are:

  • Explainer videos
  • Guarantees
  • FAQs
  • Click trigger copy (copy below CTA buttons)
  • Any visual supporting copy (gifs work well too!)
  • Information, guides and other resources
  • Access to support via chat or email
  • Full feature comparison tables
  • Knowledge bases
  • Dedicated pages like competitor comparisons or use cases
  • Case studies
  • Tooltips providing more information on pieces of copy (i.e. pricing/features)
  • Shipping and Returns information
  • Calculators
  • And potentially others…

All of these are great examples of what to look out for when evaluating your Shield & Lead stage. But they mostly cover the marketing and transactional side of things.

There’s also another huge component here that plays a critical role in converting and reassuring visitors. 

It’s the usability part.

Especially when it comes to cart and checkout experiences, but also with trial or product sign-ups – there can’t be any friction.

So you should keep an eye out for things like:

  • User Interface that’s light, easy to use and simple
  • Guided and affirming user experience (in-line validation and cheering in forms for example)
  • Cutting steps down into smaller chunks
  • Asking the easy questions first
  • Asking as few bits of information as possible in forms
  • Focusing the user on the experience with “tunneling”, maybe hiding the navigation menu if needed
  • Respecting the 3 laws of locality in the UX
  • Using guided product tours
  • Following your users’ mental models
  • Justifying buying decisions with logical reasons (on a thank you page for example)
  • And more

It’s a lot and you might not need to cover all of these. But even 70% will get you in a better position than the majority of business websites out there.

A note on objections specifically. 

A ton of business owners are afraid that when they bring something up that could stir their audience’s good vibes, they will inevitably lose them.

But there’s a right way to handle objections and a wrong way.

Let’s take the latter out of the equation first.

Handling objections the wrong way means that you’re too conservative. And you hold yourself back in your copy. Or you limit your objection handling to your FAQ or support sections.

The right way?

I really like how hardcore closer and entrepreneur Ryan Stewman does it.

He aims at anticipating objections by deliberately planting them in his sales calls or copy.

So he brainstorms every single possible objection, writes them down on flashcards, and then adds the related counter on the back of each. Then he studies them, just like a university student would. This way he knows exactly what to say, even before his potential customers bring up the objection.

The trick though, is that he brings those up himself!

He doesn’t wait til the damage is done. He asks questions about those, pushes prospects to think about them (contrary to what a lot of people would do), knowing his counter is at the ready.

It’s a very different and offensive approach compared to the defensive one most business take.

And it’s what you should be looking for in the website you’re evaluating. 

Are you or the company bringing up objections deliberately and then countering them (with any of the elements we listed above)?

If so, awesome.

For a bit more context, I wrote about my favorite 3 ways to plant objections in your copy.  

Great we’ve covered a lot, so to recap and give you something to chew on, here’s your checklist to cover the “Shield & Lead” stage:

Fix what’s broken

  • Test the checkout experience on mobile and desktop, is everything working as it should?
  • Can people go back from checkout/cart, remove or change products without messing things up?
  • Are your links to guides, resources, FAQs, knowledge base, case studies working correctly?
  • Are your FAQ sections working correctly?
  • Are your calculators easy and fast to use?
  • Are form errors clearly signaled and is it easy to fix them?

Adjust what’s not resonating

  • Are your explainer videos short but long enough to get the message across?
  • Are your guarantees compelling and specific for your prospect?
  • Are your FAQs targeted to the page or step in the conversion flow?
  • Is your click-trigger copy reassuring and/or clarifying?
  • Are your visuals complementing the copy they surround? And are they in line with the brand’s voice and tone?
  • Are listed features in pricing tables compelling and easy to compare?
  • Is it clear what will happen once the order is placed or the account is created (before that happens)?

Add what’s missing

  • Explainer videos
  • Guarantees
  • FAQs
  • Click trigger copy (copy below CTA buttons)
  • Any visual element supporting the copy (gifs work well too!)
  • Information, guides and other resources
  • Access to support via chat or email
  • Full feature comparison tables
  • Knowledge bases
  • Dedicated pages like competitor comparisons or use cases
  • Case studies
  • Tooltips providing more information on pieces of copy (i.e. pricing/features)
  • Shipping and Returns information
  • Calculators

Want to see a really good case study for the Shield & Lead stage? Check out this Ecommerce teardown.

If you’re still reading, congrats, you’ve made it to the finish line.

I tried to cover most of the resources and thought processes behind how I look at websites from a conversion rate optimization standpoint. But this article is just at version 1.0.

I plan on updating it and expanding it as I learn.

If you want to be the first to know when I do, join our community of copy nerds and also get daily tips you can read in 2 minutes.

I hope you’ll keep as many of these concepts in mind. Being aware of what to look for can save you lots of time and helps you narrow down your options. So you can focus on what really moves the needle.

If you have more ideas on what to add or questions about any of this, feel free to reach out at chris@conversionalchemy.net.

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