I’m addicted to usability and conversion tools.  They’re the sexy part of my job, and it’s always fun to show clients how their visitors interact with their website. However, don’t let the fancy heatmaps and A/B or multivariate tests distract you from the reason the tools exist: to understand your visitors in order to deliver persuasive messages to them.

Because as Howie Jacobson, speaker and author of Adwords for Dummies, says, if you don’t have a deep understanding of your site’s visitors, it’s like writing a love letter addressed To Whom It May Concern.

So how do you get to know your visitor, and how exactly do you use that insight?

Create Customer Personas

You may have to start off with “educated guesses” to create 3 to 5 customer personas. These are detailed descriptions of fictitious people who represent your customers. Here’s my step-by-step process for creating customer personas quickly.  (Every time I follow that process and show it to my clients, they say that sounds just like someone they recently met. That’s how I know I got it right.)

Here’s a sample persona I built for a client:

buying persona

Refer to your personas when you’re deciding on the offer, call to action, and overall messaging of your ads and landing pages. Print this out and write to that persona.

Our landing page below tells Hailey instantly that it’s not too late for her to get her life back. It addresses her fears of being strapped to a bed and lets her know that detox can be a comfortable, safe experience.

persona landing page

This is how you write for real people, not for search engines or nebulous “visitors” to your site.

Observe Your Site’s Visitors

No joke, in my graduate marketing classes, I had an assignment to follow a shopper around the store, taking down notes of what he was doing. You may call that stalking, but traditional marketers call that observational research. Although it’s helpful for seeing how individual people shop, it’s extremely time-consuming – especially if you want to observe enough people to see patterns in behavior.

Luckily, we’re able to gather this type of data online. Can you say Google Analytics, anyone? Set up your conversion goals and funnels and see – in aggregate – where people are dropping out without converting.

Google Analytics tells you which pages are the culprits, but you need user feedback to understand why. Tools like Lucky Orange record videos of individual visitors’ mouse movements on your site. These videos, along with click maps, scroll maps, and polls, help you to understand how visitors navigate through your site.  It’s observational research 2.0.

Know How People Buy

Online marketing pioneer Bryan Eisenberg teaches his Market Motive students about 4 buyer types that are segmented by how they make decisions: either quickly or deliberately, and either based on logic or emotion.

We have to appeal to the quick decision-makers first by making the content easy to skim with clear calls to action. But include elements on your pages that appeal to all four buyer types:

buying mentalities

The other conversion master, Tim Ash, writes about the three brains we all have in his book, Landing Page Optimization:

– The reptilian brain: responsible for bodily maintenance and survival (circulation, breathing, etc, as well as fight-or-flight responses).   It does not adapt, and it will repeat behaviors without learning from mistakes.

– The limbic system: in charge of emotion and memory, and decides whether we like something.  It drives behavior related to avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.  The limbic system overrides the reptilian brain and is usually the cause of the “real” reason we buy something – or avoid it.

– The neocortex: Supports language, speech, writing and logical thinking.

What do we do with this type of understanding?

We create our web pages based on how the brain works and how we buy. For example, the limbic system determines whether like something, so we most often buy based on emotion first, and then we back it up with rationalization from the neocortex.

This means that as marketers, we must create messages that appeal to people’s limbic system, or emotions, first, and then provide the “proof” so their neocortex can justify the purchase.

Appeal to People at All Stages of the Buying Cycle

Long before web, marketers have been using the acronym AIDA to describe consumers’ thought processes at different stages of the buying cycle.  It stands for:

– Attention (or Awareness)

– Interest

– Desire

– Action

Bryan Eisenberg adds a final “S”, which stands for Satisfaction.

Here’s how this pertains to your online advertising strategy:

Attention or Awareness

Make sure your ads show when your prospects are searching by doing your due diligence with:

– Keyword research

– Bid management

– Segmentation based on appropriate geography, time of day, day of week, etc.

Write ads that grab their attention and get the click. The PPCassociates blog has a plethora of awesome content to read on this.


You can’t always expect people who are early in the buying cycle to complete your macro conversion. They might be just learning about how to solve their problem (or attain a certain type of pleasure, depending on what you provide).

Here’s how to help these people with their research, and stay top of mind with them:

– Write informative blog posts. Ideally, your goal is to write such helpful, awesome content that they subscribe to your blog in order to learn more from you.

– If you’ve done that well, social media allows for more interaction and relationship development. However, be careful with when and where to invite that connection. Don’t make the call to action of liking or following you so prominent on the page that it cannibalizes your primary call to action. This is a micro conversion. Don’t mistake it for a macro conversion.

– Offer whitepapers or other pieces of content, which they can download and refer back to. Naturally, your branding and contact information is all over it.

– Use remarketing to stay top of mind with your site’s visitors. But don’t do it the lazy way and simply give the same message to everyone who comes to your site, regardless of what they did there. Rather, serve different remarketing messages to people based on their actions. If they added something to their cart but didn’t buy, remarket them with discount offers. But don’t give those offers to people who did buy from you. Segment your remarketing lists.


Next, you need to win over people who have progressed through the buying cycle and are now comparing their options. You must know your competition in order to explain why someone should buy from you. Then:

– Offer comparison charts showing you against your competitors, which does the legwork for your customers:

buying comparison chart

– Figure out how you can sweeten the deal, compared to what your competition offers. Can you offer free shipping? Can you include bonus products? Can you provide faster delivery than your competitors? Can you offer a stronger guarantee?


When your target customer is ready to buy, make it easy to do so. Tools like usertesting.com help you see whether there’s anything confusing on your macro conversion pages, preventing people from taking that action.


Reduce buyer’s remorse with a strong post-conversion experience. Your thank-you page should reinforce the benefits they’re about to experience and instill confidence that they chose the right provider.

If you do lead gen, know that there’s nothing stopping that person from calling or filling out forms on your competitors’ sites after they’ve already reached out to you. To reduce that chance, remind your visitor how soon you’ll contact them back (that should be on the form page too, so repeat it on the thank-you page). Obviously, the sooner you can get back to them the better, but don’t promise a turnaround time that your sales team can’t deliver.

If possible, on the thank-you page, include pictures or a video of the people who will call them back. That way, they know who will be contacting them and when. Not only will this help humanize the online experience and reduce the chance that the prospect will reach out to your competitors, but your salespeople will thank you for warming up the leads for them.

When you show Bob’s picture or video and say that he’ll be in touch within 10 minutes, I promise you, that prospect will be a lot friendlier to Bob when he calls – which makes that lead worth more.

lead gen thank you page

The thank-you page is also the perfect place to invite people to connect with you on social media. They’ve already shown interest in your company and now you can start developing a relationship with them.

Although technology has allowed us to gather more data faster and more accurately than ever before, online success still boils down to marketing fundamentals: there are people with a problem (or who are seeking pleasure), and you need to convey why they should do business with you.

Understanding who your customers are and how they buy, then engaging them at all stages of the buying cycle, is the magic formula that successful marketers have known long before Al Gore invented the interwebs. So use the awesome tools at your disposal, but base your findings on long-standing marketing principles.


  1. Tim Ash March 1st, 2013

    Hi Theresa,

    Nice post.

    Hailey Heroin – really…?

    Seriously – I am not a big fan of traditional advertising/marketing types of personas for conversion rate optimization. We focus on the specific roles (relationship of the visitor to the website or product /service), and tasks (the specific intent when they visit the site). These are much more durable and useful from my experience.


  2. Theresa March 4th, 2013

    Hi Tim,

    I wondered what you’d think of that ;-) I remember that point in your book very well and I do agree that the the visitor’s intent when they visit the site is critical to tap into. However, we ARE big fans of the traditional marketing personas because it helps our entire team remove ourselves from our own biases regarding the page, and helps us to address a specific person — with their specific needs. These personas help us get inside Hailey’s head and better understand what she’s looking for, and how we need to speak to her. We talk about Hailey as if she were a real person, instead of referring to “the visitor” or “the user”.

    Regarding her name, that helps us remember her need. We have different personas based on the substance they need help with: Peter Painkiller, Alan Alcohol, etc ;-)

    Thank you for adding your thoughts. That’s good stuff.

  3. Howie Jacobson March 6th, 2013

    Wow, Theresa, this blog post is a full course on conversion. I’m thrilled to be included.

    Tim, I remember interviewing you several years ago, and you kind of convinced me toward roles and away from personas, but after a while I returned to them for several reasons.

    1. I really like personas. It’s just a personal preference: thinking about someone’s life, and the arc of their growth and challenges and hopes and disappointments makes a lot of sense to my brain.

    2. Persona work with clients gets them into a fertile and generous head space. I’ve had many clients tell me that through the Avatar (my word for persona) work we’ve done together, they’ve fallen back in love with their business. With the contributions they make, and with their prospects.

    3. Personas, more than roles, allow for right-angle conversations that inspire new thinking in my clients.

    Happy to continue this dialog!


  4. Theresa March 6th, 2013

    Great point, Howie: personas are just as helpful for our clients as they are for us. I’ve found that it helps them wrap their brains around what we’re trying to accomplish when we say there’s a person with a problem, and our job is to match the right person with the right ad and landing page.

    Thank you for chiming in!

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Theresa Baiocco Farr is the Founder of Conversion Max, which helps mid-sized businesses increase their online revenues with Conversion Optimization. he speaks, teaches, and blogs about Conversation Optimization; her writing has been included in the Wall Street Journal and is often in Marketing Day. Theresa has a Master’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Colorado and a Master Certification in Conversion Optimization from Market Motive.