September 21, 2004
Case Study

How to Redesign Your Site to Lift Conversions (Exponentially) with Persona-based Copy & Navigation

SUMMARY: Last fall Leo Schachter Diamonds revamped their site and increased visitor conversions from .86% to 54.1%. (No, that last number is not a typo.) Learn how they did it and learn how their four-step process can apply to your own site. What's interesting is that they didn't need fancy design to make the difference (no Flash, no video, no audio, no pops). Instead, it was all copy, navigation, and tracking metrics. Yes, includes before-and-after screenshots.

Leo Schachter patented cut diamonds are famous for their unique brilliance. But, you can't buy them direct. The company sells through thousands of retailers around the world including shops on Rodeo Drive and at your local upscale mall.

The company's Web site had two key goals -- to support brand sales by educating visitors about why a Leo Schachter diamond is different; and, to drive those visitors to retail locations.

When Marketing Director John Marchese reviewed the site data last fall, the news wasn't good. Only .86% of site visitors clicked on the link and filled out the form to "find a retailer."

No matter how impressive the site was, if you can't drive them to stores then your job's not done. Marchese needed to revamp the site to get that number up -- but without losing any of the educational impact that was critical to brand sales once consumers got to stores.


The redesign team reversed their perspective. Instead of focusing entirely on the glory of the Leo Schachter brand, they used a four-step process to focus on typical site visitors.

After all, you can't change how people use your site unless you understand their motivations and perspective.

-> Step 1. Define your visitor personas

If you have 50,000 visitors a day, that's the size of a baseball stadium. You can't talk to them individually. Rather than defining visitors as a general composite of all 50,000, the redesign team invented a handful of specific characters, or personas.

To allow the redesign team to truly see through the eyes of a visitor, these personas were defined not as a group — as you would define a market segment — but as an actual individual, a "character," with a name and personality attributes.

To do so, the team took three things into account:

a. Demographics: what are the person's attributes?

b. Psychographics: what does the person do psychologically as part of their buying decision process?

c. Topographics: how do the demo- and psychographics mesh with similar selling processes within the company's own industry?

To answer these questions, the team conducted traditional market research, as well as talking to customer service, retail sales reps and "anyone within the company who has a lot of client interaction, a good sense of who the client is."

Then a professional copywriter crafted a profile for each persona -- bringing them to life. The profile included a first and last name, jobs, worries, family, needs, and desires. Each description is three or more paragraphs long, including faux quotes from the individual written in his or her own "voice."

The profiles were not intended for public consumption; rather, they were the basis around which the redesign, including critical site navigation, would be created.

The team invented five personas for the Leo Schachter site, including these three:

o David Commonsense, who needs to learn everything about a diamond before making a purchase. He is methodical and logical in all decisions.

o Natalie Golddigger, who is very fashionable, goes to the finest restaurants, and expects the best things in life. She wants to know, "How do I keep up with the Joneses?"

o Kimberly, who is a hopeless romantic dreaming about her future engagement ring.

-> Step 2. Create the redesign wireframe

The actions each of these was likely to take on the Web site were then mapped out on a wireframe -- a graphical outline showing the proposed redesign.

Instead of showing how all traffic would behave in general, the team's persona wirefame mapped out the site path each persona would take based on their profile. For example:

Diamond-newbie David's wireframe path showed his first stop on a page called "How do I choose a diamond?" Next he was likely to go to "What is a Leo Diamond?" and then on to "Where do I go for the fabulous diamond she deserves?"

Fashion-conscious Natalie, on the other hand, was more likely to go to "What is a Leo Diamond?" first. From there, she would click on "Which is the most perfect diamond he could give me?" and then to "What is new, fashionable and fabulous in diamond engagement rings?"

Every page of the Web site was also mapped out in an overall wireframe, including five elements:

o which personas are likely to go arrive at that page o a list of the keywords different personas use to get there o the unspoken question the persona landing on that page needs to have answered o the strategy the page will take to answer that question o a list of the actions each persona might take next.

-> Step 3. Write targeted copy for the new site

Now the copywriters had a different job. Rather than writing personality profiles of imaginary people for internal use, they wrote Web copy geared toward those same personas in real life.

Some pages were copy written targeting a single persona who would be most likely to visit them. For example, when the David persona visits the Leo Diamond site, he was likely to come to a page called "Diamonds and the Four Cs," which told visitors about the carat, cut, color, and clarity of a diamond in a straight-forward and methodical manner (like David himself):

o "Taking a few minutes now to learn about them will make your purchasing experience smarter, easier and more enjoyable. The 4Cs give you the information you need to compare the characteristics of diamonds …" the copy says.

"It will put you to sleep, but that's okay, because that's what David wants to know."

However, copy on some pages had to be written to appeal to several personas who would be likely to visit them. For example, copy on the "Brilliance: a diamond's beauty" page, was written for three personas: Natalie, Kimberly, and David. Because the copy couldn't target all of them at once and still be effective, the first couple of paragraphs were geared toward fashionable Natalie and romantic Kimberly:

o "Brilliant diamonds explode with light, catching people's eye inadvertently, sparkling in candlelight, adding elegance and glamour to a woman's whole being."

It isn't until the third paragraph that the copy swung back toward methodical David again, in language he'd appreciate:

o "Diamond brilliance is defined as the reflection of a bright white light from the facets of the diamond and is determined by the artistry of the cutting and polishing…"

-> Step 4. Track clickthroughs

Once the site was launched, the team tracked clickthroughs by clickpath groupings by projected persona to see if real people were following the planned scenarios.

"We're not playing and making guesses," the redesign team leader says. "We're setting up a scientific experiment. It's mind-numbingly tedious to go through our process, don't get me wrong. But it's the only way to make sure you've dotted your I's and crossed your T's."


After launching the redesigned site last fall, Leo Schachter Diamonds increased conversions (users who clicked "Find a Jeweler" and then entered an address to search for a local retailer) from 0.86% to an unheard-of 54.1%.

That's an increase of 5,500%.

You'll note when you visit the site (link below) that although this increase was accomplished with highly sophisticated marketing psychology ... it didn't require very fancy Web design technology.

The site has no Flash, no video, no talking heads, no pop-ups. In fact, it's a site that could have been built years ago with nothing more than well-written copy, clear navigation links, and a few graphics.

This proves that highly-effective site design isn't necessarily about the latest gizmo or slick look. It's about appealing to your visitors.

If you are budgeting for a redesign right now, consider putting the bulk of your cash toward research to understand your audience, superior copywriters, and a great metrics system to measure and tweak results. These are the essentials.

Useful links related to this article:

Before and after screenshots of Leo Schachter's site:

Future Now Inc - the conversion consultancy that led the redesign team for this project

Leo Schachter Diamonds

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