Super skinny? Sounds like jeans. But this is a B2B marketing blog—notice how we snuck that key phrase in there?— so we’re talking today about a rock star Content Bureau agency partner narrowing its service offerings to focus on what it does best. Stacy interviews Lance Loveday, CEO of online experience consulting firm, Closed Loop.
Stacy: Happy New Year, Lance! You’re kicking off 2013 with a svelte new name and brand.
Lance: Happy New Year to you, too, Stacy. It’s true that we slimmed down our name—from Closed Loop Marketing to Closed Loop—and are now focusing on our two most important services: user experience (UX) and research; and search engine marketing (SEM) and landing experience optimization (LXO).
Stacy: Tell us why you decided to go skinny.
Lance: It was becoming difficult for clients to categorize us. Were we a marketing firm? A lead gen firm? A UX firm? UX is a hot and growing category, and our UX work is our key differentiator. Most importantly, it’s where our passion lies. Now that we’re calling ourselves an “online experience consulting firm,” we’re more focused both internally and externally.
Stacy: Bravo! So when would a client call Closed Loop rather than a marketing firm, lead gen firm, or other type of agency?
Lance: We are the people who test, research, then redesign the critical interaction points on your site. A client might say, “We have an issue with this section of our site. Is there a problem here? How severe is it? How can we fix it?”
Stacy: How do you fix it?
Lance: We encourage our clients to make iterative changes to their existing site. It’s all about having an agile mindset: We test, we learn, we optimize. In most cases, even if you have a new brand, you don’t need to trash your entire site and start over. The iterative approach is more efficient, and less jarring for users.
Stacy: So what’s the cornerstone of a good user experience?
Lance: I go to the concept of flow. The best user experience is one that feels so natural, it almost disappears. The user feels involved in the task she’s performing, not in the interface.
Stacy: How can you tell when you’ve got the right flow?
Lance: You can see it in the lab-based research. We sit users down in front of an interface, and they get so involved in performing a task—they’re moving so quickly—that they get annoyed with us for asking a question. That’s a good sign! On the flip side, a person might physically lean back and furrow her brow when she’s not having a good experience, when she’s not able to do what she wants, or is confused.
Stacy: Why are companies investing so much in UX?
Lance: Companies are coming around to the idea that offering a good user experience is good business. They need to make sure users are able to do what they came to the site to do. Everyone wins when we’re successful at delivering a pleasant user experience. The user wins—she has less frustration because she can accomplish her task better, faster, easier. Our client wins because if users can accomplish what they want to on a site, that’s generally associated with a positive outcome. Removing friction from the user experience, and people’s lives, is very rewarding.
Stacy: Let’s talk about Closed Loop’s SEM and LXO work. Why did you bundle those as a single service offering?
Lance: We see SEM and LXO as two parts of the whole. You really shouldn’t manage an SEM campaign without landing page optimization. Yet that’s exactly what most companies do. Most organizations have one entity responsible for generating traffic and another for managing the website. Those groups usually have different goals and mindsets, so the result is a disjointed user experience—with suboptimal results. And while most companies have been refining and optimizing their SEM for years, using mostly quantitative tools and techniques, they often ignore the qualitative post-click factors that interest us so much.
Stacy: Such as?
Lance: The importance of making a good first impression. Most paid campaigns suffer from ridiculously high bounce rates; huge volumes of the traffic they drive clicks away immediately from the landing page after clicking on the ad. That scenario just screams for making a better first impression so that more users stick around to see what’s going on. Subtle things like clearer headlines, uncluttered design, and more descriptive imagery can impact bounce rates in a big way.
Another example of a UX factor we focus on is the “scent of information”—providing reasons for users to believe that the information they’re seeking can be easily found on this landing page. With SEM campaigns, we usually have a pretty good sense for what users are seeking based on their keyword searches. So it’s often a matter of customizing a landing experience to mirror back searched keywords for users in a way that says, “we have exactly what you’re looking for here.”
These basic things can have a dramatic impact on conversion rates and campaign performance. Interestingly, few organizations are employing even these simple tactics.
Lance: It’s sometimes hard for people who have been very quant-oriented to appreciate that qualitative UX changes can have a meaningful impact on their results. You simply have to start with the user first, and that requires looking up from your spreadsheet and understanding your audience at a human level.
Stacy: Our lead designer, Todd, blogged recently about the importance of mobile optimization. When you redesigned the Closed Loop site, how much did you consider mobile users?
Lance: We’d have a hard time looking any potential client in the eye if we hadn’t thought through the mobile experience on our own site! (laughs) We made a conscious decision to optimize for mobile devices. It did impact some technical decisions—such as how to architect the site, and what platform to use that would enable us to publish out to different devices. Unfortunately, many organizations are stuck on older platforms—their sites were built before the mobile wave hit. They now need to maintain multiple versions of their site, which is very inefficient. Now that mobile traffic represents around 25 percent of traffic—tablets accounting for 15 percent, phones another 5 to 10 percent—it’s creating a whole new set of UX questions. How are people using their mobile devices, and how can our clients adapt to that behavior? Although we narrowed our service offerings as an agency, the UX field is expanding so rapidly—it’s a very exciting place to be.
Stacy: I am reminded of a controversial quote by Kate Moss: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Lance, congratulations to you and the Closed Loop team for embracing your niche!
Lance: It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but as a competitive cyclist I can relate to that quote.