Interview with Online Marketing Expert Lance Loveday

| October 4, 2011
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Welcome to UserTesting’s Expert series, where we go to the source and ask experts in web design, user experience, and customer research about their methods, technologies, and strategies.

This week’s guest: Lance Loveday – Closed Loop Marketing

Lance Loveday - Closed Loop Marketing


Lance Loveday is CEO of Closed Loop Marketing and a recognized expert in the Online Optimization and Marketing field. The co-author of Web Design for ROI, Lance is also a happy UserTesting customer.


UserTesting – How did you get started in this business?
Lance – I wish I could say it was some grand vision I had when I started the company 12 years ago. The real answer is I was pushed out of the nest, laid off during the dot-com crash, as so many others were. I started Closed Loop Marketing that same week.

I started doing search analytic research for HP and then more search engine marketing work, tapping that out toward front-end campaign management. Clients were asking “How do we get more?”

So we began paying more attention to the user experience, post-click factors, and conversion rates to produce more growth from our search campaigns. That’s how we got into conversion rate optimization, landing page optimization, and increasingly, user experience.

UT- What’s been the biggest surprise?
Lance – For me, it’s understanding that what holds companies back often has nothing to do with technology or even design. It has far more to do with corporate culture and organizational behavior, and the limits that the organizational structure places on people’s ability to innovate.

“Our clients know the right thing to do…what limits them is not technology, but the organizational structure placed on people’s ability to innovate.”

Many of our clients know the right thing to do, and there’s often consensus on what they want to get done. But in larger companies, when they try to execute, they’re bound by their technology infrastructure and the nature of interactions with IT or development teams.

UT – Is it easier to optimize an existing site or to start from scratch?
Lance – The former. Our unofficial tagline: “We don’t make websites. We make websites better.”

UT – How much effect does design have on a website’s success?
Lance – If design means the surface properties in the use of color, layout, and space, that contributes to the user’s first impression and plays a big part in credibility and overall user experience

“Design is not the only the factor that determines success. You have to get all the elements working together to deliver an exceptional user experience.”

But you can be successful with an “ugly” design by having a site that’s very clear, intuitive, and functional, and copy that’s compelling.

Design is important but by itself is not going to be the factor that determines success. You have to get all the elements working together in concert to develop an exceptional user experience.

UT – With a poorly designed site that’s doing well, can improving the design ever hurt the site?
Lance – We’ve seen examples of that where design and aesthetic improvements actually harm conversion, especially where you have a large and loyal user base. People are accustomed to a certain visual tone; maybe that’s part of the brand. You depart from it at your own peril.

UT – Is it just that people hate change?
Lance – People hate change when it inhibits their ability to do what they normally do on a site. If you make it harder for people to navigate to content they used to be able to find easily and disrupt those patterns, they can make you pay.

Read UserTesting’s article on how the Posterous relaunch upset New England Patriots’ Coach Bill from managing his posts, Facebook’s improved privacy design changes, and the not-half-bad TechCrunch redesign.

UT – What are the most common mistakes you see in websites?
Lance – A lack of visual hierarchy so that people can scan and get an idea for what a page or site is about when experiencing it for the first time, before they have to start reading full sentences.

People don’t like to read initially: they have more of a scanning behavior. It’s important for companies to plan with that in mind. For example, increasing the size of the headline or customizing the headline to speak to the user’s intent based on what we know about them.

“People don’t like to read… they scan.”

When users come from search engine marketing campaigns, we already know what keywords they entered and what ad copy they clicked. So it’s easy for us to mirror that content back in an appropriate way, to reassure the user they’re in the right place.

UT – What elements do you focus on when evaluating a site for the first time?
Lance – We look for things that jump out from a quantitative standpoint and then we look at the interface to figure out why that might be. It’s often exploratory: Why does that page get so much traffic? or Why is the exit rate so high over there? It’s a left brain, right brain exercise.

UT – How has UserTesting helped your business?
Lance – We can deploy tests and get feedback in a matter of hours and for as little as few hundred dollars. It’s helped us complete designs and and processes that much faster.

From an agency standpoint, the credibility that customer videos give us when presenting information to clients is a big deal. We’ve taken to putting together highlight reels of customer feedback, and it’s so compelling for clients to see. A few of the the highlight reels have made us semi-famous, or semi-infamous. We’re pointing out pretty big problems, and it’s gotten executive attention.

“If you can put together a really compelling two- or three-minute video that shows how a client’s site is broken and how it’s costing them money, that’s pretty powerful. UserTesting lets us do that.”

Example video of a test UserTesting ran for redesign exposing key shopping cart usability issue:

UT – What are your thoughts about usability testing?
Lance – My hope is that more executives get religion about user research and that user testing become more central to their planning process. We’ve seen a lot of “lip service” to user-centered design.

Unfortunately, some companies treat usability testing as a checkbox item, something to be sure they said they did, but not necessarily something they incorporate in their strategy.

UT – What new projects are in the future for Lance Loveday and Closed Loop Marketing?
Lance – We just signed a major retail client, and we’re starting to work with them to revamp their registration process. I’m very excited about it.

At Closed Loop Marketing we’re also getting better at explaining what we do as an agency. After years of trying to find the right words, we’ve found our voice. I’m looking forward to relaunching the company in the coming months.

UT – Any takeaway thoughts about UserTesting?
Lance – Million dollar feedback for less than $200.

“My hope is that more executives get religion about user research and that user testing become more central to their planning process.”