Web Design for ROI: KXJZ Interview Transcript

In 2007, Sandra and Lance had their first radio interview for Web Design for ROI. Broadcast by Capital Public Radio, Sandra and Lance had a chat with Jeffrey Callison for Insight.

Although the podcast is available here, we thought we’d add a transcript. Please enjoy!

JC: This is Insight from KXJZ; I’m Jeffrey Callison

Two executives at a Sacramento marketing company have written and published a new book; it’s a guide to making your website better serve your business; the book is called Web Design for ROI, and they’re in our studio. They are Lance Loveday, who is Founder and CEO of Closed Loop, and Sandra Niehaus, who is Vice President and Creative Director of Closed Loop. Lance, Sandra, welcome to Insight.

LL: Thank you

SN: Thank you

JC: Lance, the book says “It’s time to make websites accountable.” How do you do that, and why?

LL: The how is by paying attention to what it is that you want your site to achieve, and paying attention to the metrics that support whatever your objectives are.

JC: And metrics are?

LL: The metrics are, for example, the web metrics you would get from your web analytic system, like Web Trends or Google Analytics, and it tells you how many people visit your site, and what they do when they get there.

JC: And why would you want to make you make your website more accountable? I think some people think, I’ve got my website, it’s up there - that’s what I need, isn’t it?

LL: That’s exactly right. And we’re trying to get people to think differently about their website with the book, and get them to understand that they’re potentially leaving money on the table as a result of leaving it as a what we call a check box item; get it done, and that’s all there is to it.

Really, there is much more opportunity out there.

JC: Sandra, what’s the most common problem you see with businesses websites when it comes to businesses making better use of them?

SN: The first major problem we see is what Lance just mentioned, that businesses don’t have a clear goal for their website; they don’t know what they want their websites to do. They just haven’t sat down and thought about it. We have to put up a website, so they check that box, but they haven’t really thought but what do we want to accomplish with the website—what’s the goal for it? They haven’t thought about that clearly and specifically enough.

Another area that they haven’t paid enough attention to usually is they haven’t looked at their website through their visitors eyes. So they haven’t put themselves into their visitors shoes and thought about what do they need from my website

JC: When you see a website lack a clear goal, what kind of goal do, or should businesses have for their website. Or is that a question that can solely be answered by any given business?

SN: It should be answered by each business, for themselves. Each business has a business plan; they know what their business should accomplish, so now they need to look at their website and see how does the website support the business plan.

Say it’s a college, and they want people to sign up and attend their college. So then their website, the goal of the website should be to support the goal of the organization. So therefore, the goal of the website should be to allow a clear path for people to find out more information; learn about the college and sign up for classes.

JC: My guests are Sandra Niehaus and Lance Loveday of Closed Loop, they’re the authors of the book Web Design for ROI – ROI as in the business expression [return on investment].

JC: Lance, once you’ve sat down with a business to figure out what the goal is, what do you then do?

LL: We’ll take a look at their site, from an objective standpoint, and really play the role of their target audience and bring our expertise to bear and do what we call a site effectiveness review, where we go through and document all the issues we see as being potential road blocks to users in having them accomplish what they want, and translate that back to the organization in a way that hopefully makes sense to them and is actionable to them.

So we’re providing concrete actionable recommendations of changes that they can make that should allow more people to accomplish their goals on the site, and likewise allow the business to achieve their objectives.

JC: When websites first started to become popular, it seemed that most websites were basically glorified and sometimes, not even artfully designed brochures, and you still see quite a lot of that nowadays, especially among smaller non profits and so on. Isn’t that just a perfectly acceptable use for a website because companies produce physical hard copy brochures, why not just have an online version of it?

SN: Yes, and that’s certainly a reasonable purpose for having a website, to provide information about your company; just have it available on the Web 24/7 to the public. However, even a brochure usually has a goal. So you don’t just willy nilly throw graphics and text into a brochure, usually it should have a purpose. Is it to promote your company? Is it to encourage people to contact your company? Is it to sell a product?

We look at websites that same way. We think websites should be designed for a specific purpose, or maybe multiple purposes. But in the end, they’re in place to encourage people to take some action or another–whether it’s to contact the company, to buy a product, or to donate to an organization.

JC: You’ve both worked with very big companies; what advice would you give to organizations on the opposite end of the scale from Hewlett-Packard and WebEx and so on. How should they try to get back the best return on their investment for their website, Sandra?

SN: First of all, not to be overwhelmed by the complexities. It’s easy to think that as the Web started out and websites were created by very techie people, programmers and developers, and no one could understand what they did. Nowadays there are tools that small business owners can use, such as Google Analytics. They can put free, analytics software on their websites that allows them to track how many people come to their site, what they’re doing, where they came from, and also, an easy way for them to look at their websites and get a sense for how people are responding and using their websites is to do what is called very informal usability testing. Just get a few representative members of their audience come in, watch them use your site, and see where they stumble, see where they have problems, see how they react. And so for small business owners there are a lot of new tools and easy things that they can do now to improve their website and really focus on their goals.

LL: It’s remarkable how similar the issues really are between large organizations and small organizations, and the advice that we give is almost always the same from very large Fortune 500 companies down to the small mom-and-pop shops that we’ve worked with in the past. And it really is around understanding the opportunities that are available to you.

From a big picture standpoint, one of the things we want to get across too is that the amount of potential money people are leaving on the table in that all the analysis shows that more and more purchases are being made online, and more purchases are being influenced by the research people are doing online. One of the stats that we use is that 43% of all retail transactions are going to be made on, or impacted by, the Internet, in the next 3-4 years. And that is just a huge number, and an easy stat that we use to try give to people to to try and understand the opportunity that is available to them. We think there is a limited window of time within the next 3-4 years where the winners and losers are going to be shaken out to some degree online and we want to encourage everyone to make sure that they’re on the right side of that measure.

JC: The book is called Web Design for ROI. Lance, you and Sandra are marketers not website designers, but nevertheless I know when people think about websites, they think about the look and feel of the website. What do you think about loading up a website with bells and whistles?

Some people seem to think the more cool features there are on the website, the better the website is. Others say no, keep it as simple as possible so it loads quickly and easily and so on. Where do you stand on that?

LL: I would go back to what the objective of the organization is for the site. For some sites it may make sense to load it up with more bells and whistles, and be more advanced. For most though, I’d say we do tend to err more on the side of simplicity, and making it very clear to the visitor what the purpose of the site is, what they can accomplish there and to really think what it is that they want people to do on the site; what action they want them to take.

One of the downsides of loading things up too much is that you can turn people off very quickly, and one of the studies that we’ve referenced shows that people make snap decisions about the credibility of your organization, based on their experience on the website. That happens in as little as 1/20 of a second, which is not enough time for anyone to read anything, to really internalize anything more than its color and sense of structure on a site, and so that speaks to the importance of clean design in our language and whether or not that instant hit that people get gives them the impression of being in a clean, well lighted place, or a darkened back alley.

And the way that that impression is born out is in the percentage of people who immediately leave, versus the people who stay and if via cleaning up the design somewhat you can get 60% of people that visit to stay, whereas it used to be 40%, well you’ve just increased your potential throughput on the site by 50% and when that cascades through the rest of your site, can ultimately mean a lot more dollars in your pocket.

JC: Sandra, I want to go back to something you said earlier. You said that organizations need a clear goal for their website. But an even more fundamental question is how do you figure out what your clear goal is for your website because there are all kinds of things you may want people, legitimately want people to do on your website, for example our radio stations website, there are all kinds of reasons why people go there, and they’re all legitimate reasons; to find out our program schedule, to give money, to find out information about the hosts, the stream, the program. These are all legitimate goals. How would we figure out what “the” goal is? Or is it okay to have several?

SN: It’s perfectly alright to have many goals, which just means you have a variety of audiences that you’re serving. The important thing to look at there is you go back to understanding your audiences better; which are your primary audience, which are your most important to your underlying business goals, or to your financial goals, so, for instance, for a site such as yours it might be donors, or the audience you absolutely must serve beyond doubt.

And then, after that, you prioritize your audiences, second most important audience, third most important audience. Then, after you’ve prioritized your audiences you look at what are their goals when they come to your site. What are they looking to do, what do they need to do, and how do they want to do it?

For instance, I like to use the example Safeway. Safeway is a brick and mortar grocery store; people are used to going there and shopping for items by aisle. That’s how the items are categorized. So, safeway.com, the website, has leveraged that, where they provide a categorization called “Shop by Aisle.” So people can go on to a website, and shop in a way that they are used to, so that’s Safeway really understanding their audience and really providing an experience in a way that their audience is used to doing it; they’re allowing their audience to do what they want, and in a way that they want to do it.

JC: My guests are co-authors of the book Web Design for ROI, as in return on investment, and they’re both top executives at Closed Loop. Lance Loveday is founder and CEO, Sandra Niehaus is Vice President and Creative Director.

JC: Lance, who should be running websites? Clearly in big organizations they have a whole department to do it, but in small to medium sized organizations, who should be running these things? Is it best that it should be some tech person, or is it marketing, or is it communications or is it something else? Or is there no hard and fast rule on this?

LL: It’s a great question and it’s something people should think through more consciously as to who should be in charge because quite often what happens is that many of the big decisions around what happens with a website are made by the big dog in the organization, the executive based on their personal preferences, what they like or what they don’t like and that can be fine if the goal if to have the site reflect that persons interests.

If the goal though is to really maximize the opportunity and get the most from the website, then arguably the site should be designed from the standpoint of the users and what is going to serve them best, and yield the best result for their business. So, in terms of who should be in charge it really comes down to finding the person that you can entrust to help you achieve that objective for the site. That person should understand the technology, should understand marketing, should understand the business generally but be able to bring all these different disciplines together in a way that makes sense for the organization and that can be a hard person to find sometimes.

JC: I realize both of you work on these issues every day as your regular jobs, but still you must have been particularly focused on it while you were writing the book. Did you change your own website in any way because of the focus you were putting on this while writing the book?

SN: Yes, we did. We actually did. Just preparing, thinking ahead, we’re going to put out this book and people will be visiting our website and have high expectations for what to find there, so yes, we actually undertook a complete redesign of our site.

JC: A complete redesign? Did it lack a clear goal before?

SN: No, it’s just that our goals for it changed. We now have this new set of audiences, a new audience group that will be visiting the site - the book readers - the usability or conversion analysis service had been a smaller part of our organization before, now with the book coming out, we expect that to grow and be a larger part. So we had to accommodate that and reflect it in our site structure.

JC: Lance, can you give us a quick description of what a hit is, and I believe there are different types of hits on websites, which matters?

LL: Sure, and we make a little joke about this in the book in that we recommend people don’t refer to any success metrics relative to their site as hits. The reason for that is that hits historically were used, especially during the dot com boom, as a metric to show the relative strength of a site.

But in fact, if you look under the surface, hit, technically, measures the number of objects that load every time a Web page comes up, which sounds a little bit geeky but, the bottom line is that it is a number that can be easily inflated, just by putting more stuff on your pages. So, as a metric, it really doesn’t have any value.

JC: It doesn’t equal person?

LL: That’s correct.

JC: What does equal person?

LL: Unique visitor

JC: Is that even instructive enough? Unique visitor, could that be counted every time someone clicks on a page on your website? Does that become a different unique visitor every time?

LL: That would be a different page load, which will also be tracked in your web analytics system, but, that visitors session, should be tracked as one unique visitor through that session, and then through subsequent sessions, or visits, to the site as well

JC: And finally, why is the company called Closed Loop? What does closed loop mean? Sandra?

SN: Closed loop, it means we track success by measuring the entire marketing loop so to speak. So we implement a change, we track the change, we test it, we measure the results, and then we learn from those, from that test that we just ran. Then we implement the learning’s into the next cycle. So we are looking at the entire cycle, we don’t just throw out a marketing campaign and say “There you go, have fun” we don’t just put the word out about you, we measure what happens and then we analyze it and learn from it.

JC: And nowadays, how important is the website in that closed loop? Lance?

LL: It’s increasingly important and again, the message we’re trying to get out is that the website is more and more the hub of all of your communications efforts, in that it’s the first place many people go now to find out more about your organization, whether you’re advertising on radio, on TV, online certainly. But whatever the medium, increasingly, the first response from people is to go to a website, so it’s getting more and more important.

JC: Lance Loveday, and Sandra Niehaus, are top executives at Closed Loop, a Sacramento based company, and they’re co-authors of the book Web Design for ROI, it’s a fairly new book. Lance, Sandra, thanks both for joining us.

SN: Thank you very much.

LL: Thank you.

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