winter / 2013

The magazine of branded content
Arnold Worldwide UX guru navigates the buyer journey by starting inside their heads—and ignoring cardinal rules.
Dec 10, 2013


Bob Goodman is SVP, Director of User Experience at Arnold Worldwide

You’d think a fellow who led design and usability projects for the first online insurance offering, the first grocery store and the first global scientific R&D marketplace would be a natural to talk about site dwell and event tracking with a certain historical awareness.

And Bob Goodman, SVP, Director of User Experience at Arnold Worldwide, is that—and more. The folks at MITX, the WebAwards and the Webby Awards were on to something when they bestowed their honorifics on him.

But that was back when the world lived above the fold. Bob Goodman, veteran of Bing, Twitter, Facebook and key features for the new Hotmail, no longer does. We asked him whether this agnosticism was a prototype, and then he schooled us on drill down pages and event tracking.

Content: What strategies could you typically use to improve a site above the fold?
Bob Goodman: I would say that we tend to not be big believers in the idea of the fold. And the reason being is if I had five or six different computers and devices and a tablet and different phones, where a break is, before scrolling, clicking and tapping would be completely different. So, I think the fold is definitely an idea that’s been in the industry for a long time—I’ve been in the industry since the .com era, and there was a ton of thinking back then as well. And we’re starting to make peace with the post-fold content world. Initial content that I see, be it partial or a whole, if it’s not engaging I’m unlikely to explore scrolling down, clicking in, tapping in, all these scenarios that bring deeper engagement. These scenarios, they don’t rise or fall based on where an initial horizontal break happens to hit.

We always talk about shareable content. What are some things that you can do to make it shareable?
I think that it's important to think about a variety of content forms. There’s long form editorial, checklist, the Q&A formats, there are things that are more based for conversation that can generate a big comment stream. Obviously there’s video content, there’s image-based content. Some is light, and snackable, some is more depth-oriented. I think that there’s an interplay between social media and content hubs. You’re using your social media to kind of whet the appetite—some things may live just on your social media channel but some things might drive to your content hub and vice versa. So, I’m thinking about both owned property and distributed properties. Something beyond these questions of channels, make your content very interesting and very timely and very relevant. That is easy to say and hard to do well. But it involves thinking outside in, talking to the kind of people that you think will read your content that you’re trying to reach , and also kind of seeing what they are reading today, and, also, what they do—meaning, when will they read your content and where, and how often, and with what questions, what would trigger them to go there and what would make them share something. And it’s questions that are not just about how do you feel about our brand and what is your sentiment, but more, what is your life like and how I can empathize with you?

“It's not just about how do you feel about our brand, but what is your life like and how can we empathize with you?”

How deep do you dive into and use psychology to improve calls to action and usage metrics?
I would say that we really want to understand end users and their psychology as well as we can. Obviously it’s not like psychotherapy, but there are lots of ways to try and get a picture and form a theory of some key personas and also real people, and see what they’re doing and what really resonates, and test those theories over time. We talk about user journeys, which is really mapping multiple steps of interactions, but also decision journeys. If the product that your content strategy is trying to target is, for example, a complex product buying cycle, like buying a house, your content about real estate would target all the steps and the duration and pain points that people need help and information with. But there are other ways to understand psychology—there’s interviewing people, usability testing that can also service upfront user research that can be in-person, talking to someone as they're navigating an experience and having them think aloud. It's also helpful to have people do categorization exercises—there are some great tools out there from an informational architecture perspective—or have people go on treasure hunts if you're trying to perform this task or find this thing, where would you find it and a menu structure and derive more quantity data around that and form some impressions. There are a lot of tools to do that and they don’t have to be complicated, they don’t have to take a long amount of time and also, research is something that can happen every day and in many ways.

Research is something that happens every day in many ways. How so?
Well, for example, one untapped bank of knowledge for large companies that are trying to get into content marketing is their call center and their customer feedback, and even complaints about the product or questions. That’s usually stored in a database somewhere and that’s pretty remarkable, a bevy of knowledge of challenges for which information can be a solution. It's often kept separate from the content effort as it is seen as operational data, and not seen as excellent input into content strategy. Other kinds of everyday research, on Facebook, YouTube, that’s research. What conversations took place? What topics resonated? And then in terms of domain, the whole Internet is basically research. It’s pretty much an open book out there. The kind of conversations that you hope to foster with your content, and the many, many niche long-tail content sites out there, are research that can form your content.

Do you implement drill down pages on content pages for improved site dwell? What other easy changes seem to work wonders?
I think it’s great to extend someone’s time on site and someone’s attention, and that you really want to offer them some choices, different ways of drilling down, or moving to the side. I think the top way to do that is given that you came to this page for a topic, or product, show me things that are like this, or things that are like previous things that I looked at, within this session, or within previous sessions. If your site can actually personalize to someone’s previous interests you can build up user profiles, like retailers do. That’s a pretty advanced level of knowledge, so there are many things you can do even without that level of personalization to increase site dwell.

Progressive Website

“We knew from our online ad testing that an Orange & White color combination beat Blue & White by a few points, and we used that data to inform the look and feel of this new content hub.”

Do you always implement event tracking when gauging bounce rates?
I think that the answer should be yes. Sometimes, we own the analytics, metrics and implementation and sometimes they're owned by our clients and our partners. I think ideally, you know what happens, where someone was, what they’re trying to do, and when they bounced out. If you don’t have that though, that doesn’t mean that you have no information. You can look at the page and understand how someone got there, understand the path and probably just use common sense from some possible theories about why they’re bouncing and try and solve it. And use A/B testing to see if your theory was right.

After finding a site's hotspots, what calls to actions, if any, or features have you added to improve site usage?
I think if you know where people are bouncing out, you probably have a good feeling for what is broken. Sometimes that might be because someone was asked to give some data or share some information at a spot where it wasn’t clear to them why, or maybe they could have been pushed down to a later phase, or there was some just usability challenge. So, as far as calls to action to improve usage, there should be some kind of interactive questionnaire, or site survey or task that you’re trying to achieve, really showing people where they are in the workflow and communicating what happens next and giving them visibility and the time commitment. In application redesigning and optimization, we had some great success there in making improvements.

New Balance Website

“This content hub for New Balance came out of open-ended collaboration sessions about creating a content ecosystem, including online advertising and social channels, to support the values of serendipity, curiosity, and brand affinity. For this effort, we built a custom content-serving system we call FIT, short for Feed Integration Tool.”

If a site were being designed for a specific niche, ObamaCare for example, what type of think tank or activities would you suggest regarding design, content and functionality?
This is very interesting to think about, because in a way it’s not uncommon really for a site that has complex tasks that wants to help people, to not work well on its first go for design, technology, and usability reasons. With ObamaCare, it's strange to have the Commander in Chief try to explain usability issues. I think it’s really a question about psychology. It is very important to know what is going on in a user’s mind when they see the screen or they see a question, because that’s where the experience is taking place. So, sometimes these conversations will happen more about objects on the page. Do we need three buttons or four? You can’t answer that question without understanding more about the task and possible choices that user wants to make or expects to make there. So, for example, if they’re asked, what are you looking for in a medical provider, you’d want to understand how they think about the categories of providers upfront. So you have to understand and empathize with the user and use terms that relate to them and show them the right amount of information and choices at the right time.

Carnival Website

“For this micro-site, we invited 10 well-known Instragrammers to take a Carnival Cruise and share their favorite moments. The campaign also included user-generated content, custom hashtags, and Facebook integration.”

The results:

  • 1700 photos and videos posted to the site and shared in real-time
  • 40,000+ photos and videos collected for use in future campaigns
  • More than 200,000 Instagram likes

What does the future hold and what sites will experience the most growth based on the data you’ve researched and improved?
The sites that do some of the practices that we talked about very well will thrive—that’s to say they’re designed for mobile consumption. They understand and they empathize with their users. They help users achieve the tasks or get the information they’re looking for, and they are designed for social sharing and conversation. Sites that can do all those things well are likely to thrive, where sites that don’t will start to be landlocked and just won’t get the traction they need.


Bob Goodman is SVP, Director of User Experience at Arnold Worldwide