Gamifying Your Website and Engaging Users

Your website is gaining competition every day. Between 1995 and today, the number of domains has skyrocketed from 15,000 to 350 million—and 150,000 domains are registered each day. As the web continues to expand at lightning speed, it’s our duty to make sure our websites get the attention they deserve.

One way to create a deeper user experience is through creative psychological engagement. Whether it’s playing towards your site visitors’ needs, desires or fears, it’s critical to go beyond simple copy and calls to action. One key aspect of modern marketing that many businesses have yet to embrace is gamification. 

What is gamification?

Gamification is a technique in which gaming mechanics are applied non-game activities to change people’s behavior or to make it more fun and engaging for users. Gamifying a company’s website can help make customers more interested in the business and more motivated to return to the website on a regular basis through gamification principles, such as positive feedback loops.

Many large companies have employed gamification to keep customers—or even employees—engaged. The type of game principles range from simple point meters to complicated systems where you can unlock new levels and gain access to exclusive parts of a website.

foursquare badges gamification

A great example of gamification online is Foursquare. People “check in” at places they go to on the Foursquare smartphone app and receive badges based on the number and types of checkins. Leaderboards based on points and badges give this app even more of a game-like feel. The success of the gamification process is evident—Foursquare reached 10 million users worldwide in June 2011. And users aren’t just striving for virtual rewards: Companies have started to provide special offers for Foursquare “mayors” and others who frequently check into their business on Foursquare. 

Similarly, Starbucks has successfully employed Starbucks Rewards, a program where customers earn credits for their coffee purchases. Customer who use the system reach new levels—and get perks like free refills and personalized cards—based on the number of points they earn. The airline industry has been using gamification principles in the form of frequent flyer miles for years.

Gamification for your website

Gamifying your website can afford an opportunity to tap into psychological principles and human desires such as reward, status, self expression, achievement, competition and altruism. Here are some tips for successfully gamifying your website to invigorate your online presence and user experience, drive traffic and generate leads:

1. Why are you gamifying?

Gamification is useless if the company hasn’t really thought about why it wants to gamify its website. Gamification is an effective and popular method of increasing a visitor’s time on the site, engagement and motivation to return, but you need to analyze your business and know exactly which gamification metrics will produce the desired outcome.

An example: A retail company that has many physical locations would benefit from offering customers a reward for visiting all of its locations. But an online-only retailer wouldn’t be able to give customers credit for physically visiting a location. Instead, web-based companies would be better off offering rewards for comments, referrals or online purchases.

2. Get users to make the referrals.

No one is interested in earning achievements on a website if they can’t brag about it to their friends. Allowing users to share their achievements with friends via social networks often encourages their friends to participate as well. Even better: Give users rewards for bringing in friends as new users. Online flash sale site has mastered the art of friend referrals: Users get a $30 credit to spend in the online store when 10 of their friends sign up, and another $25 when a friend makes their first $25+ purchase in their first month of membership.

3. Rank = status.

Status rankings in leaderboards seem to be a big deal in the minds of users. People get a sense of satisfaction when they make it to the top of a list. Just like back in the day when you’d play arcade games for hours in hopes of being able to add your initials to the list.  

arcade game high score, leaderboard, gamification

Arcade photo by Ryan James

4. Combine points and level systems.

Level systems are nothing new: Just consider karate belts and Girl Scout membership levels. Before you implement a points system, figure out what it’s going to mean to users of the website. Should users gain points for making purchases? Or should they earn points for commenting on blog posts or in a forum? Points without a level system are essentially meaningless. Level systems motivate users to continue to gain points in order to achieve the next level. 

5. Make points relevant to your visitors.

Whether the points are worth something only online or in real life, points need to be worth something to give users more motivation to earn. Some companies opt to make points worth a discount on physical goods. Others offer virtual goods that users can display on a profile attached to the website. Recyclebank offers coupons and discounts in exchange for points earned by home recycling. 

You don’t need to start gamifying from scratch: Turnkey website gamification tools from companies such as Badgeville, Lithium, Bunchball and BigDoor can help you get set up quickly. Whether they’re earning badges, points or just bragging rights, users are much more likely to stick around your site longer when it’s gamified.