I saw the ideas I’ll be discussing here on Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout site. The techniques fall loosely under the heading of “game mechanics.” Game mechanics, according to Wikipedia, are a construct of rules intended to produce an enjoyable game – one that people want to keep playing. So what are some of the elements that make a game fun?
Well, one of the most obvious is competition. There are several ways to encourage that on a website. You might want to start with a test of skill or knowledge. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. Think about all those online quizzes you’ve seen. Sites like Facebook and OKCupid are full of these. Sometimes, the sillier they are, the better. Patel mentions that Bunkbeds.net created a quiz that asks the question “How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed with a Velociraptor?”
Funny is great, but you need to make sure the quiz is at least in some way related to the material on your web site. When a visitor takes the quiz, give them their score, and a badge that they can post on their website and at their favorite social networking sites (like Facebook and Twitter). Their friends will see it, and want to compete with them by taking the quiz. You’ve carefully created the badge so that it links back to your website – which means that every time it’s posted, your site is gaining links. As Patel noted, Bunkbeds.net now ranks well on Google for the term “bunk beds.”
Every game has rewards, even if it’s just a high score and bragging rights. You should reward your visitors as well, for the kind of behavior you want to encourage. How should you reward them? That depends on your site. Some sites reward active users by posting their names and avatars on the site’s front page. That’s a good reward for a social site. You might offer discounts, certain limited moderating abilities in a forum, a special badge on your own site…you’re only limited by your imagination. When your rewarded visitor’s friends see that he or she has this cool bling, they’ll want it too – fostering a virtuous circle.
In addition to creating different levels of awards and badges, you may find that you need to do different kinds of things to encourage your visitors to not rest on their laurels. Patel notes that Quick Sprout gets 85 percent of its content from user comments – but more than a quarter of that content comes from the top five commenters. Why is that? Very simple: he keeps an ongoing scoreboard.
Patel maintains an online list of the top five commenters, and they’re linked to on every page. They all know that they can be knocked off that list pretty easily, so they keep coming back to comment. On the SEO Chat forums, we do something very similar. We encourage our members to make interesting, educational posts, and to report spam quickly so we can delete it. We give out several different kinds of badges every month, including ones for the top spam busters and the top posters. The system is set up to track and take care of this automatically; the badges are displayed next to the avatar of the member who has earned them, so anyone who reads a post by that member will see the badge. Naturally, if they want to keep the badge, they have to keep up their good work to earn it the following month, because anybody can “play” harder and take it from them.
Something else that keeps people playing the same game is goal completion. Game designers know that humans are goal-oriented; that’s why they divide so many games into levels, and why so many players keep plugging away so hard to get to the next level, and the next, and…well, you get the idea. So how can you bring this element into play on your site?
LinkedIn encourages users to finish their profiles by showing a status bar, every time they log in, so they can see how much of it is finished. If you use the site a lot, seeing that incomplete status bar can really encourage you to finish, especially when the bar includes some profile completion tips. (This doesn’t work for everyone, of course; my own profile on LinkedIn is only 70 percent complete).
So how would you use this for SEO? Well, LinkedIn could make one of the requirements to completing the profile be linking to a social networking site, or blogging about your resume, or something of that nature. Other sites use other approaches. It all depends on what would be appropriate and relevant to your site’s topic.
MeYou Health, for example, offers an opt-in service that e-mails a daily health-related goal to users: getting in an extra walk, for example, or eating fruits and vegetables of at least three different colors. Dubbed the “Daily Challenge,” many of the goals are even simpler, and not all of them are physical (it might tell you to get in touch with a friend you haven’t heard from in a while, for instance). Users can hit a “Done” button when they complete the challenge, and opt to post it on their social networking sites – thus encouraging their friends to try the same thing.
Finally, let’s talk about ownership. By this I don’t mean that users literally own a piece of your site, so much as that they control it. You see this with DMOZ and Wikipedia. As Patel explains, “Users have to participate frequently in the community to get special privileges, such as becoming a senior editor of a specific section of the website.” Users who have earned these privileges are motivated to make sure the website’s content is high quality, or they’ll lose what they’ve worked so hard to gain. And high-quality content leads to lots of links. More exotically, you also see this on Second Life. Looked at from one perspective, it’s a game; from another perspective, it’s a social network. Either way, some of the most active members are creating very interesting content, and it has spawned a ton of links.
So look at your website with your new-found eye for gamesmanship. You’ll probably find more than a few ways to keep your visitors playing – and hopefully linking and converting – for hours and hours. Good luck!