Gamification has become a popular tactic in web design since it first burst onto the digital scene over 10 years ago. It’s everywhere you look, both on- and off-screen, and nobody is denying that it can do wonders for conversions – but what about the wider impact of gamification on business and technology?
What Is Gamification?
First of all, let’s take a look at what gamification actually is.
Gamification is where you take something that already exists, such as a website, and add game mechanics to make it more engaging.
Game mechanics are simply techniques used by game designers to engage players – in gamification, you take these methods and apply them to things that aren’t games. Why? Because this way, you can increase engagement, motivation, and even loyalty.
Think about achievement badges, loyalty rewards, leaderboards, and progress bars; these are all examples of gamification.
There are two types of gamification: structural gamification, and content gamification.
Structural gamification is where you introduce game elements to the structure of your website. This could be in the form of a progress bar, collecting badges, or creating leaderboards.
Here, you can see a great example of structural gamification from the learning site Memrise. Users can see how many points they’ve scored, what level of learning they’re at, view learning streaks, and track how many new words they’ve learned.
Content gamification is where you apply game mechanics directly to your site’s content. The trick to this is simply using gamification to enhance the content – for example, you can employ storytelling, characters, and challenges to make the content more engaging.
A company that’s well-known for its use of content gamification is Compare the Market, which created a series of meerkat characters to enhance its website and encourage interaction with its product – these characters now lie at the very heart of the brand.
It’s important to note that you’re not actually turning your website into a game itself. You’re just adding game-like elements for your users to interact with.
Gamification: Hiding In Plain Sight
The word gamification was first coined by Nick Pelling back in 2003, but it actually began centuries before, back in the 1800s. Despite its popularity in the digital world, the term was in use even before screens ever existed!
Historically, gamification has been used by businesses aiming to reward loyal customers, workplaces trying to engage their employees, and educators finding new ways to teach students.
Gamification surrounds us in our everyday lives, from frequent flyer programs to customer loyalty cards promising free coffee. We all fall under the spell of gamification without ever knowing its name.
Supermarkets make use of gamification to huge effect – nearly everyone has some kind of points card that they scan every time they go shopping. The points add up to discounts on products, fuel, and can even pay for air miles. This rewards customers for their loyalty and, even more importantly, keeps them coming back time and time again.
One of the reasons this method is so effective is that people love competition, and to be rewarded for things – as long as they don’t have to put in too much effort. It’s this love of winning and succeeding that makes gamification so successful when it comes to conversions, both online and offline.
Online ecommerce giant Amazon makes full use of this fact to turn customer reviews into a rewarding and competitive activity – locking in engagement from users and promoting product quality control in one move.
Frequent and well-rated reviewers can become a “Top Reviewer” and even make it into the “Hall of Fame” list. Top reviewers receive badges, tons of free products and discounts from sellers looking for trusted reviews, as well as free Amazon gift cards.
This example of gamification takes something people do anyway – leaving reviews of products – and adds extra incentive to engage with Amazon’s marketplace.
To succeed online, gamification first needs to be easy to use, clearly laid out, and attractive to users. That’s why web designers and developers are in an excellent position to revamp their projects with gamification in mind.
Gamification also needs to bring real benefits to your users.
Think about what makes your users tick. Would a points system work on your site? Could a leaderboard motivate your visitors? Are you in a position to offer rewards to successful users? Whatever you do, always make your gamification relevant and rewarding.
To Conversions… And Beyond
It’s already been established that gamification can do wonders for conversions. But why stop there?
For starters, gamification could be extremely beneficial to your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) .
Gamification is known to increase engagement, improve customer loyalty, and boost time on page. It can also increase traffic, such as the case of sharedserviceslink, which increased website visits by 108.5% using a gamified strategy based around a game called “Kill The Paper Invoice.”
These factors are all things that Google loves. And while many of Google’s ranking factors are educated guesses, we do know that dwell time is a major player in the race for rankings.
Dwell time is how long a user spends looking at a page after clicking through from the search engine results page (SERP).
Basic SEO tells us that the longer your users spend on your pages, the better your site looks to Google. And what does gamification do? It encourages users not just to click on your site, but to stick on it too.
This is where your web design skills are essential for creating top notch gamification, giving you an edge over competitors. Your ultimate goal is for the user to click on your site on the results page, and then not return to Google.
This is called a long click, and has a direct impact on rankings – in short, it shows Google that your site has satisfied the searcher!
By creating highly engaging site content, gamification naturally gets visitors to spend longer on your site. This is fantastic for SEO, and can result in your site ranking higher up in Google’s search results.
An interesting example of this is a test carried out on Twitter by Rand Fishkin, founder of SEO company Moz.
He got his followers to Google the term “best grilled steak” and click the top search result, but immediately return to the Google results page. They then clicked the fourth result and stayed on that page without returning to Google.
This is an example of “bouncing” straight off the top result, and a long click on the fourth result.
So, what happened? Well, the fourth result quickly climbed to the first position on the results page, after 70 minutes and between 400 and 500 interactions. Although simply an experiment, this strongly suggests that dwell time can positively affect your site’s ranking on Google.
But why does it matter if gamification can affect Google rankings?
Higher ranking means more traffic, which leads to more conversions and better awareness of your site.
It all adds up – but is there any proof gamification can help with increasing user engagement and improving traffic?
Bunchball, a gamification platform, helped an online learning tools website called Course Hero gamify its site. They implemented reward badges, created a points system, and structured the learning into levels for students to progress through.
The top 20 participants were then displayed on a public leaderboard, tapping into the competitive element of gamification. Students could also share their successes, badges, and progress across social channels Twitter and Facebook.
Users can unlock free access by uploading resources, reviewing content, and referring Course Hero to friends.
The results saw that overall, time on site increased by 5%, and social sharing increased by a whopping 400% in three months, proving that gamification is no one trick pony.
Another more well-known example is from M&M, which launched a gamified social media campaign designed around finding a tiny pretzel in a large graphic full of M&M’s. All people had to do was find the hidden pretzel – there was no reward, so this marketing strategy was purely to encourage engagement with the brand.
And it succeeded – although extremely simple and inexpensive, the campaign resulted in 25,000 new Facebook likes, 10,000 comments, and 6,000 shares. This proves your approach doesn’t have to be complicated or pricey to be effective.
The apparent relationship here between gamification and engagement is a very positive one. And with everything we know about the effect that low bounce rate and increased dwell time can have on Google rankings, gamification certainly looks like the final key to unlocking your website’s success.
How Can You Achieve Gamification Through Web Design?
When thinking about how to implement gamification through web design, you should start with your user. What are their needs, pain points, and motivations? What action do you want them to take? Gamification needs to be simple, easy, and rewarding, so don’t over complicate your design.
Understanding what drives your users will help you gamify your site in the best way possible – here are various techniques you can implement.
Nobody likes to feel as though they’re missing out. Give your users something for free straight away, and you’ll find that they become unwilling to give it up. This can lead to more premium sign-ups, or better engagement if you create a “use it or lose it” kind of system.
Popular examples include “freemium” plans that limit users’ resources, used by most website builders like Wix, as well as games such as The Sims and learning programs such as DuoLingo. These all provide the user with something for free, but still gain hundreds of paying customers because users don’t want to lose their progress.
The Sims is a great example of using loss aversion to keep users engaged. People keep playing because if they don’t, their characters start to deteriorate and lose happiness, affecting the player’s score.
This example is from an actual game platform, but you can use the same principle to hook your own users – and it doesn’t have to involve paid conversions. DuoLingo lets you start learning and measuring your success for free, but you need to create a profile to keep your progress, which is an effective way of encouraging sign ups.
Who doesn’t love winning? Get creative with the ways you can reward your users. Give them bonuses for filling out forms, sharing on social media, or completing purchases. These bonuses could be points, badges, or virtual money, which users can collect to unlock prizes or levels.
Dropbox is a classic example of this tactic – the free version has a limited amount of storage, but users can earn more free storage space by completing tasks such as referring friends, adding to the community forum, and more.
You can play with this by rewarding users with more resources for carrying out actions on your own website. Make the reward relevant to your site, whether that’s giving them access to exclusive content, freebies, or virtual prizes.
Humans are naturally competitive. Tap into your users’ need to compete by creating leaderboards, and letting them build profiles with levels of authority, achievement, or reputation. Set goals and levels for them to unlock, and watch your users race each other to the top – just like our earlier example of the top Amazon reviewers!
Other examples include sites like TripAdvisor, AirBnB, and social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn where people “compete” to get more likes and shares than others. A popular example is Reddit, where users receive points, and comments can be upvoted or downvoted by others.
Creating an interactive and competitive audience can really boost engagement in your site’s content, especially if you can incorporate a rewards system alongside to motivate your users.
Always let your users know what effect their actions are having. Let them keep track of their progress, and show them how many points they’re collecting – instant gratification is often the key to making your users want more.
DuoLingo, the language learning tool, makes full use of this, giving you instant updates on your progress as you work your way through its courses. This encourages the user to continue through the lesson and acts as a visual motivator.
At the end of the course the user receives a round-up of their progress, which promotes regular use so they can maintain their “streak”. You can apply this to your own site by confirming actions such as form completions or social sharing.
Even a simple, big green tick is a positive booster, and watching points or progress bars go up makes users more likely to stick with their actions.
Don’t keep your users in suspense – if they can directly track the results of their actions on your site, they’re more likely to keep coming back for more!
By tapping into these psychological tactics, you can attract attention, and keep it. Whatever strategy you choose, you must always make sure your gamification is ticking the following boxes:
- It must be easy for the user to carry out
- It must offer relevant and real rewards for the user
- It must provide clear actions for the user to take
Gamification has the power to boost your site’s engagement, traffic, conversions, and more. But without great UX, it won’t succeed – we’ve seen how gamification needs to be clear, simple, and easy to use to keep people coming back for more time and time again.
Remember, it’s not about creating games to distract from your content – instead, you should gamify your site to enhance your content and hook your users.
Using the tactics we’ve outlined – competition, rewards, loss aversion, and feedback – you can design a successful gamification strategy, whether you want to increase conversions or simply boost loyalty and engagement in the long-term.
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!