March 20th, 2012
Search Engine Optimization
Gamification is a buzzword that many people in the Internet marketing industry have been talking about for some time now. It’s a fairly simple concept with so many possible opportunities to engage with the public, but seems to be underutilized. So, you ask, what is gamification and how can it help you with your Internet marketing efforts?
Read on to find out!
First things first; what is Gamification? Wikipedia defines it as “the use of game design techniques, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.” So, essentially, you’re making a game of something that isn’t already a game. The main goal of gamification in internet marketing is user engagement, so search engine spiders and algorithms need not apply in this scenario (not directly, that is). As Google moves further and further into personalized search, it can become harder for many businesses to compete for peoples’ attention and ultimately their engagement. We hear authoritative sources like Matt Cutts and Rand Fishkin affirm that user engagement is a very important goal of any Internet marketing campaign, but since people have diverse personalities, finding a one-size-fits-all solution has the potential of becoming a futile effort.
With gamification, game mechanics are introduced. Honestly, this isn’t a new concept. We’ve been employing these same concepts for a long time, but it’s been relatively recent that the SEO world has been using this buzzword. Outside of the comedy world, it seems like a fruitless labor to try to market oneself with the intention of being unpleasant. If unpleasantness succeeded in business, there’d be no need for customer service, but since being enjoyable and fun usually makes business run smoother, I think it’s safe to say that most people prefer to like things more than dislike them. It is in our own nature to seek out the things that make us happy over the things that don’t. The point of gamification is to put yourself right in the crosshairs of doing business with your customers as well as making it an enjoyable experience for all parties. If you want to learn more about gamification, you can read this gamification post by Richard Baxter, whose work in SEO and Excel I think highly of. So, I’ve rambled on about that long enough, which leads me to the next question:
Gamification can make certain things that are not games more engaging and, well…fun. Generally speaking, the line between game and work is the enjoyment of the person engaging in it. Although some types of work also overlap into games (e.g. NCAA Basketball, NFL, and nearly all professional sports), there are some similar components of games: rules, challenges, interaction, and goals. When you tell someone to do something without rules or challenges or interaction or goals, then motivation is going to be difficult to maintain. However, by introducing game mechanics into something like a test, for instance, you can turn a negative to a positive. And, as Drew pointed out in his last post about the Madness of Internet Marketing, games and Internet marketing share a few parallels.
Remember when you were in school and you’d get tests from the teacher and, although the tests may have been challenging and may have had a goal (you didn’t want to have to come home with a paper with a big “F” to show your parents), did you want to go through that again? Of course not (that doesn’t stop the teacher from doing their job). But when your teacher decided to make a game out of a lesson, say a mock Jeopardy round, where your goal was changed from avoiding failure punishment to gaining bragging rights in class, you were likely to want to play again (i.e. learn more). Of course, gamification is not business alchemy, but it can be a helpful paradigm to employ when trying to incentivize user engagement and increase your chances of repeat customers. And like any game, you need to have a competitive edge to win.
Before you start doing anything, I must preface this by stating that gamification is not an excuse to prey upon the confusion of your audience or demean the seriousness of your business. In the end, business is business, so don’t let gamification interfere with your business ethics or your bottom line. At the end of the day, value is your most important tool, not only for your customer base but also for your own company. Gamification is often looked at as being an oversimplification of existing practices, and although that is true in some cases, it may not work for everyone.
As with anything you do, it’s best to assess your current situation to determine if it’s right for your business. If you decide to move forward with it, keep in mind that it’s not all fun and games–for you. There’s still a need to monitor certain metrics on your site to determine if your engagement has increased as a result of gamifying your Internet marketing. Gamification is not directly aimed at conversion rate optimization or PPC so it is best to assess your goals before you devote time or resources to it. The benefit to successful gamification is that you see an uptick in:
Since gamification may result in a lot of non-converting traffic, be prepared for the added stress it may cause your infrastructure. Having a reliable server to handle lots of traffic that lingers on your site is an obvious necessity, but do you also have the workforce to handle the incoming business that can potentially come out of your increased user engagement?
Perhaps one of the most obvious facets of gamification is the fact that it is geared towards humans (as opposed to search engines and their algorithms). Contests and giveaways are a growing trend in engaging customers on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. Incentivize your customers’ engagement (whether it’d be page visits or Likes) by providing a reward to your audience. With contests and giveways, there’s usually a deadline, which creates a sense of urgency and adds to the challenge of your gamification strategy. This ultimately and boosts your social media marketing efforts.
Here’s a list of some successful Facebook contests that you can emulate. Oh, and don’t forget about promoting sweepstakes through Facebook because (legal) gambling is a game too. In the list of metrics above, you definitely want to monitor how many more Likes you get, which you can do with a Facebook Like Count Calculator or simply monitoring your Facebook Insights analytics.
Unfortunately, gamification doesn’t usually play into search engine optimization directly as the search engines couldn’t really care less about making your site more fun. But, as Google moves further towards utilizing social signals as part of their ranking algorithm, increasing one’s presence (and spread) across various social media platforms may help improve your visibility and ranking. When increasing your Likes on Facebook or +1’s on Google Plus, these are interpreted by Bing and Google as signals of your authority. There’s a lot more to it than just saying “getting more likes/+1’s gets you higher ranking,” so read up on some of the studies showing a correlation between social signals and search engine ranking if you want to go into more detail about this relationship.
My point: if attracting and engaging your human users helps your SEO (as well it should since the search engines themselves are not the customers), why not give it a try?
If you don’t wish to go through social channels to reach your audience, or you want to find ways of getting people on your site directly, you are probably going to need to spend a little time on web design and development. Again, I make reference to an article by Richard Baxter who provides some interesting and creative ways that companies have been able to implement gamification on their site with some creative website design and development. However, if revamping your site’s layout it all it takes to improve your site’s user experience, that can also have an indirect improvement on the metrics listed above.
Now that you’ve made it to the end of this post, your next challange, should you accept it, is to get those creative juices going and start thinking of how you can find ways to implement some gamification on your site!
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