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Why interactive websites are successful

Summary: One of the most important qualities of a great website is interactivity. An interactive website gives visitors ways to participate.

As websites have become more sophisticated, visitor expectations are changing. Web visitors expect to interact meaningfully with websites.

When visitors get what they want on a website, they'll stay longer, return repeatedly, and post links to the site elsewhere on the internet. Interactive websites encourage these behaviors, so it's no surprise that the most popular sites are highly interactive.

Websites have become more sophisticated

The web has changed dramatically. In the beginning we surfed the web to see what others had created. These sites were all about the person or organization which created them.

In contrast, many of the newer websites allow visitors to participate in creating content and online communities. This development is sometimes called "Web 2.0." Common user-generated content includes photos, videos, music, text, ratings, and links.

Although this move toward highly interactive websites is primarily a shift in attitude, new web technologies have made it possible for visitors with no specialized skills to participate fully.

Expectations are changing

Because so many popular websites have made it easy for visitors to contribute content, web users have come to expect that websites should allow them to take an active role.

Interactivity is one way to give visitors what they want. Their will needs vary, depending on why people come to your site.

Interactivity is about meaningful choices

The simplest form of online interactivity is a website's navigation. Almost all websites allow visitors to choose from different pages. To keep your visitors on the site, your site's navigation must be easy to understand and use.

Except for navigation, many websites have almost no visitor interaction. It's a safe bet that the majority of websites without interactive features attract few visitors and don't compel visitors to return regularly.

Why would anyone come back to your site if nothing is going to be different?

Stickiness is good

A "sticky" website gives visitors what they want and gives them reasons to stay longer or to return later. Meaningful interactive features can make a website sticky.

What do your site's visitors want?

Are they looking for useful information?
Are they searching for entertainment?
Do they want to find friendship and a sense of belonging?
Are they seeking a soap box for their opinions or a gallery for their artwork?

Your site's features must meet your visitors' spoken and unspoken needs.

Examples of interactive features

Teens and young adults tend to be attracted by websites that are highly "tactile." So, if you want to see good examples of interactive websites, look at some of those currently popular with kids.

Take a look at the home page of www.gurl.com.

screenshot of www.gurl.com, a very interactive site

This website provides dependable information on topics such as credit cards, sexuality, and activism.

But there's more. This extremely sticky site has interactive features that are relevant to its members. Through their participation, the girls have created an online community in which they make friends and explore their own emerging individuality.

After signing up, girls can vote in opinion polls, discuss a vast array of topics, test their knowledge, play games, create profile about themselves, ask an advisor questions, sign up for a newsletter, shop, share their own photos, poems, and cartoons, etc.

Other typical interactive features, some of which are also offered by gurl.com, include chat, search, feedback options, "email this to a friend", and "send an email postcard."

Common types of interactive websites

Blogs, such as CommunitySpark.com, are usually a collection of articles written by one person, displayed in chronological order along with comments by visitors.

Forums are online communities, often focused on one topic, about which members can post messages and exchange ideas, for example, AsturianUS.org.

Wikis are websites, such as Wikipedia.org, in which visitors collaborate to edit the content.

Social networks are sites that map the relationships between individuals, such as the career networking site LinkedIn.com.

Virtual worlds are online experiences, such as SecondLife.com, in which "residents" recreate the physical world.

Of course, many popular websites stretch these categories.

Interactivity creates buzz

People come to a site because someone has told them about it or because they've found it in the search engines. Most sites have very low search engine results rankings, in part because they haven't attracted enough "buzz." If more external websites link to your site, your site will usually do better in the search engine rankings.

When someone visits your site, if they find something they value and something that intrigues them, they're much more likely to stay longer, return later, or put a link to it on another website.

Integrating meaningful interactive features into your site is a good way to excite your visitors and get that buzz.

Gratuitous interactivity is not helpful.

Interactive features should be relevant and useful to the target audience. Don't add features that your visitors won't use.

Do you need an interactive website?

Would you like to increase the interactivity of your website? Contact me now. We'll put your website to work for you!

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