Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 9: 10 Characteristics of Playful, Engaging… and Persuasive Websites

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 10, 2009

Sites need to be usable. Who could possibly argue that they don’t need to be? Jakob Nielsen‘s done a great job of teaching us all that useful tidbit. …But what if you could take a really usable site like this:


And merge it with a fun, playful site… like this?

Alamo Basement

You might get something like this:


Today, we’re talking about making usable sites playful in order to persuade users to move through your site, return to your site and, if you’re selling stuff on it, buy products or services on your site. We’re talking about the power of play (or what some call user engagement).

Play: A Key Part of User Engagement (Along with Flow, Aesthetics and Interaction)
If you work on the web, you already know about the importance of sorting out a user flow and crafting stories through interaction design. Not to mention the importance of aesthetics. These three elements help to create user engagement… But have you given much thought to play, the fourth element of engagement (O’Brien & Toms, 2008)?

In 1967, William Stephenson developed the Play Theory of Mass Communication. This theory takes shape around the concept of communication-pleasure, which posits that play can be the sole purpose of a user — that play for the user need not lead to any concrete outcome. Playing is enough. Playing is pleasurable. (I mean, who hasn’t been distracted from a work task by something fun?)

If you could make a task feel like playtime, wouldn't you be more interested in doing that task?

If you could make a task feel like playtime, wouldn't you be more interested in doing that task?

But is the idea of visitors playing on your site and buying nothing good enough for you? No, probably not. That’s why it might interest you to know that play leads to happier users who are more willing to stay on your site and return later. 

For example, research on affect in online shopping (e.g., Nahl & Bilal, 2007; Arnold & Reynolds, 2003) allows us to extrapolate that engaging users in playful e-commerce experiences increases pleasure, which renders users more likely to return to a website. Atkinson and Kydd (in 1997) wrote about the role of play in decision-making on the web, where play is associated with increased satisfaction with using a web system and is attributed to increased motivation and affect for users. 

So let’s say you want to apply the very broad concept of ‘play’ to your site. Is a playful site just a good-looking site? Is it just an easy-to-navigate site? Do you basically need fun little icons to engage users via play? All legit questions… and the following checklist should help when you test the value of play on your own site. 

Checklist of 10 Common Play Characteristics:

  1. Stimulates or challenges the mind/imagination
  2. Is totally easy to use, with big bold targets and larger fonts in a range of styles
  3. You can navigate it without any triangulation techniques 😉 
  4. Makes the user feel like they’re in full control
  5. Includes novel elements — cool features users didn’t expect and maybe haven’t seen before
  6. Has great aesthetic appeal, whether it’s an uber-clean interface or something reminiscent of the Ringling Brothers
  7. Creates a feedback loop with the user
  8. Lives and breathes variety
  9. Offers a high level of interactivity
  10. Creates sensory appeal with a range of multimedia (e.g., text, graphics, sound)

The more of the characteristics your site offers, the more playful — and, in turn, engaging — it will be for users. And when you keep users happy and on your site longer, you have a much better chance of them noticing one or two of your persuasive messages and converting. 

Here are a few examples of (what could’ve been ‘serious’) websites that encourage play while remaining largely usable by incorporating some of the above play characteristics.

QuickBooks and Porsche - Play

And if all else fails and you just can’t see the point in play, remember this: If it’s good enough for Porsche, it’s good enough for you. 


Read More About the Power of Play Here (PsychologyToday)


One Response

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  1. […] also know that people like playing. Playing can be very persuasive. So, if you put a cool quiz, a poll or a fun YouTube video of a cute little cat on your site, […]

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