Only a few years ago, a website was the equivalent of an online poster or billboard. The site owner published it. Visitors read it. The end. If it was done well, it might inspire action away from the site, but the process was anything but interactive. The standard website mimicked the traditional top-down publishing model.
That is no longer the case. Today, interactivity is an essential element of the successful site and is a key element of design. Users have an expectation that a site will offer an opportunity for interaction. The “virtual billboard” is a relic.
Interactivity in website design can take a variety of forms. Blogs, for instance, generally allow visitors to comment and to interact directly with the author of the published material. Blogs can also encourage readers to become site subscribers via an RSS feed.
Sales enhancements are another example of how one can code interactivity into their process in a meaningful and valuable way. Instead of serving as a static catalog of goods, the site owner can opt to highlight sales and special products.
It does not stop there, however. Much of the interactivity that is expected today stems from the so-called “Web 2.0” movement. This visitor-centric approach is more interested in building community and in opening the door for sharing than traditional static sites. Inclusion of “StumbleUpon”, “Digg”, “Technorati” and other social bookmarking site links that allow readers to quickly share your site with others are great examples interactivity encouragement.
The most rapidly growing elements of the Internet appear to be those focused on encouraging social networking. That is why so many smart designers are making a point of encouraging that kind of social media involvement with potential customers. While you can (and should) continue to encourage people to sign up for your email or newsletter list, you can also forge potentially valuable connections via sites like Facebook and Myspace. The massive recent growth of Twitter should remind all of us that interactivity and social contact are becoming key parts of the online experience for many users.
Is your site suitably interactive or are you relying only upon a contact page buried somewhere in the site’s substructure as your only way of forging a connection with others?
If you have not hop on the interactivity bandwagon, it is not too late. There is still a great deal of market space for anyone who is committed to success. If you want your site to perform effectively, however, you will need to make a point of encouraging activity within its design.