From the June 2011 issue of Entrepreneur

Few activities are more engaging than a well-designed game. By their nature, games encourage and facilitate exploration of virtual space and reward players when they perform tasks, achieve goals or acquire skills. When you think about it, this is precisely what your business needs to do for your customers. By encouraging your website visitors to engage in certain activities and rewarding them for doing so, you transform the conversion process into something more akin to an interactive game.

Think of it as rewarding customers for swiping a credit or debit card, staying at a particular hotel or flying a certain airline. In exchange for engaging via your website, you reward current and prospective customers with points for discounts, badges that signify status and so on. You may even have a leaderboard where customers can compete against one another to win prizes.

Get Your Game On
"Gamifying" your site lets you offer customers an interactive incentive program--sort of like what merchants offered from the 1930s to the 1980s via S&H Green Stamps. To make your efforts more productive, keep the following in mind:

Keep it simple. Don't make your point or reward system so complicated that no one wants to play.

Make it worthwhile. It's not about the points or badges. It's about what visitors can get by trading in those points and badges. If customers don't keep coming back on a regular basis, the ROI is not worth it.

Don't assume everyone wants to play. Some people get bored or feel manipulated by standard reward systems. Provide easy access for those who like to play, but avoid making it obtrusive.

Make it a real game. Gamifying is a bit of a misnomer. These programs are really just interactive incentive programs. Real games are intrinsically motivating and do not rely on extrinsic rewards to keep players engaged. Think of ways to make the experience fun. --M.B.

When you apply simple game theory to your website, visitors earn rewards for many of the things you want them to do, such as signing up for an e-newsletter, participating in an online demo, downloading a white paper, commenting on a blog post and liking your Facebook page.

The good news is that you don't have to restructure your website to include a game layer. Several companies offer turnkey solutions that enable layering an incentive or reward system on top of your current website. Here are a few of the best:

Badgeville: Provides a social rewards and analytics platform to encourage website interaction.

BigDoor: Uses a widget that appears as a "MiniBar" on your website so customers can earn badges and points and gain access to leaderboards. The MiniBar encourages exploration and sharing that leads to engagement, loyalty and viral growth.

Bunchball: Promotes participation, loyalty and revenue via games for well-known brands, including Warner Bros., Comcast, Victoria's Secret Pink, USA Network, LiveOps and Hasbro, all of which use Bunchball's Nitro platform to create entertaining experiences for consumers and employees.

IActionable: Lets you create your own game-related reward system, including how your customers earn points. IActionable follows customer progress on your website and determines whether customers have earned points.

Reputely: Offers gamification solutions aimed at user acquisition and retention.

Gamifying your website should add value to the user experience and thus motivate users to return again and again. Making a game of it not only rewards loyalty, but it also gives your customers the kind of information and experiences they will naturally want to share with their friends and colleagues.