Web developers are some of the naughtiest marketers in the world. For starters, they don’t call themselves marketers at all – that’s far too low brow. A designer is somebody who creates something to be marketed. He or she does not engage in the vulgar marketing process itself. And second, web designers very much do get involved in marketing, embedding small nudges to encourage users to do what companies want them to do, often without users even knowing. 

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If there’s any group in the world who is trying to affect the mind of the average person subliminally, it’s not the Illuminati; it’s legions of web designers working for SEO and web design agencies. Practically everything they do is what behavioural economist Richard Thaler would call a “nudge” – surreptitiously taking advantage of some aspect of our psychology to get us to do something that they want. 

Take the practice of mimicking messaging apps on websites. Websites will create imaginary inboxes with the small “1” in a red circle, indicating unread mail. Of course, it’s nothing of the sort, but it’s a way of creating a situation in which people are much more likely to click the call-to-action. It’s a trick.

Web developers are beginning to realise that by appealing to people’s online habits and instincts that they’re able to boost conversions and get people to do their bidding. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before gamification came to web design in a big way. Thanks to platforms like Roll20, it’s easier than ever for people to get involved with games online. In fact, that’s now what people expect. A website experience seems a little empty without there being some kind of optional in-browser game that people can play. 

Hide-And-Seek To Increase Dwell Time

Ever since Google included “dwell time” as a marker of site quality, web designers have been looking for ways to increase the time that people spend on their pages. Most quality companies have exhausted the regular avenues of improvement: plenty of white space, fast loading times, snappy navigation, engaging content, and so on. But relatively few firms employ gamification to keep people hooked. 

A small web design company called Zurb, however, has created a game that attempts to increase dwell time on its site by getting them to play hide and seek with cows. When a user arrives on the company’s website, the impulse isn’t to read the beautifully-crafted copy or read about the product. It’s to find where all the cows are hiding to complete the game. 

Think for a second just how clever this is. Not only are you exposing a person to your brand, but you’re also providing them with a dopamine hit from playing the game and signalling to Google that your pages are giving value to users – far more than your competitors. 

There are dozens of other examples of gamification of websites, but the Zurb example gives us all of the information we need. Web sites that use games put themselves at a critical advantage, over and above their competitors.