Getting consumers to your website is one thing, and requires a special set of tools - SEO, SEM, networking and many other marketing strategies. Keeping them on your site and coming back is entirely different. One powerful method is to get your customers and site visitors interacting with your website and your brand. Not only does interaction help connect users to your company, but it also increases the time they spend on your site - good for branding and attracting potential advertisers.
Consumers want to interact with your brand. They want to feel a part of the process, that their voice and opinion matters to your company. While blog comments, forums and social networking tools are proven ways for consumers to interact, often times they are wary to participate due to forced registration, disclosure of personal information or simply the time needed to participate. But there are other ways to entice your visitors to interact that don't require much of an effort from them, or you.
Polls: Polls are powerful. They provide a glimpse behind the curtain of the popular sentiment of a population and consumers use them. A quick click and they're satisfied. It satisfies their curiosity and reinforces their views and opinions with the larger community. For the website owner, polls can provide a look into everything from the quality of your customer service to ideas for new products or upgrades to existing ones.
There are many free polling services out there and some paid that offer greater detail. Check out Vizu.com, JS-Kit and PollDaddy, recently aquired by Automattic who is behind the WordPress blogging platform and hosting service.
Video and Audio: Nothing is quite as engaging as a well-placed, well timed video. Embedded video is easy for consumers to view - a simple click and they are interacting with your website and your brand, either through your own video or from another source. YouTube is by far the largest library of embedded video options but there are others, including DailyMotion and MetaCafe. Podcasts and embedded audio files provide the same basic function and can be featured unobtrusively in a blog post or in a sidebar.
Photos: Simply adding a photo gallery or photos in your blog posts will get your visitors more involved with your site. Photos can be linked to other, related pages within your site or even to galleries on other sites, including social networking profiles. FlickrIn is a Web app that lets you display tiled photos from your chosen flickr gallery as a small badge that you can embed in your site's sidebar.
Games: Who doesn't like playing a good game every now and then? It's especially interesting to the user if you can find a game that follows the theme of your brand. Sell sporting goods? There are plenty of sport-related games to choose from. Auto parts? Driving games abound. There are even political games, animal-themed games and puzzle games for your thinking audience. Sites like AddictingGames.com, MiniClip and FreeOnlineGames.com all have a vast collection of games that you can embed.
Tickers: This is especially useful in today's economic environment. You can embed stock tickers, or even a widget with tickers and charts, like this one from Yahoo. But there's more. Search online and you'll find sports tickers, entertainment news and tickers that you can customize to include your personal message.
Have other ideas of ways to get consumers interacting with your site? Leave a comment! (Yes, you must register.)