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The Qualifications for Gamification in SEO

Insights January 16, 2014


An effective (but relatively unknown) method of influencing consumer behavior is through a process known as gamification. I know, it sounds made up, but I promise you it’s a real thing. By definition, gamification is the process of applying game thinking and game mechanics to situations outside of actual games. In other words, taking something that isn’t always considered as fun and engaging, and turning it into something that is.

In gaming, Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE service has an excellent and highly intricate system of gamification for around-the-clock players. Gamers can earn points, badges and even unlock “achievements” based on activity within certain games. In the end, this can earn them Microsoft points, which can be used as currency to purchase game add-ons, extra maps and customized avatars. Microsoft’s system incorporates almost every category of gamification, which include the following:

  • Reward-based
  • Task-based
  • Leaderboard-based
  • Currency-based

I’m not here to go on and on about the implications of gamification from the perspective of a marketer–somebody from Visa, MasterCard or Discover can tell you how that works. What I’d rather do is talk about what a detailed model for SEO would look like. I believe it’s a mix of the first three types above: reward, task and leaderboard. (Maybe one day when we sign BitCoin we can start to experiment with a currency-based model.)

In SEO, there are two eminent truths:

1. Your website itself should be optimized for Google crawlers
2. Its backlink profile(s) should look as natural as possible

Your off-page efforts should align with your on-page efforts to work harmoniously, returning your pages in search results for original searcher intent.

I want to focus on off-page, as it’s the area of SEO where gamification can be most useful.

Are we getting through to the right people in the right places to get the right mentions? What are we really doing to reinforce our goal to increase qualified organic traffic? Each time we develop a strategy, we need to account for four basic aspects of a great backlink profile:

  • Trust
  • Relevancy
  • Authority
  • Popularity

TRAP is a great way to remember these–a friendly group of quantitative and qualitative measurements that are important to bolstering a natural accumulation of earned visibility.

For our purposes, task-based gamification is generally the most useful. This might include competitive analysis and the constant monitoring of client and competitive backlink profiles to identify opportunities and “tipping points” that can become gamified tasks. These “triggers” for balancing out things like authority (quality) and popularity (quantity) can be as simple as a formatting option in Excel. For example, if a targeted page reaches a point where it matches the number of mentions/links it’s received compared to its competitor, then perhaps it’s time to set goals for quality. All of this takes into account other variables like ranking and website changes—all of which should be part of a visible and mandated task-based gamification model.

Next up is reward-based gamification. While the true reward is attracting qualified traffic based on increased rankings in major search engines, how is that quantified? Where is the natural hierarchy? Who has achieved what, based on what things? I envision a model where credit can be given in the form of badges or certifications for hitting milestones in each area of TRAP. Strategists should be aware of these milestones and know that approaching an optimal balance between the four will lead to badges or certifications.

Last, but certainly not least, is leaderboard-based gamification. We don’t like to think of what we’re doing as anything but a team effort, but in an environment rich in raw data, it makes sense to highlight strategists for their achievements. Leaderboards in the different TRAP categories are one way to accomplish that. Since the importance of each category varies from client to client, the importance of each leaderboard may correspondingly vary from strategist to strategist. Strategists whose primary concern is the quality of their backlinks (if they’re pursuing a .edu strategy, for example) likely won’t care if they’re at the bottom of the quantity leaderboard.

Utilizing the basic principles of gamification when conducting off-page SEO can help us properly balance trust, popularity, relevancy and authority. With that balance successfully struck, we achieve maximum earned visibility.

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