Puzzles, e-cards and Rover – engaging the user

(Another post dating from 2010, copied from the ‘Coffee with ILRT’ blog)

ILRT has developed a web site, Hidden Lives Revealed, for the Children’s Society, with information about the Society’s work and its children’s homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The site was originally funded by the National Lottery and is intended to appeal to a range of ages and to be used as a teaching resource in schools. With this in mind, it has always included a range of ‘activities’ to engage, amuse and inform visitors to the site. Which of these have been most successful and why?

Pictorial puzzle: a rebus with names of 11 British towns to work  out.

A pictorial puzzle: name the towns

By far the most successful activity, in terms of numbers of visits, is the Virtual Children’s Home – a ground plan of two floors of an imaginary but typical home run by the Society. Clicking on a room on the plan brings up information about what that room would have been used for and some photographs. This activity is part of the teaching role of the site and not purely recreational. It is also the fifth highest result of a Google search on ‘children’s home’, which generates the vast majority of visits. The low ‘bounce rate’ shows that, having come across the page, most visitors stay for a look round the virtual home rather than moving away from the site at once.

Another popular activity is a page of interactive pictorial puzzles, taken from old editions of the Children’s Society’s magazines. It turns out that this page is currently the top result of a Google search on the phrase ‘Pictorial Puzzles’! But again the majority of visitors didn’t leave the page at once. A similar page of crossword puzzles is much less visited.

Less used are the section about the ‘Rover League’ (a club for children which appeared in one of the Society’s magazines), enhanced with barking noises, and the downloadable screensavers consisting of collections of photographs from the site. It is impossible to tell how much the screensavers are actually in use, although there do seem to be a couple of downloads a month by ‘real’ users. It’s probable that few people now lift screensavers from websites, preferring either to use what comes already installed on their machine or to customise their own.

an example of an e-card

An example of an e-card

Finally, many of the archive photographs on the site may be sent as an ‘E-card’. The user adds a message and details of the recipient, who is then contacted and told the URL where the message and photograph are waiting to be viewed. E-cards have proved steadily popular; on average three or four are sent in a week. A spot check shows that some are sent to the sender, possibly as a quick way of ‘bookmarking’ an interesting image, while others are sent to or by people with a family connexion to one of the homes. The e-card user is likely already to have spent some time browsing the site.

What do we conclude from this? It seems there are three things which are likely to make an activity popular: conveying interesting information, allowing the user to append their own content and a high position in Google’s search rankings!

(I have used the Web server logs for the site and Google Analytics to assist in the preparation of this article).

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