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Your website visitors’ attention is a precious resource, and it should be treated with respect. When people land on any page of your site, they should find content that is relevant, useful and worthy of their time.

Interactive design elements give website owners the opportunity to place content in a framework that is most likely to engage users on a personal level. When visitors can determine—at least in part—how they consume content, they bring themselves into the experience, making it more fulfilling and meaningful.

What is an Interactive Design Element?

An interactive element is anything on a web page a user can interact with. Most page content, like text and images, is static, and users passively consume such content. Interactive elements prompt users to do something, giving them control, and taking them from passive readers to active participants in the online experience.

Interactive elements can range from those that are simple and commonly used, like tabbed content, to complex data visualizations and games. What any website owner chooses to do with interactive content will depend on the goals of the site and the needs of its user base.

Why Use Interactive Elements?

Content marketing efforts are often heavily word-centric. Several years ago, a few widely shared studies of word count on highly ranking pages convinced marketers that web pages needed to be long. Content creators began regularly churning out pages thousands of words long in hopes of pleasing search engines and getting likes and shares.

This strategy is in direct conflict with commonly cited theories about the ever-shrinking human attention span. Fortunately, there is evidence that people are willing to give long web pages a shot. Well-targeted interactive content can help increase the chances that visitors will spend more time with your pages.

User Participation and Active Learning

Active learning is a process in which individuals are involved with the subject matter in some way, in contrast to passively listening to a lecture or reading a book. Examples of active learning techniques include games, role-playing, demonstrations and discussion, among others.

Multiple studies support the idea that active learning boosts memory. A 2014 study of active learning found that students who sat in lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail a course than those who heard a lecture and also participated in some form of active learning.

Interactive content can increase the number of things people remember about a web page by tapping into the same processes that connect people to material in active learning scenarios. It can also increase people’s memory of specific facts or items. In one Content Marketing Institute study, 73 percent of respondents claimed that adding interactive elements to their content marketing efforts increases retention of their organization’s message.

When people scan websites, they read small pieces of copy and look for relevant information. If they do not see something that grabs their attention, they may click away or bounce around to another browser tab. Interactive content gives users a reason to pause and actively consume content. This interrupts fast, hot-potato scanning and compel visitors to pay attention.

Rewarding User Behavior

Receiving positive feedback produces a natural high. Humans get a little dopamine boost from reward and positive reinforcement, a phenomenon that helps explain why people can feel, and be, addicted to their smartphones.

NYU professor Adam Alter compares the rush received from getting likes on a social media post to that of taking a drug, because to the human brain the rewards are very similar.

Interactive content can be used to create the sense of pleasure people get naturally from receiving positive feedback. Content transitions, interactive slideshows, button animations and process or status updates all serve to let users know they have successfully accomplished a task and give them a boost.

Earning Trust and Conversions

Building a website experience people will remember, and providing gratification through reward, are both good business-building tactics. When people know your brand and feel good about it, they are more likely to trust it and become loyal to it.

Types of Interactive Elements

Slideshows, Timelines and Interactive Galleries

This type of content can be helpful when conveying a complex point, telling a story, or adapting a lot of information to an easily consumable format. Slideshows can take people through a process or illustrate a how-to, while timelines can explain a history or tell a brand story.

This type of content also builds brand authority by demonstrating knowledge and placing the brand in the context of important historical events.

National Geographic has built an interactive timeline that tells the story of its magazine and highlights significant discoveries and innovations, which summarizes over a century of history in a clean, easy to use interface. Users are not immediately overwhelmed with information and can learn and explore at their own pace.

Briskman Briskman & Greenberg has developed a slideshow that takes visitors through the lawsuit process, letting them know what to expect should they pursue a case.

Calculators and Comparison Generators

Calculators and comparisons are good for people selling a product or service with many features, like a car. These generators can help people compare options and get a better feel for the benefits of different purchase decisions.

While the New York Times is not selling a service, they are likely attracting readers with their interactive comparison of home rental and purchase options, which helps people evaluate whether buying or renting is a better choice for them.

Interactive Infographics and Data Visualizations

Statistics and data can be useful tools to inform and influence. Placing data into a context that is dynamic and easy to navigate can help your readers understand and remember it.

Quizzes and Games

Quizzes and games are perfect for providing the type of instant gratification feedback people crave. After someone completes a quiz or plays a game, you can give them a summary of their answers or performance that they can share on social media, potentially extending your content’s reach.

People particularly like to take quizzes that supposedly reveal information about themselves. The Chekhov with Google quiz lets visitors explore which Anton Chekhov character they are. It was used originally to audition users for a theatrical online reading of Chekhov’s works.

Assessments and Recommendation Engines

These types of generators are helpful for moving people through the steps of a sales process. They can also be good lead generation tools. Assessments help users set benchmarks for progress and recommendations and can encourage visitors to make a decision about a purchase.

The Hello Fresh recommendation generator entices people to purchase meals by giving recipe suggestions based on users’ moods.

Live Chats and Feedback Tools

Those in the retail or service industry understand first-hand how much consumers like to give feedback. And this feedback can be valuable. By offering chats, surveys, and quizzes, you can gain insight into how your visitors think and have a better understanding of how to meet their needs, while potentially generating leads. This type of content also makes your brand seem accessible, which is an important step in trust-building.

McCormack & Erlich uses an interactive intake form on its homepage that encourages visitors to tell their story, as though they are speaking to a person, not a web page. This is more personal than a static contact form.

Interactive eBooks

If you have studies or whitepapers that are stuck as pdfs, they can be repurposed into interactive ebooks that are both more accessible to search engines and website visitors.

Are There Downsides to Interactive Design Elements?

Interactive content empowers visitors to personalize their experience and can lead to increased engagement and enjoyment of page content. However, interactive content is not a panacea for all website woes. There are some instances where adding interactive content could harm website performance. Here are a few caveats.

Research performed by the Penn State Media Effects Research Laboratory uncovered mixed results for interactive content. Participants in the study did tend to remember interactive items more than static content. However, overall recall of the page was lower. That is, people tended to only remember the interactive piece, to the detriment of the rest of the content.

The research also indicated that adding too many bells and whistles decreased time on site. It is important to note that this research studied only people who were asked to perform tasks on an e-commerce website. This suggests that retailers should carefully plan where and how they employ interactive elements.

Also remember that interactive elements can be heavy and increase load times. When adding any content, consider whether the time it will take to load will be worth it for your visitors.

Tips for Successful Web Content

Adding dynamic and interactive tools to your site can help your brand stand out in a positive way. These tricks don’t have to be applied to all of your content. No matter how cool an effect may be, too much can be a turn-off. And simple interactive features can be just as effective as advanced, bleeding-edge techniques, as long as you are speaking to your visitors’ needs. Here are some points to keep in mind.

  • Only use interactive content if you have a good reason. Some content is better suited to static presentation.
  • Make format appropriate to content. Carefully consider all of your options before choosing the most suitable type of interactivity.
  • Repurpose static content. You do not have to create everything from scratch every time. Look through archives to see what content you already have that might make good presentations or animations. You can also repurpose seminars and other offline presentations for web use.
  • Use third-party tools when necessary. If you are adding complex features, consider using tools developed specifically for that type of content. This will save time and development dollars.

Interactive content can boost your website’s performance, enhance lead generation, help with brand recognition, and engage your visitors. For all its positives however, when overdone or done haphazardly, interactive content can work against you. Always weigh the pros and cons of incorporating different types of interactivity into your pages and examine how the content will help your visitors.

Kristen Friend
Art Director at

Kristen Friend is an Art Director and digital marketing professional at Custom Legal Marketing (CLM) in San Francisco, CA. Kristen helps build her clients' brands through web and logo design, content development, SEO and conversion optimization. She also writes on design and marketing topics for CLM and as a contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine. As an award-winning designer, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey's Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work. She loves a good run and a good meal and has a passion for cooking and spending time outside with her dog, Maple.