Research Says Ditch the Text, Add Some Interactivity to Your Website

If you’re looking for a way to boost the effectiveness of your project’s website, a new study out of Robert Morris University, The Pennsylvania State University, and Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea has some good news: Increasing audience engagement may be as simple as adding some interactivity to your site.

Communications researchers Jeeyun Oh and S. Shyam Sundar were interested in whether interactive websites were more persuasive than websites with a more straightforward design. Their study, published in the Journal of Communications, asked 167 student participants to browse a website about the dangers of smoking. The website had information on topics like “How smoking affects your brain” and “How smoking affects your looks.” Although the content of the site was the same, some versions had interactive features such as hyperlinks with more information and sliders which let students compare photos, and others did not. The students were quizzed on their attitudes towards smoking both before and after they viewed the site.

Oh and Sundar found that the interactive features made students feel more positive about the website. The site with the interactive features was ranked as “more exciting, cool, imaginative, entertaining, and having higher quality” than the site without the features. The interactive features also improved students’ attitudes towards the anti-smoking messages of the site. Students who saw the interactive version ranked it as more “believable, informative, insightful, objective, interesting, and clear” than participants who saw the plain version.

Importantly, these effects transferred over to the students’ attitudes about smoking. “[I]nteractivity appears to have persuaded participants that smoking is not an attractive behavior,” Oh and Sundar note. “After browsing the website, participants who interacted with the slider were less likely to say that smoking, in general, is sexy, pleasant, sociable, glamorous, calming, positive, or favorable” than participants who saw the plain site.

For communicators, then, adding simple interactive features to your website can help involve your audience in your message. The study suggests that these features are particularly useful for communicators attempting to draw in audiences that are neutral or somewhat disinterested in the topic. “The current data also imply that message interactivity can be especially useful for designing websites where low-involvement individuals are the target audience,” the researchers explain.

“The website structure and its interactivity are not merely vessels or vehicles for delivering the content,” Oh and Sundar emphasize. “Rather, the design of these technological factors significantly affects psychological responses from users.”

Journal of Communications

Jeeyun Oh, Robert Morris University
S. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University, Sungkyunkwan University

Posted: June 1, 2015
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