What “Draw Something” Teaches Us About Website Optimization

April 3rd, 2012 • By:  • Search Engine Optimization

What Draw Something Teaches Us About Website Optimization

Draw Something, the mobile game that is 75% Pictionary and 25% Wheel of Fortune, has been a phenomenon since its release on February 6. It’s enjoyed over 35 million downloads to date, and developer OMGPOP was purchased for $180 million by Zynga, of Farmville and Words with Friends fame. So what’s made the app so successful and, more importantly, how can that make our websites better?

Speak the Language

In Draw Something, the object is simple: draw pictures to describe the word you’ve been given. But rather than make you draw fusty words like “parsnip,” “sepia,” and “fusty,” the options are often contemporary, including pop culture borrowings like “Carmelo,” ‘Gaga,” “Ewok,” and “Katniss.”

Lesson: Learn to speak the language of your customers. When writing content for your site, be writing around keywords and phrases that your potential clients would actually use. You may manufacture Post-Its, but if your customers refer to them as “stickies” then you’d better make sure that at least some of your content uses that language. If you sell Ewoks, then please contact me.

Less Is More

Draw Something - Slippers

Great drawing, but did we really need the Sriracha bottle to guess "slippers"?

I’m lucky to have a knack for drawing, so when I play drawing games my bad tendency is to try to show off. Why draw “pool” as a blue rectangle with a white rectangle representing a diving board when you can show glints on the water, shading on the diving board, patterned brick around the pool deck, and a to-scale filter humming away in the background?

Because it can be distracting, or annoying. Draw Something is a two-way street, and when it’s my turn to guess a word, my patience for slowly-drawn, richly detailed renderings runs thin. If the word is “engine” then don’t spend 3 minutes getting the carburetor up to Motor Trends illustration quality when a gray smudge under the hood of a cartoon car will do the trick.

Lesson: Understand that your website is about the visitor, not you. You may adore the intricate, lush design of your site, but if it’s consequently slow to load, that wow factor fails. A 2500-word mission statement may explore every facet of your corporate philosophy, but if it amounts to a tl;dr for users, then it might as well be static. And remember that the more things you throw at site visitors, the less likely they are to focus on the item you want them to.

Except When More Is More

The flipside to the above rule is when the quick and simple isn’t cutting it. You can draw all the arrows you want to the brown circle thing you just scribbled, but if a brown circle isn’t enough information for someone to guess “coconut,” then less is less. So it’s important to know when additional information (a palm tree, or Mounds candy bar) can put you over the top.

Lesson: Don’t weigh your content down with self-indulgent excess, but make sure you’ve put in the time and thought to make it successful. Would your text-heavy article benefit from some graphics, or an explanatory video? Would your dry spreadsheet be more effective if the data were put into an infographic? Successful content is more than bare-minimum filler– it engages audiences and it delivers its point in the best way possible.

Draw Something - Witch

You may be surprised at how much, or how little, your visitors need to get your point.

Analyze User Response

One of the things that hooked me on Draw Something is that, after your game partner’s turn, you get to see a real-time recreation of your friend guessing (or failing to guess) your word. What I found fascinating was that some drawings I thought were slam dunks took the guesser a long time to get, and some that I thought were impossibly hard were correctly answered before I’d even gotten to the meat of the drawing.

Lesson:  You don’t always know your audience as well as you think you do. What matters isn’t intent, but performance. It’s absolutely important to put thought into your content, designs, campaigns, and other website aspects. But it’s equally important to follow up and find out where you were on the mark, and where you had room for improvement. Analytics can give you the information you need about traffic, links, bounce rates, social sharing and more. Move forward with your site making informed choices, not speculative ones.

Invest in the Right Tools

When you first start off in Draw Something, you get a few primary colors to draw with. Everything seems well and good until you’re asked to draw an orange without the color orange at your disposal. As you and your game partners guess words correctly, you win coins to buy additional colors for your palette. Pretty soon, you can draw not just an orange, but an orange with pale orange pith, off-white seeds, and the Tropicana logo.

Lesson: If your site isn’t getting across what you need, then invest in the resources to make it effective. If text articles aren’t engaging your potential customers, then it might be time to try to reach them by video. Perhaps return visitors to your site would improve if you added a newsletter signup to keep interested parties in the loop. Or is your site design out of date, and not conveying the caliber of your company and its products or services? Look beyond what’s in your immediate arsenal and consider what that smartest next step might be.

Share and Share a Like

Much of the rapid success of Draw Something came from word of mouth. The app is tied into Facebook, making it easy for player to find or recruit people to join in. Chatter on social media swelled quickly. People started sharing galleries of standout drawings that had been done in-game. The developers smartly helped create a critical mass of buzz by tapping into their users and the social media they were connected to.

Lesson: Without social media, Draw Something becomes more like checkers in the desert. Not every promotion or content piece is going to set the world on fire, but well-done efforts will periodically gain solid traction with an audience. By making sure those efforts are easily shareable on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and the like, you’re helping turn admirers into advocates.

Draw Something - Website

There are no rules.

The Rules Are There Are No Rules

One of the biggest strengths of Draw Something is that there aren’t any prescribed rules, apart from:

  1. This your word
  2. Draw something with the tools we gave you
  3. If the other player guesses, it’s a win

That’s it. Nothing about whether you can write words or not. Or point arrows at the relevant part of your pic. Or angrily draw Dropkick Murphys logos when you’re tasked to draw “Bieber.” The game trusts players to figure out for themselves what works or doesn’t. I started a random game with a stranger and for their first drawing, they just wrote out the word I was supposed to guess. I forfeited the few coins I would have won, passed on the round and abandoned that player. (I do, however, write out words sometimes — if I got “lilwayne” you can be sure I’d write out “YEAAAyuhhh.”) Gamers naturally know what they want out of the experience and will seek out platforms and players that support that.

Lesson: Rules were made to be broken. It’s good to have a solid handle on best practices, but it’s also important to know when to let go of the reins a bit and let a good idea just be a good idea. Not every blog post is going to leverage money keyword phrases. Not every website layout is going to look like the design trend du jour. But if you step away from those guidelines purposefully, with good reason and a solid knowledge of what your viewers respond to, then you may find your efforts taking on a life of their own.

How are your website efforts analogous to upstart mobile video games (or just doing overall)? Let us know in the comments below!

David Gould

David is the Creative Services Director at Vertical Measures. He oversees written, visual and video content production, as well as social media and promotion. David works with clients to develop compelling content that pulls together business goals with customer needs. His 15 years experience in writing, design and web development have provided a perfect complement of skills for effective content marketing and strategy.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 at 4:30 am and is filed under Search Engine Optimization. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “What “Draw Something” Teaches Us About Website Optimization”

  1. Kevin H Says:

    Great post David. Very creative way of looking at solid best practices. Now I have to wrap it up and get back to Draw Something… :)

  2. David Gould Says:

    Appreciate that, Kevin, thanks!

  3. Meredith Gieseking Says:

    One thing I’ve hoped for over the last couple of years is that the ABA would offer live video streaming of the conference presentationsor at the very least put them up on YouTube after the conference is over. The materials can be good, but it’s hard to replace good presentations with words on paper.

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