The best sites these days are the ones with the most interactive features. Taking cues from the larger sites, think of the interactive features that now bring in high numbers of customers. Using blogs, polls, forums, ratings, feedback, reviews, etc., a site can become more of a reflection of the people who use it, giving the users a reason to come back again and again to help shape the site. Most of us have bought items from Amazon, that paragon of all affiliates. Think back to the first interactive features- the media reviews. Amazon lagged in the beginning, taking several years to even turn a profit. As they added more and more interactive features, the site became a community, and buyers stuck around both for content that they trusted and to leave content of their own. This includes not just the reviews, but now ranked review levels that reviewers try to attain. There are also now customer written lists of their favorite items, blogs, places for book authors to chime in about their books, interviews, and more. All of these features make the site feel less like a corporate sales machine and more like a hang out. Use a combination of features to achieve your own hang out status. Polls are a good way to brig people in and keep them coming back. People love to vote for things, and you can bet they will come back to see how other people voted. Add to that a blog, comments that you can leave about the blog, and a place to talk to other users of the site, and you have an interactive meeting place, not just an ecommerce site. Forums are one of the most popular parts of any interactive site. These can be very subject-focused forums that pertain only to the topic of the site, or anything-goes forums that allow users to talk about any topic they like. Many forums have a combination of both- places to discuss the products and keep people thinking about them, and places to discuss their private lives and meet up with friends. The most effective forums have both of these elements. When the readers are tired of talking about the given topic, they will still come back to ‘see’ people they know. This brings them back to your site again and again, creating the best environment for repeat sales. One feature that has begun to be used more often is to give a rank to users based on their usage of the interactive features. Think of Amazon’s reviewer program, giving a special icon to their top reviewers. Many people strive to review as many items as they can in order to get those coveted titles, which cost nothing and don’t give them any special privileges. This type of program can actually be harnessed to greater benefit for larger sites. Yahoo now has an area where users can answer the questions of other users. Answering questions get the user points. Other users rate both the questions and answers, and getting good rating for your answers get the user more points. The points don’t mean a thing, but everyone seems to want them. There are likely much fewer questions being routed through the customer service channels now that the site’s users are willing to answer them in exchange for points. It also brings back customers in order to see how their answers and points are faring. Taking a lesson from this model, think of ways to assign points or rankings to users of your site, and they will be back to improve those rankings. The rankings can be as simple as an icon, a number, or a special title. Giving the site’s users something, even a silly title, will show them that you appreciate them being and want them to keep coming back.