Widgets Brew

For three years of law school, the word “widget” had an entirely different and often unpleasant meaning for me. An utterance of the word triggered a frenzy of sales transaction theories, the monstrous Uniform Commercial Code, and a haunting image of my contracts professor who was a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders. So, when Newsweek referred to 2007 as the Year of the Widget just days before the New Year, I was less than ecstatic. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, widgets had an online audience of 87.1 million people in the US by June. I’ve begun to adjust to the new meaning of the word “widget” and no longer crave fried chicken and nerve pills at its mere mention.

Other than a trigger for law school flashbacks, what is a widget?

Widgets look like a small window on a person’s web page, social networking profile, blog or desktop. These little windows can contain just about anything; graphics, videos, quizzes, coupons, links, and so on. Where widgets are found and what they can do depends on the type of widget. There are two basic types of widget:

• Desktop Widgets — These are downloaded to and run constantly on the user’s desktop, even when the user is not online. Desktop widgets let marketers appear around the clock on a person’s desktop – a great branding opportunity – and allow marketers to communicate without the help of another website. The downside to the desktop widgets is that they are only seen by the user and it can be tricky to get users to download them.

• Web Widgets — The web widget has been the topic of most of the widget buzz this year. Web widgets are posted to social networking profiles, blogs, and other social media sites and can be seen by everyone who visits the site. The challenge with web widgets can be providing new or updated content often enough to keep site visitors happy.

What can widgets do for online marketers?

Widgets, particularly web widgets, are an easy way to build your brand, communicate with consumers, and boost social media and SEO efforts. Widgets are easy for users to post on their sites. The code can be copied and pasted to easily and quickly post your widget to blogs, social networking profiles, and other online communities.

A widget can include graphics, video, product information, coupons or special offers and give users a way to instantly click through to your site. In the case of a web widget, any visitor to the blog or social networking profile where the widget is posted can click through.

In terms of optimization, widgets can help in developing valuable backlinks. Creating a widget that offers valuable content to bloggers or social network users will not only get others clicking through to your site, but bloggers and members of online communities will often post links to where a good widget can be downloaded.

Widgets are nothing to fear.

I no longer hear the shrill voice of the colonel demanding to know if the merchant can sell the widgets. That memory has been replaced by the vision of cute little interactive online tools and online marketers smiling. A small, complex little tool, the widget can be a valuable addition to an online marketing strategy.