So What is a Widget Anyway?
By now, you've probably seen and heard of widgets (like the ones above), but do you actually know what they are, how they're used, and how you can use them to attract site visitors and build your brand? As users demand more customizable and interactive online experiences, web-based businesses have to meet that challenge by developing sticky tools, such as widgets, that allow their users to take their online experiences to the next level.
According to Wikipedia, a widget is:
...an element of a graphical user interface (GUI) that displays information that is changeable by the user, such as a window or a text box. The defining characteristic of a widget is to provide a single interaction point for the direct manipulation of a given kind of data. Widgets are basic visual building blocks which, combined in an application, hold all the data processed by the application and the available interactions on this data.
More simply, a widget is an online tool that can be embedded into websites, blogs, and social networking profile pages to share information - such as the weather or news, stream music or movies, display photos, play games, or set up quizzes, countdowns and other time wasters. You can find widgets that allow you to create yourself as a Simpson's character (The Simpsomaker), make your own Zen Fish Tank Aquarium, and even create your own Cyber Pets to hang out on your site.
Organizations can also use widgets as part of their marketing and branding efforts; a well-designed, easy-to-use widget can be implemented all over the web, but tracked back to your site and made recognizable with your corporate branding. Social bookmarking sites such as Furl and Multiply have their own widgets that can be embedded in blogs, you can subscribe to various RSS feeds using their respective widgets, and you can link to popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace using their widgets.
By creating these sticky tools, you make it possible to increase your web presence without having to do much actual work. When users have the ability to add your site to their blog with your widget, your branding is on their site, and you benefit by gaining access to your users' networks. These little icons are a good way to get your logo on your users' mobile devices too - as people use widgets to organize their online experiences. When you build a widget that links people back to your site, you are never more than a click away from your users.
And by building widgets, you also build the potential to engage and re-engage your users as they navigate away from your site and back to your site using your widgets. According to a BusinessWeek article, Building a Brand with Widgets, widgets are potentially better from engaging users than are more traditional online ads such as banners. By providing a tool that is actually helpful to people, you give them a way to accomplish their objectives and connect back with your brand.
If you do develop widgets that lead back to your site, you have to acknowledge that you will not have any control over where those widgets live on the web. People might place your widgets on websites that you would not necessarily want to be associated with, but at the end of the day, the traffic from that site might find its way back to yours and increase your overall audience. Just remember that the more sites your widgets live on all over the web, the more your brand will be recognized and the more traffic you will drive to your site.