Dec 12, 2007

Widgets, Widgets, Widgets!

You may have seen the cool way of sorting tags called a "cloud" -- basically a clustered group of titles or label titles grouped in varying degrees of bold & size based upon the frequency of posts into that label title. See the right side-bar cloud in the blog? This widget came out of some trial (and error), and not without growing pain and loss of traffic.

The reason for this is I first tried the "easy" way to implement a cloud on my blog, by using a widget provided by Technorati. I originally experimented with the label cloud widget by Technorati to create my label cloud structure in my blog sidebar. After about a week, I started noticing my traffic was actually going DOWN for the blog -- something that hasn't happened yet upon the launch. In addition, I lost Google Ad revenue, too. Both of these results are not good, obviously. The problem? Technorati's Label Cloud Widget redirects users to the website. And, from there, the users will stay at Technorati and search THEIR post feed, rather than YOUR post feed. This, for me, was a bad thing, because I'm still not ranked as a top 100 power site at Technorati. Upon discovering that Technorati's cloud redirected traffic onto their site, I realized the problem, removed their cloud, and created a cloud structure of my own.

As a result of this experience, I've created FOUR RULES to better widget management:

1. Widgets must add value
2. Widgets must improve traffic if they do not provide high value to the end-user.
3. Widgets must provide value equal or superior to the real-estate cost of placing the widget.
4. Widgets must visually appeal within the design of the website.

Here's more detail on these four rules regarding boosting value in using widgets on your website or blog:

1. WIDGETS MUST ADD VALUE. A widget must provide additional functionality VALUABLE to users at your site. For example, I'm seeking ways to make my blogs more interactive. To that end, I'd prefer having a box talk to you when you drop by the site. However, this may not be the way my blogging audience wants to be interacted with. So, as a test, I'm trying out Meebo's live chat widget in the meantime.

Many widgets can add functionality to your site. From a calendar to weather station, there are many types of widgets you COULD add to a blog. The question is: does this functionality benefit your visitors in the way they want to interact with your site? If the answer is yes, then try the widget out and see how it plays out for you.

2. WIDGETS MUST IMPROVE TRAFFIC. You MUST be careful with widgets. When I installed the Technorati cloud, I lost a significant stream of visitors to my blogs. When I corrected the problem, my visit/page views continued to grow as they had been before loading the widget. Not a bad lesson to learn for a week's worth of traffic, but you can bet on it I won't need to learn this lesson twice: a widget shouldn't direct people off of your site, unless you're getting a return value equal or superior to the lost traffic. In the case of Technorati's Cloud Label widget, I couldn't see the value, and replaced the cloud with my own Blogger cloud (by the way, I used this code: If you use the code approach, make sure you back up your template, first! I had a problem installing on one of my blogs that cost me an hour to fix because I didn't back up first.

Other widgets that I've recently tried out that did not provide an equal return on the lost traffic (or lost real estate cost on the blog) included: Amazon widgets, A-Store Widgets, and a blogroll that I disconnected.

Getting traffic directed away from your site is not usually a good thing, if there is no reciprocal value. However, gaining traffic through a widget can be a great thing:

A widget I really like is one that draws traffic TO my site, such as this cool widget by SpringBox, which you can click on the "get this widget" on the lower right of my side bar in this blog to pick it up for your own website. What's great about the SpringBox widget is that people who load this on their blog are redirecting their site visitors to my blog and my blog-posts. It is a nice way to share blogs without redistributing the RSS FEED (which, to me, is piracy). The best way to avoid piracy is give people a way to syndicate your content, with the exchange being that traffic can come back to you. This is essentially what I'm doing with Springbox's widget. I'm still experimenting with these types of widgets; however, the general rule I've come to adopt is: when in doubt, remove it.

3. WIDGETS MUST RETURN (EARN) VALUE WORTHY OF THE REAL ESTATE COST. Putting a widget on my sidebar is essentially giving up landscape that could be used for other purposes. I have plenty of information to share with readers, but I will put a "language" translation widget up because this will result in more eyeballs staying on my page - especially those who cannot read English. In addition, I'll put a Google search box widget in my sidebar, because then people can search the blog more easily and find related articles fast. I'll include Google Adsense, because it's making me money.

Note: The best location for Google Adsense is under the header bar, not the sidebar. I found that my earnings through Google went up 50% when I added my link across the top of the blog, versus only listing it in the side bar and at the bottom of posts. That seems to be the #1 most important place to advertise for ads: under your header bar, text link 4 across the top. These links are the ads that get clicked the most. Many readers IGNORE the sidebar, so remember this, too.

4. WIDGETS MUST NOT DISTRACT OR NEGATIVELY IMPACT YOUR DESIGN. As with any website function, also make sure that a widget does not distract from the visual appeal of your website. All items ought to flow naturally and look as if you could have designed them and put them there yourself. Sure, a widget name in the corner makes it obvious that it's a widget, not custom-designed tool, so you've got to decide if installing something that ugly is acceptable for your blog.

I'll discuss monetizing widgets in a future post. I believe widgets are going to be increasingly important to websites, as people seek unique ways to interact, provide value, and relate to each other through the web. Consider this: Rockyou's volume is over 100M a day with their widget offerings, so there is volume in widgets. Just make sure the value your readers get back is worth the volume you're giving up.

Post by Scott Andrews, CEO of ARRiiVE Business Solutions. ARRiiVE Business Solutions helps executives improve sales, launch products and services, and build dynamic, cross-functional collaborative teams. For more information, contact info (at)ARRiiVE (dot) com or call us at 1 (805) 459-6939. Copyright © 2007 by ARRiiVE Business Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

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