A while ago, I was searching for a way to make some money with an older domain of mine. There were a ton of options, and all of them seemed good as money or traffic generators. Some stood out – everyone who’s ever looked at the online side of their business and thought “I could make this work for me” has looked into Google AdSense or affiliate programs. More recently, we’ve delved into an even better way to make your site the best possible one-stop-shop for visitors. These would be the Batman utility-belt of the consumer-savvy web-designer: the widget.
It does what?
Widgets are ingenious little fellows that you settle into the sidebar or various other digital playpens of your web-pages. They do all sorts of things, from providing lists of useful links and recent posts, to offering you DVDs based on the article you’re reading and allowing you to Tweet what you’ve just read. It’s a fascinating wealth of opportunity – do you offer Twitter functionality on the homepage, or on press-release pages? Do you allow users to add your CEO on Facebook? Do you need a meta/login widget? The choices are endless, and it’s all too tempting to get so many that your website begins to look less like a coherent online representation of your products and services, and more like a scrapbook.
If you’re running your site through another site-building engine and built-in CMS, like WordPress and their .com and .org solutions, then you’re in luck – many widgets come as standard for .com. If you’ve opted for the self/externally-hosted .org option, there are countless communities across the web who make and upload their own, mostly for free. It’s as simple as installing a small bit of software on your computer – plug in the plug-in, and in no time at all you’ll have additional functions for new users.
It’s important to make sure you’re choosing the right ones – I know it’s tempting to get loads of widgets that let users do just about everything, but there’s a fine line between using a sharing plugin (digg and reddit, for example) and allowing users see which of their cousins are on Facebook right now. If you’re a social media company, the latter is fine, but if you’re an Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) with 30 years of industry experience, then this may not be the ideal representation of your attitude to online business presence. The widgets you use are as representative of the company’s tone and style as your choice of t-shirts vs. suits for big global conferences, and the wrong choice can make your business’ web design look slack or uncaring.
Let’s take an example – if you’re a site that does custom kitchen design, then there are a fair few ideal widgets that would come in handy. First, you could offer them a widget that displays the latest galleries you’ve uploaded to Flickr, as a means of offering them a “recent work” section that retains better functionality than an in-built gallery. They know Flickr, they may even use Flickr, and by applying the same brand name to your site as they do to their own lives, then you’re putting the business on a level that makes it seem more human and more appealing – key to ensuring your business spreads and evolves via word-of-mouth, if anything.
Tactical widget deployment
You’ve also got the option of placing them everywhere, and if not placing them in the correct sidebar, then why not taking it a step further, and creating your own? Of course, it requires programming, time, money, and a hundred other considerations – but then again, what doesn’t? It’s no more difficult than organising the business’ tax declarations when April rolls around, as you can contract it out to a programmer and designer in much the same way as Barry the accountant is contracted out to you to sort through the endless restaurant-based “team-building meetings” receipts on your expenses list for the year.
Of course, then there’s the various options that go with that – do you make a WordPress widget? One for all websites? One for the iPhone (an App, strictly speaking, but we’ll discuss those next week) or the Mac’s widget overlay? It’s a tough choice, but I’d again state that it depends on your business. Personally, if I ran an investment firm, I’d want an iPhone-compatible website that ran widgets allowing people to connect via LinkedIn, and possibly even one tracking the stock market and another crawling finance feeds from global papers and displaying them for people to scroll through as they explore the site. All of this would be free, easy to install and afterwards make the site, its design, and therefore the business look clued-in and web-savvy enough for the visitors to have faith in them as they make big investments in a new, scary, more-digital-than-ever environment.
It’s also worth considering their source. If you’re not aiming for commercialisation and want to remain professional, ensure the widgets are for functionality only, and have no secondary agenda. This rules out the Amazon Associates widgets, for one, which may be a slight dent in your plans for monetising a site. However, it also means that you’re not associating yourself needlessly with a vendor of goods that is world-renown, as any poor performance on their part is therefore tied to you – though only if you’re working in a private-sector, b2b environment. If you’re a big, outrageous blog about celebrities and big hair, then by all means, ensure Amazon’s recommendations widget has Hair: The Musical‘s DVD release displayed proudly on the sidebar. If you’re not, stick to news.
My personal pet hate is the ridiculous amounts of sharing widgets on the bottom of each page, as I feel most of them are so seldom used that their existence on the page is, for all intents and purposes, pointless. But that’s just me – everyone’s got their own tastes, and it’s easy to appreciate why they’re on the page when they’re well-chosen and well-placed. So if you’re appealing to your resident widget-fidgets, then go in guns blazing, and allow them to log how many bullets you’ve fired in that little box on the right-hand side of your site at the same time.