The Wonderful World of Widgets

Circa 1991, the World Wide Web is developed at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee, who had completed the original software for the WWW hypertext system he had first proposed in 1989. Berners-Lee envisioned the Web as being a shared information space — an intertwined web of hypertext documents — within which people could communicate with each other and with computers.

Fast-forward 17 years, and “WWW” is a playful acronym for “Wonderful World of Widgets.” So what’s a widget and how can you welcome widgets into your world?

What’s a Widget?

We’re not talking about “Widget,” the Nintendo video game that had a briefly lived cartoon show, or Widget from the Marvel universe. We’re talking about Web widgets (define), small applications that can be placed on a desktop or in browsers.

In their simplest forms, widgets are objects that accept user input, such as check boxes, radio buttons, sliders, and drop-down lists. Widgets can change the appearance of a Web page’s GUI without reloading or changing its URL. When developed as plug-ins, widgets can be readily downloaded as featured components on other people’s pages.

Netvibes, iGoogle, and My Yahoo are examples of widget aggregators that can help you organize your digital life. Netvibes certainly helps keep me organized and on top of SEO (define) news and information by way of RSS feeds, as well as what’s happening with my dog Chewy’s e-mail, Facebook news and notes, the current time, world news, and, most important, my daily astrological forecast. Here’s a screenshot of a Netvibes tab:

Observe the Widget

If you want people to add your widget to their desktops, mobile phones, blogs, or social media applications, such as Facebook or MySpace, keep these commonly held best practices guidelines in mind:

  • Make your widgets useful, contagious, simple, and genuine.
  • Make your widgets easy to use, reliable, and ready to be shared.
  • Make your widgets accessible on multiple frameworks and multiple formats.
  • Make your widgets measurable.
  • Make your widgets a big part of a global SEO campaign.

Widgets, like most other social venues, contribute to a global SEO campaign on three counts. First, widgets can be used for direct and indirect link building. Second, they can be a big part of a company’s or brand’s overall online reputation. Third, they can refer serious traffic to a specific online destination.

Widgets and SEO

Keep a couple of things in mind to generate intelligent, natural links to your site through your widget. First, make certain you include a keyword-rich anchor-text link back to your site in the widget. Better yet, randomize the anchor link text used in your widget to mix up the words and phrases associated with optimal destinations within your site. It’s relatively easy to mix and match different widget colors and functions to different anchor test and link destinations.

Depending on your widget’s technical format, how you make anchor text links visible to search engine spiders varies. It’s always a good rule to wrap that wascally widget with good, old-fashioned HTML. However, you can use graceful degradation on all-Flash or -JavaScript widgets. Or you can place text links outside an iFrame-based (define) widget by using noframe tags. Any step you take increases the chances of the link being crawled and counted by the search engines.

Always remember to be kind to Webmasters when developing widgets. Create the links with ” target=”_blank”” code so a new Web page opens when site visitors click on links in the widgets. Some Webmasters are sensitive to widgets that appear to steal traffic from their Web sites or blogs. Adding this simple code helps increase a widget’s staying power.

Summing Widgets Up

One goal of developing widgets is to maintain staying power on sites and blogs. The longer your widgets remain on different blogs and sites, the better for your embedded anchor-text links and overall link-building efforts.

Whether you’re developing desktop or dashboard widgets, like Wikipedia’s edit articles widget, or working on a widget for social media networks like Facebook, MySpace, such as the widget that allows users to share music nearly anywhere, remember that developing a widget is much like developing any other online marketing tactic: set some business goals, understand how you’ll measure the widget’s performance, and know you can incorporate link building into the plan. Doing so will help ensure your entry into the world of widgets is truly wonderful.

Join us for SES London February 19-21 and for training classes on February 22.

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