Why Not a Widget?

A recession doesn’t mean that people stop searching the Web. Searching the Web isn’t a fad — it’s totally gone mainstream just like streaming media. Sales might drop and conversion rates might falter a bit, but search traffic isn’t going down in flames due to the economy. However, search engines will continue to change, and with it SEO (define) will continue to evolve.

SEO’s primary objective today is much more than just high rankings. It’s more about driving a relevant flow of visitors who perform desired actions on an organization’s Web site. In retail, it’s about growing new-to-file customers — those customers who aren’t in an online retailer’s client pool prior to the transaction — and conversions. For publishers, it’s about getting visitors to read more than just headlines. And for lead generation, SEO is about visitors being compelled to fill out that form.

These underlying roles are elements that won’t change even as technology evolves, but the mechanics of how they’re done will change dramatically. As a matter of fact, with revolutionary social venues like Twitter, YouTube, Digg, and Facebook, search has evolved to be much more than just discovering Web content. Search is about actions, reactions, and, most important, interactions. This is why it’s a great time to take another look at the cost-effective widget and what widgets could do for you in this interactive Web 2.0 world.

The Humble Widget

In their Web 1.0 state, widgets were nothing more than badges or gadgets that other people would put on their Web sites as an act of participatory pride. Today widgets are small yet powerful applications that can be embedded within a Web site or added to a social media profile to make content discovery and visitor referrals a breeze.

Basically, a widget has four parts. First is the widget’s header, which usually contains a logo and a tagline. The logo usually links back to its online point of origin. Next is the content area. Many widgets simply display blog content or news items. Typically the content is pulled from a RSS feed, because XML makes it easy to manage what used to be a bandwidth-sucking sequential refresh process.

A “get this widget” link or button allows visitors to easily copy the embed code and place the widget on their sites or blogs. The higher the volume of embeds a widget gets, the faster the widget spreads, making the get-widget button a viral component of widget making.

The fourth part of a widget is often overlooked, which is unfortunate because it’s an essential link-building tactic: an HTML wrapper that contains a good old anchor text link in it.

Most widgets are Flash-based. For link-building purposes, it’s critical that a link is included outside the Flash object. The link should contain targeted keywords, of course. Since widgets are usually relevant to the Web sites they’re embedded in, the links will also be relevant. With each new widget embedded in somebody else’s site, you’ll also gain a new incoming link. Needless to say, inbound links from relevant Web sites are invaluable from an SEO perspective.

Remember, Flash isn’t all bad for SEO because SWF objects can allow for different variables. Variables allow for customizations, so a single widget could be set up to display with variable headers and segmented RSS feeds. Flash variables’ randomness means the one-size-fits-all widget is a thing of the past. It’s just the HTML wrapper that could use some changing. It’s good rule of thumb to change the link destination at least once a week. The link text should be changed more often if the widgets embed rate increases dramatically.

Promoting the Widget

A widget can be a powerful SEO tactic. Not only does it have the potential to expose your brand to a large audience, but it also exposes your brand to a highly relevant, targeted audience in a scalable manner. And widgets are relatively easy to promote when they are constructed around interesting content or provide helpful functions. You could promote the widget on your blog, mention it in e-mail blasts, and submit it to various widget directories to get started. Then let the effects of natural disbursement take it from there. If the widget is interesting enough, it will go viral.

Even though some search engine marketers consider directories to be a bit boring and outdated, widget directories offer the added benefit of providing different reporting options. Most widget directories include statistics that are important to track, such as views, menu shows, and new installations by domain.

View data allows you to track the number of times a widget is viewed on all sites. Menu shows track the number of times a user clicks the “get widget” link, and new installs provides data from the first time a widget is viewed broken out by domain name.

Because widgets can become viral and spread exponentially, a highly intuitive widget can help build your brand or help launch a new online marketing campaign. Widgets can also help build valuable incoming links on a large scale, which makes widgets one of the most cost-effective link-building tactics even in a tough economy.

Helpful Links

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.

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