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Web Widget Optimization

If you want some great feedback on a blog post, try writing about widgets, Rene Descartes, or both. It’s not so much the volume of responses today that’s enlightening – it’s the quality of them. On MediaPost’s blog, I’m taken to task for my muddling of French and Latin (and Bill Hilton’s totally right – thanks for that). Another reader wrote in, "Actually, if Descartes were alive I think he’d sue you for slander" (the respondent later noted he was just having fun).

The best letter, however, came from David Benfell:
"On what grounds do you claim the insight as to what Descartes would or would not have done, today?  I’ve seen a few self-aggrandizing columns since I subscribed to MediaPost e-mail newsletters, but this has to take the cake for being the most supremely arrogant."

On that note, however literally you care to read the column, I welcome your feedback. The column continues in the extended entry.

Web Widget Optimization

If Rene Descartes were alive today, rather than
saying “Je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am”), he might
say, “Il est, donc j’optimise” (“It is, therefore I optimize”). By that
same reasoning, if Monsieur Descartes were alive today, instead of
emerging as both the Father of Modern Philosophy and the Father of
Modern Mathematics, he’d be trying to figure out how to optimize Web
widgets — the next frontier of search engine optimization.

With Newsweek and others calling 2007 the
Year of the Widget, then it will also invariably be the year of Web
Widget Optimization (WWO). First, let’s get on the same page as to
which widgets we’re talking about.

Widgets, alternatively called gadgets (by Google),
applications (by Facebook), badges (by people who like the letter b),
and other terms, provide a way of syndicating any form of digital
content imaginable to other Web sites. Google refers to them as
mini-websites. Blog publisher TypePad calls its widgets “bling for your
blog.” Jai Shen, co-founder of widget developer RockYou, told Reuters
that widgets are a form of self-expression.

There are three key types of widgets, with important distinctions among them (I’ve also included this as a table on my blog):

  • Desktop widgets: Users download
    the widget and may keep them running constantly in the background.
    Examples include WeatherBug, Southwest Airlines’ Ding! deal alert, and
    NBC’s “Heroes” countdown. Pros: They provide a pervasive brand
    experience for the widget publisher even if the user is offline. Cons:
    They’re only seen by the user who downloaded it.
  • Personal Web widgets: Users post
    the widgets to their personal homepages such as My Yahoo or iGoogle.
    Pros: For users who set their personal homepages as their browsers’
    start pages, the widget may be viewed every time the user’s online.
    Cons: They’re only seen by the user who added it, and the user has to
    visit his personal homepage for the widget publisher to get the most
  • Public Web widgets: A user posts
    a widget publicly to social network profiles, blogs, online
    communities, and other sites. For the best widgets (or the laziest
    users), they stay on those pages indefinitely. Pros: They scale — if
    the user installs one widget, it can be seen by many people, and the
    user can install it on multiple sites. Cons: The publisher needs to
    provide new content daily or weekly to keep the widget fresh.

Public Web widgets, largely because of their viral
potential, have been the focus of most of the press attention lately;
they even starred in their own event, the full-day WidgetCon
that Freewebs hosted in New York last week. Their scalability is also
the reason why they deserve most of the focus of Web widget

Rather than offer a technical manual for
optimizing widgets, here are three ways to consider how to include Web
widget optimization as part of your online marketing program:

1) Develop links. Widgets offer
promise of link development, but there are some inherent obstacles in
how widgets are designed, with Flash being especially common. Including
text links in widgets can help get around that. What’s important is to
keep SEO as a secondary goal when using widgets. Google has been
especially aggressive lately in updating its algorithms to minimize
what it deems link spam, so trying to use widgets solely for
optimization purposes could penalize everyone, including those who
aren’t gaming the system. That’s more of a precaution. In the meantime,
widgets can potentially offer similar value as being included on
someone’s blogroll, but the backend of the widget will determine if
that’s even possible.

2) Increase search shelf space.
For any query, the more links you have in the top ten natural search
results, the more you own that term and gain a major competitive
advantage. A page for your widgets is one more opportunity for
visibility. This isn’t a commonly used strategy yet, but it can provide
incremental value. The object here is to optimize the page that the
widget is on rather than the widget itself.

3) Support social media strategies.
Reaching out to bloggers, community moderators, and other influential
people online can pay dividends on a number of levels, including
complementing search engine optimization programs. Widgets, if they
truly offer some sort of value to the recipient (in terms of utility,
entertainment, self-promotion/ego inflation, or some other benefit),
can be a great hook to encourage links back. Regardless of how well the
widget itself is optimized, site owners will often link to where they
found the widget to share the information with their sites’ visitors.

This is a nascent field, and as this
fervor for widgets proliferates among consumers, publishers, and
marketers, the science of Web widget optimization will mature. In the
meantime, this should give you plenty to digest. After all, it was
Descartes, the would-be Father of Web Widget Optimization, who said,
“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn than to

People reacted to this story.
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Comments to: Web Widget Optimization
  • Avatar
    July 20, 2007

    Hi David
    Great post on widgets – and i enjoyed your coverage of widgetcon
    talk soon


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