Widgets are one of the best-kept secrets marketers can use to capture the attention of potential visitors and drive traffic to your website. By increasing the interaction and connection of websites beyond links and video, widgets are a great way to promote a business and a website by presenting would-be visitors with interactive content that engages their interest and interaction.
Put literally, a widget is a small software application for distributed websites that displays a user interface designed to perform an action or activity based on data or calculations living on a different server.
We’ve all seen them. Groupon uses widgets to help merchants design their own online offers. Payscale provides a library of widgets that work with their real-time database to help other website builders add salary calculators, cost of living indexes and such, etc.
Beyond these examples, widgets are an effective way to expose data or crowd sourced information in easy to access ways. They can also serve as a scalable way to build links back to your target site while offering an easy to implement distributed application that people find valuable.
Widget “Rules of Thumb”
Creating a great widget is only the first step in widget success. Adhere to the following best practices when thinking about adding widgets to your website:
- Transparency: The embedded link in the widget should be visible to the end user – don’t hide the link using CSS or other coding tricks.
- No Bait and Switch: Make sure the link is relevant to the creator and content of the widget. Don’t use the widget anchor text and link to send traffic to a site not based on the content of the widget. For example, if the widget is from a pop culture site that displays the latest news on celebrities, don’t include anchor text and link that goes to an online college sign-up site.
- Brand Attribution: Focus on the brand creating the widget with a keyword modifier in the link. The anchor text value is only one component of an effective widget link. To make the most of the link include both the brand and a lock-up of the focus keyword you are targeting. An example would be Powered by PowerPoint Presentation Software.
The SEO Litmus Test
As in all SEO related activities, aim to stay above board with “white hat” tactics. The SEO benefits of a well-executed widget include:
- A distributed, persistent brand presence on other sites. Brand exposure can result in awareness and additional brand searches in the engines.
- An increase in the number of different domains linking into your site. Domain diversity is a key component of any inbound linking program.
- An increase in the quantity of inbound links. The more useful and compelling the widget, the more it will be added to other sites.
- Control over the anchor text in the link.
Development Guidelines for Widgets
A widget should be well designed, load quickly, and be lightweight from a code perspective so that it doesn’t slow the load of the page. The key to making the widget useful for SEO (including links) is making the widget visible to the search engines as part of the hosting page. This means the following:
- Use a build technology that can be “crawled” or “read” by the search engine bots – HTML, JQuery, etc.
- Avoid technologies such as iFrames.
- Use effective meta tags – not “no-follows” or “no-index” tag on the content.
- Make the widget as code light as possible to keep the page load speed of the host page strong.
- Make the widget as customizable from a color and targeting perspective as possible or as it makes sense for the application.
A good widget has a usefulness that excites webmasters, marketers, and end-users. However, the most helpful widget in the world can get lost without the proper positioning or rendered useless if users are unaware of their existence. Below are some tactics for making widgets easier to find and distribute.
- Create a standalone page on your site for the widget. Use good SEO practices. Build the page into the navigation and site map structures.
- Promote the page by having the widget embedded into your own site, partner sites, or sites you have a business relationship with.
- Create blog posts, mentions in your social media channels, profiles, and email newsletters.
- Find some specific, relevant sites to partner with to “seed” the widget and get early feedback.
As with most marketing activities or campaigns, make sure you have referral measurement mechanism set-up in place, so that you can learn which widgets are performing per your expectations. Track click-throughs, visits, conversions, and leads captured from your distributed creations. Keep the widgets that perform well, and remove the ones that are underperforming and potentially causing damage to your brand.