Widget Development Best Practices


Based on a conversation I had yesterday with a prospective client, I wanted to share some widget development best practices we at Metablocks try and incorporate into our widget development process that might help companies who are considering adding widgets to the social media marketing mix:

  • Keep it Simple Stupid – No Registration, No Emails
    At Epicentric, a company I started in 1999, I used to have a saying: “All attempts to limit revenue will succeed!” – the same applies to traffic! Requiring registration or sign in, or adding any unnecessary complexity to the widget download process will only result in less distribution! The general idea should be to have as many people download (and then share) your widget as possible. Expect abandonment rate as high as 30%-50% if you plan or forcing users to register or give you their email address!
  • Enable Widget Customization and Personalization
    Most widget platform (especially desktop platforms) enable some degree of personalization. Consider allowing users to “skin” your widget (customize its design) as well as save preferences such as their zip codes (example: for a weather widget) or favorate content categories.
  • Support Multiple Platforms
    Until the world runs on one operating system, be sure to support as many platforms as make sense for your customer or user base. Windows Vista Sidebar widgets will take care of Windows Vista, MacOS X widgets will do the same for the Macintosh and Yahoo! Widgets on Windows Vista, Windows XP and the MacOS. Make it easy for users to download widgets by supporting multiple platform (there is no “one-size fits them all” approach when it comes to widgets) and not requiring registration or email addresses. Click here for a list of common widget platforms.
  • Support Sharing and Bookmarking
    Considering using a widget distribution platform (such as Gigya and Clearspring) to add a sharing menu to your widget. Although their sharing capabilities are not perfect, widget distribution platforms are configurable so you can enable only the sharing options you know will work with your particular widget.
  • Track User Activity
    Another benefit of integrating a widget distribution platform into your widget is their ability to track most aspects of user activity. Custom reporting solutions, which we have built for a number of clients, are also an option if you require custom or extensive tracking capabilities.
  • Have a Compelling Value Proposition
    You must give users a compelling reason to download your widget! A simple “Tip of the Day” widget will probably not do, and the days of “Look Ma – No Hands but I have a Widget” are long gone! Ask yourself, “Why would someone download my widgets” and consider packing more functionality or utility into your widget to up the value proposition. Widgets shouldn’t simply be advertisements for your product or service!
  • Provide Utility or Timely Information
    Related to my previous point, user will not long tolerate a useless or “once-a-week” widgets that take up desktop real estate without delivering timely (hopefully real time or semi-mealtime) information. Great – so you got the user to download the widget – what next.  User will not continue to stare at the “Tip of the Week” desktop widget that gets updated once a month – that’s what email is for!
  • Understand Widget Security
    Widgets do not provide the most secure computing environments, so avoid using them to storing sensitive information (such as password or payment information). Because of the persistence of desktop widgets, they are usually “always on” even when a user is away from their computer. Since most widgets don’t allow you to logout, avoid deploying widgets that may compromise a user’s privacy or enable unauthorized e-commerce transactions, that’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen!
  • When it Comes to Widgets – Size Matters
    Keep your widgets small! By small I am referring both to their memory footprint (this will affect download speed) and their physical size on the computer screen. Large desktop widgets take up too much space, which increases their likelihood of being deleted! Large web widgets compete with content on a user’s website and therefore have the same problem. I will dedicate a post later this week to talking about recommended widget sizes (subscribe to get a copy via email). For added flexibility, consider adhering to IAB standard sizes to maximize widget distribution.
  • Don’t Forget about Download Usability and Bandwidth
    Download speed is important! 57% of a sample of 8000 users reported that download speed was a factor in returning to a site, but 67% found ease of use a first priority. Make sure you design your widget landing page so its easy to use and that you have enough bandwidth from your hosting provider or your development partner to ensure a quick and pleasant widget download experience.
  • Submit, Submit, Submit
    Be sure to submit your widget to all the widget directories that make sense! Also considering creating a Widgetbox and iGoogle version of your widget just to get into their directories. Getting listed in a widget directory can result in added exposure, traffic and generally has SEO (search engine optimization) benefits.

Here are some other great resources to look at before designing or developing your widget:

Warning: Please consult your widget development professional as to how this information could apply to your situation, since widget deployment results will vary.

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