The intense popularity of widgets, gadgets, Facebook applications and their kin has advertisers and publishers eager to get on board. But before you invest in a widgetized advertising campaign, there are a number of strategic and technical factors to consider. There are also important guidelines to follow to ensure you get the most from your investment.
Are you ready to let go?
That's the first question to ask yourself, because consumers interact with widgets (and thus your content) outside the confines of your website. That off-site engagement may run counter to your online marketing instincts.
But by their very nature, widgets keep users interested in your message, which is likely to drive pageviews back to your site. A desktop widget is an ever-present reminder of your brand -- like the promotional mousepads you once gave away, only much more effective and minus the coffee stains.
Beyond a willingness to give consumers a long leash, you must also be ready to put some effort into keeping your widget evergreen. Refreshes should occur in real-time, or at least daily. And your content has to be interesting and relevant over an indefinite period of time. It's not a medium for lazy advertisers; however, it is a new canvas for the truly creative.
If you're ready to both liberate your content and invest some energy in your widget, it's a channel worth exploring. Once you decide to move forward, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
Serve a purpose, and serve it fresh
Widgets shouldn't simply be advertisements for your content or service. Think of them instead as a service or tool unto themselves - something that keeps users engaged with your message because it delivers value in some way. Especially when it provides real-time, practical information, consumers will refer to your widget again and again.
A classic example that meets these criteria is a branded traffic widget updated in real time. Because it's both useful and current, users may well interact with it several times each day -- during the AM and PM commutes, for example. That's at least two times per day that your brand is on your customer's mind -- a level of awareness that's hard to beat.
Stick with standards and partners you know
On the development side, adhering to IAB standards maximizes the number of potential placements for your widget. It's also wise to stay within "general" publisher restrictions for file sizes.
If you're sourcing third-party content such as RSS feeds or APIs for Mashups, work with a partner you trust absolutely. Any problems with widget security or reliability can sting your users and compromise your brand image.
The good news is that your first foray into the widget market needn't involve developing a widget from scratch. Often, you can simply repurpose popular information or features from your existing website. Innovative search features, shopping recommendation tools or special-interest news, for example, can all be widgetized by reducing file sizes, increasing interactivity and possibly adding a social or creative spin.
The point is, if consumers like information or features on your site, they may love the convenience of a widgetized version.
The distribution question
Once you've created your widget, how do you get it to fly? The first step is to find a syndication partner. Syndicators provide the "wrapper" or components necessary for your widget to be picked up on blogs, social networks, and personal pages. YourMinis from Goowy Media (now part of AOL), Clearspring Technologies and Interpolls are just three examples of established syndicators. Once you have a syndication partner, you can place your widget in popular galleries such as Yahoo's Widgets, Facebook, the Mac Dashboard or Widgetbox. Of course, be sure to showcase your widgets on your own site, and consider working with a widget ad network.
Given the popularity and the ingenuity devoted to these mini-applications, widget-based advertising will continue to grow and evolve -- enabling creative forward-thinking advertisers and publishers to build a totally new kind of customer relationship.