May 2008 - Online Strategies

Will Widgets Work?

By Aaron Kahlow

In my travels for the Online Marketing Summit, I am frequently asked about widgets and gadgets. Questions range from: “what the heck is a widget?” to “how do I apply widgets for marketing ROI?” It’s about time I got ahead of the curve and answered a few of these pressing questions.

So, what is a widget anyway?

Wikipedia defines a widget this way: “In computer programming, a widget…is an element of a graphical user interface that displays an information arrangement changeable by the user, such as a window or a text box. The defining characteristic of a widget is to provide a single interaction point for the direct manipulation of a given kind of data. Widgets are basic visual building blocks which, combined in an application, hold all the data processed by the application and the available interactions on this data.”

Now that’s a mouthful! With definitions like this, it’s easy to see why there’s so much confusion. Let me take a crack at a definition: A widget is a small data component that users can add to a web page like a blog, iGoogle or Facebook page to receive small, specific pieces of information.

There are news widgets that you can add to an iGoogle page that allow you to get RSS feeds from most news sources, e.g., The New York Times. (Oh, and if you do not know what iGoogle is and you are in the marketing profession, just type it in to Google and do yourself the favor of setting up that page.) By the way, gadgets are the same thing by another name. Google just prefers to call its widgets “gadgets.” Facebook calls its widgets “applications.”

Should I Use Widgets?
In my opinion, the answer is “no,” unless you are a publisher or marketing to consumers on Facebook. The reason is twofold: Widgets are only as good as the medium on which they can be displayed. So, since relatively few folks have iGoogle or Facebook as a home page, even if you create the greatest widget in the world, there is nowhere to put it.

Most company’s websites, search engine marketing efforts and analytics are still woefully wanting. My strong suggestion is to fix these fundamentals first, then consider getting cute with widgets and gadgets.

Is their ROI in widgets?
Yes, but only long-term ROI for publishers and information disseminators. If you’re looking to widgets as a lead-generation tool, you’re fooling yourself. They’re more about building an audience and lifetime value of a customer. ESPN uses widgets successfully. I have a few ESPN widgets on my iGoogle home page, which allow me to get custom RSS feeds on the news of my favorite teams. So when I am traveling to other cities, I can use this widget to see, quickly, what’s happening with these teams despite limited coverage in the local media.
In the end, widgets just might change the face of publishing. But not yet.

Aaron Kahlow is managing partner of BusinessOnLine in San Diego, Calif., and chairman of the Online Marketing Summit. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment