This year is certain to go down as the year of the widgets. Widgets (also called “gadgets”) are simply small applications that provide dynamic or smart content and they are big news for search marketers, even if the programming gibberish involved has made the fact difficult for many non-developers to see.
The biggest difference between widgets and traditional content is that the content comes ‘alive’ because readers can interact, click and input text to get the information they are interested in. Everybody, including Google’s new OpenSocial initiative, wants to support widgets in one way or another. Google still has some work to do with OpenSocial, but I am certain that it provides the first glimpse into what the next evolution of search marketing is going to be.
From traditional marketing to widgets
Content and promotion have evolved in the last few years, and search marketers have adapted alongside. Our goal as search marketers has always been to drive qualified search engine traffic to our sites or those of our customers. Traditionally, it has been a matter of ensuring the content was targeting the right keywords and removing any obstacle preventing search engine robots from crawling and indexing the content. But most of the work consisted (and still consists) of building links to usually boring content by means of directory submissions, link trades, and link purchases. Today, link building still remains a tedious, time-consuming and boring task.
Thank God we now have Sphinn, StumbleUpon and social media to help us. With the help of social media sites, the focus shifts dramatically to the content. That is, we now need to create remarkable content that appeals, at least initially, to the audience of popular social sites like Digg, Reddit or StumbleUpon. The community votes for the best content, and if it is attractive enough it becomes popular and receives a large number of visitors—but most importantly, a good number of natural links from authority bloggers or influencers.
Widget media marketing
Widgets are the next evolutionary step in content delivery. Clicking and interacting with content is just cool enough to grab the attention of today’s overstimulated Web surfers. Of course the widget has to be interesting or useful enough to drive users to bookmark the application and add it to their blog, Facebook, LinkedIn or other widget-friendly page.
More importantly—and this is where Google’s OpenSocial announcement comes into play—widgets can be made entirely “social.” Social widgets have access to a user’s friends, activities, music tastes, and so on. A social widget can leverage that information (with permission) to help spread the widget to other like-minded users. Think about it as smart viral content.
Packaging your own dynamic content as widgets or social widgets offer several benefits:
Your content lives in the personalized homepage of your users. This means that users see your content everyday and it also means that you get permanent and incremental page views, clicks and potential sales.
Your content has viral components built in. Most personalized homepages encourage the sharing of the widgets and promote them through directories and popular lists. With social widgets, users’ friends will be exposed to your content as they update their activity log.
Your content is as viral as it can get. Users are encouraged to install the widgets on their blogs and personal web pages. Because social networks provide information about users’ friends, your widget can leverage a goldmine of information to encourage further adoption.
The best part of Google’s announcement is that widgets designed for OpenSocial will run on the majority of social networks. In contrast to Facebook applications, which currently work only on that site, the opportunity will be much larger with OpenSocial as users in many different social networks spread the word—and that word could easily be your marketing message!
Whether Google succeeds with its plan for OpenSocial or if something else replaces it, the first step has already been taken. Major social sites—including Myspace, Hi5, Orkut, and others—have agreed to adopt an (open?) standard to allow developers access to their information-rich audiences. For search marketers, this is a dream come true.
The Future of Search Marketing through Widgets
Just as social media is not a replacement for search marketing, social widgets are not a replacement either. Smart marketers will have a solid strategy that includes a mix of media, depending on which audience is most appropriate for their client or their product. In the same way that a successful social media campaign can help augment search engine rankings with natural links, it can also help give the initial bookmarks a widget needs to become adopted. Once the widget becomes viral and is installed on users’ blogs or web pages, the links will benefit the search engine rankings too.
But the bottom line remains unchanged: creativity and adaptation are always going to be key factors for succeeding online.