Widget Best Practices

Aug 28, 2008   //   by Stephan Spencer   //   Ecommerce, Online Retail  //  2 Comments

The following is from a handout I developed for my presentation on the use of widgets in online retail at the Shop.org Strategy & Innovation Forum earlier this year. It’s a checklist of widget best practices. Enjoy! (There’s also a Word doc version of this available for download: widget_checklist.doc.)

Thinking of developing a widget for folks’ desktops, mobile phones, blogs, or social networks (e.g. Facebook or MySpace)? First off, you need to decide what type of widget you’re going to be developing. There are three types:

  • Desktop (or Dashboard) Widget: Installed on your computer. Platforms include Yahoo Widgets, the OS X Dashboard, and the Windows Vista sidebar. One example is the customer-developed widget for the Mac that monitors availability of the daily product at Woot (http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/shopping/ wootcom.html).
  • Web Widget: For your blog or social media app like Facebook, MySpace, etc. One example of this is the LastFM widget (http://www.last.fm/widgets/) which allows you to “share your music anywhere.”
  • Mobile Widget: For mobile phones on the DotMobi domain, as well as iPhone-specific widgets. Some examples at https://www.widsets.com/index

When planning and developing your widget, it might be helpful to keep the following in mind…

FUNCTIONALITY / UTILITY
• Is your widget useful to your target audience? What’s the hook (incentive) that will compel them to install it or use it? Does the widget solve the user’s business problems? Does it save them time or money, or make them more productive? Users listen to WII-FM (“What’s In It For Me?”).
• Are the functions your widget provides on-message with your brand?
• Is the data delivered by the widget always fresh and up-to-date?
• Are there features that leverage the community of users?
• Does your widget have the capacity to go viral? In other words, is it contagious? And is it “slippery” – in other words, easy to share or distribute to friends?

FINANCIAL
• Is your widget ROI positive?
• What are your objectives? Brand building? PR? Links? Lead generation? Driving conversions? Increasing the customer’s AOV?
• Set realistic marketing and ecommerce goals for the widget and track success.
• What is your budget for widget development and maintenance? What if your widget is a huge hit…do you have an action plan in place to upgrade all aspects of service?

PERFORMANCE & RELIABILITY
• Monitor and evaluate the widget’s server reliability (uptime). Fully QA and stress test the widget.
• Determine the widget’s loading time and optimize it for maximum performance.
• If it’s a blog widget, make sure it doesn’t hold up the rest of the blogger’s page from loading quickly if the server that serves up your widget becomes unresponsive.
• What is your adoption rate of your widget? Conduct traffic volume scalability testing to ensure your widget’s servers can cope.

TECHNICAL
• If a web widget, does its HTML code validate?
• Is the widget code well-documented (for the benefit of your programmers)?
• If a web widget, will updated versions of the widget require that the blogger/webmaster update your code they inserted into their template?
• If it’s a Flash-based widget, does it have an HTML wrapper?

USABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY
• Evaluate the usability of the widget’s user interface and of the installation process (via surveys, focus groups, and/or usability consultants).
• Does your widget follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle? Don’t try to make the widget do too many things; stay focused.
• Design your widget for the market you are targeting. Use language that they identify with.
• Consider allowing the user installing the widget to customize its look to their own tastes.
• Check for browser compatibility on various versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.
• Check for platform compatibility on various versions of Windows, Mac, Linux.
• Conduct international usability tests. Does the widget offer localized content for international users? Has the widget been translated into foreign languages?
• Is the site mobile device friendly?
• Is the widget usable for people with disabilities?
• If a blog widget, is the widget printer friendly? Or does it mess up the formatting of the page when printed?

SEO
• Don’t neglect PageRank as your incentive to build widgets. If nothing else, a good widget can serve as link bait, driving lots of inbound links to your web site.
• Web widgets can pass PageRank from the website where the widget is placed to your site, but only if done correctly. To help increase your chances of the links being counted for PageRank:
• If your widget is coded in JavaScript, place your text links outside the JavaScript, or use a “noscript” tag.
• If coded in Flash, you can utilize progressive enhancement or an HTML “wrapper”.
• For iframe widgets, place your text links outside the iframe, or use a “noframe” tag.
• The best widgets for SEO are WordPress widgets (written in PHP) or HTML-based widgets because the widget’s HTML code, including links and content, is fully accessible to spiders and integrated into the rest of the blog’s HTML. WordPress widgets are similar to WordPress plugins.
• Include relevant keywords in the anchor text of the links back to your site. For example, instead of a link saying, “Your Brand,” spice it up some and say “Your Brand’s Weather Widget,” or other keyword text that describes what your widget is about.
• If it’s a blog widget, have a plugin version of it for major blog platforms such as WordPress. Thus the links and content generated by the widget will become integrated into the rest of the blog’s HTML code, and the links will appear more “real” to the search engines.
• Create your links with a “target=_blank” code so that webmasters are less inclined to remove the link. Some webmasters believe that widgets “steal’ traffic from their website or blog.

2 Comments

  • I’ve just read your article, even though it was written in 2008, its still relevent to today. Thanks a lot. I’m web developer. But I have never developed a widget before but I want to start. What would be your advice now that its 3 years later on choosing a development kit or framework. I’ve seen one called Kendo UI Framework. Can you recommend anything that can develop for windows 7, java, wordpress, sharepoint and mobile environment. Thanks again.

  • I just wondered whether the widgets you are talking about are the same widgets that are on many android smart phones today, I’ve always been interested to know and Ive always been confused about this. Can anybody help me?
    Thanks for a very interesting article by the way

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