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October 22, 2008

SEM Synergy Extras 10/22/2008

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Widgets are pretty nifty. My personal faves show you videos, Flickr streams and Twitter updates. Pretty darn cool from a user perspective, if you ask me. And they’re pretty darn cool from an advertiser’s perspective, too. That said, today’s episode of SEM Synergy is all about those fabulous chunks of portable code functionality we call widgets.

The guest was widget strategy expert Patrick Sexton, who shared his best practices for developing and distributing widgets. Pat will be speaking on the Wonderful World of Widgets panel at PubCon next month, so be sure to grab your front row seat. Not that you’ll have a choice — his boyish charms will surely draw you in…

Security Concerns

One of the main user concerns regarding widgets is that they can invite infiltration of the system. Any time cross-site scripting takes place, as it does with widget embedding, the person using the widget leaves themselves vulnerable to malicious attacks. Likewise, not even Google Gadgets home page widgets are immune to attacks, as demonstrated at the Black Hat hacker conference this year. As far as secure widget embedding goes, it’s probably best to sanitize foreign JavaScript or create a security sandbox using an iframe.

Smart Branding

During our interview, Patrick made the point that users are less likely share a widget that’s main purpose is branding or that screams brand more than function. That’s not to say that the branding and advertising opportunity isn’t there. Relatively inexpensive and simple to develop, widgets represent an ongoing relationship with consumers, where before it was more difficult to distinguish new prospects from engaged customers. Some research on customer behavior has shown that a customer’s memory for brands is best when presented early on. However, the marketing tactic of widgets rests in functionality and entertainment, so widgets can only be successful with the achievement of these goals first. Following that, branding can be applied when the user has already made positive associations — as Patrick illustrated with his Comedy Central example.

Distribution Options

When it comes to distributing your widget, Patrick recommends a cross-platform strategy. Such a strategy relies on viral installers as well as distribution through individual widget directories. Indeed, getting your widget to the places users are looking is important to the success of widget marketing. I had asked Patrick how he recommends coming up with an idea for a widget that your audience will like, and he explained it as distilling the core functionality of your Web site. The relevance of the widget is the first step of development, because it’s that relevance that will help to encourage distribution.

Happy widgeteering, everyone!

(Yes, I made that word up. Yes, I know you love it.)

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