Over the last couple of months, the most savvy link builders within the search marketing industry have been most keenly aware of and carefully attuned to the proliferation of widgets as the next big (really big) link building medium. Here’s my take on the trend and where we might see it go.
There is plenty of merit to the notion that widget development and “widget bait” will be an incredible form of link building. After all, look at the Backlinks that popular widgets like the LinkedIn Badge (over 1.2M) and MyBlogLog (half a million) have built in just a few months (24 is a few, right?). Before you read this post, you should know that I agree with Stuntdubl, Andy and Cameron: I’ve been a believer (& widget die hard since hearing Lawrence Coburn reallly turn the heads of search marketers at WebMasterWorld). Widgets are going to be very big in 2007. But there’s more to it than just that.
How realistic is it to think that anyone can create a widget to popularize their websites with backlinks? Do most commercial sites really have a chance of building and delivering widgets as a means of link building? Actually…probably not. Site owners might be able to buy space on a network of popular and widely adopted widgets (more on that later), but the inherent barrier seems just too large to build the links.
The Inherent Barrier to Link Building via Widgets: Adoption
Widgets are more than just a marketing medium. Widgets are creations that deserve careful and deliberate planning, attention, publicity and refinement. Or at least a super entertaining angle to foster the adoption. Who’s going to put your appliance company’s “appliance parts widget” on their blog? Well…actually…it has 234 downloads. Not too shabby, depending on how many installs actually stuck after that fairly simple programming job. Surely, there has to be some sort of mass appeal to make the investment worthwhile (in terms of generating Backlinks), right? Well even though a groundbreaking “Shrimp Recipe” widget has almost 3,700 downloads, the site has less than 200 backlinks, meaning either the widget wasn’t built properly (for backlinks) or else it just wasn’t installed.
Does Your Widget Have What it Takes??
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular widgets (according to WidgetBox):
In no particular order, we’ve got:
- Ugly Person of The Day (ok it’s not the most popular, but I couldn’t resist – ENTERTAINMENT)
- The Digg RSS Reader (installed at left – ENTERTAINMENT/MEDIA)
- Add this bookmark button (first mover? – BLOG TOOL)
- XSPF Music Player (ENTERTAINMENT)
- YouTube videos (ENTERTAINMENT)
- The Old-School Asteroids Game (ENTERTAINMENT)
- And following closely behind were Pacman (my favorite) and perhaps the only one that actually lets you interact with your users, Polldaddy
- I wanted to add more via Snipperoo, but they were just too lame. (I’m sorry but I just won’t link to a “sexy lingerie widget”—CASE IN POINT!
The Secret to Wide Adoption: Entertainment and Tools
Taking a quick look at the Sniperoo widget directory, it’s clear that widgets intended for entertainment (including games & music) and blog tools outnumber all of the rest by a margin of 4-to-1. There are 3 conclusions to draw here, if you’re trying to build links via widgets:
- Build links by delivering a less-than-relevant yet attractive widget. (E.G. your ecommerce site builds a “movie widget” just for the hell of it)
- Try to build links with a more relevant widget (MuseStorm will help in a big way), but start with an ingenious idea, invest in its development, make it incredible and push its adoption. (I mentioned this above. I called it, “careful and deliberate planning, attention, publicity and refinement”). Some of these are MBL (of course), CrazyEgg & certainly Lee Odden’s dearth of rss feed buttons (also in use at left). Update: Lee’s rss buttons generated over 40,000 backlinks and who knows how much traffic. There’s proof-positive that real widget success will take some serious insight, time & love. How many link builders out there have these qualitites? (hint: I can count them on my fingers & toes).
Birth of the Widget Monetization Network
Stuntdubl wrote, “The next big widget is going to incorporate advertising”. Monetization in some capacity. There’s NO doubt about it. If MyBlogLog can sell for $10M and remain fairly innocuous and ad-light, then the floodgates are open for the pioneers of widget monetization. But don’t think this will be limited to just one widget. It would make sense for there to be a widget network monetization model, much like the one that Text-Link-Ads, AdSense or YPN delivers to publishers and advertisers. This would be the means by which we hurdle the adoption obstacle and getstraight to the dollars and cents.What impact would this have on link building? It would probably be a crushing blow. Lawrence Coburn’s analysis of the monetization of widgets gives some solid insight into the future of advertising on these things:
It’s not a stretch to imagine Bitty Browser as a clearinghouse for publishers and advertisers where Bitty matches advertisers with publishers (or allows self selection), and publishers can grab a snippet of widget code just like they can on AdSense or Amazon.
Advertising (at least branding) is already present in widgets that execute well (ChipIn is a quintessential example of this – branding, sharing, etc.). But the search for the next bigwig(dget) is really begging for monetization via either analytics (charge led by MuseStorm and Clearspring) or some other means.
Your Saving Grace: The Blogosphere Has ALL Kinds of Crazy People
After looking through some of the widgets in the galleries, I was amazed to see how many downloads there were for such strange (to me) widgets. Could the blogosphere seriously be so large that thousands of people want to offer shrimp recipes?? We learn something new every day, I suppose.
If you’re into playing the widget game, check out some of these more Notable Widget Development Resources:
- Recent Widget Conference: (have they planned the next one yet? Check out the speakers listed on their site for a good start):
Widget galleries (you’ll need these for inspiration):
Widget Industry Pulsars:
Sooo, can any old ecommerce company develop and deliver a mean little widget for some heavy duty link building?? I don’t want to be a naysayer. In fact, I’d love for a commercial site to demonstrate widget development as an ancillary means for link building. Please drop me a line when you do give it a shot—I’m looking for case studies!