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Which Widgets Work

April 11, 2010

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — Do We Need Widgets for Everything?

Before you read past this sentence, take a minute and look at a blog or news website that you frequent. Back yet? What widgets did you see there? (By widgets, I am referring to little boxes that appear either on the right or left side of the main body of a website. On my blog, the widgets you see are my Twitter feed, a list of categories, and recent posts.)

This wolf is not interested in how many Facebook friends your website has.

Facebook Widgets

Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these widgets before. But I want to talk about the one that tells you how many Facebook fans a website has and displays the pictures of (usually) 10 random fans. Every time I see it, I cringe. I couldn’t care less about the fact that a given website has 5,625 fans and that four of them are named Deanna, Tracy, Michelle and Ralph. That’s not a random selection, it’s from looking at a safe social networking practice article on Examiner.com.

Websites should avoid widgets like the Facebook friends one. Widgets aren’t about displaying your fan base or popularity but about helping your reader. If you want to have a button that allows visitors to become a fan on Facebook, great (that’s included as part of the Facebook fan widget). But keep it small and focused so it doesn’t clutter; having some empty space in your sidebar isn’t a problem.

Which Widgets Work

If the Facebook fan widget is an example of what doesn’t work for me–it doesn’t help the reader, feels like they’re thrusting “become a fan” in your face–what does work?

  • Popular articles. This widget is great for getting visitors to look deeper into your content without you having to link to older articles in each new post, which can be awkward if it starts to look too forced.
  • Recent articles. See above.
  • Related videos. Maureen Ryan’s TV blog is a great example of “related videos” done well. The videos are always current and often related to a specific article — they’re not just gratuitously there. Also see all the other widgets on her blog, such as the “Tonight in Prime Time” schedule. Tying your widgets in to your site content is the best way to make them relevant and useful rather than just dead weight in your sidebar.
  • Blog roll. Related blogs/websites that visitors might be interested in.
  • Tags and categories. Help your readers find the content they like; making it difficult to search for specific content is a good way to get me to leave your website.

Above all, widgets should be of use to the reader. Even advertisements do more for me than seeing how many Facebook fans your website has. And if advertising is more appealing to me than your widget, that is a problem.

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