February 22, 2012

Widgets make a blog great or they mar it

Widgets are those stand-alone elements in a blog that take care of all matters other than the core content. Technically they are small programs that are attached to the webpage's code and are executed from the webpage. They cull out matter from myriad sources, process it and present it on the blog. 

Since widgets are not the core content of a blog, they compete for attention with the core content and other elements on the blog. There has to be a compromise between the value added on one side and space taken / conflict for attention on the other. Widgets and such other elements have the potential to ‘make or mar’ your blog in a big way, so you must have a look at each widget and the whole blog separately for these two aspects - value rendered and cost in terms of space / attention / conflict.

Do not put too many widgets on the blog. Once they become a crowd, they put off the visitor. 

Even a few widgets can be annoying if they are too flashy, irritatingly animated or out of shape.  

Also consider the placing of widgets. Do not stuff sidebar(s) with a large number of widgets. If for some reason you must keep some widgets that do not add great value to the blog, put them down in the sidebar or at the bottom of the blog.

Many free widgets on the web have a link to the creator of the widget. This is true also of badges. Use such widgets and badges if you think that associating with them enhances your blog's value. 

Usually do not put widgets that trick the visitor into clicking on it and take him to a website selling widgets or other items.  Even when hidden sale is not involved, a big link-text can be irritating. While reviewing blogs, we recently saw a cute fairy widget on one blog, with a witty remark coming from the fairy. But just below the remark was this irritating, animated text: ‘If you liked me, you can visit me for more such widgets, at www...’.

We have seen blogs with many widgets that contain links to other posts, labels / categories, and external sites, but a number of these links don’t open. Some widgets stop working or updating content after some time. Therefore, do check every few months whether the links and widgets [especially those not provided by the blogging platforms such as Wordpress and Blogger] are working or not. 

The worst of the lot are those with malicious code or a code that pulls the visitor's private data. Be wary of such widgets as these not only damage your reputation and popularity, they can harm your and others' personal lives and lead to your blog being banned from reputed directories. Before copy-pasting widgets from the web, check their code and/or Google them to know their authenticity.

Avoid these:
- widgets with text that is difficult to read because of its style or size;
- widgets with colors that pop up too much or completely submerge the widget content in the background;
- a few too light or too dark widgets in the sidebar of the opposite contrast;
- widgets needing scrolling [e.g. a newsreel that needs you to scroll a bar to read the news];
- more than one heavy widget [e.g. video bar] on a page;
- audio / video widgets that start playing on opening the blog [e.g. playing of a tune];
- too many advertisements, especially those between posts, and big ones;
- pop-up widgets [especially those needing action before they let you go further]. 

- content – popular posts, related posts, latest comments, labels, profile, search box, archives
- community – social media, subscription, feed, blogroll, polls
- utilities – clock, calendar, currency converter, map, tips, translator
- dynamic updates – daily quotes, newsreel, trends, stock quotes, stat counters, visitors, weather
- fun and show – game, jokes, celebrities, slide show, photo-stream, video bar, songs
- advertisements

We analyse here some commonly used widgets. As indicated above, widgets - if used properly - add value to your blog [or website maintained like a blog] in terms of functionality and navigation. Some of them help in gaining popularity for the blog. So, use widgets to your advantage... but, as said before,  handle them with care.

Having an automatically created archive helps navigation and cross-linking. People can visit your old posts without going back page by page. Archives can be shown in many ways; see which one suits your blog.

Content listings
Listings such as label list, category list, recent comments and popular posts serve their purpose well  if they are properly configured and placed in proper places. Such widgets should not have  too many entries. If you must have a list in which each entry has text over 50 characters, use a wide sidebar so that the list does not become too long. 

These widgets should usually come high in the sidebar so that the visitor has a glimpse of your content in one go. You can use these elements in navigation bar under [or above] the blog title also.  

Automatically created post summaries often do not capture the sense of the post.  If you make each summary long, the list becomes cumbersome. You need to find a golden mean of number of entries and the size of summary.

Do remember that when certain posts are put in 'popular posts'or 'recent posts' widgets, these posts grow at the cost of others, because they are likely to get more visitors, and the visitors may not return to see other posts.

Blog roll
Blog roll is a good way to promote blogs that you like, and is often mutually rewarding. However, too big a blogroll stops serving its purpose; it shows that you have not been discreet. So, don’t list others’ blogs and websites just because they would reciprocate or because you want to show off your popularity among bloggers. Your recommendations tell a lot about you. Keep only the blogs and websites that you’ll really want to recommend.

Giving the number of visits to the blog might help you show how popular you are getting, but as the widget can be easily manipulated, people hardly believe the numbers. The rotating globe or static world map with color dots showing visitor locations also do not add much value to the blog. Showing visitor locations dynamically in a list too is of hardly any use. If at all you are tempted to show any of these widgets, use a simple design. The same goes for the number of ‘likes’, ‘followers’, 'subscribers' etc.

Social media and social bookmarking
Social media and social bookmarking links are useful to evolve a community around the blog. However, you need to be very regular for such activity to get really ‘social’. If possible, use very small, unobtrusive widgets for subscribing/ linking / liking / following / tweeting / digging / stumbling / etc. Many bloggers make them too big and some even repeat social media and social bookmarking links on the same page; it does the blog more harm than good. 

Post footer elements
A widget or blog element with ‘You may also like’ or similar text is often found at the end of posts. Quite often the links given there are not relevant, and they clutter the post-footer too. We’d rather advise that if you feel that another post is greatly related [e.g. a sequel], put the link manually at the end of the post.

Do not make your profile or ‘About me’ too flashy on the webpage. You may expand it further in the blog's profile page that can be linked to the 'About me'. In case you need to tell a lot about yourself or the blog, create a new page and give a link to this page on the main page.

Happy blogging with widgets! 
You might also like to visit these related resources:
Widgets suitable for different themes 
Widgets that might harm your blog