This post will describe the best practices of how to promote a Google gadget, but most of the things I mention are equally useful for any kind of widget promotion.
Google Gadget Promotion 101
Let’s get right to a couple of obvious things first so that we don’t waste any time…
If your Google gadget is not useful to anyone, it will not do well no matter how well you promote it. It is better to begin again with a new useful gadget than to promote one that is not useful to anyone. What makes a Google gadget useful? It must somehow pleasure someone. It must make them laugh, make their day easier, provide information that is not available elsewhere, entertain them, or be fun to interact with. Ask anyone other than you to try it and tell you what they think. A useful gadget is amazingly easy to promote. The first step in Google gadget promotion is to determine honestly if your gadget is worth promoting.
Is it useful?
If yes start promoting.
If not, start over, make a new gadget. Promoting your gadget won’t help.
Know your audience:
The audience of a Google gadget is in large part iGoogle users. iGoogle is a personalized homepage. This means that only the owner of that page can see your gadget. I want to say that again. Only the owner of the iGoogle page can see that iGoogle page. It is not a public profile that others can see. Think about that when designing and creating your gadget. A great example of this would be the use of viral installers (those little buttons under gadgets that say “get this widget”).
If there is only one person at a time seeing your gadget, then there is no reason to have a “get this widget” button because they already have it.
These buttons or viral installers are not appropriate for Google gadgets the vast majority of time. It is not useful and it takes up space. Space is what you have the least of in your widget so use it wisely to be useful and pleasant to the users of the widget.
Does your Google gadget have a viral installer?
If yes, get rid of it and make a iGoogle gadget specific version of your widget that does not include the “get this widget” button.
If no, continue.
The Google gadgets that are the most popular are also the Google gadgets that are the most simple. Bells and whistles are not often appropriate for a Google gadget. They can have bells and whistles by visiting your site if they want. Gadget users want the basic functionality of your website on their homepage, they do not want your website on their homepage. A simple search box is virtually always more universally used than a fancier type of gadget. There are millions of users of the Wikipedia search gadget. This gadget is just a searchbox that redirects to Wikipedia… Notice the lack of any dancing elves or branding overkill? You should also notice that it is small and simple. The overall reason this widget is used by millions is that is provides a simple and useful interface to information that is used by alot of people. It doesn’t need flashy design elements. It does it’s job. It is useful.
Okay, let’s get to the promotion guide…
Google Gadget Promotion
The most important part of gadget promotion is usefulness and functionality, but what is the next important thing?
Representation in the Google gadget directory:
The way that most users find gadgets is the Google gadget directory. The single largest mistake that I have seen people make is to not submit their gadget to the directory. If you are not in the Google gadget directory, users will not find you there. To be more clear, if you are not in the Google gadget directory then your gadget is not represented in the single most used place that users find gadgets. There is a hundred million or so users using the Google gadget directory. I can name dozens of Fortune 1000 companies who do not understand this. If somebody goes to the Google gadget directory and searches for your exact brand name they will not find you unless you have submitted your gadget to the directory. The reason so many people (and particularly large brands) are not represented in the Google gadget directory is because they trust their widget spread to media companies who use viral installers.
It is important to know that just because a user has the capacity to install your gadget on iGoogle does not mean that your gadget is represented in the Google gadget directory.
Search for your gadget or your brand name in the Google gadget directory
If it is there continue.
If it is not there, submit it to the directory
How your gadget or widget is presented to people is the number one factor in if they will even try it out. Let’s look in detail at what presentation options we have on the Google gadget platform.
Description: What you say about your gadget in your description is very important and should be concise and describe the gadget and it’s usefulness quickly and simply. But people won’t even read or bother to see your description unless they like the…
Thumbnail: Each Google gadget has a thumbnail. This is a small image that represents your gadget. This is one of the most important pieces of promotion you have. It has to get a point across and it has to stand out from the other thumbnails users are presented with. The first step to having an effective thumbnail is to actually have a thumbnail. Tens of thousands of gadget do not even have a thumbnail image! When a gadget does not have a thumbnail then Google displays a default thumbnail (image on left). If your gadget is based on a feed then it also shows a default image (shown on right). If there is no distinction between you and other gadgets, there is a less likelihood that a user will even click to your gadget description page. To illustrate this point, let’s search for “SEO” in the Google gadget directory… Of the first 5 results, only one has a thumbnail. See how the others just sort of blend together and seem sorta “blah”? When someone searches for anything in the Google gadget directory the only visual indication they will get of your gadget is the thumbnail.
They have to click again before they see the other visual indication of your gadget (the screen shot which will will speak of in a moment). This means that the first visual indication of your gadget a user receives is the thumbnail image. The thumbnail is important.
To have a thumbnail in your gadget requires only one line of code… thumbnail=”urlofyourimage”
The specs of what a thumbnail should be are provided by Google as…
Thumbnails are used in the content directory to give users a preview of a gadget. They should capture the main functionality of your gadget without showing it in its entirety. The value for this attribute is a string that gives the URL for a gadget thumbnail. This must be a well-formed URL, not a relative URL. This image must be on a public web site that is not blocked by robots.txt. PNG is the preferred format, though GIF and JPG are also acceptable. Thumbnails should be 120×60 pixels. They should not include title bars.
Does your gadget have a thumbnail?
If yes continue
Screen Shot: The screen shot of a Google gadget is displayed to a potential user when they are asked if they want to install a gadget and it is also displayed in the Google gadget directory description page for that gadget. The screenshot should show visually what the gadget will look like on the users homepage. Here is what Google says about the screenshot in their documentation….
This is a string that gives the URL for a gadget screenshot. This must be a well-formed URL, not a relative URL. This image must be on a public web site that is not blocked by robots.txt. PNG is the preferred format, though GIF and JPG are also acceptable. Gadget screenshots should be 280 pixels wide. The height of the screenshot should be the “natural” height of the gadget when it’s in use. This helps users understand how much space a gadget will consume on their screen before they add it to their page. The screenshot should not have any whitespace above the gadget’s blue header bar. Screenshots should show your full gadget, including its title bar, but nothing else. Alternatively, you can screenshot the gadget with the edit window open. Screenshots should not be resized or cropped. For quality and consistency, Google may take its own screenshots of a given gadget.
Let’s take a look at a screenshot on a Google gadget description page…
This is a Google gadget from Google itself. The image is the screenshot image. It shows a potential user what the gadget will look like on their homepage. It is always worth looking at official Google gadgets to see what they are doing. They are well aware of what works and what does not. Often by just looking at how a gadget built by Google is listed can tell you alot.
Does your gadget have a screenshot?
If yes, continue
If no, add a screenshot that follow the guidelines I quoted above.
Other directories that list Google gadgets:
Your gadget should be in as many directories as possible. Here is a list of places to submit your Google gadget.
Display your gadget on your website
The best way to introduce your gadget to the world is through your own website, or through already existing interactions between yourself and your customers or users. There are different ways to accomplish this.
One way is to simply have a page dedicated to different ways that a user can interact with your website.
A great example of this is the website Sphinn, where they have a specific page that highlights different ways users can interact with their site. It is important not only to have page like this, but to make that page prominent. Sphinn accomplishes this by listing this page in their top navigation.
This is smart for a couple of reasons, one so that people can find it, and two, because gadgets, like webpages are listed in relevance in the Google gadget directory. The same algorithm that also ranks gadgets (I will speak more on this later).
Another way is to use existing interactions between your website and your users to promote your gadget.
An example of this would be a commerce website that takes payments. If you take payments, then you also give receipts. Consider mentioning your gadget on your receipts or “thank you for your purchase” page. Even better, give them a reason to use it. Consider saying something like “save 20 percent on items bought through our Google gadget”.
Yet another way to use your website is to actually display information through a Google gadget. Look at your sidebar, what are you showing? Using Sphinn.com as an example again, they are displaying the “Top 10 most Sphunn in What’s New” which is an ever changing list of what stories have been voted on the most that are not yet promoted to the front page. That information could be shown in a gadget that people can grab.
The popular news site Digg is a great example of how to do this. They have the very same type of scenario. The have information to show their users in a sidebar. They are showing that information inside a widget.
This tactic is very successful.
Is your gadget mentioned on your website?
If yes continue
If no, put it on your website.
The best place to get information about Google is Google itself, here is what they have to say about promoting your gadget.
Here is another Google page about what users like to see in their gadgets.