Popular posts, special offers, latest products – inject some purpose into your website’s sidebar with a handy widget.

A widget is something that you can add to your website – it may show your latest tweets, or a slideshow of your Spring range.  It could just as easily be called an ‘add-on’ or an ‘app’, but ‘widget’ it is.

Widgets are an optional extra – like having a product gift-wrapped, or adding an engraved message to a necklace – something to give it a little ‘standout’.  But they cost you nothing, and can do more than give you a pretty present to open when you get home from the shops.

Lakeland has just launched its new website (cue drum roll and extravagant tadah!) and they’ve gone to town with ‘widgets’ – sign up to the newsletter, find out about free delivery, find their nearest store, see the latest special offers, view the best sellers.  Lakeland have nailed the widget.

Here are some ways you can introduce the widget to your site, adding benefits as well as just pictures*.

1.  Popular this week

Want to highlight the posts or pages that get the most readers and commenters?  This widget displays exactly that, giving your visitors a quick and easy way to access the posts that other people find most useful.

Social media widget

Great for building your online community, a social media widget makes it easy for visitors to your website to follow you2. Social media links

2.  Social media

Widgets are a good way of community building.  Prompt your visitors to join your community and have a ‘Like our Facebook page’ or ‘Follow us on Twitter’ button on every page.  If they like what they see on the main section of your site, they may want to keep up with your updates elsewhere, so make it easy for them with a social media widget.

3.  Polls

Mumsnet has a poll on its front page this month, asking is Britain family friendly?  Mumsnetters are being asked to share their experiences of eating out in restaurants with children; to indicate whether their employers are family-friendly; to review different towns for their child-friendly facilities.  The users of the site are mums, and this is a topic they’ll have an opinion on, so it’s an effective way to get them engaged.

What would your customers be interested in?  What subject would get them inspired enough to click through to your survey?

PS And if you’re interested, Spain, Italy and Greece are all more friendly than good old blighty.

Woman of the week

Woman of the week, hero of the week, bag of the week - whatever your customers might like, give them a bit of variety

4.  Website of the week

Fruit of the week, woman of the week, joke of the week, app of the week.

The radio station, Kiss FM, has a song of the week, which it plays (a lot) on air and publicises on its website.  It’s a prestigious title to have – an artist or group gets considerable additional airplay for their latest track if they are crowned “Song of the week”.

This isn’t somewhere for you to promote your latest product – it’s a place to promote something else that your customers will be interested in.  Richard & Judy’s early evening talkshow enjoyed huge success with its Book Club, featuring a book each week that viewers could read and review on the show’s website.

5.  What time is it?

Functional and simple – your widgets needn’t always be fancy, animated and eye-catching to be a big hit with your followers.  A clock and a calendar can be a useful widget for you and your readers, particularly if you have short-term sales, product launches, and events to publicise….

Quote of the day

Quote from an insomniac - something to smile at or think about, a quote of the day is a welcome break for many busy bloggers and entrepreneurs

6.  Quote of the day

“Initiative isn’t given.  You take it.”  Seth Godin, author, speaker, blogger, marketer.

I’ve subscribed to Seth Godin’s blog – his posts appear in my inbox every day, and they always brighten my day and make me think (just for a moment, before the phone rings or another email arrives).  But they make me think.

Most people have busy lives – family, job, house, friends – but welcome the opportunity to have a thoughtful moment, however brief.  Just try and avoid politics and controversy – make it fun or motivational.

7.  What’s new?

Now is your time to sell – what are your best selling products?  You can even have a widget displaying the products you’ve listed on another website (such as Etsy).

When I’m surfing the web looking for new clothes (which I do…. occasionally) and I’m not sure whether to start with the skirts, dresses or knitwear, I’ll often click on “What’s new?” or “Best-sellers”.

Mini Etsy shop for website

You can edit the heading of this widget, the images, the links - show off your own Etsy shop or someone else's

Marks & Spencer have a “What’s new?” tab on their top navigation menu that shows off their latest collections – fashion, wines, lingerie, food – showcase your newest products or services with a product sidebar widget or have a mini shop where visitors can buy direct from your Etsy shop.

8.  People say…

Your customers are your best sales force – they are believable, they know what it is about your product that they love, and they speak the language of your customers (because they are one).

Mothercare’s product pages include reviews from customers, with up to 5 stars for each product.  Do you have any customer feedback that you could share online?  Take a quote from one of the many rave reviews you’ve collected from delighted customers, and add it as a block quote in the sidebar.  Change it often and vary which product you’re showcasing, then hyperlink it through to the relevant product page.

9.  Where are you?

There really is nowhere to hide – this little widget shows who’s on your site at any one time, and let’s the administrator (you!) see where they are….

Step one to achieving MI5 agent status: Add this widget to your wordpress site

Step two to achieving MI5 agent status: Monitor and observe the data – no-one can hide – muhahaha!

Recipe finder widget for wordpress

If your readers are foodies this may be one widget you could use to increase engagement

10.  Recipe finder:

Using data from other websites, this little widget provides recipe suggestions based on a single search word.  If your website is read by amateur chefs, aspiring Jamie Olivers, busy mums looking for a quick family meal, then this widget might be a welcome addition to your sidebar.

If you’re still stuck for ideas, scroll through the pages and pages on the WordPress blog to view some of their most popular widgets – and share your favourites in the comments below.

* Many of the widgets linked here are for WordPress hosted websites, but the principle applies to any website, whatever content management system you use.  Any questions, email me.