Widgets: Fluff Up Your Web Site

You don't need to be a programmer to add useful widgets to your Web site or blog.

February 1, 2009

Want an easy way to give your Web site or blog some sizzle? Then it's time to enter the wonderful world of widgets—snippets of code you can place on a Web page to add new functions or interactive features, such as mortgage calculators, driving directions, property search boxes, or even Google ads.

They're usually free and they're remarkably easy to use—even if you have no knowledge of computer programming. It's as simple as copying and pasting code from a source (usually a different Web site) directly into your blog or into an HTML box on your Web page.

If your widget displays data that change frequently, such as mortgage rates, real estate news headlines, or weather reports, the information is automatically updated on your Web site.  

Widgets appear as self-contained components of your blog or site, and many can be customized to match the color scheme of your site. 

"Widgets are one part of providing customers with all the information and tools they need at your site," says broker Liz Sidorowicz with RE/MAX Signature in Chicago, who uses widgets on her Web site (www.lizshomes.com).

She worked with a Webmaster to develop widgets that allow consumers to compare mortgage costs, estimate proceeds from selling a home, and determine whether it's smarter financially to rent or own. She made all of these widgets available to other real estate practitioners at Widgetbox, an online library of widgets.

Where to Hunt for Widgets

Eager to scout out some cool widgets that will enhance your site? Head to the Web, where you'll find a wide range of free options at sites such as Widgipedia, Google Gadgets, and the above-mentioned Widgetbox.

Real estate–focused companies, including Trulia and Zillow, also offer free widgets you can use on your site, as long as you don't mind the sometimes not-so-subtle branding and the idea that these widgets may direct users off your site.

Here are some widgets worth checking out:

  • Meebo. Customize the look of this instant-messaging widget and add it to your site to chat in real time with visitors. Free registration is required.
  • Google Translate. If you cater to an international crowd, consider Google's translation widget, which renders all of your Web page content in Spanish, Polish, Hindi, or any other available language your visitors choose.
  • YouTube on Your Site. This widget lets visitors watch YouTube-hosted videos without leaving your site.
  • Altos Research. Just select your metro area and get real estate stats—days on market, median price, inventory, and more—specific to your market.

And Now, the Fine Print

If all this seems too easy, be warned; free widgets usually come with a catch or two.

Widgets are normally branded with a different company's logo and Web site link—that company may have developed the widget to draw traffic to its own Web site. Read the terms of use, and test it out before making it a prominent feature of your site.

Also, remember that in the world of widgets, it is possible to overdo it. Be selective. Choose tools that match with your prospects' interests and needs.

With a little caution and discretion, widgets can be one of the most effective low-cost tools for distinguishing your site. "My widgets keep people coming back," says Sidorowicz.

Widgets are Simple as 1-2-3

To use widgets on your site:

1. Find a widget you'd like to use and choose where you'd like to use it, presumably on your blog or Web site.

2. Copy the provided widget code and paste it into your page's code.

3. Reload the page to make sure the widget is working. Periodically recheck in case servers that supply the widget's data move or expire.