The Rise of Widget & Application Optimization

Wormgear_3The opening of platforms has created amazing opportunities to create compelling experiences fueling the rise of widgets, mash-ups and applications over the past year with no end in sight. In this new era of integrated applications at every digital touchpoint, users will have more avenues than ever from which to engage. What seems lost in the hoopla (with the notable exceptions of Google and Microsoft) is that in order to get users engaged with widgets and applications they need to be created and embedded with optimization.

Optimizing Application Features

Targeting and personalization of widgets, applications or whatever you want to call them creates value to the user by providing relevant functionality and tools in order to create deeper interactions or flows. In creation it is good to keep in mind Bill Scott’s rules of creating design patterns for Rich Internet Applications (RIA): They should be used to solve a problem for the user. In most cases this problem revolves around delivering relevance.

In other words, they need to be optimized.

The delivery, functionality, features and content inherent in these applications need to be optimized to deliver relevance or risk the possibility that they will be deemed irrelevant or useless. An alpha example of a widget that is optimized through targeting and personalization is present in the right margin of this blog (more on this widget in a future post).

Some basic design/dev principles from which to start:

• Be Inviting
• Be Narrowing
• Focus Functionality Around the Goal
• Design for Engagement
• Deliver Contextual Relevance
• Use Space Creatively

Optimizing the Application Network

What’s exciting to many is the social and viral component of application creation e.g. Social Network Applications (or SNAPs) that has garnered tremendous press since Facebook opened up their platform to developers. It’s clear that socialization creates incredible velocity for application distribution to scale. This ability to quickly and easily have others create new networks and leverage old ones is game changing for both advertisers and publishers.

In this social realm what most intrigues me is the ability to optimize the delivery, functionality and presentation of content across these newfound networks to generate higher engagement. Optimization, namely personalization and targeting will be critical in these environments and quite possibly the key differentiation that determines long-term success of these networks in whatever forms they emerge.

If we’ve learned anything about delivering personalization over the past few years it is that users will not take the time to personalize, however if it is done for them they like it. Google’s approach to personalization on the SERP (and soon to be ads) raises the bar and their Universal Search Results pushes the concept of the page as a collection of multiple applications.

Hitwise data has shown the impact of Universal Search. Metrics for the content widget on this blog back that up with traffic to the participating blogs increasing over 250%, increased time-on-site over 180% and reduced bounce rate over 60% vs. traffic from static links from the participating blogs prior to the widget.

What’s Next?

The Google approach is the de facto next generation of the web so expect these concepts to sprout up everywhere over the next few years. Especially if performance improvements continued to be associated with them. Anywhere where layers of relevance need to be delivered so that users more easily complete their goal are prime opportunities. Search is a natural lead-in to these applications. If you think of the landing page as no longer a page but a landing application with multiple widgets delivered based on certain targeting profiles you start to get the idea.

This page for Microsoft Live Search Maps is an example of a landing page for users searching for various permutations of “restaurants in New York.” Through interfacing with various APIs users can stay on this page and refine their queries, click on links to refine by location and cuisine, get directions to the restaurant and more. This page can be fully dynamic delivering relevance on the refinement links through geo targeting and based on user actions and preferences. The delivery and presentation of the refinement and content delivery can also be optimized through multivariate testing using engagement actions as the success metrics.

It is this marriage of applications and personalization that will provide the ultimate opportunity to optimize the user experience thus delivering added value to publishers and higher ROI for marketers. It’s happening now at Google, Microsoft, and even on this little old blog. If you aren’t thinking about this as a key strategic solution for your business or clients by the beginning of 2008 you are playing catch-up. What’s most important is that the technology in order to optimize these widgets and applications needs to be baked into development process. As much a part of it as anything else.

Where to begin? With the user of course! This is more about the delivery of relevance (what the user really cares about) than design. However, the incorporation of delivery into the design is critical. In order to execute in this arena Digital Marketing teams will need developers that understand API integration, creating design patterns, targeting profile creation, real-time delivery of content, personalization technology, testing, analytics and of course optimization. Are you ready to begin?

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