Desktop Widgets: The Latest Marketing Strategy

Example of desktop widget for marketingBack in April I wrote about the explosion in using widgets to add functionality and interactivity to Web pages (Widgets Reproducing Like Rabbits in 2007).

Widgets are part of a bigger trend: the cut and paste Web.  Instead of content being tied to one particular Web page, content is increasingly moved around and made available wherever you as the reader or consumer, want it. 

A variation of the widget placed on a Web page of your choosing, is the desktop widget. The desktop widget sits on your computer desktop — it’s not even on a Web page at all. It usually looks like a little box on your screen (see the example of’s widget above).

Desktop widgets allow you as the consumer to get updated information from a vendor or Web publisher, without launching a browser window. The widget is connected to the Web, and pulls in data and information from the Web to automatically update the content in the widget. You can click on the widget and be taken directly to the vendor or publisher’s site.

In the beginning, desktop widgets were mostly the realm of early tech adopters or for apps like getting weather updates.  But increasingly, marketers and online retailers are catching on to desktop widgets. And so are their customers.

Internet Retailer magazine’s lead article this month is about online retailers using desktop widgets to stay top of mind with past customers. 

From the retailers’ and marketers’ perspective, desktop widgets push out information about special offers and updates to be seen by consumers who have the widgets on their desktops. Some retailers are using desktop widgets as replacements for email marketing.

As the article notes, to be successful a widget must provide information that the consumer finds of value. In other words, it has to be more than just a novelty. That means, as a marketer you have to figure out what your customers would value enough that they’d be willing to download the widget and keep it on their desktops.

Now here’s the small business angle: with the help of the free widget-building platforms available today (such as SpringWidgets), even startups and small businesses can afford to create custom widgets for marketing purposes.  One of the custom widgets described in the Internet Retailer article cost just $600 to create but is projected to return $75,000 in sales before year end. 

Usage numbers for retail desktop widgets are still relatively small. Most vendors in the article report downloads in the “thousands.” But interest appears to be growing, and so are the ROI numbers from desktop widgets.

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Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

11 Reactions
  1. If a small business was going to implement this marketing tactic, now would be the perfect time to do it — before everyone’s desktop is cluttered with widgets (kind of like inboxes are filled with countless newsletters, many of which are left unopened).

  2. Hi Anita,
    When I have too much time on my hands, I go to my Widgetbox, and look around.
    I use a couple widgets sporadically on my blogs, and websites, but one thing bothers me.
    I do not like the little key type thingy that is on the bottom of them that says “get this widget.”
    I think it is a tad tacky.
    Joel Libava
    The Franchise King Blog

  3. Is it a widget if its a firefox extension?
    I have in FF

    @Joel: I agree, but not so much if it allows a small text option for the “get this widget.” I just hate the gaudy ones that can’t be edited.

  4. @GoingLikeSixty — that’s just called a FireFox extension. That’s a plug-in for your browser. Traditionally, Widgets were Macintosh programs. Some 3rd party vendors saw the usefulness of Widgets and created software to let them run on Windows as well. (Think of Active Desktop back in Windows 98 — it’s the same concept.) Now, Microsoft has introduced Gadgets (for Windows Vista) as well. What’s a Gadget, you might ask? It’s a lot like a Widget. And, just to make it more complicated, some 3rd party sites (Yahoo!, for instance) have “widgets” that run on both Mac and OS. The link that Anita provides to SpringWidgets shows their Widget solution actually runs on Windows as well as the web! (So that you can actually use your Widget online as well as on your desktop!)

  5. Going Like Sixty,
    Little text is ok. Big shapes not OK.
    Joel Liibava

  6. I use widgets from Widgebox and I am pleased with the results. I also have a fellow bloggers widget installed on my site and I think it’s a pretty neat little tool.

  7. I like the countdown widgets and have seen them used on various sites. This site,, has many available even in different languages.

  8. We’ve been developing a few widgets for clients and our own promotional use. Primarily Google Gadgets. Still very brand new for us and don’t have data yet. However most consumers who use the them tell us they love them.

  9. Hi,
    I am very impressed to read this page and the conversation. I got a good knowledge about widgets and Internet marketing. Now I am interested in this Online Business . Thank You !

  10. Hey, widget this widget that, I’m seeing widgets in my sleep! just kidding.
    How about widgets that actually have a purpose beyond adds.