Admittedly, the “download our free toolbar to keep up with the latest news” gimmick got old and tiring very quickly. No one in their right mind wants screen space taken up by needless floating toolbars, and most Internet users find switching between toolbars a hassle.
However, the toolbars that ARE successful have gone a long way in promoting those websites, and as such this approach has the potential to work wonders for popular blogs in non-technical niches as well.
A browser add-on such as a toolbar must make carrying out important tasks (related to a niche) a LOT easier, plus it should be simple and intuitive to use (no mystery icons), easy to modify and all-in-all, a genuine improvement to a person’s life. You should build something that’s worth sharing and gets people to talk about you.
For example, if you had a blog on weight loss, you could release a toolbar that allows the user to access weight loss tips, healthy recipes, get medical advice, run calculations right in the toolbar, search the site archives for information, etc etc – essentially, have access to everything they need from the toolbar itself.
There are plenty of ideas for different niches (incidentally, if someone reading this is good at programming and wants work, PM me) but the key idea behind this is to leverage the popularity of your blog and it’s existing audience and make it work for you.
What are the benefits?
One, it helps build brand loyalty with your current audience. By bringing your site (via the toolbar) in their browser, your readers will have the option to interact with you / your site all the time they have their browser open, not merely when they are actually on your site. Apart from increasing access and exposure, loyal readers become more loyal, and thus it’s less likely that they will get up and go elsewhere.
Two, it enables your audience to make personal recommendations. Loyal readers are more likely to talk to their friends and family about your website. In addition, access to your website via the toolbar makes referrals more likely – if your toolbar is truly the work of the devil and the best possible tool in that niche, people will talk, a lot, and your blog will get a lot of word of mouth attention.
Yes, these aren’t ‘tangible’ profits, although you could easily make money by a) licensing the toolbar to other brands, b) by increasing traffic towards your site (and thus revenues), c) promoting affiliate products via the toolbar, etc.
Depending on your niche, you could figure out a dozen different ways to monetize a toolbar if your aim is to get it to make more money. My aim would be promotion, not monetization.
Mind you that these two benefits mentioned above are valid for making a mobile-friendly version of your website, especially if you have live information that needs to be accessed regularly.
So how do Blog Networks benefit from this?
Simple – just like we talked yesterday about the ‘hub’ being the aggregator and gateway to other blogs in a network, the toolbar is the ‘lens’. It gives immediate access to all parts of the blog network, so even if you have a reader from a specialised niche blog downloading and using the toolbar, he would have access to the articles, tools and resources of the whole network.
Depending on which niche you’re in, it can be anything from a handy resource tool to an absolute necessity for your users.
A few blogs / blog networks off the top of my head who would benefit from such an approach:
1) Darren Rowse (don’t know if he’s already done this, so sorry if I’m repeating it).
2) A decent SEO toolbar (the ones we have currently, I’m not too keen on them).
3) A WordPress developer toolbar.
4) Paul Tan, for his car blog.
5) Someone I know who is planning plenty of sites on dogs.
6) SplashPressMedia, assuming that something intelligent and genuinely useful can be built.
7) Steve Pavlina.
The Biggest Obstacle
I hate toolbars. Apart from my ‘Bookmarks’ toolbar in Firefox, I rarely use anything else. I’m not keen on adding more clutter to the visual space and as a result I’d be OK with 1 more toolbar at the most, 2 if both were really good (you can toggle their visibility, of course, but I’m talking about toolbars showing at all times).
The biggest obstacle then is to build something genuinely useful – something that is so good and such a necessity that people won’t be happy without it.
But isn’t that the same challenge with building a good blog as well?