Embedding external content into your Web site

Now that you’ve created your own Web site and possibly your own Blog or RSS feed, it’s time to make the most of your new online presence. If you are an expert Web designer, and like to do your own coding, you are free to start building your site as you see fit. However, most of us probably don’t want to take the time to build everything from scratch, so many people are tempted to turn to pre-created content that can be embedded directly into their Web sites in the form of widgets or gadgets – little snippets of HTML codes that can add customizable Web modules or enhanced functionality to the site. You have to be willing to make changes to the HTML codes of your pages to add any of these little widgets, so if you aren’t familiar with writing HTML codes or aren’t willing to experiment, this post may not really be for you.

There are a nearly unlimited number of widgets and gadgets that can be embedded into your site to quickly turn your blank page into a rich, eye-catching, content-filled page for your visitors. Most of these widgets will provide you with the necessary instructions for inserting the appropriate codes into your Web page, so I won’t go into the details here. Although it might seem intimidating at first, there are some ways to make it easier. If you are using Microsoft Office Live Basics, you can use the Page Editor to add small snippets of HTML codes anywhere you want to on your page quite easily. Please note, however, that if the widget code you are trying to embed should contain the “<iframe>” code to work on your site. If it contains a “<script>” tag in it, it probably will not work. I’ll discuss this in a little more detail at the end of today’s post, and provide a possible workaround if you really need to use a particular script-based widget.

One of the first places many people start is with an online advertising service, like Google’s AdSense program. These programs allow you to insert advertisements into your Web site, and offer you money for generating traffic to the advertisers’ Web sites. Although this might sound like a dream come true at first, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one thing, if you blanket your Web site with advertisements, people will not be likely to visit often. In addition, your new Web site is very unlikely to generate enough traffic to turn this into a sufficient revenue stream. Until and unless you can bring a lot of traffic to your site, you probably won’t make a penny by offering up advertisements on your site. There’s nothing wrong with including advertisements on your site, but that’s probably not the reason you wanted to start your Web site to begin with, so try not to loose your focus with dreams of big money from advertising.

There are countless other embeddable widgets available online, and the tendency is to use too many of them on your site. Your pages should all focus on relevant content for that page, rather than a hodgepodge of someone else’s design elements. However, if you can find an embeddable widget for your site that complements the site or serves your viewers purposes, it can be a great benefit to your site.

Aside from Google’s AdSense program, Zoho offers a variety of embeddable widgets. Zoho Creator, for example, allows you to build Web applications to collect, edit, or display database-style information on your Web site. This can be a great way to collect information about your users by allowing them to post comments, register for a membership, sign up for e-mail newsletters, or other tidbits you might offer in exchange for a glimpse at who is viewing your site. Other Zoho applications include Writer, Sheet, and Show – which are Web-based document, spreadsheet, and slideshow applications. One nice feature about Zoho Show is that you can embed your presentation directly into your Web site. Zoho Challenge and Zoho Polls allow your viewers to vote for candidates (up to 25 candidates with a free account) or respond to polls you post on your site. All of these widgets are aimed at making your site much more interactive to your viewers. Be warned, however, that too much interactivity may turn some people off, depending on the nature of your site. No matter what you add to your site, remember to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).

There are a wide variety of widgets you can add related to your Blog. For example, Feedburner offers you the ability to post your subscription stats, create animated gifs that show off your latest posts, and offer people the option to subscribe to your Blog via e-mail instead of a feed reader/aggregator. In addition, MyBlogLog allows people to put their personal profile on your Blog to join your “community.” This can be a great way to cross-promote your blog with someone else.

Unless you are creating widgets to share with others, your Web site should probably not focus primarily on cool little widgets. Use them wisely, and only when they add a definite benefit to your site, not just because they are “cool” or “new” or otherwise interesting. The more external resources you add to your page, the longer it will take to load, and the less room you’ll have for the “real” content you want to display on your site.

An important note about Microsoft Office Live Basics
If you haven’t been reading this blog, Microsoft Office Live Basics is a free Web site hosting and domain name registration program. While the price is definitely right, there is something very important to note about how Web pages created with this service respond to attempts to embed external widgets in your site.

Unless your widget can be embedded in an iframe, it will not work on your Office Live Basics site. Any external scripts (and even many scripts from your own site), in my experience, simply do not work on your Office Live Basics site. The best I can figure is that the tracking scripts Microsoft Office Live Basics serves up in all of your pages (to keep track of your page views, visitor information, and other traffic monitoring services) interfere with any external scripts you write ( Your guess is as good as mine whether this is intentional or unintentional on the part of Microsoft). I have not been able to find any workarounds to this problem directly, but there is one alternative way to use external scripts on your site hosted by Microsoft Office Live, if it’s important enough to you. It takes a willingness to go in and modify the HTML codes for the pages, so some familiarity with HTML and/or JavaScript is a plus. Here’s what you do…

  • Create a blank page using the Page Designer in your Microsoft Office Live Basics account.
  • View the resulting page in your Web browser.
  • View the source code for the page (For IE6/7 or Mozilla Firefox: right-click on the page and choose “View => Source” or “View => Page Source”).
  • Copy the source code and past it into a plain text editor.
  • Look for a section of code near the bottom that is marked with <!–BEGIN TRACKING CODE–>. Remove everything from this tag to the tag marked <!–END TRACKING CODE–>.
  • Save the file in plain text format (Not as .rtf, .doc, .odt). Use the “Save as Type” field to choose to save the file as a plain text (.txt) file. However, you should save the file with the “.htm” “.html” or “.aspx” extension.

You now have a blank template to use to create your own Web pages, which can safely include external scripted content. Unfortunately, you cannot edit this page using the Office Live page editor. You will have to edit it offline by writing your own codes or using a program like the free Web editor, Nvu (pronounced “n-View”), to edit the page. You can then upload the page to your Office Live site using the Document Gallery tool.

It’s a fairly complex procedure, so you should really only do this if you absolutely have to embed these external scripts in your page. As a general rule, it is probably better to use iframes to embed these widgets on your page. However, there are some times when this just won’t work well because iframes need to have a specific width and height on your page, so it’s a good idea to keep this as a backup plan for that page that just has to include some sort of external script.

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