What The North Face gave up in Web content control, it gained in site traffic through a new widget that lets online visitors post their own and North Face-produced videos to other sites.

“At the start, it makes people a little bit nervous, especially traditional marketers — putting your content somewhere that you don’t totally control,” said Sarah Gallagher, online manager of The North Face. However, the widget proved itself an effective traffic generator, driving conversion rates up to four times higher than average.

“That means four times as many people clicked through the widget to the [North Face] site than click through traditional banner ads,” she added. “That is pretty huge. If it had doubled, we’d be pretty happy.”

The widget, released in January by San Francisco-based Fluid, is portable computer code that users can take from The North Face’s site, or its defy.tv.com microsite, and import to social networking sites such as iGoogle or Facebook. Once embedded on other sites, the widget delivers fresh content as The North Face updates it, such as the current video-of-the-day promotion.

The North Face’s move is part of a growing trend toward relinquishing control of Web content. “If you have a walled garden, which is ‘I am going to have all my stuff and I am going to protect it only in my space,’ what you realize is because of all this social networking and all this proliferation of sites, you are going to lose relevance,” said Mike Linton, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of eBay.

“Distributed commerce is one of the answers: You make your brand ubiquitous by widgets,” he added.

The North Face, a division of VF Outdoor, will add more widgets and interactive features with the site’s relaunch in a few months. “In June, look for a site that has a superrich experience, more video and more places for users to customize the experience,” Gallagher said.

This story first appeared in the March 4, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.