What You Should And Shouldn’t Have On Your Blog’s Sidebar

Sidebar Well, of course the main section of your blog is the content area but the sidebar gives you the opportunity to display some really useful information to your visitors.

The sidebar should not be underestimated, it is a key element to your blog that should be aligned with your goals.

I want to share with you a little list of elements that you should consider having as well as some you should get rid of for different reasons. I hope you find it helpful…

Let’s start at the beginning then:

Your Blog’s Main Goal (And Sub-Goals…)

The first step to decide what goes on your sidebar should be to get reminded of what the goal of having the blog is. For example, if you are an independent consultant maybe your goal is to attract potential clients. Let’s not lose focus of that when we jump into the design phase and start getting widget-happy, we don’t want to add a bunch of unnecessary items.

Your goal should be pretty obvious, if it isn’t maybe you need to rethink the whole thing. Let’s now jump into sub-goals, how are you going to get to your main goal. Let’s stay with the same example, a good idea for a sub-goal will be to gather some emails for a database, maybe through a give-away like an eBook. Another idea could be to offer a free consultation to establish relationships. Get creative on how to get closer to your main goal.

Prioritize

Establishing some priorities will make it easy when deciding the order of the widgets on the sidebar. Whatever is most important should stay above the fold. Your main offer should probably go at the top while your Twitter feed should take the backseat. Yeah, it’s obvious but the other day I saw a published author promoting his book at the bottom of the sidebar…

Should Have

1. Subscription Options

Give people options to get your content delivered and a way to stay connected. RSS and Email subscriptions will do, some people like to add the Twitter icon here too, makes sense. Don’t go crazy promoting your RSS, after all it is better that people visit your blog. Email is a different story, people are giving you their address in exchange for your content and you can probably start building a database this way.

2. Social Profiles

If there are other relevant networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn then you should add them but if they are not important, just leave them out. One thing for sure is to avoid adding a bunch of networks you belong to, keep it short. Don’t confuse people. Also, if you are planning to add a network widget, decide if it is necessary to have the icon too. If there is going to be a Facebook Fanpage Box, perhaps you don’t need to have the icon.

3. Personal Brand

Having your face displayed on your sidebar is like having it on your Twitter profile, people feel comfortable seen who is behind the business upfront. If you have an About page to tell your visitors a little more about yourself, you should add a link to the sidebar with your picture, make it a little preview. I have said before, your prospect is more likely to make the decision of hiring you over the competition based on your relationship, start building this from the first visit.

4. Blog Organization

Some widgets like “Popular Posts”, “Categories” or “Archives” are key to provide some organization to your content and also to encourage the user to visit other posts. I’m currently building a blog with quite a number of contributors writing content, we are adding a widget that displays these authors with an avatar and the option to subscribe to individual RSS feeds.

5. Search Box

Pretty obvious too, although I ignore the percentage of people that actually use the search function on a blog… You should have it. It doesn’t take much space and if you keep it simple it’s light too.

Maybe’s

1. Advertising

Paying your bills is totally OK but unless your blog is a magazine or the main goal is to sell ads, you should keep it short. Make it a couple of ads and be sure they are relevant to your readership to improve performance. A good starting point if you’ve never done it is AdSense. Where should ads be positioned in the sidebar? It’s up to you, depending on how important it is, just don’t annoy your visitors.

2. Social Widgets

Sure, why not. Having a Twitter feed or a Facebook Page box can be useful to expand your network on those sites. You should be careful in not adding to many things, don’t go crazy.

3. Badges

I’m in favor of badges that give you some kind of credibility in front of your visitors, if you are a big deal on the AdAge list for example then you should of course display the badge. Think of what the badge is telling your visitors, make sure it’s relevant.

design

Shouldn’t Have

1. Counters

I don’t think counters are very useful unless you have a hundred thousand subscribers on FeedBurner, that will also build some credibility but showing off how many followers, friends, subscribers and all that stuff is pretty useless. Also, some of those little badges can be pretty ugly.

2. Google Friends Connect

Let me ask you this, what does this thing do for you? when was the last time this ugly widget do something for you? I read last week that this widget is known to slow down your site. Decide if it’s worth keeping.

3. Huge Lists

Avoid big lists. If you have been blogging for 5 years or have a million categories on your blog, consider using dropdowns instead of displaying the whole categories or archives lists, you don’t want this to take too much real estate.

4. Embedding Media

You gotta be careful also with adding too many sources of other media, using a YouTube video as introduction is not a bad idea but adding 3 or 4 videos can really slow down things on your blog. Same thing with adding other forms of media such as Flickr feeds or SlideShare presentations. Ask yourself if your Flickr account is relevant to this blog.

5. Other External Widgets

Choose wisely. Let’s say you want to add a book section to your blog, is this important enough to display a Shelfari bookshelf on the sidebar? Can you go with Amazon instead? Why not making a page on your blog and just display a link? While Shelfari can be very attractive, it can also be very distracting.

The other thing you need to consider when bringing external widgets is that some of them could really affect your loading times. A slow blog will definitely make you lose some traffic.

Last Word…

To leave you with one final thought, it would be to focus on simplicity. A sidebar with too much clutter is confusing and it can be get in the way of successfully getting your key messages across. Question every single widget on it and make wise decisions.

What are you doing with your sidebar? Share your experiences…

Photo Credit: lilit

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  • Hi, I am just working on creating my blog. This article has been of great use to me. Luckily I read it in time. I was going to commit several of the mistakes like adding tons of widgets. The best part about your blog is the clutter free clean appearance. I hope I manage to create something interesting too just learning the ropes right now!

  • Hey Sumayya, thanks for the kind words. I am in constant chase for simplicity in everything I do and I hope my work reflects that, so thank you for acknowledging that.

    Good luck with your blog and feel free to shoot me an email if you need any help.

  • martinrayvaughan

    Good stuff! Very timely for me as I am in reconstuction mode. I would like to request a post on a few Thesis related topics… I know there is quite a bit out there on this topic but after a week of scouring the net I find there is an exorbanant amount of garbage too! Possible ideas: Using Hooks, a How to. or maybe Possibilities with the Multimedia Box?
    -One of your groupies

  • Hey Martin, thanks for the suggestion. I never thought about writing something specific for Thesis because I don't consider myself a Thesis developer… or a developer period ; )

    Maybe I can put together a collection of resources. Have a nice weekend!

  • Good advice – except AdSense. It looks ugly, and the ads are too often irrelevant to your blog. Go for a nice-looking affiliate ad instead, e.g., Amazon, or one of the many companies in Google's Affiliate network.

  • Thanks for your comment Jay. One way to get more relevant ads from AdSense is to add section targeting. Ugly? I agree with you, most of them are…

    Have a great weekend man!

  • Just beautiful! I'm now creating my blog and your post was extremely helpful. I haven't created my sidebar yet so these were great tips. Although, I do like when I can see other posts, or popular posts, or categories on the side bar in plain view instead of at the bottom of the blog, like you have. I noticed that when posts are on the side bar, I end up staying longer because there is always another post that catches my attention. Soon enough, I've been with that blog for a long time and I already feel like I know the writer. Personally, I don't like to scroll to bottom to go find other posts. That being said, I love your blog. It has great content and it is aesthetically pleasing.

  • Thanks for your comments Andrea. I'm looking forward to seen your blog launch, let us know.

    Good luck

  • mbloksma

    Wow, what a great article! Recently I'm moving my blog from Tumblr to WordPress and this will be a great help building a usefull sidebar in WP!

    Thnx for this!

  • Hey, good luck with the move Martijn. Let us know when your blog is ready.

  • atlantarealestate

    Francisco:

    Great post, thank you. Follows your two favorite words, “common sense.”

    I'm working on my site all the time and when I'm not, I'm surfing sites, like yours (excellent BTW), looking for ideas.

    Great job!

  • I'm glad you like it. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Pingback: The Art of the Sidebar « Social Media for Authors()

  • Vanesse

    I agree. This is almost the most important thing to have in mind when working. Keep up.
    http://pariurilive.co