November 18, 2015

How to make your blog's sidebar work for you

How to make your blog sidebar work for you

Have you ever come across a blog or website where the sidebar looks an awful lot like that little clutter drawer in your kitchen? The type of sidebar that is filled with tons of funny gadgets, buttons, awards and God knows what? I'm sure you have! But in the midst of all this visual turmoil it is hard to find out what the blog is really about and who the blogger is behind it. Does this even sound like I'm describing YOUR sidebar? Then it is about time for some action!


THE REASON FOR HAVING A SIDEBAR

Have you ever asked yourself why almost all blogs have a sidebar? Well, a sidebar is a great tool to focus on little snippets of information that serve both your readers as well as yourself.

From the perspective of a reader a sidebar should hold some short information on the blog and the blogger, because, let's face it, we are curious beings and want to know more about the person behind the blog. This can be done by adding your image to the sidebar with a little blurb of information beneath it in the form of a welcome text or some personal info about yourself and the blog.

Readers will also like the option to subscribe to your blog and to find some social icons through which they can connect to you. A subscription option and social icons do not have to be in the sidebar but should definitely be visible and easy to find on the front page (either on top of the page or at the footer).

And last but not least, readers like a search bar. This tool will give readers the option to easily search for a certain kind of topic within your blog.

From the perspective of the blogger the sidebar should hold the option to subscribe (or anywhere else on the front page that is very visible). Most bloggers like to grow their blogs, so a clearly visible subscription bar is a must! And so are social icons! They will give you the opportunity to grow your following on your social media platforms.

If you are earning money through affiliate links or advertisements or you want to start doing this, you have to reserve a good spot in your sidebar for these ads and links. After all, they will bring money in!

So the stuff you put in your sidebar should always serve both the reader and you!


WHICH GADGETS ARE A MUST IN THE SIDEBAR?

There are a ton of gadgets out there for sidebars, but we really don't need them all. There are some gadgets though that every sidebar should have. So let's explore them!

Welcome Image
I personally always like it when there is an image of the blogger in the sidebar. It immediately gives an impression of who you are dealing with and it satisfies our curious nature. If you are a little bit shy and not comfortable with displaying a personal photo in your sidebar, then at least put a photo of yourself on your About page. People really like to know whom they're dealing with!

Welcome Text/Personal Intro
Underneath or above your image should be a few lines that function as an intro. Welcome your readers, tell them what the blog is basically about and what to expect. Keep it short and write it in your own words. Further details, info and other interesting facts about the blog and you can be included on the About page or another informative page.

Subscription Option
If you don't offer a clearly visible subscription option, then how will you ever grow your blog? So add a subscription option to the sidebar. And if readers can subscribe through multiple platforms (Feedburner, Bloglovin etc.) add those as well!

Search Bar
People are lazy and busy. Keep that in mind! They want you to provide them with every tool that helps them navigate your blog easily. Don't expect them to scroll through a hundred posts to find a post on a certain subject because they won't. So make it easy for them to find things. And a search bar is a tool that will help them find posts based on a keyword they can type in.


WHICH GADGETS ARE A MAYBE IN THE SIDEBAR?

Next to the gadgets mentioned in the paragraph before there are some other gadgets that can serve as a good tool for readers and yourself. So let's explore them.

Popular Post Gadget
This gadget is one that I like very much myself. It will display a number of post titles that are read the most often by your readers. The links to the posts are often accompanied by a little thumbnail image and a snippet of text from the blog post. Having this gadget up in the sidebar gives your readers the option to find interesting articles very easy. They only have to click on the link. This gadget will probably keep your readers on your blog a little longer, reading more content, and that's a good thing!

Blog Archive
While not really necessary, the blog archive can act as a good search tool as well for your readers. If you take a look at mine in the sidebar of this website you will notice that I display it in such a way that the post titles of the current month are visible. This might be a trigger for readers to click through to the article.

Labels / Categories Gadget
As you can see, I have a category gadget in my sidebar as well. If a reader click on one of the categories they will be taken to a page that shows all the blog posts I ever wrote under that category. This gadget can be a great addition if you don't already have your category pages up in your menu bar. But be smart with the amount of categories or labels you are showing in your sidebar. I just show the ones that are most interesting for my readers and have a good amount of posts underneath them. Some blogs have over a hundred of different labels displayed in their sidebar. This is not going to invite readers to click through. The amount of labels is just way too overwhelming to make a choice.

Buttons & Awards
A lot of bloggers are a part of a particular kind of blogging group or a craft circle or whatever form of cooperation and they show it by displaying a button from that group in the sidebar. An example of such a project is the Peony Project of Betsy Gettis, a blogger I follow along with.

Such a button deserves a place in your sidebar when you are actively involved in a group like this and would like the group to get some more attention from your readers. But if you are a member of a dozen of these kinds of groups you might want to think twice about displaying all those buttons. Your sidebar isn't getting any clearer from this and you have to ask yourself if the kind of audience you are attracting is a match with the purpose of the group.

The same goes for blogging award buttons. One will definitely grab the attention of readers, but a dozen will probably put them off.

Advertisements & Affiliate Links
Most bloggers hope to make some money one day with their blog through sidebar advertising and affiliate programs. But in order for you to really start making some money from these things you need to have a good amount of daily pageviews and an advertising/affiliate program that gives you a good return on these views. Starting out a new blog and just randomly placing Google Adsense in your sidebar is not going to pay off.

Advertising becomes interesting when you have created a good platform of readers. To give an example, Disqus, the program I use for the blog comments on this website offers an advertisement program for bloggers. But you can only apply if your blog is attracting at least 25.000 pageviews per day! And that's with good reason. Advertising companies are looking for blogs that will bring them revenue. They will barely get any revenue if your daily pageviews are about a 100. And so will you. So why clog up your sidebar with ads when your monthly return on them is less than a couple of dollars?

When starting out a blog use the sidebar for gaining a good readership. Offer readers multiple options to subscribe and follow you on your blog and social media. And once you've gained a substantial amount of daily readers you can start thinking about advertising and affiliate programs.

Instagram & Pinterest Feed
With my premade blogger designs I offer the option to install an Instagram Slide or a Pinterest Feed in the sidebar. These gadgets are fun, but you really have to ask yourself if they add anything to your blog. If your blog is focused on your business and your Instagram account is personal, with lots of pics of the kids and the dog, you might want to ask yourself if this should be on your blog. As for the pinterest feed, only display it when it matches the subject on your blog and when you are using it to grow your Pinterest following. If it's just for decoration, use the space for a gadget that will serve you and your readers better.


WHICH GADGETS ARE A NO-NO IN THE SIDEBAR?

Some gadgets however are a definite no-no, at least in my personal opinion. Of course the great thing about blogging is that you can do whatever you want with your blog, so you don't have to take my word for it ;-) I'm basically writing this post from the perspective as a reader. I am a blogger myself, but also an avid blog reader. And when I come across blogs with a very clogged up sidebar it's just not very appealing to me personally to hang around.

While the gadgets mentioned above all have at least some kind of serving towards the reader, the ones mentioned below do not. Let's check them out!

Feedjit Live Traffic Feed
Feedjit is a fun gadget that I see on a lot of blogs. It basically shows a long feed with data on the people that have recently visited the blog. You can see which country and town they are from. Maybe a lot of fun for you as the blog owner, but totally not interesting for your audience. Readers are interested in your content, not in a live traffic feed! Instead, if you want to know more about your blog's analytics, set up a Google Analytics account for your blog and don't bother your audience with it.

Pageview Tracker
Like the Feedjit gadget, this info can be very fun for you, but for me, as a reader, I don't really care for the pageview tracker in your sidebar. I come for your content. Again, track your pageviews on your blog's analytic page or via Google Analytics. And if you want to show off your analytics because you would like to attract sponsors, then go the more professional route and create a special sponsor/media page in your menu bar that states your latest analytic data and sponsor options.

Other trackers and fun stuff
There are a lot of tracker gadgets out there and other funny things to put in your sidebar like daily quotes etc. But does it serve your readers? That is really the question you should ask yourself when putting up a gadget in your sidebar. If the answer is no, then just skip it!


GENERAL TIPS FOR THE SIDEBAR LAYOUT

In the previous paragraphs I covered which gadgets you should have and which ones should stay absent from your precious blog. But apart from that there are a few overall tips for the layout of the sidebar.

Put subscription options and intro above the fold
Above the fold means that when you view your blog on a desktop the part of the blog/sidebar that is showing in the screen is 'above the fold'. The stuff that shows up when you scroll down is 'below the fold'. The above the fold section catches more views, that's why advertisers are often looking for websites that are willing to place their ad on this position. So put the main info in your sidebar above the fold! That means your subscription options and your intro (image and little piece of informational text).

Be selfish - put your own stuff above other people's stuff
Don't put other people's stuff in front of your own, it's your blog and you are the star here ;-) If you are displaying a list of blogs you like, or a group button in your sidebar, put them under your own information. Your readers need to see your info first!

Keep sidebar titles short
Create strong and short titles above your sidebar gadgets. Lines of text will only clutter your sidebar more. And with some gadgets you might not even need a title above it. Like a group button image for instance. If the button image shows clearly what it is about (name of the group etc.) why add a title? Let the image speak for itself.

The length of the sidebar should match the content length
Make sure that while people scroll through your content on the main page of your blog, the sidebar is constantly in site. When your main page shows so many posts that when you scroll down the sidebar ends and there is just empty space next to the content, alter the amount of posts that show on the main page. Your sidebar gives readers the option to take certain kinds of action and when these options are out of site they are not going to use them!

The same goes for a very long sidebar and a short content on the main page. If your content ends miles before the sidebar ends, readers are missing out on a big part of your sidebar. In this case you want to increase the amount of posts that are visible on the main page.


CONCLUSION

This was quite a long post, so I will keep the conclusion short for you. Whenever you are adding a gadget to your sidebar ask yourself the question if it will serve your readers, and therefore, in return, will serve you!


 
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