Blog sidebars tend to fall into two categories. either it’s a total afterthought and you’ve just left the default widgets there. Or you’ve panicked and added every bit of content you can think of, resulting in an extremely long, busy and chaotic layout.
There is another option though.
Your blog’s sidebar is a valuable bit of space. Use it strategically and you can really enhance your visitors’ experience.
When deciding what should go in your sidebar, focus on your readers and customers. What information do they need? How can you make your site more interesting, more valuable, and easier to use?
Also think about what you’re trying to achieve with your website. Do you want more subscribers, more customers? How can your sidebar help you achieve this?
No matter what your aims, there are few things that most sites will need in their sidebar:
A welcome or about section
Not everyone arrives on your website in the same way. Some people will land on your homepage and progress through your site to your blog. While others will arrive straight onto a blog post.
So right at the top of your sidebar you should introduce yourself and your business.
A welcome section is friendly – it lets you wave “hello” to new readers. It provides a quick overview so they know who you are and what you’re about. And a link to your about or services page there can encourage them to find out more about you and your business.
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A sign-up form
You’ve started building your email list, right?
Good. So the next thing you need is a call to action. Add a sign-up form to your sidebar so people can access your freebie, or lead magnet, or at least so they can subscribe to your blog posts.
‘Cos you want them to become regular readers, if not avid fans!
Having your sign-up form high up on your sidebar makes it nice and visible so more people see it, and with a compelling call to action, that means more subscribers.
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Your social media links
Some people advise not putting your social media links in your sidebar as you don’t want to encourage people to leave your site.
But I think they’re a good thing.
When people like your content it’s likely they want to connect with you in other ways. And that includes things like checking out your Facebook page, seeing your latest pins and tweeting with you too.
Plus, having social media links in sidebars is so common that people will look for your links there first. So if your only social links are in your footer or on your contact page, people might miss them.
Your popular or recommended posts
Social proof is really powerful – that’s why testimonials are such a great marketing tool.
And social proof can work in your blog too.
Some of your most popular posts could be months or even years old, but new readers might not know about them if they don’t look past your most recent posts. Which means they’ll miss out on some dynamite content!
But display a list of your most popular posts and that encourages even more people to explore them. It’s a win-win: your readers discover more valuable content and you get more traffic to your archives.
These four things are pretty essential for nearly any sidebar, and there are other things that, while not vital, are pretty nice to have too:
Links to your products
Do you have an eBook or course to promote? Or how about your signature service package?
Why not promote it in your sidebar.
Casual readers on your blog might not know about your products or click through to your sales pages. but try putting an eye-catching and attractive link to your product/s and you can spark their interest.
A search bar
If you’ve been using categories and tags to sort your posts, your readers can use those to search your content for more information on a specific topic. but a search box will let them search your whole site.
So if you’ve got a fairly big site, with lots of pages and posts, a search box is really useful.
It’s also kind to your readers to let them search your site rather than just browsing in the hope of finding the info they want.
So that covers what you really need in your sidebar. What about the things you don’t need? What shouldn’t go in your sidebar?
The default widgets
Firstly, make sure you’re not using the default widgets that WordPress places in your sidebar. That includes things like the Meta widget, which is of no use to your readers – so it doesn’t need to be there.
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Your recent posts
This is another of the default widgets and many people, even though they’ve customised their sidebar, use it. But it’s really not needed.
If people want to see your newest posts, they can just go to the first page of your blog. So the recent posts widget is just taking up valuable space that will be better used for something else.
A blogroll or list of links
While it may seem helpful to include a list of links to sites or resources that your readers may find useful, it’s actually counter-intuitive.
Because these links will be leading people away from your site, when you actually want to encourage them to stay there longer.
Instead, try not to write a blog post with a roundup of useful resources – giving you more great content to share!
Note: I know, this is the exact argument against placing your social media links in your sidebar as they lead people away from your site too. But they’re linking to your profile elsewhere, so people are still interacting with your brand. While a blogroll is leading your readers towards other people’s sites.
And one last thing that doesn’t need to go in your sidebar are adverts.
If you’re trying to monetize your blog, with things like affiliate links and AdWords, adverts in your sidebar seem like a good idea. But if your blog is on your business is site, it can actually look a bit unprofessional.
Additionally, people have developed a bit of a banner ad blindness. Through adverts being so common, people tend to skim over without paying them any attention – so they end up being wasted space.
Help, don’t hinder
Your sidebar is an important part of your blog, so it’s important to use the space wisely. Only add content that’s going to help your users get a better experience on your site and support your goals (like increasing your subscribers). and get rid of anything that’s going to distract or confuse your readers.
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