This post was a mini-challenge for the Biannual Blogathon Bash. It’s still helpful to all bloggers though!
How to Create a Clutter-Free and Helpful Sidebar
The sidebar of your blog is one of the first things that people will see when they land on your homepage. It’s also something they will likely continue to see, no matter what page of your blog they are visiting. Because of this, you want to be sure that your sidebar looks nice and is helpful to your visitors.
Things to Include in your Sidebar
1. Social Media Buttons
This may very well be the most important widget/section you have on your blog’s sidebar. This invites your readers to connect with you in ways other than your blog. It also allows for communication, as most bloggers tweet or update Facebook when they have a new post or interesting article to share. Common social media buttons you can include are Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed, Pinterest, and Google+.
Vandelay Design has a great collection of free social media icons that you can download and use on your blog. There are also lots of WordPress plugins that will help you add social buttons to your sidebar.
2. Search function
You want to give readers a convenient method for quickly finding certain topics on your site. A search bar does exactly that. Be sure it’s toward the top of the sidebar so that your visitors don’t have to scroll too much to find it. Without a search function, your visitors may not be able to find what they need, causing them to leave and look elsewhere.
3. About Me
This section lets you give new visitors a brief overview about what you and/or your blog are all about. Many people prefer to know a little about the blog owner, as it helps them connect on a more personal level. You don’t want to “hide behind” your blog, so to speak. Adding a photo to this section is another good idea, as it further promotes the idea that there is a real person behind the blog. To keep the sidebar from being a huge block of text, a small blurb with a link to your “About” page is a great idea.
If you enjoy making money from your blog, the sidebar is the perfect spot for advertisements. If you aren’t in it for the money, this isn’t a requirement for your sidebar. However, because it is present on every page, monetizing this location is your best bet if you do want your blog to produce an income for you. You can join networks such as Google Adsense or sell advertising space straight from your blog. It’s okay to have a few ads on your sidebar, but try not to go overboard or your site may look spammy.
5. Popular Posts
Promote your best posts in the sidebar, so all visitors can see them. Use images so they become visually irresistible! This will lead to more clicks (hence, more pageviews!) around your site. I use Social Warfare to automatically add my blog’s most popular posts to the sidebar.
Tips for an Organized and Clutter-Free Sidebar
1. Be sure that you don’t have too much stuff going on in your sidebar. Having 15 advertisements, all of different sizes and shapes, can be very visually unappealing. Also, too many banner ads or buttons can cause your site to load slower, which can harm your returning traffic. No one wants to wait 3 minutes for a page to load.
2. Resize images so that they look more uniform. Banner ads and buttons for blogging events or other blogs can be quickly and easily resized using a small piece of HTML code. Just Married With Graphics has a quick and easy resizing tutorial that shows you what to add where in order to have images that are all the same size.
3. Use drop-down menus when possible. Your category and archive sections, for example, can become quite long as your blog ages and you publish more posts. Putting these areas into drop down menus or using the collapsible menu (if on Blogger) shortens the length of these sections.
4. Put the most important information at the top. Chances are, banner advertisements are not what you want visitors to see first. This can make your blog look spammy. Instead, lead off with a search bar or your social media icons. You can then rank the rest of the sections based on your personal preference.