One of the best parts of using WordPress is the ease with which one can add things to the sidebar. Sidebars have become so popular as a result of this ease of use that it is an expected feature in almost any blog.
Unfortunately, most persons abuse that ease of use by adding every shiny widget they stumble on to their sidebar.
Don’t know what a sidebar is? It is the column to the left (and more often) to the right of your WordPress content area.
What is your sidebar status?
Is it a vanity showcase of your crap or a useful resource for your readers? Most bloggers add so much content to the sidebar hoping for random clicks only to end up with nothing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect. I have had sidebars that look like a junk shelf before, and my current sidebar is still far from perfect. It is however important that we know these things as knowing the right thing to do is the critical first step towards actually doing the right thing.
When adding items to your sidebar you ideally want one of two things:
- A sidebar that would gather clicks
This kind of sidebars actually converts. By that I mean that it the items in the sidebar are getting click attention and readers are using your sidebar widgets to navigate around your site (which is what they should be doing).
- A sidebar that is generally ignored
These sidebars are generally overcrowded and include adverts to as much offers as the blogger feels he can get away with. The blogger is hoping for some impulse clicks on some of those offers; the reader is getting sidebar-blind because he or she has learned to treat it as a commercial space.This is not the kind of sidebar you want on your blog, trust me.I know if I ask you at this point, you may all say that you have the first type of sidebar, but before you jump to that conclusion, wait to review your sidebar in the light of the rest of this post. The question now is: What do you add to your sidebar to make it strategic and increase conversions?
What to add to your side bar
People no longer just take advice offered online without a second thought about who is giving the advice. If you look to my homepage sidebar, you will notice my brief bio box which contains a photograph and a snippet of the content of my about page.
That way, first time visitors have the opportunity of getting to know you as they interact with your content. Adding a mini bio to your sidebar is as easy as using a text widget.
If you want a little more control, maybe you want to add a head-shot photo of you at the beach in one of them Caribbean islands, you have the options of using either HTML inside your text widget or you may want to install a plugin like the About Me 3000 Widget.
If you have read the stories of bloggers like John Chow and of course, the account of my friend Chimezirim Odimba, the value of having an email list of your readers becomes quite clear. I have heard bloggers who have called their email list an ATM machine that they go to withdraw money whenever the feel like it. If you make a review of top-grossing blogs across any industry, you will notice that the sidebar email signup form is a constant feature.
If you don’t have a signup form on your blog yet, work on something urgently. It is best to create an offer (also known as ethical bribe). This is what you give to your readers in exchange for an email. Being able to contact your readers mean you can drive traffic to your blog on demand whether Google likes it or not.
Having popular posts in your sidebar shows readers a snapshot of content that has really resonated with your audience. This one extends the social proof theme and demonstrates the reach you have with your readers.There is however a small catch to using the popular post widget.
Your most read or most commented posts are not necessarily the best you have to offer, which is obviously the position of the popular posts widget.
A post may have got popular because of a lucky tweet from a power blogger, while the posts you bled over for nights may make a little more than a ripple with your audience.That is why I prefer using recommended posts plugin since I get to hand-pick the very posts that get the sidebar treatment.Ultimately, the choice of which of the two plugin types to use is yours to make.
Popular post plugins are “plug and play”, you just install them and they dynamically update the listings, while recommended posts plugins require that you manually track posts you feel your readers should get to see and add them to the sidebar. One is easy, the other demanding.
What not to add to your sidebar
At a time these used to be very popular. For now, however, they are long gone out of fashion. Truth be told, no one clicks on tag clouds anymore, so if you are still dedicating prime sidebar property to those legacy widgets, get them out of there pronto before I unleash the blogging police on ya!
If you still have blogrolls in your sidebar, then I really have to refer you to my post Why I Don’t Have a Blogroll and Why You Shouldn’t Either where I voiced very strong opinions on why blogrolls have practically rolled away.
I have nothing against making money with your blog. You will notice that I have recently added more adverts around my site – yes, I love making some money too. However, that should not be the sole object of your blog if you are seeking to establish yourself as an authority in your niche.
Exercise restraint when adding adverts to your sidebar.
I have seen blogs where ads line the sidebar from the top of the page right to the footer.Big mistake!Do not overload your sidebar with ads. If you have too many ads in your sidebar, your readers will learn to go “sidebar-blind”, completely ignoring your ads and reducing conversions.
Providing a search form on your blog is not a bad idea if you have tons of content. If your blog readers are not finding the information they want, a search box may make searching easier for them to zero in on specific topics. However, it is wise to be careful in deciding when to use this. If your blog is new, a search form may have a negative effect on your readership.
You do not want a situation where readers completes a search and comes up with zero results, as that may well send the reader away to a more resourceful site. So, a search box, while a time saver for your reader, can also significantly increase the bounce rate of your blog.
You know how I value your comments, so I hope this will not be misconstrued as meaning comments are not so important. When was the last time you actually followed comments in a sidebar? People are generally not interested in this kind of stuff, so having it in the sidebar shows lack of creative utilization of limited space.
Some bloggers have said that including recent posts in your sidebar makes it easy for your readers to find your recent blog posts. This one is another huge space waster if ever there was one! The homepage of your blog is most likely listing your recent posts in a chronological manner, so what is the point repeating that listing in your sidebar?
This one should have been at the top of this no-no list, for it is the biggest of them all! What is the use taking all that space in your sidebar for a list should have a page of its own? If your theme did not ship with an archive page, please create one and link to it from your navigation area.
Most bloggers use their sidebar as a way to promote their various social networking and social bookmarking activities. Ideally, I think social media should be used to promote blogs and not the other way round. Engage with your readers on your blog, capture their emails and keep them coming back.
Minimize occasions where you have to send traffic out of your site. Building your blog means getting traffic into your blog.
When to Remove the Sidebar
A sidebar, no matter how well designed and useful, is always a distraction from the main content of a page.
That is why on single purpose pages like landing and squeeze pages, product review pages and so on, it is often advised that you take the sidebar out completely so your readers can be focused on the action you desire them to take.
Whenever it makes sense to remove your sidebar, do not hesitate to take the sidebar out. Removing your sidebar is a great way to optimize your for blog for subscribers op-tins.
Here is what I want you to do
I want you to critically assess your sidebar. Remind yourself of what every item on your sidebar is there for.
If you can’t recall why anything is in your sidebar, then cut it out.
If the usefulness of any item is uncertain at this time, cut it out.
Yes, cut, cut and cut until your sidebar is reduced to a strategic part of your blog.
It is going to be difficult to take the knife in. I know most of those sidebar items have contributed in giving your blog the distinctive look it has, but if it is not working out you must agree that something has to give.
Better to let a few widgets die than kill your entire blog.
Over to you!
What do you have to say to this?
Do you agree that a cluttered sidebar can be a huge conversion killer? Is there something important I have missed here? Do lend your voice to this discussion. You know, nothing pleases me more than a good yarn.