Blog Tips Tuesday 10: Common sidebar mistakes

Blog Tips Common sidebar mistakes

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When designing a blog, a lot of people treat their sidebar as a place to stick all the random stuff that they don’t want to put anywhere else, but this is totally wrong. Every single inch of your blog is valuable to you, and none of it should be wasted. This post focuses on a few common mistakes that a lot of people make with their sidebars, which can lead to them looking cluttered, confusing and just plain messy.

StarThis is a ‘beginner’ blogging tip, aimed at people who are just beginning to design their blogs.

Common sidebar mistakes

If you only take one thing away from this post, make it this: every single item on your sidebar should provide value, either to yourself or to your readers. Some examples: ads provide value to you as a blogger, because you make money off them – they’re fine. A picture of your face provides value to your readers because they can picture the person who’s talking to them – that’s fine. A random picture of your dog or a link to somewhere that brings you no value? Not fine.

Here are five of the most common mistakes that I regularly see people making with their sidebars.

1. Adding links to your FoodGawker and TasteSpotting galleries

So, you got a photo accepted to FoodGawker. That’s great! I remember the first time I go a photo accepted after about forty rejections, I pretty much screamed the house down and I was in a good mood for the rest of the day. In your initial excitement, it can be tempting to add the ‘see my photos on FoodGawker’ button to your sidebar so that everyone knows about your success, but before you jump the gun, think about it – does that actually offer any value to your readers? They’re not going to see anything over at your FoodGawker gallery that they can’t see on your blog anyway, and all you’ll be doing by including this button is giving your readers another way to leave your blog. Your aim is to keep readers on your site, not to encourage them to click away! So refrain from adding your FoodGawker gallery button (and TasteSpotting, and whatever other photo sharing sites you use).

Instead, why not add a few of your favourite photos to your sidebar, and link directly to the post? That way, you can still show off your photography, but clicking will keep people on your site and take them directly where they want to go, rather than sending them through the middle man. I reckon people are more likely to click on an actual photograph too, rather than a generic FoodGawker button.

2. Including a really long blog roll

It’s fantastic that you want to support your fellow bloggers, but taking up half your sidebar with a long list of other blogs isn’t going to do you any favours. Again, you’re giving your reader multiple new ways to navigate away from your page – potentially onto a new blog that they find they actually prefer to your own! Chances are, that other blogger that you’re linking to won’t ever even find out that you’re linking to their site, and therefore you’ll never get anything in return. In everyday life it’s great to be generous, but if you’re trying to grow your blog, you need to think in terms of losses and gains. You potentially lose lots of readers by sending them over to other blogs, and you’re probably not actually gaining much.

If you’re insistent on having a blog roll, why not create a separate page for it and link to it in your navigation bar, rather than cluttering up your sidebar? And please make sure the links open in a new tab!

3. Having a sidebar that’s far longer than your actual content

It just looks messy! Your sidebar should be used to fill in the gap alongside your main blog content, not to provide extra length to the page. If you don’t have room for everything you want to include on your sidebar next to your blog content, you can always display different items on different blog pages. For example, if you view my homepage, the sidebar is shorter than that which you see on an individual post. This is because the actual content of my homepage is quite short in terms of length, and I didn’t want the sidebar to stick out underneath the content.

If you use WordPress, you can easily hide sidebar widgets from certain pages of your blog using the ‘visibility’ feature. For example, I have it set so that some of the items on my sidebar are hidden when ‘page’ is ‘front page’.

WordPress widget visibility

Basically, the point is that you want your sidebar to look considered, rather than just being a load of things you stuck on there without much thought.

4. Including too many membership badges.

Some blogging communities or networks requite that you display a badge on your site, which is fine. If you’ve given it some thought and have decided that it’s worth displaying the badge to be a part of the network, then go for it. But if displaying the badge is not a requirement, why clutter your sidebar with it? Does anyone really care that you’re a member of fifty different blogging communities? If it’s not offering any value to you or to your readers, get rid of it!

5. Keeping the WordPress ‘meta’ section

You know when you first created your WordPress blog, there was that ‘meta’ section that appeared on your sidebar – the one that looks like this?

WordPress meta section

Get rid of it! It offers pretty much zero value, and it immediately makes your blog look a bit amateur, like you weren’t really sure to do with these useless links, so you just left them there.

Why are your readers going to want a ‘log in’ button? They’re not.

Why would they want a link to WordPress.org? They wouldn’t!

When are they ever going to want to read a long list of all the comments left on your site? (say it with me…) Never!

The only link here that might be remotely useful is the ‘Entries RSS’ one, but it would be much better to make your own link to your RSS feed, and display it in a much nicer way than in the midst of some other random links. I have a link to my own RSS feed up at the top of my sidebar with my other ‘follow’ links – it’s the fourth one along, that looks like some sort of weird radar thing:

(PS while you’re here, get clicking and follow me on all of the above!)

So, what do you think – do you agree with me here? Are there any of the above that you think are actually really useful to include on your sidebar? Let me know in the comments!

More blogging tips:

How to reduce your bounce rate
How to find out how many times a blog post has been pinned
How to add titles and alt text to images
How to start a blog in 5 minutes
How to make a blogging media kit
How to set up a Facebook page for your blog
When to use ‘nofollow’ links
Should I use ‘CAPTCHA’ on my blog?
10 things to check before hitting ‘publish’

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Comments

  1. says

    I have a links page for all the badges and images of memberships, etc. That keeps it off the sidebar. I really don’t like when book blogs put all their upcoming tours and tour host details on their sidebar – like you said too much looks messy.

  2. says

    These are all great tips for any type of WordPress sites. Just one clarification — I don’t believe that the Visibility feature for widgets is part of the standard WordPress distribution (in other words, if you have your site on a hosting service other than WordPress.com, you don’t have it.) Fortunately, you can get it as part of JetPack, a super-plugin that includes several important features developed by the Automattic team for WordPress.com. You’ll find JetPack here: http://wordpress.org/plugins/jetpack/ (and there’s also a version that’s just for Visibility.)

    Just trying to avoid confusion for those with self-hosted WordPress sites!
    Elizabeth Thomsen recently posted…Girl Scout CookiesMy Profile

  3. says

    I’m getting ready to invest in having a designer do my site and so I’ve been looking at A LOT of food blogs, trying to decide what I want my site to look like. There are so many decisions to make not only from a functionality perspective but from a design perspective as well, it can be completely overwhelming. I feel a lot more confident in the decisions I made based on what you wrote in this post because I agree with all of it. In my opinion, less is better but make the most impact with what you do use. I am now scouring your site for more tips. =) Thanks!

  4. says

    Another thing to remember if you are trying to make a few cents blogging, is that by clogging up your sidebar, you lower your clickthrough rate on your ads. You still have to balance out the user experience with advertising, but by overwhelming users with options, they often will just go adblind for that area of your website.
    VFB recently posted…Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast RisottoMy Profile

  5. says

    These are great tips and honestly I’ve been rejected about eight times by foodgawker and if I ever got accepted I would have put that badge right up there on my sidebar! I currently have a finding vegan one and you are right, what is it offering me? Thanks for the great tips!

  6. says

    A friend shared this with me and it’s a great post. So much good advice about something a lot of people don’t think about! But I’d push back on the idea of eliminating blogrolls or moving them to where they might not be seen.

    I think one of the most wonderful things about a blog is the chance to be part of a community. I see that as a benefit in itself. I think it’s so terrific to link to someone else and not “get” anything in return, especially in this day of everything being about money and traffic and page views. Even if it sends readers off your site, you’ve added value for them by introducing them to others you admire.

    Personally, when I see a blogroll prominently in a sidebar, it tells me that that blogger cares about his or her fellow bloggers, and great content creation–which is something that will keep me coming back.

    • says

      Hey Liz! I totally agree that it’s great to be generous, so I very much appreciate your opinion :) I guess it depends how you view your blog – everyone has their own opinion and there’s no right or wrong answer to any of this stuff! I personally prefer to show my appreciation by commenting and sharing other people’s post in various places, but I’m sure plenty of people disagree and prefer to show their love in other ways!!
      Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche recently posted…50 vegetarian avocado recipesMy Profile

  7. says

    I used to be a repeat offender and definitely committed a lot of sidebar sins. So very glad I hired a designer who helped me “de-clutter” my blog and make it look like, you know, an actual blog :) Thanks for these great tips!

  8. says

    Good tips!

    I think #5 should be #1. That meta widget needs to go as soon as the blog is set up!

    And using separate pages for blogrolls, badges, resources, etc., is a great idea. Keep those things accessible, but don’t clutter up your sidebar with them.

    But I’m not a fan of having links automatically open up a new tab/page (which you mention in #2). I don’t appreciate it when a site tries to dictate how I browse, and I in turn wouldn’t want to force that on my readers. I mean, I don’t want to *lose* visitors, sure…but I also figure they know how to use the back button if they want to return. :)

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