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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.
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’.
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?
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’