Welcome to my series “How to NOT Suck at Blogging.” I decided to start this after numerous requests for written tutorials from bloggers I have helped. The title is meant to be a joke, but if you suck at blogging (like I did when I first started) I hope you are able to find some useful and helpful information in the series. If not, well, don’t say I never did nothing nice for ya!
I was originally saving this topic for later in the series, but after the week I had, I had to move it up. So, let’s talk about your sidebar.
Your sidebar is prime real estate. Let me tell you that it can make or break whether or not someone wants to come back to your blog. A cluttered and busy sidebar draws the readers eye to it and away from your content. Given that your content is what keeps people coming back, that is bad. So, it’s important to declutter, be thoughtful, and really use your sidebar well.
I like to look at my sidebar in a prioritizing manner. The top of your sidebar is likely above the fold, meaning that is it visible without scrolling down at all. That makes the top your most important place to put the best ya got. You really should use this area for social media icons or other things that you want to promote well. Not ads. Don’t put ads at the top. Instead, use it for something that will benefit your blog by gaining return visits.
The rest of your sidebar can be dealt with in the same way. The higher it is on your sidebar, the more important it is. And remember, the goal is to keep people on your site, not get them to exit to somewhere else. So prioritize stuff like follow buttons, top posts widgets and things that keep your new visitor moving through your site instead of exiting. And chances are, your sidebar is missing many of the things that will accomplish that.
The most common things I see missing from sidebars are:
- An easy to find means of following. This is important. You blog. You want people to follow your blog. But if they have to scroll very far down to find it, they won’t bother. They’ll leave your blog and you’ve lost a potential follower. The easiest thing to do is to have social media icons instead of widgets. You can put them in a neat and tidy row and have all the options available in one spot.
- Easy to find contact info. It’s not enough to have a contact form. You need to have your email available. While your readers might use a contact form, PR people won’t. You really should have both and your email should be near the top of your sidebar and repeated on your about page. Make it easy for people to contact you with opportunities. This week I had to select 6 different blogs randomly from my linkup before I found one that had easy to find contact info. SIX!!!!! The first four didn’t even have a means of contacting at all. No contact form, no email, nothing. That means they missed out on a great opportunity for some free publicity to a new demographic.
- A search bar. This might sound like a dumb thing to have on your sidebar, but think about it. A search bar allows potential followers to easily find other blog posts that they might like and PR people to search around your blog to make sure you are what they are looking for. Have a search bar.
- Top Pages/Top Posts Widget. This also might sound like something that isn’t important, but you definitely want one or something similar. Your goal is to keep people from exiting your blog. If someone comes to visit for a specific post they saw, they will read it and leave. But if they read it and glance over at your sidebar and see your other popular posts, they are more likely to move onto more posts and not leave your site. And your goal is to keep them around and get them hooked on your content.
- About Me widget. This is important for the simple fact that it gives new visitors and PR people a quick and easy means of seeing what you are about and what to expect from your blog. It should be short, maybe 3-5 sentences, but a clear and concise description of you and your blog.
Using your sidebar well can really boost your blog. Make it easy to contact you, make it easy to follow you, make it easy to navigate, and make it easy for people to stay on your blog longer. Your readers, PR people, and I will thank you.