Recently I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions about sidebars. Bloggers wondering whether they should have one, and if so, what they should include.
Decisions you make about your sidebar can have a big impact on the way visitors navigate through your blog and the actions they take. Today we’ll go over whether you need a sidebar and some arguments for each side. We’ll also discuss what to include in your sidebar, what to leave out, and some common mistakes.
Does My Blog Need A Sidebar?
To get us started, let’s go over whether you need a blog sidebar. It’s a question I get a lot and one that doesn’t have a perfectly clear answer.
The short answer is “no” because obviously your blog can do perfectly fine without one, but the real answer depends on your preferences. Let’s go over a few reasons that you would choose to have or not have a sidebar.
Reasons To Have A Sidebar
Encourage Your Readers To Get To Know You
One of the most popular sidebar items is a headshot above a brief bio. If your business depends on potential clients and customers building a personal connection with you, this is definitely an important thing to include.
Having your photo right at the top will allow your visitors to become comfortable with you as a person. And your quick bio is a great way to add a little personality as well as a reminder of exactly what you do.
Brittney does a beautiful job introducing herself to her readers right at the top of her sidebar!
Advertise Your Best Content
A big reason for having a sidebar is to lead your visitors to your most important content. You don’t work your tail off on amazing blog posts, workshops, and products to have them buried within your blog, right?!
Your sidebar is a great way to draw attention to your popular posts, favorite categories, workshops, courses, and more.
Grow Your Following
Since sidebars are so highly visible, they’re a great place to collect email addresses. Whether you have a free course, a workshop replay, or a simple checklist, your sidebar is a great place to promote that content and grow your list.
A sidebar is also a popular place to include social follow buttons. I know that when I’m looking to follow someone on social media, their sidebar is the very first place I’ll look. (And if they don’t have a sidebar? I always look in the footer next!)
Reasons Not To Have A Sidebar
Distracts From Current Content
A downside of having a sidebar is that it can distract from the content a guest is currently viewing.
For example, they could be in the middle of reading a great blog post, almost to your amazing opt-in incentive, only to be distracted by the Instagram widget in your sidebar, causing them to click away from your post. Oh no!
Taking a more minimalist approach has become popular in blog layouts. The open space is nice and easy on the eyes and really keeps readers focused on the current content.
While there are many beautifully designed sidebars, they can easily become cluttered and unattractive.
If you’re anything like me, you have parts of your blog that are way overdue for an update. A sidebar is something that can easily become added to that list.
If your goals change, you add a new opt-in incentive, or tweak your bio your sidebar is just one more place that needs to be updated.
Why I Don’t Have One
I chose to go without a sidebar for the three reasons that I mentioned above.
Personally, I like the open, full-width look of not having one. I also prefer that visitors stay focused on the current post or page that they’re looking at. Rather than getting part way through a post and being distracted, I’d rather have them read all the way through that post to get the full value. And, as I mentioned, I already have several places that I need to go back and update. A sidebar would just add to that list!
While I’d like an extra spot to show-off my favorite content, I ultimately decided against it. I do plan to give a Start Here page a try shortly, which will be able to contain content that I’d otherwise include in a sidebar.
2 Steps To Creating An Effective Sidebar
1. Consider Your Goals
Start by laying out your blog and business goals. Consider including one item in your sidebar for each goal. You might find that this approach leads to too many calls to action in one spot. If so, the next step is to narrow down your ideas to the items that are the most valuable.
For example, say your goals were to increase email opt-ins, sell more of your paid course, and encourage readers to join your free course. While these goals are a little unbalanced to start with, you can see that including an opt-in incentive, advertisements for your paid course, and an advertisement for your free course would be too much promotion to do in your sidebar. This is where you’d want to break things down, expand the goals you’re considering, and make a more well-rounded sidebar.
I tell my clients to include 3 to 5 sidebar items. Doing so will keep your readers focused while allowing you to support all your major goals.
To get clear and set your high-value blog and business goals take a look at this post!
2. Determine The Ordering
After you’ve decided which items to include it’s time to think about the ordering.
It’s almost always best to include your photo and quick bio at the very top. This allows people to get to know you quickly and avoids your readers being distracted by your face popping up halfway down the screen.
After that, you want to arrange things based on your goals. For example, if you want people to opt-in to your free course more than you want them to check out your popular posts, advertise your free course first and then include links to your popular posts under that. If you include non-goal related items in your sidebar such as a search bar, make sure to include those at the very bottom. (Trust me, people will still find your search bar if it’s not at the top!)
Now, let’s go over the top things to include and leave out of your sidebar!
Top 4 Items To Include In Your Sidebar
1. Bio + Headshot
Up first is your brief bio and headshot. Gaining the trust and personal connection of your followers is beneficial to almost any business. Showing your face and a little bit about you is the quickest way to gain trust.
2. Social Media Links
Next on the list, and right under your bio, I suggest having social media links. Social media is essential in growing your following so keeping your links easy to find is huge. When I land on a new blog and decide I want to follow on social media, the top of the sidebar is the very first place I look.
3. Opt-In Incentive
Another important item to include is your best opt-in incentive. Whether it’s your free course, a value-packed workbook, or your most recent workshop, making some high-value free content visible will do a lot to increase your subscription rates.
4. Popular Posts
And the last thing I would recommend is popular posts. If your readers make it through a post it’s likely that they’ll want something else to look at. Putting your best post right in the sidebar for easy access will increase the chances of them reading more posts and sticking around long term.
Now let’s go over the four things I recommend leaving out of your sidebar.
Top 4 Items To Leave Out Of Your Sidebar
First are those darn ads. Now I say this because I am against having ads anywhere on your blog. They take attention away from your content, lose some trust of your audience, and lead people away from your site.
2. Promotion Of Evergreen Products
Next is promotion of evergreen products and services. Having a static promotion of a product or service isn’t likely to do much for you. I believe more in a funnel or path-based approach to selling your products and haven’t seen good luck with people selling without leading into the content.
However, I’m all for linking to a product or service during the launch period. Julie gives us an example of this by including a Coming Soon image for her upcoming course in her sidebar!
Next I suggest ditching the archives. People know that in order to search through your content they can scroll through your blog feed, look at related posts, or use your search bar.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never used the archive feature on any blog I’ve visited.
4. Recent Posts
And related to archives, leave out recent posts. Everyone knows that in order to see the posts you’ve written recently they just have to click the little blog link at the top of the screen. Leave your sidebar space for high-value, high-converting items.
And last I’ll go over the top three mistakes I see when people lay out their sidebar.
Top 4 Sidebar Mistakes
1. Add All The Things!
First are those who include every option they come across. They have their photo, bio, social follow links, at least one or two opt-in incentives, links to their paid products and services, social media widgets, blogging awards, ads, categories, recent posts, popular posts, and more.
You get my point.
Make sure your sidebar isn’t just a place where you throw random fun-looking things that you think may be beneficial. Keep it a focused space that will truly benefit you and your business.
The next mistake I see is cluttered sidebars. The problem isn’t that there are too many items, but that there isn’t enough space between the different items. To fix this consider putting a thin border between each item as well as section headings.
You also may need to experiment with the ordering of items. If you don’t feel that two items go well next to each other do some rearranging so everything flows nicely.
3. Forgetting Your Brand Visuals
In using simple, customized widgets for sidebar creation, it’s easy to stray from your brand visuals. While it’s much easier to use the premade fonts and image styles, staying true to your brand is important for your overall consistency. How distracting is it to run across an image that doesn’t resemble the rest of the branding?
Erika does a great job of keeping her visuals in mind throughout her sidebar. Below you see a gallery of her Etsy shop as well as an image promoting her book!
4. Ignoring The Ordering
And last are the people that don’t think about the ordering of their sidebar items.
It might not seem like it makes a big difference at first, but think of how you go through blogs yourself. I know for me, I’m most engaged at the very top and by the end I’m scanning more quickly and maybe even losing interest.
Make sure that the things you want people to see are closer to the top, while things like categories, popular posts, and your search bar are closer to the bottom.
Is Your Sidebar Working For You?
After reading this post how is your sidebar looking? Have you already considered your goals and put everything in a meaningful order? Or do you have some tweaks to make?