Shine, don’t blind, with the content on the side of your blog.
Do you remember the song, “She Blinded Me With Science?”
That’s how I feel when I visit some blogs. I can’t even find the content because of the craziness happening in the sidebars. Biggest turn-off ever!
The side of your blog should compliment your posts, not take away from them. It is the perfect place to put your search bar, your awesome headshot, your sign up form for your email list and links to your most popular posts.
Your sidebar is not the place for the button of every blog you read, every crazy blog award you say you’ve won or ads for everything under the sun. It’s a sacred space and you need to treat it as such.
First, there are some basic items you need to have above the fold.
The fold is that imaginary line below the lowest thing you can see when you visit a blog (without scrolling). There are several things that really must be above the fold.
Here is where you place your headshot or a really great, close-up picture of you so that readers know who is behind the magic. A personal picture initiates the process of building trust between you and your readers.
2. Your email sign up
Don’t mess around. Tell your readers what you want from them and let them sign up ASAP! Just get that out of the way early and fast. Since it is the #1 goal of your blog, to build your list, it must be above the fold (or at least a hint of it.)
3. A search bar
There may be debate about this, but I contend that this is vital. Make it easy for your readers to find what they are looking for, especially repeat customers.
If you have a theme that puts your social media links in the header, that’s fine. You might remember I talked about in a previous post about building community.
Now, let’s move down.
Below the fold, include links to your popular posts, ads, and a Pinterest or Instagram widget. I would encourage you to choose one or the other but not both. Direct readers to the place you want them to visit most. This is a funnel of sorts.
If you have a good relationship going with advertisers already, then by all means, add them to your site. But if you are just starting out, choose one or two ads and place them along the side. Don’t go crazy!
If you have a series or several series with nice, matching graphics, of course, add those. Always show off your best work.
Let me be clear, the side of your blog should be neat, flow easily and, again, compliment your writing, not distract from it.
Depending on what your blog focus is, you may have more or less down the side than someone else. Your own tastes matter too. I like color. Others like a more soft, neutral palette. Both are equally nice when done right and both can look terrible when overdone.
If you are a new blogger, your rule of thumb should be – less is more. If you are a more seasoned blogger, you need to clean up your sidebar every six months. Look at it and see what you can add to a separate page and what you can get rid of all together: old ads, seasonal graphics, outdated series and so on.
Now, a word to things you should avoid at all costs.
Tag clouds. Once upon a time they were kinda cool. Now, they’re lame. Remove ASAP. The exception to this rule is if you are using tags instead of categories.
If you have a drop-downs in your menu bar your categories should be listed there. If you don’t it’s fine to list your categories on the side. However…….you need to limit the list to five to eight. If you need help in this area I recommend this excellent post.
Anything that flashes or plays sound. Just don’t.
Don’t list your archives. A drop down menu is fine, but a list that goes back, month by month, to 2009 is way too much.
If you have double sidebars, you need to be especially careful. If my eye can’t find your writing, I’m out. This is such a delicate balance you really have to be extra diligent.
If you blog about kid stuff you also need to be very aware of color, cartoons, ads, and overload. Remember, less is more.
When in doubt ask someone else to view your site and give you honest feed back. You can join my Facebook group BIG Idea Bloggers and get some fresh eyes on your site. This is especially helpful after you’ve been designing and looking at the same thing for hours on end. You tend to lose objectivity. Get some help.
Make the side of your blog shine but don’t blind your readers with too many elements. Sidebars can be tricky but they can also be one of your best blogging assets. Use them wisely and you will find success.
Do you have any questions? Please ask them in the comments. I’ll be happy to help.