Your sidebar might not be able to make a blog, but it can certainly break it.
There are countless plugins available for your sidebar ( assuming you’re using WordPress ), but that doesn’t mean you should use all of them.
Back when I reviewed over 100 blogs for the Feedback series at FuelYourBlogging, the most common problem related to distracting sidebars that didn’t help guide the visitor toward the blogger’s conversion goal.
You gotta’ keep it simple.
Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to create a sidebar that improves the user experience of your blog and helps you meet your conversion goals.
1. Place your call to action at the top of your sidebar
That’s how much time you have before your visitor loses interest.
For this reason, it’s best to position your call to action as prominently as possible … somewhere your visitors will see it, no matter where they are on your blog.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to sell an ebook, build your email list, attract followers to your social profiles, or get people to sign up for a free membership, the top of your sidebar is one of the most visible areas on your blog.
2. Remove the admin links from the bottom of your sidebar
If you’re using WordPress ( recommended ), you’ll notice a few links at the bottom of your sidebar whenever you start a new blog.
This is the meta widget.
It usually includes a link to your admin area, a log in/out link, a couple RSS links, and a link to WordPress.
You should remove this.
WordPress automagically activates this widget to help you navigate your blog, but if you’re like most bloggers you probably won’t depend on these links ( add /wp-admin ) to the end of your site to reach the login screen.
Removing these links improves the presentation of your blog, as well as the impact your sidebar has on the overall user experience of your blog.
3. Switch from recent posts to popular posts
If your visitors aren’t interested in your call to action, they’ll continue browsing your blog for something interesting.
This is where popular post widgets come in.
You don’t have much time to impress your visitors, so it’s a good idea to position your most popular content near the top of your sidebar, where it will be seen no matter what post your visitor is reading.
You have the option to organize your most popular content either by views or comments. I organize popular content by views, as visitors are commenting less and less thanks to the social landscape. If you decide to organize by views, you’ll also have the option to base the results on the past 24 hours, week, or 30 days. It’s always a good idea to explore what works and what doesn’t, but refreshing ever 24 hours will introduce regular visitors to other content.
I’ve never been a fan of the recent post widget, as it lacks the metrics needed to assure your visitors will probably find it interesting. In addition, recent posts widgets merely show visitors what they’re already looking at if on the blog.
4. Highlight cornerstone categories
Visitors want to discover what you’re blogging about as soon as possible.
The sooner they know, the sooner they can decide whether or not your blog is right for them … and it’s not right for everyone, so don’t take this as a bad thing.
Highlighting a few categories will reveal the key topics of your blog and provide visitors a different way to jump deeper into your site. It also enables visitors to filter out what they’re not interested in, so those interested in content marketing can filter out content you’ve categorized as “social media.”
If you like the idea of this approach, be sure you’re categories offer enough content to satisfy a visitor’s appetite ( let’s say at least 10 posts ).
How else can you simplify your sidebar?
There’s no right or wrong way to create a sidebar, so try something new and see if it works.
If you know of a plugin that helps simplify the sidebar, we’d love to hear it. Jump into the comments section below and share your suggestions, questions, or ideas.
Flickr Creative Commons Image via ihtatho