Welcome to week 6 of the blog tip sharing project! Today’s topic is a continuation of last week’s discussion of blog design. Let’s talk about your (probably overloaded) sidebars. I say that they are probably overloaded because, well, most sidebars, INCLUDING MINE, are. Whether you have one, two, or more sidebars, think about the purpose and necessity of each item you stick over there.
Generally, we want things in our sidebars to entice our readers to stick around and read more. Your sidebars are also a good place to put information that lets your new readers get to know who you are and who they are reading about. When your sidebars are too cluttered, INCLUDING MINE, people tend to ignore all of it because it’s too visually cluttery*(new word!) to wade through.
Let’s talk about the MUST HAVES for your sidebar(s).
1. Subscribe button
Make it easy for people to subscribe to your feed. My subscribe button is over there to your left, right up at the top. Easy to find! I really like that particular button because it makes it easy to add the feed to any feed reader. You can get that button, too, at Addthis.com.
(Quick confession, I don’t understand how to use these orange subscribe buttons I see everywhere. They just take you to the feed and I can’t figure out a way to add it to my Google reader. I must have the dumbs.)
2. Cast of Characters
In my sidebar I have my name, a picture of myself, the names and ages of my kids, and my husband’s name. This is a CRUCIAL thing to have in your sidebar. When a new reader stops by, they need to know who and what your blog is about. If you don’t already have this on your blog, I’ll wait for you to fix that RIGHT NOW.
3. Comment Policy
You need to let commenters know what you do and don’t allow people to say in your comments section. Be sure to let readers know if you edit comments, delete rude comments, or if cursing isn’t allowed. Here’s a great explanation of comment policies from The Blog Herald.
4. Search Box
This is helpful for those who come to your blog and want to search for something specific. I often use search boxes on other’s blogs when I’m looking for a post that I wish to link.
Those four items listed above are probably the only ABSOLUTELY necessary things you should have in your sidebar. However, most of us, INCLUDING ME, cannot resist the lure of other widgets and buttons for our sidebars. So let’s continue to discuss some of the other things that are useful, though not necessary.
5. Consider adding the number of feed subscribers to your sidebar.
Ever since adding my feed count to my sidebar nine months ago, I’ve gone from around 150 subscribers to over 600. Here’s an article from Problogger that discusses revealing your subscriber count.
6. Blogroll/Google Reader shared items/Blogger’s blog list
Sharing with your readers what YOU read, is not only a great way for people get to know you, it’s also a fantastic way to send traffic to sites you admire.
Since most people’s blogrolls are hundreds of sites long, I don’t necessarily recommend that you keep your full blogroll in your sidebar. There are ways you can still have a blogroll, but without so much clutter including having a having a link to a separate site or page that houses your blogroll, a rotating blogroll which shows just a few of the blogs you read at a time, expandable boxes for hiding or showing your blog list (also excellent for hiding awards, buttons, etc.), and scroll boxes.
(By the way, my blogroll is NOT updated. Since I use a feed reader to keep track of the blogs I read, the only time I add people to my blogroll is when someone asks. If you’re not on it and wish to be, please email me and I will add you.)
7. Archives, most recent posts and favorite posts
Offering these in your sidebar makes it easy for people to nose around your site. I have archives and most recent posts in my sidebar and I made a page for my favorite posts.
8. Links to your social networking sites, like Twitter, StumbleUpon, Flickr, etc.
These links let people know where else they can find and “friend” you. I don’t have links to every site I belong to, but the sites that I use the most.
As I mentioned last week, make sure that whatever you have in your sidebar is not holding up the loading of your page. Long load times means lost visitors. Many of the award buttons and twitter widgets cause these slow loading times. Beware!
I realize that I have many things in my sidebars in addition to the items I mentioned above like ads, a live traffic feed, and (too many) other buttons. Like my Internet addiction, I’m slowly weaning myself from the lure of excessive widgetry*(new word!). It’s a work in progress.
I’d love to know what you think is necessary in a blog’s sidebar. What do you think is unnecessary?