Hola friends and new readers-soon-to-be-friends! 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, the stuff you stick over there needs to have some sort of purpose.
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 cluttered.
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 addtoany.com. However, I think there’s something to be said for the universal RSS button…
2. Cast of Characters/About
When a new reader stops by, they need to know who and what your blog is about. In my sidebar I have my name, a picture of myself, the names and ages of my kids, and my husband’s name. This information is a CRUCIAL thing to have in your sidebar. New readers can use this as a reference so they know who you’re writing about in your posts. (The picture isn’t 100% crucial, but I do feel more connected to the bloggers that I can “see.”)
I think it’s also important to have an “About” page where you can tell a little more about yourself than you can with just a few lines in your sidebar.
If you don’t already have this on your blog, I’ll wait for you to fix that RIGHT NOW.
3. Your email address
I mentioned this last week in our discussion of blog design. It’s still relevant this week.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Review and Disclosure Policy (For review bloggers)
With the new FTC regulations regarding bloggers, endorsements, free stuff, and integrity, this is a vital component to a review blog. This does not necessarily have to be listed in the sidebar, it could certainly be a separate page. I mention it here because it’s a MUST HAVE.
Those six items listed above are probably the only ABSOLUTELY necessary things you should have in your sidebar (or as a separate page). 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.
7. Archives, most recent posts , and favorite posts, series of posts
Offering these in your sidebar makes it easy for people to nose around your site. I have drop down menu for my archives, listed my month and year. Instead of listing them in my sidebar, I made a page for my favorite posts.
The pages of mine that seem to get the most traffic (besides my “About” page) are “Bama” and “Smackdown.” My very scientific hypothesis as to the reason behind this is that people are fascinated by the possibility that real people actually LIVE in Alabama. (I’m kidding.) I think that people are also looking for a good fight, thus their clicks on my “Smackdown” button.
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. You can even dress up your links with fancy icons. Here’s a great source for finding free social networking icons. (There are many sites like this, just google “free social networking icons.”)
The next two items to include in your sidebar, I’m not 100% sure that they are at all necessary, but I know that some of us, INCLUDING ME, have trouble letting these things go. I’d LOVE to have a discussion in the comments section about the following items and hear your take.
9. Subscriber Number
Last year when I originally published this, I recommended displaying your subscriber number, as I was convinced that it actually helped increase my subscriber count. I still stand behind that, I’m certain that it works. However, I know that displaying my number prominently started to feel wrong. It became this thing that could make or break my day.
If you are really wanting to get serious about blogging, if your goal is to make money or get a book deal, I’d recommend displaying your subscriber number. For me, though, I purposely moved my number (it’s still on the front page, just not as prominently) to remind myself why I really blog.
10. Blogroll/Blogger’s Blog List
Since most people’s blogrolls are hundreds of sites long I really think that they can make a blog look incredibly cluttered (especially the Blog List on Blogger sites.) I KNOW that so many of you actually USE these for your own reading pleasure, it’s just that they take up SO MUCH space.
There are ways you can still have a blogroll, but without so much clutter including:
**Creating a separate page that houses your blogroll, or even linking to a separate blog where you keep 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.)
(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 because I’m on yours, please email me and I will add you.)
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 and my book list. 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?