How much attention you pay to someone’s blog sidebar? Or your own?
The more time I spend online and the more I am set in my ways of searching for information, the more I notice some common mistakes in sidebars and the way people let them waste space on a blog.
Sidebars are prime real estate on a blog and they should be treated with respect :)
Let me start with a little story. I’ve read a post by Derek on Socialtriggers.com which boils down to keeping your sidebar very clean, with very little content in it and an opt in box. The goal is to get people to subscribe to your list and not give them too many options that will distract them from that.
Then, Marcus from TheSalesLion.com “challenged it” asking a question of “what a conversion is for a certain blog”. We all want different things, so for each of us a successful conversion means a different thing.
I tried it all… almost empty sidebar and overcrowded sidebar and settled for what I have now. Although I love Derek’s advice about the clutter, I realized that my main goal isn’t to get you all on a list. I just want to connect with you in any way you find it comfortable.
Some will sign up for the list (and get two awesome free ebooks), some will subscribe to my RSS feed and some will just click around to read the posts I marked as “must reads“. What ever you do, I am satisfied. I can’t make you stay and putting you on my list, won’t guarantee I will keep you there.
So now that you know these different views on sidebar, let me tell you about the most common mistakes I see in blog’s sidebars.
Terrible SEO – Link leaks
One thing people seem to forget is that what ever you put in your sidebar and footer, will be displayed on every single page of your blog (in most cases). So if you have 300 posts, that is 300 links going out of your blog. And from what I’ve seen, most of those links are do-follow, which means you are not even (partially) plugging your leaks.
- Read what is a nofollow link and how to set it up.
This is one of the most common link leaking sidebar widgets. There are blogs with 50 or 150 or even 300 tags. Adding a tag cloud with 150 links is a major link leak.
You have 150 links from each of your pages just from that one widget. The links are going to your tag pages which you aren’t even optimizing for search engines. Most of those tags are too general, so you will see something like “blogging”, “marketing” or something as general and “un-winnable” as that.
I am pretty sure people are not clicking on tag clouds, especially on blogs that are not internet marketing and social media ones.
Remove the tag cloud widgets!
Same leak as tag clouds. I am sure there are blogs you want to put in your blog roll. Not saying you should not. But think twice before you put just any blog there.
When you go to a mommy blog, for example, you can see blog rolls with 30+ blogs listed. Major link leak. It would be better to link to a certain post from your favorite blog from time to time and give some real strong link love to it, while not messing up your own SEO.
Remove (or nofollow) blog rolls!
WordPress Admin Widget
Having this default widget in your blog’s sidebar is the worst thing you can have. It makes you look like an absolute beginner which isn’t always the case (I’ve seen it on blogs that have been around for some time). It is also bad for SEO, linking out from every single page of your blog to the WordPress log-in page.
I am by no means against ad widgets, I have them on this blog and they keep me running :) But if you have 4 ads in a sidebar widget, or even 10 as some do, and then the same widget on each page of your blog, that is a lot of outgoing links from your blog.
Google recommends no-following your affiliate links so you should always do the same with your sidebar ads.
There are so many badges you can run into:
- links to profiles and “blog communities”
- blog graders
- rank counters
You don’t need these badges most of the time. If you are not an internet marketing blog, remove the Alexa widget and Blog grader badges. They are just another way for a visitor to leave your site. Why would a visitor on your dog training blog care that you have a 99 Web grade by Hubspot?
You don’t need these badges in your sidebar. Even if you keep them (I have one myself) at least nofollow the link or don’t even put one. Awards don’t come with the request to link to the site awarding you. Yes, it is a nice thing to do, but when you have 150+ posts and pages, you may want to think about the pros and cons.
This goes especially for awards like “The versatile blogger” where it really means nothing to your target market. Keep it relevant.
Remove the badges and links to irrelevant networks.
Different counters and widgets
One of the widgets I see often is the Networked Blogs widget. I don’t really see the point of it, but I can sort of understand having it on an internet marketing or social media blog. But why would you need it on a mommy or a dog training blog?
To show you are being followed by other mom bloggers and dog trainers? Is your target market another mom blogger or a mom that needs solution for her problems? That type of widget does not add to your visitor’s experience.
Remove the Networked blogs and similar widgets.
Same goes for all the Twitter counters, Feedburner counters and other – unless your numbers are great and you are bragging ;)
Archives and Categories widget
No one searches a blog by month and year. So remove the Archives widget from your blog. It is better to create an Archives page and list it there.
As far as categories go, if you have a few and they are well organized, and at the same time not accessible otherwise through your navigation menu, I would keep them.
But if you have 25 categories and they are not targeting some nice keywords you want to rank for, don’t put them in the sidebar.
Here are some of the things you should put in your sidebar, based on what I have seen on successful blogs and tested myself:
- Opt in box (always at the top).
- List of your most popular posts.
- Links to your social profiles or appropriate widgets, but limit it to the most important. I keep Facebook fan page box and Google+ business page in my sidebar.
- Search box (more on that below).
- Ads if you are monetizing your blog.
- Must read pages, if you want people to pay attention to certain important content.
- Anything really important that leads people to your ultimate goal.
It isn’t only a matter of what you put in your sidebar, it is how you arrange it. Leave enough space for people to be able to scan it easy. Some of the mistakes I’ve seen are putting the blog roll or WP admin widget at the top, followed by Twitter stream widget and then somewhere below you can find the RSS button and opt in.
Some say people don’t use it. I use it all the time. If I remember reading a post on someone’s blog and want to read it again, I will use the search box to find it. Also, if I land on a new blog, I will do a search for the topics that interest me.
You can add the default WordPress search box (find it in your widget area) or create a custom Google Adsense Search box, grab the code and paste it in a text widget.
What ever you decide – add the search box to your blog!
How to arrange your sidebar
Write down the goals of your blog. Do you want more newsletter subscribers? More time spent on the blog with more page views? Extra Facebook likes?
Once you have the goals written down, make extra branches listing how you can accomplish them from the sidebar. Something like this mind map:
Once you have a complete mind map or list of goals and what you need to do to point people to them, see how big and cluttered your sidebar would be. Make sure that every widget has a goal and that it adds to your visitor’s experience.
Remove the extra ones… yes, you know there is that one you are trying to squeeze in and you shouldn’t.
Test and track how your sidebar is helping you reach the goals. If it isn’t, just remove the widget that is taking space.
Sidebar is one of the places on your blog you can change all the time without having to mess with the code. It is easy to change it around and see what works. Ditch the things that don’t work!
Let me know what is your opinion on sidebars and how are you using it? Is there something else you would say is essential for a blog to put in a sidebar that I forgot to mention?