Whether to use a sidebar on your blog page or on each post is always a question I ask clients. A blog’s sidebar is one of those things that people have either never given any thought to OR they feel quite strongly about NOT having one.
Before we get started, if you’re not sure what a sidebar is, look to the right of this post.
That’s a sidebar!
If you fall into the camp of “No sidebars,” I get it. Sidebars that are filled to the brim with zero design strategy can look cluttered and messy, distracting someone who’s reading your blog post.
If you visually prefer a lot of white space around your posts, then you probably don’t want a sidebar. If that’s the case, you can stop reading now and check out my sidebar for some content that will help you out).
To be clear, I DO NOT recommend having a sidebar on the key pages of your website, like your home, services or about page. If you use a sidebar, only put it on your posts and possibly on your main blog page. That’s it.
If you decide to add a sidebar, slow down and think strategically before you start going crazy and adding every widget possible to it.
First, answer this question:
What is the goal of your blog?
Do you have an answer?
If not, here’s mine. Feel free to borrow it.
The goal of my blog is to build my business by getting visitors to read my content and opt-in to my email list.
How does blogging do this?
- Blogging and creating regular content helps with my site’s SEO.
- It increases visits and traffic to my site.
- I can write posts that answer my clients and potential client’s questions which then allows me to refer clients and site visitors to helpful content.
- Researching the answers to some of their questions keeps me current on what’s going on in the field of web design and online marketing.
- I’ve developed a library of resources I can refer my clients to.
I also blog for personal reasons:
- I love to write.
- It gives me something to put on social media (NOT my strong suit).
So, if the goal of my blog is to build my business and keep visitors reading content, the sidebar becomes a KEY piece of achieving that goal because, used strategically, I can appeal to my target market and share my best content with them.
What should you include in your sidebar?
You can include all kinds of stuff in your sidebar, and there are also all kinds of ways to organize them, but like everything with your website, let’s be strategic.
First, think about how people enter your website. We spend a lot of time designing our website’s homepages so visitors can quickly answer some key questions right away.
But, what if somebody finds your website because you shared a post on social media? Or you wrote a kick-ass post and it’s at the top of the Google search results page?
They’ll enter your website on a post page, NOT by going to your homepage that has been optimized to reach your target market.
The strategy, then, is to give as much messaging attention to EVERY post that you give to your homepage.
The way to do this is through your sidebar where you can include some of this key messaging information.
#1) Clear Messaging to Your Target Market
You’ll want your sidebar to answer these questions:
- Who is this blog for (who do you serve)?
- What overall topic is your blog about?
- Who are you?
- What resources do you have available for readers?
If you’ve got a blog, scan your blog page or one of the posts on your website. Does it answer those questions? If not, what copy or imagery can you add to your sidebar to convey that information?
For an example, you can look at the top of my sidebar or look at the image of Brittney Stefanic’s sidebar below in point #3. She does a great job of include what she does and who she serves in her mini-bio. The image shares SO much about her personality as well.
Next, you’ll want to think about how you want your visitors to interact with your website once they’ve read the post they came to read. You won’t want to add all of the following, but you’ll for sure want some of it.
#2) A search bar (pleeeaaaase, include a search bar)
If you’ve only got two blog posts, you can forgo the search bar, and as soon as you’ve got some content, add one.
#3) A picture of you and a bit of a welcome/mini-bio
Who are you? What do you do? Say “hi” to your visitors! Keep it brief – like one or two sentences. You can also answer the above questions in your “mini-bio.”
Brittney from Brittney Stefanic Sleep Consulting does a great job of this. She says clearly what she does, and she also has a fun pic of her and her son that highlights her personality.
#4) An Optin box
If you want to stay in touch with your visitors and readers, help them out and put an email optin box on your sidebar. They work.
You can do this in one of two ways. In my sidebar, I embedded the whole form, which you can see to the right.
Or, you can do what Julie Jacob of Traveling Julie Photography did and add an image that links to a landing page where she’s got her form embedded. You could also add a button that triggers a pop-up form (similar to my form at the bottom of this page).
#5) Establish Credibility
Do you have hundreds of thousands of monthly readers or visitors to your blog? Got a pic with Oprah? Have an amazing testimonial?
Shout that shiz out and add it to your sidebar!
#6) Organized Content that Invites Readers to Browse
Organize your content so it’s super easy for visitors to explore the topics that they’re interested in. I know I’ll spend an hour on a single site if the content is good and it’s easy for me to find more relevant content.
You can achieve organized content this in two ways:
- Include a list of your BEST blog posts
You can have two options for sharing your best posts. You can either choose the ones that YOU want people to read and either add an image with a link to those posts.
Or, you can include a list of your most popular posts which is what I’ve got. If you want to include your most popular posts, you can install the WordPress plugin, Popular Posts and add that widget to your sidebar.
- Include a list of Categories
You should have all of your blog posts organized by category. If a visitor has read and enjoyed a post in one category, it’s likely they’ll read another.
The bulk of Lisa Komer’s sidebar has her post categories. Why? Because her blog is for her gift and party supply store, Fancy That Party & Gifts. Her blog posts highlight her products which is perfect since the goal of her site is to sell her fun and unique gifts, and she’s got them organized well.
#7) Free Resources
If you’ve got some great freebies or resources available for visitors, add links to those pages or optins in your sidebar.
I’ve got a resources link in my sidebar that highlights the tools I use to help run my business. Quite a few of the links in that post are also affiliate links which is why I highlight it in my sidebar. Remember? One of my goals here is to build my business and increase my income.
If you’re a speaker or run workshops, you can include that information. Again, think about YOUR business. Will including this information grow your business? If so add it. If not, don’t.
#9) Got a Podcast? Add a link in your sidebar.
What NOT to include in your sidebar:
- A list of your most recent posts
Recent posts are organized chronologically. Unless you’re writing on politics or some topic where timeliness is crucial, I’d recommend organizing posts by topic/category.
Also, if somebody visits your main blog page, the posts are already sorted chronologically.
- Blog Archives sorted by date
Have you ever seen those? A big list of dates in the sidebar? You’re supposed to click on each month separately to find out what’s there.
Again, this is NOT user friendly. Sort your information topically for your readers.
What You Might Include
Social media links can be tough because you’re essentially sending potential clients away from your website into the vortex of Facebook or Instagram.
However, if you’ve got a super engaged group on Facebook or Instagram drives a significant portion of your business, then by all means, add social media links to your sidebar…at the top.
If the only reason you’ve got a Facebook page is because you “should” but there’s no engagement there, then don’t add those links to your sidebar. Again, think about your goals. If adding social media links will help you grow your business, then add them. If not, don’t.
- Links to Your Services or Offerings
You might add images or links to your sales pages, but remember that your blog posts are really “introductory.” So, if you include a link to your services, include your “entry level” option, not your premiere 10K package.
Katherine Jeffcoat, a pediatric nutritionist, does this beautifully in her sidebar. She has compelling images and with labels as to the problems she solves. Clicking on the pictures takes you to service pages that give you more information on those problems and invites you to contact her for a free consult. She’s also got a great pic and mini-bio.
Does all of this matter if you use a web designer/developer?
YES!!! Most of my clients haven’t given this much thought to their sidebar, and by the time I’ve built their site, I’m super familiar with their overall goals, so I plan and design accordingly.
However, it’s YOUR site. If your designer never mentions your sidebar, be sure to communicate with him/her as to what you’d like. Also, send them the copy for your mini-bio or your sidebar headline. Designing a web site is a super collaborative process (or at least I think it is/should be), so be sure to communicate your ideas/expectations for this area of your site as well.
This is a BIG list of options. And, you probably don’t want to add all of these options to your sidebar.
To help you decide which ones you want to use, choose those that you feel will help keep visitors on your site long and that will help you grow your business. I also encourage you to check out your favorite blogs, the ones you spend time on, and see what they’re doing in their sidebars.
And remember, you can always switch it up. Your website will never be etched in stone. It’s all pixels, which we can change up super easily!
Are you going to do it? Change your sidebar up? Let me know in the comments (and even leave a link to your new and improved sidebar). I’d love to see it.
P.S. If you need help switching up your sidebar, I can walk you through it with a 1/1 Website Coaching Session.