And although content should always be the main focal point, sometimes the sidebar might prove more important than the posts you publish.
With an effective sidebar in place, you can benefit in more than one way.
Placing the right elements can help you reduce bounce rates, get more subscribers and last but definitely not least make more sales and finally lift your monetization efforts off the ground.
That might seem easier said than done, but actually improving results with the help of your blog’s sidebar isn’t all that difficult.
That’s exactly what I will be talking about today!
In the below paragraphs I cover seven of the best ways to make your sidebar just a little more useful, both to you and the visitor. I have also included the steps you need to take along with several great WordPress plugins to give you a helping hand.
So, let’s get going!
1. Test Placing the Sidebar on the Left
Quite a controversial move you might say… Isn’t content going to lose its “focus” that way?
Well, throughout the months I’ve actually been doing lots of testing. I began testing the left sidebar alignment around June 2012 and since then have been swapping the two every now and then to see which works better.
Before deciding to try the left sidebar I actually red a couple of articles that were criticizing that idea. I do believe their reasoning was quite cliché though.
So now some months after making the final change, I am happy with the results. Readers don’t at all lose focus of the content. I get the same social sharing and the same number of comments. So that definitely isn’t a factor.
On the other hand however, looking at the “Entrances” metric on Google Analytics, it turns out that more people notice the sidebar.
The entrances basically represent the people entering a website from a specific page. When you take them out from the total traffic of a specific page, you get the number of clicks that came from within your site.
2. Add your Face to It
The importance of your About page is undeniable. That is one of those components that might not seem as if it’s very important, but yet it is. Giving people the opportunity to learn more about yourself is one of the best ways to build up your credibility.
However you shouldn’t stop there!
Although the About page generally tends to receive lots of views, you can increase that number additionally, by including an “About me” widget in your sidebar.
There are three things you have to include in the widget
- A photo of yours (at least 80 pixels long and high)
- A couple of sentences about who you are
- A “Read More” link, pointing to your actual About page
Best would be if the widget is the first in your sidebar. That way visitors will instantly know they aren’t visiting an auto-blog, but a real one, written from someone who probably has the expertise.
3. Include Banners and Links to Products
Whatever your niche, there is most probably a product that you can recommend to your visitors. If there is a service, a tool or a book that you have tried and that has helped you get results, then the sidebar is a great place to promote it.
One of the blogging myths I’ve been hearing a lot is that a professional sidebar doesn’t have any banners in it. But that really isn’t true.
Yes – monetization isn’t a great idea when you are just starting. In those first months you should focus on content. That is the time when you have to start building trust and the best way is to offer 100% free information.
From that point on however, you can reduce that number to say 90% and place a banner. As I talk about it in a post of mine about affiliate marketing, best would be to include a link to an actual review that you’ve written. That way you will make it more obvious that you have actually tried and tested the product in question.
4. Create a Review Widget
Additionally if you are into reviews, you can also add another widget to your blog monetization arsenal. There you do more of an indirect promotion, by letting people know which the latest products you’ve reviewed are.
There’s a good chance to get some clicks and sales as long as the products have something in common with what you are sharing on your blog.
If you’d like to create one such widget from scratch, you can simply use the HTML I’ve provided below.
NOTE: You need to add the appropriate styling by creating class names in your theme’s CSS file. Firebug can give you a great helping hand. That’s a really neat tool, which allows you to modify your blog’s CSS and HTML and see how the different properties affect the blog’s layout in real time… or you can just use the ones I’ve used.
The div element with class rating is where you include the star rating. I’ve created mine with Photoshop, but you can find a suitable image if you look on Google.
Anyway, here’s the code:
<div class=”widget-review”><ul><li class=”review-li”>
<a href=”URL to review” title=”Post Title”>
<img width=”40″ height=”40″ src=”Product-Logo-URL” alt=”*Product name* review”>
<a href=”Review-URL” title=”Post-Title”>Product Name</a>
<p>What the tool is about</p><p></p><div class=”rating”></div>
5. Use the Fixed Widget Plugin
See how my last widget remains visible even when you scroll far below the sidebar?
Well your articles will probably be longer than your sidebar. So the chances are when the visitor is approaching the end of the post he is are reading, he will most probably have already scrolled beyond the sidebar.
That isn’t a big deal for them, but it matters to you, and a lot!
A couple of weeks ago I did quite some search in the hopes to find a free WordPress plugin that would allow me to create a sticky widget that scrolls down with the page. It basically behaves as the sharebars, which became quite popular lately. The difference is that it starts to float only when you scroll down to it.
The plugin I found is titled Q2W3 Fixed Widget (Sticky Widget) and you can download it right from this link. Once you install it you can configure the margins from your WordPress dashboard –> Appearance –> Fixed Widget Options
6. Promote Your Guest Posts
That is a really good idea that I’ve seen being utilized at Kikolani some time ago.
If you have gotten into guest blogging, one really simple way to promote your latest posts is by creating a “Featured Post” widget.
There you will include the post’s image as a thumbnail and will float an excerpt from the post around it. Then under those two elements, you include a Twitter retweet button, a Google Plus button and a Facebook like button.
Although that would be more effective if you have a big audience already, it would still help you get some additional shares on your content as a guest blogger if you are a newbie.
And let’s not forget that social proof plays a role!
The more shares a post receives, the more shares it attracts. Plus when people see an article being retweeted 200 times, they’d be more likely to read the post and link to it, which in the end helps your SEO and gets you noticed by new readers.
7. Highlight Important Elements
Now we get even more self-promotional!
Oh well, that’s how it is. If you want to make money blogging, you have to make the most out of every opportunity.
So, now that you’ve hopefully taken into consideration the advice about putting up a banner and writing a review, you can go a step further. You can make the widget more eye-catching by changing its background color, borders or some other element of your choice.
The good thing about WordPress is that each widget you create gets an unique ID. This means that you can add different styling to the different widgets.
Again with the use of Firebug, you click on the widget you want to make stand apart, you find it’s ID (e.g. id=”text-5″). Now you go to your theme’s CSS file and add that ID (it will look like #text-5) close to the other sidebar and widget classes.
If the changes don’t seem to take effect, make sure to add !important right next to the properties you assign to the widget. That will override all other properties, assigned by other classes or IDs.
8. Use Popular Posts Plugin
I guess that is the most obvious one but still worth mentioning.
If you haven’t yet discovered a good-working plugin to help you generate a list with your most popular post, here is what I use.
You can get to customize lots of different aspects.
For instance you can display the views that your most popular posts have received, you can choose the time range (i.e. how it will be determined which posts are popular and which aren’t), or maybe display the comment count.
Having a popular posts plugin is a sure-fire way to get visitors spend more time on your blog and check out more pages. This in terms gives you a better chance to convert those visitors into either subscribers or buyers.
That’s pretty much it guys. I believe those are really the most important considerations you need to make if you want to improve your sidebar’s effectiveness.
Now I’d like to hear your two cents! Do you agree with the ideas I’ve shared in the post? What else can you add up to the list? What do you think about the plugins mentioned? Let’s form a discussion!