8 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Sidebar’s Effectiveness

Tips to Improve Your Blog's SidebarThe sidebar… that’s probably one of the less talked about topics when it comes to Internet marketing and blogging.

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


Left vs Right SidebarQuite 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


Product ReviewsAdditionally 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>

<p>
<a href=”Review-URL” title=”Post-Title”>Product Name</a>
</p>

<p>Article length</p>
<p>What the tool is about</p><p></p><div class=”rating”></div>
</li></ul></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.

WordPress Popular Posts – the great thing about this widget is that you can also display it on posts and pages with the use of shortcodes.

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.

Final Words


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!

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  1. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for the good info. Just wondering, why don’t you place the sidebar on the left side of this blog?

  2. Hi Daniel.

    I love your posts so much, and have learned so much from them.

    I found this article intriguing, and it makes sense. However, my concern is also about the impact of responsive websites. On a mobile, the content of the left sidebar would appear first, and evidently most website users are very impatient.

    What are your views on that?

  3. I’ve thought about doing this for some time, but have not done it for fear of “making a mistake”.
    Now I think I’ll give moving the sidebar left a try.

    The rest of your post has good food for thought too. Thanks.

  4. Shanika Journey says:

    I thought most blogs had their sidebar on the right because they wanted their content read first. And I thought e-commerce sites put sidebars on the left because people are mostly searching for the specific item they want to buy first before reading about any item or content.

    While I think it doesn’t harm readership of a blog where the side bar is put, I have found myself looking at the whatever is on the left first because we’re conditioned to do so. So if your sidebar is on the left, perfect spot for a feature product or event to be displayed. My opinion anyway

  5. Howdy! I flipped through the comments, but I don’t see that anyone else asked my question, if I missed it, I apologize…

    Anyhow, do you have any opinion, or research surrounding having to 2 side columns, one on either side?

    Thanks!
    PS: I absolutely love your blog and tips and have featured some of them on my blog a couple times.

  6. Hey, I really enjoy your blog and it’s one of the best design I’ve seen so far. I’m curious about how you customized your mailchimp sidebar and popup! :)

  7. Hi Daniel, just stumbled upon your blog -super helpful so far! I’m curious if you have any suggestions for Blogger Popular Post widgets or hacks. I’m planning on making the move to WordPress as soon as possible, but in the meantime I need a Popular Posts area in my sidebar on my blogger blog. Any suggestions? The blogger widget obviously isn’t very personalized.

    • Hey Whitney,

      Well as far as Blogger goes, the choice is rather limited. Back in the days when I was on the platform, I used the default option that Blogger provides. Why don’t you like it? I thought it was pretty neat.

      Daniel

  8. Nice thoughts, Daniel! I’ve seen a few articles like this before, and they either all say the same thing or don’t offer any very good advice. I think I’ll try out the left hand side bar thing just for fun!

  9. Hey Mr. Dan, I celebrate you for sharing this! I know it is the result of the wisdom and the knowledge you’ve garnered over the years, which also is coupled with understanding and hard-work. How I wish I found you in my early days of blogging. I’d have been a guru by now had I found your works at the time, speaking of widget, I never gave cognizance to the widget button. Well, I’ve been trying some of your tips and I hope it work for me like it works for you. I will start by subscribing to your mailing list, read and digest your blog posts everyday and always share them on Twitter. Thank God people like you exist!

    Regards,
    Sam

  10. Yes I am always worried about what to put in my sidebar. Got 2 or 3 new things from above that I can easily put in there. Moving it on Left I might have to do a complete overhaul so I will pass on that one. BTW you have quite a clean and crisp theme here.

  11. Wow! I’ve never realized how important the sidebar is to my website until I read your article! The only thing I had on it was facebook likes and popular posts. I am going to put banners on it and try moving to the left side! Thanks for the great tips!

  12. Daniel,
    Do you like compliments? I hope so.

    1. You write very well
    2. I enjoy your writing
    3. You share great stuff
    4. Nice call-to-actions
    5. …I’m angry

    Angry? Yes, that’s right.

    I’m angry at myself for not diligently reading your blog over the last six months— sure would have saved me from so many self-induced headaches. Arrg!

    Thanks so much for sharing such great information. Very appreciated!

    Sean

    PS: Just subscribed!

    • Hey Sean,

      Man, thanks for the kind words, it’s really awesome to hear you enjoy my stuff!

      As for the headaches, oh well, sometimes trial and error is the best way to go past the problems. :)

      Thanks for the support!
      Daniel

  13. Thanks Daniel. I always struggle with the type of information I should include and shouldn’t include when I start a new blog. There’s definitely a fine-line between not enough and too much. This has given me a couple new ideas to test. The review widget is one that I plan to test in the future.

  14. Hi Daniel,

    I have only one question here, How do you shift your sidebar to left side? I mean is there any plugin which can help. I’m not a tech geek so by doing it manually is quite tough for me.

    • Well the process actually isn’t all that difficult. Currently I am on the Genesis Framework, which allows me to change the sidebar position from within the dashboard. However you can do the same with the use of a tool like Firebug. You just need to identify the content wrapper and the sidebar wrapper. From the point on you just have to change the float property in CSS.

      Daniel

  15. Hi Daniel,

    I am sure going to download the fixed widget plugin, I had no idea that a plugin like that existed :)

    What I am currently doing is just two things. I am showing my face (to be personal) and I have an subscription form for my newsletter. That’s it. It works great, but now I am going to add the fixed widget plugin as well (and maybe I’ll add a latest reviews too).

    • Hey Jens,

      I didn’t know about the fixed widget plugin until a couple of weeks ago and it’s a really good one.

      Your sidebar is definitely one of the cleaner ones I’ve seen and I believe it’s converting quite well namely because of that. Great job!

      Thanks for stopping by man and have a great day ahead! :)
      Daniel

  16. Hey I see you put the “subscribe” option in.. awesome.

    I like the idea of a left sidebar. At first it’s a bit awkward for me but it helps me pay attention to it more for sure. Anything that becomes “norm” my brain starts to block out after awhile.

    I can’t remember where it is now but I was on a site that moved the sidebar randomly.. it seemed to set a session cookie to keep it from bouncing around for multiple post views, but every time I went to the site it was in a different spot.. probably during a testing phase.

    • Hey Keith,

      Yep, I added that one a day ago!

      As for the left sidebar, yes it might seem weird at first, but I guess it isn’t a big deal once you get used to it. And the fact is, placing it on the left side will result in higher exposure. People just tend to look to the left first.

      And about the blog you mentioned, that might be a strategy to make the sidebar instantly noticeable every time you visit the blog.

      Daniel

  17. My sidebar is now on the left. It does catch my eye. I wonder how easy it is to move the mouse over to the left side to Tweet etc. I do not think people are sharing a lot. I am not getting much in comments yet either. This blog has only been open since the 1st post on Jan 26. I am going to take note if the left side will make a difference.

    • Hey Malika,

      Hope the left sidebar placement does make a difference. But then again, blogging is all about testing. You try different things and see what works best for you. :)

      Daniel

  18. Daniel, I do not know how you mange to have so much helpful advice in every post.
    I am going to ask my admin is we can try to move the sidebar to the left. I think mine does float, at least it did.
    QUESTION on Guest posts. I have a blog within a blog just for guest posts. I did put a few right in my blog.My admin did finally add the sharing buttons. Do you have a suggestion on how to direct viewers more often to the guest page? My stats show that people view more than 1 or even more than 2 or 3 posts while they are there. My last posts are clickable right at the top of each post. I love that feature on my blog.
    Thanks again, again, for the info I can understand and relate to.

  19. Great post Daniel, you had some ideas I hadn’t thought of and I love that. I have been wanting to get something like the word press popular posts forever. I don’t have word press and I never got around to searching out something comparable,but I think I will you inspired me.

    I also liked the idea of putting your picture there. I did something similar with a picture. But the clincher is putting the column on the right. That is where people naturally look. I am doing that one for sure. Thanks a million! XOXO

  20. Another awesome post Daniel! :D

    I’ve been looking for a popular posts widget, as well as a floating, fixed, sticky widget for a while (but didn’t know what it was called lol) – so thanks for solving that mystery for me.

    Will share, as usual :). Have a fab weekend!!

  21. Great post! I really like the suggestion of the “About Me” plugin, which one do you use on this site?

    • Hey Steve,

      Well that isn’t really a plugin, rather a widget I created from scratch. It really isn’t complicated. Just some text and an image floating left of it. :)

      Daniel

  22. Some nice tips here. I already have my pic up with some info on me as you suggested at the top of the sidebar. I felt it was improtant to give my blog an identity as you noted. My email and FB signups are right below it. Not sure if I want to move it to the left though. :-)

    Keep up the good advice!

    • Phil,

      It’s all up to you to decide whether or not to test the left placement, but it’s great that you added that so important picture. Indeed as you said having one in place adds up to your blog’s identity. It’s good that you placed the email and FB forms below that one – people first have the chance to know more about you and then follow you. :)

      Daniel

  23. Hey Daniel,
    as I said on Google+ this article of yours made me thoughtful. Have you got some nitty gritty insights about cliks or eye tracking you could share concerning your first idea about the sidebar position on the left? I can agree with the rest but this one has my attention now. Its so totally against what we’re used to it might even work ;-)

    • Hey Robert,

      Quite honestly I didn’t really take the time to do in-depth measuring. However I did test the two placements and based on Google Analytics the widgets tend to receive a little more clicks when placed on the left side. But even without that, I guess it’s a little obvious, since that way the sidebar is directly in the eyesight of the visitor, which should in theory increase the chance for a click.

      Daniel

  24. Very interesting! I’m definitely going to try the tips about moving the sidebar to the left and adding a “Featured Post” widget. Great info here!