Issue #229

Should you have a blog sidebar?

Should You Have A Blog Sidebar?

You may have noticed that I’ve done a lot of switcheroos when it comes to my blog layout. Sometimes I’m testing things… sometimes my mood just changes. 😉

But, one of the things that has gone back and forth is my usage of the blog sidebar.

For awhile, I didn’t have one. Then, as of yesterday, I went ahead and put it back. Now, if you go to my blog (see this post on Twitter traffic for an example), you’ll see that I have a pretty thinned out sidebar on all blog posts. It contains a search form, a list of my top guides, and an invite to The Edge.

So, it begs the questions…

  • Why did I put it back?
  • Is there a “right” answer to the question of whether to have a sidebar or not?

Surely, the blog is nice and clean without any sidebar on the posts. That was the main reason I got rid of it to begin with. Most sidebars just look cluttery. Besides, the sidebar is almost always stuffed way down at the bottom of the screen when on a mobile device. 33% of my overall traffic comes from mobile… which means that a third of my visitors will never see the sidebar.

People pay massive attention to the blog content. They tend to go blind to the sidebar.

So, why did I put it back, then?

The answer is FUNCTIONAL REAL ESTATE.

Yes, the presence of the sidebar provides screen real estate to put more stuff. But, more important than that, there is a certain utility and function to having certain things in that sidebar.

What MOST people do with their sidebar is just STUFF crap in it. They’re looking for what I call the “impulse click”. It is the same mentality you might get when you see those stupid celebrity gossip mags in the grocery store checkout line. They put those things there hoping a headline will intrigue you and you’ll then buy the magazine despite the fact that you never went there for that purpose.

So, a lot of bloggers stuff banners, stuff to buy, affiliate links… all kinds of crap in that sidebar in order to get the “impulse click”. If we take into account the mindset of the typical person on our blog, then that’s a big, distracting waste of space.

But, having a site search… that’s functional. Of course, you’d only want to do that if your site has enough there to be searched. In my case, it does. Plus, my search function has been modified so that it actually serves as a discovery engine for Lab content, too.

Linking to your “money posts” (those posts which are highly optimized to be “top of funnel” content)… that’s functional. Every one of my “top guides” was chosen by me for a reason to be there.

A call to action… that’s functional. My CTA for The Edge is there for an obvious reason. Next up on my agenda is to customize that spot so that people who are already Edge subscribers (like yourself) will see a different CTA. (I’m looking into on-site retargeting now and it’s freakin’ powerful. More on that later.)

So, I decided to put the sidebar back in, but make it really easy on the eyes. I keep the plain-white background. I put one little thin line to separate the content from the widget. And I take care not to put much in there. I also use the Q2W3 Fixed Widget plug-in to make the bottom widget “stick” as the person scrolls. This way there is one, single call to action in that spot the whole way down.

So, is there any “right” answer here? Should your blog have a sidebar or not?

Truth is… there is no “right” answer. It depends on your purposes. Surely, you’re seeing a growing trend out there (especially with company blogs) to ditch the sidebar and keep things simple. I see it on a lot of sites for software companies, for instance. Others are electing to do it just out of preference.

If you’re going to have a sidebar, though, you want to make sure that every single thing you put there has a strategic reason to be there. Never waste time going to “impulse clicks”.

So, what about you?

Do you prefer when a blog has no sidebar? Do you use things in the sidebar of the sites you visit?

– David

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