If you’re wondering what should go in your sidebar on your blog posts and pages on your site there is no definitive answer. But what we have found across the different client sites we’ve built is that there is a good practice to follow.
In case you’re not familiar with the jargon, the sidebar is the column on the right that appears alongside most, if not all, of your blog posts and page content. When WordPress first created a sidebar it was really meant as a means to aid in navigating the blog.
Almost universally it was used to simply display a blog archive so people could drill down to the month or year they wanted but it has come a long way since then. Here are the various things that we recommend putting in your sidebar.
What people tend to gravitate towards on your site
Much like the blog archive, this approach aids to help people find what they are looking for on your site. Instead of just adding an archive with dates though, the approach here is to figure out what people are using your site for the most and point them in that direction.
The idea of having a site full of information that helps web visitors is to actually get them the information they need efficiently so they look to you as a resource. If you were to pop the hood on Google Analytics and see that most of your traffic is coming for five or six different blog posts then you would be wise to add links to those blog posts in your sidebar to make it easy for people to find them.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve stumbled upon a great article by Googling something and then clicked onto another really interesting article just because it was linked in the sidebar. This is a great way to call attention to your most helpful and reviewed content so that people see the hard work you’ve put into creating resources for them.
A call to action
A great website tells visitors what to do. Unless you’re running a blog as a personal hobby you are trying to sell something. You’re either trying to sell your services or products or the services and products of someone else.
While you are delivering your great content on your site, through the main column, your sidebar can act as a way to reinforce what you want your visitors to do. If you are a store selling sunglasses, for example, your sidebar is the perfect place to announce a promotion you’re having. Putting a coupon code or announcing a limited time 20% off deal in your sidebar is great.
If you’re not running a promotion you can always just promote your services. Google AdSense displays banners in people’s sidebars all the time for companies trying to sell services, so why not try to sell your own? If you’re an accounting firm, for example, why not try a banner ad for your own company that says something along the lines of “Ready for Tax Season? Let us a professional help you prep your files.”
Of course, if you’ve gone through the trouble of creating a lead magnet like a downloadable ebook or pdf guide of some sort, the sidebar is a perfect place to have a sign-up form. Creating an email list of engaged readers is a sure-fire way to grow just about any business and if you have some bait to get people to sign up for your email newsletter your sidebar is a perfect place to hang that bait.
A touch of personality
In a sea of millions and millions of websites, it becomes hard to distinguish one from another. Even if you’ve done everything right and your design is beautiful and your content is fantastic, these days that really isn’t enough to always stand out in a potential client’s mind. What we’ve seen work really to make companies more memorable is to use the sidebar to tell a personal story.
Great examples of this are often found in cooking or personal finance blogs. Bloggers are great about branding themselves and a lot of them have found that adding a headshot and a paragraph about themselves in the sidebar really helps to reinforce that they are not just an online encyclopedia of knowledge but a living and breathing person.
When you remind people that there are actual humans running your site and they have the ability to connect with people, instead of just anonymous information, it goes a long way to building a relationship. Once your audience looks at your company as having a personality, and one they can trust and connect with, closing a sale becomes much easier.
Having no sidebar
This might sound controversial in a blog post about sidebars, but you can always get rid of the sidebar altogether. This has become more and more common in the last few years. We believe this trend started as a result of mobile use becoming so prevalent for web traffic.
When people see your site on a mobile device, generally they don’t get to the sidebars unless they read your entire blog post and then keep scrolling down. It’s pushed WAY down and the impact it has on your audience diminishes exponentially on a mobile device when compared to a desktop.
The philosophy here is that people really need to get answers to the questions they have without getting distracted. This holds especially true if you are running an inbound campaign with a heavy emphasis on SEO.
The basic concept behind SEO is that people are asking questions in Google and you are providing answers to those questions. If people get to your website and all you are doing is providing a thorough, well-though-out answer to their question and not pushing a product or service on them they will come to trust you even more.
So how do you convert your visitors into customers if you don’t have a sidebar full of calls to action? You need to integrate your calls to action within the body of the post. You can have sign-up forms and banners right in the body of your post so that they flow within the context of what you are talking about. You can also point people to other useful content on your site within in the body of your post as well – just like you would in a sidebar.
If you have especially long content that is very useful – also known as epic content – omitting the sidebar becomes quite logically. After all, nobody wants to read through 5,000-10,000 words while constantly being annoyed by an advertisement.
Your sidebar is an opportunity for people to get to know you. Whether you do that by offering your services and products, pointing them in the direction of other useful content you’ve created, or simply by introducing yourself is totally up to you.
If you do elect to have a sidebar don’t neglect it by just pasting some boring information or a thoughtless post archive. Your sidebar generally appears on nearly every page of your site and it is prime real estate on your website – treat it with respect.