At the start of the month I asked my Insta fam to give me their questions about designing their website, and today I’m answering the one about what to put on your sidebar.
This is a question I get asked a lot. There are a lot of different directions a sidebar can go, making it hard to pinpoint what will work best for your biz, but I’m going to help you out with the list below.
The 8 most popular sidebar items
About Blurb + Photo
This is potentially the most important thing you can include on your sidebar, in my mind. When a new visitor comes to your website to read a blog post that you’ve shared, they might have no clue who you are. So this is your chance to introduce yourself, and tell them what you do.
The photo should be a friendly, professional shot of you. And typically it’s the same photo you use on your social accounts. It shows that there’s a person behind the knowledge you’re imparting. This is so important, because when you pair a well-written blog post with your photo, you start to build an image of yourself as an expert in what they’re reading.
For the blurb, keep it short, but hit all the important stuff:
- Your name
- Your title or what you do
- Why you do what you do
- How you help others with what you do
If you asked me what the most important thing to have on your sidebar was, I’d say the about section. If you asked me the second, I’d say an opt-in.
I find this to be so important that I actually include TWO opt-ins on my sidebar. One geared towards people who are interested in learning about websites, the other aimed at people who want to better their brand. Because let’s face it—different strokes for different folks, amiright?
Getting people on your email list should be a major goal for your biz, and if you’re not pushing that strategy at every turn, you’re missing out. Think I’m just talking the talk? Take a look at my sidebar, see the two opt-ins. Then take a look at the bottom of this post and note the “Let’s be Friends” opt-in. That’s a total of three chances to capture someone’s email address. On one blog post. :muscle-flex:
I don’t know about you, but I like to be able to get straight to the point when I’m reading someone’s blog. I only want to see articles about what I’m interested in, and being able to filter the posts with categories is extremely helpful. So you should definitely include your categories on your sidebar. Or, somewhere else on your blog page.
Personally, I don’t find the sidebar category list to be entirely appealing (especially when your sidebar appears on every page of your website), so I’ve designed my categories to appear in a separate menu at the top of the blog and blog post pages. It looks lovely, and it saves me room for more important content on my sidebar. Scroll up if you want to see it in action 😉
Tags are so 2008. What I mean is, if you still have tags on your sidebar, you’re a little out of date. They eat up a lot of space, and by definition, they don’t look great.
There are a lot of other things that would be way more beneficial to both you and your visitors on the sidebar than tags.
Recent or Popular Posts
Getting visitors to fall down your content rabbit hole should be one of the main goals of your blog. You WANT them to stay on your site, visit more pages, and eventually, buy your products or services. So having links to more stuff they can read on your blog only makes sense.
I tend to prefer featuring popular posts over recent posts because there’s the element of social proof. When people see an article that a lot of people have read or shared, they’re more likely to believe it’s worth their time. So I’ll choose popular posts every time.
Whichever way you opt to go (don’t do both, that’s tacky, imo), your sidebar should show people what else you have to offer.
Ok, so a lot of people put their search box in the header or footer of their website, so people can easily search the entire site. Smart.
However, they then overlook putting one in the blog sidebar, and that’s a mistake.
People EXPECT to see a search bar in your sidebar. It’s a usability thing. It makes your website more accessible for your readers. And that should be the first thing you think of when designing your site. If your visitors are looking for a search bar and don’t know about, or didn’t notice, the one on another part of your site, they’re going to be disappointed. So just give the people what they want!
This is actually one I don’t see very often, but it’s such a good idea! When you have that new traffic on blog posts, why WOULDN’T you put an amazing testimonial or two in their face so they know immediately that you’re not all talk?
Don’t have any testimonials yet? Get some!
Ooohh, the social stuff. This one is hit or miss for me.
When you do it right, including your social media feeds on your sidebar can be quite attractive. However, if you do it wrong, it looks cluttered.
Since I tend to put Insta feeds in the site footer (because it’s pretty and then you can see it on every page), I don’t put them on sidebars. Besides that, I always try to remember that when you start adding a ton of stuff to the sidebar, it gets longer than your page content. Which means on shorter pages or blog posts, you could have inches of real estate with nothing but sidebar content.
I’m not such a big fan of that.
Also besides, a great many of the plugins that allow you to put Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter feeds on your site are NOT very attractive, and it messes up your entire website’s aesthetic.
So bottom line? Do it if you have to. But make sure that you find a decent plugin for it, and keep the sidebar length within reason. And also, lie to me and say you didn’t include it.
So we all want to make money from affiliate links and such. Totally don’t blame you. But all the research shows that people are basically blind to ads in your sidebars. They look right past them. Don’t even notice them.
My advice is to skip putting ads on your sidebar, unless you’ve come up with a super creative way to make it not look like an ad. You haven’t? Then put it somewhere else.
Create a resources page. Write blog posts that allow you to link the products you recommend. Do almost anything else, because ads on the sidebar are a waste of real estate. 9/10 times, at least.
Still don’t know what to put on your sidebar?
If you still can’t decide what to put on your sidebar, get creative! Sometimes the things that are new and totally different make the biggest impact on visitors. You can test your sidebar items over time and narrow down how they work for you. After all, they’re pretty easy to change up!