How to Really Organize and Prioritize Your Blog’s Sidebar (revised)

How to Organize and Prioritize Your Blog's Sidebar. Part of the May monthly series all about sidebars on DesignYourOwnBlog.com!

I have a confession to make: DYOB has fallen victim to the very thing I advised against when I first started this blog.

If you’ve been blogging a while, your blog’s sidebar may have become a bit disorganized.

You see, when I first published this post almost two years ago, back then my sidebar was M I N I M A L. Oh I could preach til the cows came home about this n’ that in your sidebar because well… my blog was new.

Have you ever heard that quote, “You’re the perfect parent until you have kids”? Yeah, this is kinda like that.

And oh how things have changed! My own sidebar had gotten a little overloaded to say the least. What’s the right amount of widgets? Ads? Is there a right amount? Well, I can’t really tell you because to be honest, we all have different needs.

So I enlisted my readers and everyone in the Blog Beautiful Facebook group and we spent the month of May talking about sidebars, working through worksheets and fixing them up together.

The results of that month’s discussions on both the blog and the group are in this post. Here are the latest thoughts straight from the bloggers’ mouths on what to keep and what not to keep in your blog’s sidebar.

Sidebar Month!

See more on sidebars:

4 Ways to Give your Sidebar an Instant Facelift
How to Create a Killer Blog Sidebar Profile Bio + Photo that keeps new readers wanting to stick around.

Why Is Cleaning Up Our Sidebars Important?
We want to keep our sidebar simple and clean so that we don’t confuse or overwhelm readers when they first come to our blog. Our blogs should lead visitors through the page, telling them what they should do first and not leave them with too many choices.

Download this free and handy sidebar worksheet and fill it out as you read through the rest of this post. (If you downloaded the worksheet from week 1, you’ll find that this one is similar, but slightly different. If you didn’t download the week 1 worksheet, you only need to do this one).

How to Determine What to Keep and What to Get Rid Of In Your Blog’s Sidebar

Step 1: What Are Your Blog’s Goals?

In the worksheet, list your blog’s top 3 goals. Do you want people to sign up for your newsletter? Buy a product? Check out your most popular posts? etc.

Then list your visitors needs. What are they coming to your blog for? Is it to learn something new? Learn more about you? Be inspired? etc.

Step 2: What’s In Your Sidebar Now?

List all items that are currently in your sidebar and whether they are serving your blog’s goals or serving the needs of your visitors.

Then list a few blogs that you love to follow and ask yourself: What do I feel the author wants me to do first?

Next, list all the items they have in their sidebar. Does each item seem necessary? Why or why not? Does it stand out or get lost? Why?

Finally, note some observations from evaluating your favorite blogs that you can use in your own blog.

Step 3: What Items Should Be/Not Be in Your Sidebar?

KEEP THESE ITEMS IN YOUR SIDEBAR:
According to our group discussions, these are items that most of us agreed should be in the sidebar.

  1. Opt-In Form
    If you are serious about building an email list (and you should be), this should be in the first or second spot of your sidebar. We’ll talk more about the importance of email lists below.

    Learn how to design a custom opt-in for your sidebar
    MailChimp for WordPress plugin

  2. Mini Bio
    New visitors want to know right away what your blog is about, how it can help them and who you are to tell them. Identity is extremely important in the blogosphere and you need to build yourself up as an expert in your niche if you want to take blogging seriously. Include your social media icons here as well as a link to read more on your About page.

    Learn more and be inspired by these pretty sidebar profiles

  3. Social Media and Follow Me Icons
    When people first discover you and like what they see, they may not be quite ready to sign up for your email list yet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to follow you by other means. So make it easy for them to do so by listing icons for the 3-5 accounts you update on a regular basis.

    Prominently display social media icons in your blog sidebar. Want to learn what else you should and shouldn't have in your sidebar? Check out the sidebar series on DesignYourOwnBlog.com

    Download these adorable watercolor social icons for free from Current Observations blog. Click the image.

    You may also want to supply other ways to subscribe to your content, such as via an RSS feed and/or BlogLovin’.

  4. Popular or Recommended Posts
    People love popular posts because they give you “a quick snapshot of what the blog is about,” says Terri Sigmon Quinn. And Haley Strom says, “As a reader, I love the popular posts. When I’m going to a new site, those kind of pull me in to the blog-reading black hole.”

    WordPress Popular Posts plugin
    Popular Posts Tabbed Widget for Jetpack
    Or Popular Posts gadget in Blogger

  5. Categories/Topics
    Even if you have these in your main navigation up top, you might consider adding them in your sidebar as well. 3-7 categories is ideal so your list won’t be too long.

    Check out these category sidebar buttons for inspiration
    How to code colorful, even multi-colored, category buttons without using images

  6. Search
    A search bar is a must. People want to know that they can quickly find what they’re looking for so make it easy for them.

    Besides, what if someone pins one of your post images from the blog page instead of the post page, a new visitor comes to your blog from that link and can’t find your article? It happens all the time in Pinterest so don’t risk losing a potential new fan!

    Drag the Search widget to your sidebar in WordPress.
    Or add the Search Box gadget in Blogger.

  7. Your Own Books or Products
    Take advantage of sidebar space to sell your books, courses or other products you are selling that are related to your site. Products make you look legit!

GET RID OF THESE ITEMS IN YOUR SIDEBAR:
According to our group discussions, these are the items that we mostly agreed should be left out of sidebars.

  1. Meta Widget
    This one is for WordPress users. When you first install WP, it usually adds the Meta widget to your sidebar which has links to your login page, feeds and WordPress.org.

    Not only does this widget say “amateur” but it can affect SEO because it creates a link to your login page from every page of your blog. Remove this widget and bookmark your login page.

  2. Blog Roll
    This widget is great if you blog mostly for fun and to make friends. If you’re trying to create a business, not so much as it encourages people to leave your site.

  3. Recent Comments
    Does anyone really care about reading comments out of context? I wouldn’t think this one was worthy of your valuable sidebar space.

  4. Tag Cloud
    Oh geez. 2005 called and wants its blog back, folks! No one uses these anymore and neither should you. Use a category list instead.

SIDEBAR ITEMS WE WERE TORN ON:
To determine whether or not you should use these in your sidebar, ask yourself if they meet your blog’s or visitors’ goals. If they do, then keep them and if not, well… get rid of it.

  1. Recent Posts
    Listing recent posts on your blog posts page is redundant because you can see all the most recent posts right there. On the other hand, if someone arrives on your blog through a post, they may not necessarily click to see your blog page. But if they see a list of your latest posts and the titles are enticing enough, they may just click to see another post.

    Most of us in the group agreed that showing Popular Posts was more useful than showing Recent Posts.

    If you choose to use them in your sidebar, you can hide the widget on your blog page in WordPress by clicking the Visibility button inside the widget editor. Thanks to Mariana Leal for that tip!

    Sara Rae Hughes also suggested showing Related Posts at the bottom of all posts instead.

  2. Archives
    Archives can be nice because I sometimes like to “get to know” a blogger by looking at their past posts, seeing where they started and how they’ve grown. It’s also useful to see how long someone has been blogging and how often they post.

    Julie Mccullough mentioned that she often likes to search for posts by month so she can find specific holiday themed posts for example.

    But about half the group still said that they never use Archives on other blogs.

    I don’t know if archives deserve valuable sidebar space so if you decide to include them, choose the drop down option (available on both WordPress and Blogger) so that they take as little space as possible. Another idea would be to put the widget/gadget in your footer instead.

  3. Social Media Feeds
    These are the widgets that show your Twitter or Instagram feeds, Facebook likes or Pinterest boards, etc.

    These widgets can provide social proof: Facebook widgets will show you if any of your friends like that page. If they have, you’re more apt to do so too. Other widgets can also help you get more followers on say, Twitter or Instagram.

    The downside to these widgets is that you’ve got people on your site, why send them away now? It could be increasing your bounce rate.

    If you use social widgets, use them in moderation. Most people in the group said that more than 2 different social media widgets looked cluttered.

  4. Ads
    Half of the group say ads add clutter and that they never click on them anyway. Others said that they do click on ads but only if they are carefully selected by the blogger and are relevant to the blog’s topic.

    I’d say to monitor them closely and see if the money they are making for you is worth the real estate in your sidebar.

    Everyone agreed that ads in the sidebar are much better than intrusive ones that interrupt their reading experience.

Step 4: List Sidebar Items in Order of Priority

Back in your worksheet, list the items you’ll be keeping in (or adding to) your sidebar in the order of priority according to your goals. Remember to place the item that satisfies your blog’s #1 priority first.

WHAT SHOULD BE YOUR BLOG’S FIRST PRIORITY?
According to Mariah at Femtrepreneur, you should make list building your top priority. The reason is that most newcomers to your blog will not buy a product right away. They need to get to know you first and learn whether or not they can trust you and your advice.

If you get them on your list, you can build up that trust by sharing valuable content with them. Over time, you’ll create a loyal fan who will jump at the chance to buy your product(s).

Having people get to know you also goes a long way towards establishing trust with your visitors. So I’d say the Mini Bio/Profile Photo that clearly explains the benefits of reading your blog should also be at the top.

So which one goes first?
The best way to handle this would be to put the opt-in in your header or just below it. See this post for examples. Then your bio can go at the top of the sidebar.

But if you can’t do that with your theme or template, then try alternating them once in a while and see if it makes a difference. Don’t forget that an enticing opt-in offer goes a long way too.

HOW TO PRIORITIZE OTHER ITEMS
You don’t necessarily want to put your top 3 blog goal items at the top because you want to consider your visitors’ needs as well. It’s probably a good idea to alternate items between your own and your visitors’ goals. A sidebar should be a living thing: you should be playing around and switching things up now and then and evaluating the results.

It’s Time to Be Ruthless!

Now that you’ve determined your goals, go to town on that sidebar of yours and start removing and rearranging stuff! This is gonna be fun!

Download the Sidebar Evaluation Worksheet now!

Are you having a hard time deciding whether or not to keep something? What about sticking it in your footer instead?

This post concludes the May Sidebar series. Join us next month as we talk Blog Headers, yeah!

So what’s your sidebar’s status? Does it need work? What will you be changing on yours after reading this?

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38 Comments

  • Great post!! I love it and so informative! I have to read the others in the series now to catch up! I agree with adding some things in the footer instead, a clean and simple sidebar is so much better than a cluttered overpowering one. I would choose to put the recent/popular posts in the footer, it was more visually appealing and at the end of posts it would make the reader want to read more, instead of going along the side bar and finding it.

    Great advice! Ill remember this for my new design 😉

    Lauren Baxter | LB Designs
    xx

    • Marianne says:

      Hey Lauren,
      Yes, I think that people either forget they can add widgets to the footer or they have themes/templates that don’t have widgetized footers. But if you’re able to, it’s a great place to put less important items that you don’t necessarily want to get rid of. And I totally agree with adding either popular or related posts at the end of posts too.
      Thanks for your comment and can’t wait to see the new design!

  • Heather says:

    Brilliant advice – as someone who doesn’t DO less is more, I needed to read this! I am never sure what should be there and what shouldn’t and, as a result, my sidebar is a mess. Your other post on creating a mini-bio just set a little light bulb off for me. Thank you so much for this! Off to do a revamp now.
    Heather recently posted…Choosing the perfect name for your businessMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Hello Heather I’m so glad you found these sidebar posts useful and it looks like you’ve jumped on making some changes. Your bio pic is great! It’s so easy to get our sidebars cluttered up, as I said I’m guilty too! But hey that’s life, we mess it up, then clean it up, then repeat right? 😉

  • Jason Loucks says:

    Great write-up! I am currently in the process of working on my new site and even though I have always been the type to have a clean design, this information is very useful. Some great tips there.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • chelsea says:

    Love this post! I was stuck with my sidebar and now I have a clear understanding of how to let it grow with me. Thanks alot!

  • Testing, testing – 1,2,3! 🙂
    Kirsten – Sweet Tea & Saving Grace recently posted…60 DIY Father’s Day Gift IdeasMy Profile

  • Judy says:

    Thanks for sharing. I am launching my site this month (June) and appreciate the great insight and information.

  • Deidre says:

    You are such a ROCK STAR. I love that you are so open and share the things you’ve learned through this incredible community you’ve made/fostered!!! The constant use of “we” in the post make me feel included and I wasn’t even a part of the discussion! All great tips in this post – thank you for sharing!

    • Marianne says:

      Thank you Deidre! I didn’t even realize that the wording was so inclusive like you said, I’ll have to use that more often 🙂 I’m so glad you found it valuable and I appreciate you stopping by to comment!

  • Ruth Meaney says:

    This is great, thank you! Just in the process of moving my blog to wordpress.org and trying to figure out design and layout. Will have more of a look around your site 🙂
    Ruth Meaney recently posted…Part Two – Why My Body Feels Like A Ticking Time BombMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Fabulous Ruth! I really look forward to seeing your design evolve. I see you joined the group too, so welcome and feel free to make a post asking for feedback or questions at any time.

  • This is so helpful! I’m redoing my blog, and I’ve been trying to figure out just what I need in my sidebar vs. what I want in my sidebar. I know I’m keeping a few things, but it’s so frustrating to figure out what’s really needed.

    I love that you addressed the ads on sidebars. Personally, I never click on ads, and I find them too outlandish. They just aren’t for me, and I’m more likely to close the blog without reading anything if I see ads.

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Erin! It’s so interesting you say that about ads. I am so torn on them. Sometimes I actually DO click on them and I do get some clicks on mine too, but I’m going to reevaluate them this next year and am considering removing them too.

      I’m so glad you found this post useful! I hope you liked the worksheet!

  • What a hepful post, Marianne! I love your tips, and hearing opinions from other bloggers is so, so helpful. The quotes you’ve included are such a great addition! My sidebar is certainly in need of a clean up, and you’ve given me some fantastic ideas on where to start. Thank you for the informative + actionable post!!
    Bridgid Gallagher recently posted…50 Blog Post Ideas for WritersMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Hi Bridgid, thank you so much for taking the time to let me know how helpful this was for you. That really helps me to know what works and doesn’t for you and my readers. Looks like you’ve done a GREAT cleanup job on your sidebar!

  • ShanBaylis says:

    Brilliant ideas! If you sit down and take the time to think some of these are common sense. I’ve really had to rearrange based on priority and I believe that’s a huge thing even if you have an ad or social feeds.

  • D'ondra says:

    Hi Marianne,

    I didn’t know if a search bar was relevant in my sidebar, as I am new to blogging and don’t have many posts, but after reading this, I added it. Thanks for the insite.

    • Marianne says:

      Oh wonderful D’ondra! I’m glad this post convinced you. I think it’s a great thing to give your users and it takes so little space, why not?

  • Great article, an d I’m glad that I got almost everything on track except for one of the items you were torn on – the social media widget. I have my Instagram feed in my side bar because I didn’t want it at the bottom of my page.

    • Marianne says:

      That’s awesome Nacyra! I think that if having it works for you, then you should definitely have it! I have been toying with the idea of adding one myself, but figured I need to remove some items before adding more 😉 It’s always a work in progress!

  • Sheri says:

    I found this to be very helpful. I do have one question, I cannot seem to find a way to group several widgets into one. There has been no plugin I have found that can do this for me. I want to tidy up my page by grouping certain widgets but no plugin will do this. 🙂 I am finding this site extremely helpful as I am still new to all this. Trying and testing a few new things today. Thank you so much!

  • Faith Reed says:

    Hi Marianne,

    Id love to get more info on the actual design elements for sidebars… yours is gorgeous and the bio section with the background, pic and social media links is beautiful – I’d love to know what you used to design it. Thanks 🙂

  • Mahriya says:

    I will consider putting archives in the footer, I never considered that. My categories is a ‘drop down’, should I change that? And, I have my blog button on my sidebar, should I just leave that for the footer or prioritise it?

    I will also love to know how to actually design and create a pretty ‘about me’ widget with all those social media icons and images. It looks really pretty and I would love to know how you work your magic!

    This was great advice. Just uncluttered my sidebar now! It was amazing so I just shared this on Pinterest! *Downloading the worksheet now*

    • Marianne says:

      Oh yay so glad you found this so useful Mahriya and thanks for sharing it! I just took a quick look at your sidebar and it’s definitely not cluttered so you did a great job already. As for categories being a drop down, there’s no clear answer on that. You might want to test different variations and see what works best for yours. If you look at my sidebar, I have put my categories in a dropdown, but pulled out the most popular ones into noticeable graphics. But there is also something to be said for being able to see all the categories at once so visitors know at a glance what topics your blog covers.

      Thanks for letting me know about wanting a tutorial on the about me widget. I have a post here on some samples, but no specific “how to” yet. You are not the first to ask so I’ll try and work on one here in the very near future!
      http://designyourownblog.com/blog-sidebar-profile-photos-mini-bios/

      • Mahriya says:

        Thanks so much! I’m glad my sidebar’s not cluttered or messy, that’s a big relief! I’m certainly considering pulling out some categories into pretty graphics! I’ve changed my categories into a full list for readers to have a quick glance at my blog’s topics. Checking out that post now!

  • This was packed with useful information. I’m heading over to my blog to do some housekeeping right now…just needed a little boost and inspiration. Thank you for all your great content. Just what I needed.

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