Are your blog visitors reading, scanning, or bouncing?
A massive piece to the bouncing puzzle might be something you never considered before.
Can you guess what one of them is?
Your sidebar. (How'd you guess?!)
Whether you're a Gung-Ho sidebar-lover or prefer the clean, sleek design of naked borders framing your content—your sidebar and blog content can make or break your visitor's experience.
You want the right people to get cozy with their computer, a steaming cup of tea, and your blog post.
Because, hey, they made it to your site. Might as well try your hardest to keep them gobbling up what you're dishing out.
If your goal is to earn a profit from your blog, provide value to your readers and focus on growing your email list—then see if a sidebar is a wise choice for your blog or not.
Earn more traffic, more subscribers, and more sales from your blog + email list.
Get my FREE growth hacking strategies, step-by-step tips, stories, experiences and more, delivered to your Inbox every week.
First off, if you're new to this whole blogging thing, you might be wondering...
What's A Sidebar?
According to Google, a sidebar is "a narrow vertical area that is located alongside the main display area, typically containing additional or explanatory material."
I'm sure you've seen them.
Some bloggers find them to be a blog's real estate goldmine whereas others prefer to keep the potential of it's added distraction at bay.
Whether you feel like your content stands stronger with or without a sidebar, explore what works, what doesn't, and what you can do about it in this post.
I'm answering the top 3 questions aggregated from my web development clients over the years.
- How can I find out if a sidebar is a good fit for me or not?
- If I go with a sidebar, what should I put in it?
- How can I get people to click through and subscribe or buy on my blog if I don't have a sidebar?
Q1. How can I find out if a sidebar is a good fit for me or not?
And my typical answer is:
When you go to someone else's website, how does their sidebar make you feel?
You may find that silly, but there's a method to my madness.
Back on topic, does reading their sidebar'd blog make you feel cramped? Overwhelmed? Distracted?
Is it complementary to the blog post? Does is inject more helpful information?
Do sidebars not phase you at all?
Your feelings on a sidebar is likely that of your audience's, too.
Many won't care at all, but there are some major factors into what makes a sidebar good, useless, or distracting. For example, the:
- length (of used sidebar space)
... among other less prominent factors.
As you might've noticed, I don't have a sidebar.
I find most sidebars distracting or a space too heavily relied on by "lazy bloggers".
I ditched my previous sidebar because it didn't add much, if any value for my readers as I initially thought it would.
It added dismal sales, and instead caused lots of page surfing with mere seconds on each page, less commitment (less subscribers), and a higher bounce rate (visitors landing on one page and leaving thereafter).
Sure, it might've all been coincidental.
I can't say for certain that the sidebar was the full cause, but I sure did my research to figure out how I could earn more subscribers, reduce the bounce rate, and keep more visitors reading instead of simply skimming without a commitment from the reader absorbing the content I worked my tush off on.
But, no matter how much research you do, if you don't know who is or will be reading your content—who actually wants it and will benefit from it—then it really doesn't matter whether or not you have a sidebar.
With that said, a great starting point is to check out your direct competitors' websites to get an idea of what's working and what isn't for your target audience.
Write a Pros and Cons list, if you need to.
That way you can capitalize on their strengths by mimicking (not copying, mimicking) them, and stand out through challenging their weaknesses.
Say, for example, their design is elementary and inconsistent.
A stronger, more effective blog design could keep your visitors reading longer, converting into subscribers, and build more trust with them.
Or, say, their content is short and plain, yet they still have a lot of social shares and comments.
You, then, know that going into detail and offering more valuable knowledge (for free) to your readers will "Wow" them.
And back onto the subject of trust, you'll also be building more authority and expertise in your niche, too.
Studying your competitors can open doors you never knew existed. If you capitalize on your findings, of course.
SUGGESTED: What's the focus of your business?
Either way, there's a part of you in your target audience.
The aspiring super-achiever or the growing entrepreneur—if you don't like something, your audience likely won't either.
And with that...
Q2. If I go with a sidebar, what should I put in it?
I can tell you that before I ditched the 'bar, I finally figured out the best way to organize it's content by studying other leaders in my industry and within direct response and content marketing, too.
At least the best way to organize a sidebar for my industry, that is.
So, be sure to follow up my findings with your own research.
Some suggestions are to:
- Keep it simple. If you throw any moving parts (GIFs, etc.), ads (ick), bright colors, and more—your sidebar will serve as more of a distraction than a helpful entity to your content. If your blog isn't simply a means for sales, then a bold, sales-driven sidebar won't necessarily hurt your blog.
- Start with an email opt-in box and/or an introduction to the blog post. If you want to grow, then you need to collect email addresses to build your email list. Make this a prominent part of your blog's active goals.
Don't put a bunch of social media widgets in your sidebar. On my faux blog menu at the bottom of my homepage, I have "Pin With Me" and "Tweet With Me" sections. But, that's not the blog.
If someone scrolled down that far, they already passed (or clicked through) a couple opportunities to join my email list, overcome a problem within their business, and passed multiple blog post entries—all with multiple chances to signup.
So to point someone toward following one of my social media accounts doesn't have a negative effect.
With that said, all of your social media accounts serve, essentially, as bait to lure (encourage) people to your website.
Your social media accounts don't directly earn you money.
Visitors have to click through to your site or store to add any actual value to your business and to their experience. (Hence why my focus on building up my social media followers isn't all that important to me.)
SUGGESTED: How To Create A Simple Social Strategy For The Active Entrepreneur
Why send website visitors away from the place you want them to be? It doesn't mean I'm suggesting you avoid putting your social links in your sidebar, however, I want you to remember what your goals are for your business.
Is it more important for you to earn subscribers from your website visitors, or build a public following on your social accounts?
Include basic title-text links to your 5 most popular blog posts. If you're just starting out, you can share a simple list of your most recent posts. Later, once you've gotten enough traffic to warrant "popular" content, you can change that section to what your audience enjoys most.
With that, here are a few examples of websites that hit my list of quality sidebar content and why:
Q3. How can I get people to click through and subscribe or buy on my blog if I don't have a sidebar?
Another great question I received again and again from clients.
And here's the deal:
Relying on your sidebar for sales will earn pennies. Building sales from your blog content can earn thousands.
How can I say that?
Unless your product speaks directly to the reader as a clear need or desire from an image, title, or a couple specific bullet points—then your blog content is your direct link to selling more products or services to your website visitors, customers, clients, prospects, and on and on.
Your blog is a way to prove your expertise online, grow your authority in your niche, and sell.
So, relying on your sidebar for those "pennies" means you're not pitching your prospects. (Like you should be.)
This was a tough one for me, too.
I left the salesforce because I hated selling. But, the thing is:
Everyone sells something.
And if you never give people the opportunity to buy from you, they never will.
You're in business to help and to make money.
Anyone who doesn't understand that isn't someone you want weighing down your email list or having any say in your business, anyhow.
So, give visitors and subscribers the opportunity to buy from you.
- Write about your products and services often. And if that's too direct of an approach for you right now...
- Drop links to your products and service pages within your blog content where it's appropriate.
- Write an exposé on new products or services to help promote it.
- Repurpose product and service blog content into videos, long images (736 x 1200+) for Pinterest, SlideShares, and more to bring new life to it and encourage new traffic to it.
So, have a sidebar or don't bother?
Taking it back to the top: How do other people's sidebars make you feel?
What do you find appealing?
What do you find distracting?
Your adult homework for today is to visit multiple websites within your niche.
Fold a clean piece of printer paper into two length-wise. In the first column, title it "Likes" and in the second, "Dislikes".
Then hit those sites and check out their sidebars.
If everyone in your niche has a sidebar, consider how it could benefit you by not having one. Could it help you stand out amongst the pack?
When you're satisfied with your findings, answer this question:
Do I want a sidebar?
If the answer is yes, then decide what to put in it.
Go back to your list of likes and dislikes and circle what you feel is necessary to create an essential, complementary, and non-distracting sidebar.
Start with your list. You've got this.