Posts with tag "sidebars"

About that sidebar over there

a big mess One of the interesting things about blogs, even most folks don’t seem to pay them much attention, is that area on the right and/or left of where all your wonderful prose goes. Yes, I’m talking about that often ignored and mostly widget laden area called the sidebar. While some bloggers love them for no other reason that it’s somewhere to stick some more ads others use to put widget’s full of links whether they be the different categories or puffy tag clouds.

I had previously written here how I felt that this area was almost a blogger’s secret weapon because it could be used as a way to get people to click through to the blog

It may not seem like much but look at it this way. Every single widget you could have in that sidebar could be a reason for a reader to actually visit your blog. They don’t all have to be ads after all what good are those ads doing if nobody is coming to visit.

The only problem is that sometimes we can get really carried away with widgets showing your Twitter messages, FriendFeed messages, Last.fm last played tracks and any number of other really cool widgets. Now as cool as all these widgets might be there are a couple of things to really consider when picking the ones you want to use. For example – who is really getting the benefit from the information being displayed in the widget?

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Who is the sidebar for?

Using those sidebar blocks for your readers The vast majority of blogs out there have a section of the blog called the sidebar. Some will have a single sidebar that can be located on either the left of right side of the main content of the blog. Others might have two or more with the placement of those sidebars either together on the right or left of the content; or some will have a sidebar on either side of the content. It really boils down to the individual bloggers choice. Here on WinExtra I have gone with two separate sidebars located on the right side of the page.

Normally these sidebars seem to be used for a whole mishmash of things with widgets showing your different categories right through to silly things like what the weather is like. Recently though I began to take a second look at the content of my sidebars and what I was using them for – who was benefiting from the content in them. Then today I read a post by Chris Brogan where he as well talked about the purpose of sidebars

My sidebar then has a micro-biography, and alongside that, a contact box that shows you a few ways to reach me. I think it’s important, and putting my number on the blog was something I learned from Robert Scoble. I figured, if he’s a busy guy and can have his number up there, I’ll be okay. So far, so good.

The rest of the sidebar can be debated. I have widgets that show you who’s stopped by (MyBlogLog). I have an Utterz badge showing my most recent Utterz posts. I have the Lijit content search widget, and a few other things. Is it all vital to the blog experience? No. So maybe some day it will go.

Now aside from running ads in the sidebar; which I do because I don’t like running them within the content area and this way I feel this provides a separation of sorts between editorial content and advertising, I have begun to re-evaluate what the sidebars can be used for. Up until now they have been used to play around with different cool widgets that purport to help a blogger network and pull in new readers.

Like most bloggers I like to test out new stuff and most of the time it comes as widgets you can add to your sidebar. There comes a point though when you really have to start wondering just who these widgets are really helping. Whether it be ones from MyBlogLog to Twitter one has to question if they are really bringing you anymore visitors than not having them.

For me I have gotten to the point that if a widget doesn’t bring any additional value by way of useful information for my readers then there is no point of having the widget no matter how cool it looks. Even though we like to think that our content is the main driving force of our blogs the content of the sidebars can be equally important. We need to learn to use them not as advertising vehicle for other services who may or may not bring new readers but additional ways to share news and information with the readers we already have.

We should be using those areas to make it easier for our readers to find things on the blog easier, to find out about us easier. Granted for a lot of bloggers those areas are also used for advertising which is fine as long as we don’t make it harder in the process for our readers to learn about us. Those sidebars should be considered as a secondary means of communication between us and our readers not the playground of some-one else’s services.

So over the next little while I will be spending some time trying to bring my own sidebar areas in line with this philosophy and maybe it is something other bloggers should consider as I am sure their readers will appreciate the effort to bring them even more of the things that brought them to your blog in the first place.

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