Sidebars, when not managed well are mere distractions.
I’ve seen a lot of blogs with sidebars that make me cringe. They can be too distracting, filled with unnecessary widgets, and have no proper alignment.
With a wave of a magic wand and…. Evanesco! I would make them disappear completely.
Some bloggers do away with sidebars altogether just to create a clutter-free look. Just think about it, your content takes center stage and you can post HUGE photos. It actually makes more sense in this mobile world. More and more people are reading blogs and articles through their smartphones, where your sidebars get pushed to the bottom of the post anyway.
However, I do realize that a lot of bloggers need the space for ads so they can earn money from their blog, and the sidebar is still the best place for it. You have to curate your sidebar widgets in the same way that you edit your posts. Here are 8 tips to make your sidebar beautiful, interesting, and organized.
What is the width of your sidebar? How wide is it in proportion to your content? Make it wide enough to fit your ads (most ad images are 300px wide), but not too wide that it competes for attention with your blog posts. Make sure margins are generous. Sidebars contain lots of information, having a lot of white space makes it less overwhelming.
Arrange your widgets so that similar items are grouped together. Put the most important widgets at the top (about me, social media, search and navigation, newsletter opt-in form). Ask yourself, “what do I want my readers to do first?”
One of my pet peeves is a never-ending sidebar. Do you really need to show your list of favourite sites? Why would you want people to move away from your blog? Remove anything unnecessary. That stat counter and visitor tracker is useful only to you. Get rid of them.
Blog awards and network buttons may make you feel great, but unless they were given by a big name company, you should place them in your About Me page instead. The same goes for “As Featured In” badges – if you have more than 3, it should go to a separate page instead of your sidebar.
Archives and Categories help your readers navigate your site, but if you’ve been blogging for a long time, the list can be quite long. Use the dropdown option instead.
You need good sidebar headers so that it looks organized, and readers can easily find what they need. Use a good-sized font that is easy to read. Experiment with making the titles all caps, centered, bigger, whatever makes them stand out. Try them out and see what works.
5. About You.
Yes, you. At the very top of your sidebar should be a good photograph of you with a short description of who you are and what your blog is about. You can style the image if you like, with frames and embellishments, but make sure your face is clear and the photograph is of good quality. Readers want to see the face behind the blog.
Quick design tip: have a portrait taken of you wearing clothes that match your blog’s colour palette. Ask a photographer friend to take it if you don’t have the budget for a pro.
One of the biggest culprits to messy sidebars – ads! Sometimes there are way too many ads; or ads in different sizes and different alignments, or my pet peeve – several animated ads. I really get turned off as a reader if a blog has a ton of ads because it tells me that the blogger is more interested in making money than delivering great content. Your blog will look spammy. Remember that too many images can also affect loading time (especially if the ads are animated, ugh!). Try to get the ads to be in the same size. If it’s not possible, then center align all of them.
7. Social Media.
It would be great to have coordinating social media buttons that match your theme. Place them right below your About Me widget for easy access. Don’t bury them way down. You want people to follow you so they can come back for more awesome content. (You can create a nice set for yourself using the Genesis Simple Social Icons).
You might also want to include live feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, if those are important to you. Social media is a great way for your readers to interact with you in real time. Make the most of it, but don’t let it overwhelm your actual blog posts.
Use only two fonts on your sidebar: one for headers, one for text.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and will put these to good use. Which one are you struggling with? What other improvements do you need to make to take your sidebar from frump to fab?