As a blog consultant I do a lot of critiquing. You can see some of the public critiques here. Surprisingly, some of the most common mistakes happen in the sidebar.
I think the reason is when people are in “blogging mode” they focus on content, content, content. Yes, the posts are vitally important, but as readers we have become accustomed to looking in the sidebar for certain items. When they are not there, well, we feel lost.
Here are the five items your sidebar has to feature prominently, in priority order:
- RSS Feed Link – Where do you look for the feed link when you see a new blog? Where is your blog feed link? Yes, as an additional location have the feed link under each post, but you absolutely have to have it in your sidebar, above the fold. Bonus points for doubling up both a text link and the traditional RSS graphic button.
- Email subscription option – At least half my subscribers sign up via email. Putting an email form, or at least a link, could well boost your subscriber count by a large percentage.
- Flagship Content – To get a flavor for what a blog is about we will look to see what there is to read. You need flagship content, cornerstone, ever green or whatever you want to call it. Put your best stuff, or popular links, right in the sidebar with a title that lets readers know what they are.
- About snippet – When I read a new blog I want to know what the blog is about, who it is by and why I should care. I particularly like when I can put a face to the name. Link through to your full about page.
- Categories – Yes, I have put categories last, but they are important if done correctly. Best to use category names that beg to be clicked, mean something to the reader and even better also contain some searchable phrase. Consider how many categories called “misc” or “other” you see!
It could be you do have some of these things in your top navigation, which is great if they are prominent, I would just argue the sidebar is where you expect to find them. Just don’t hide them in your footer.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments …