Essential Sidebar Information

One of the biggest mistakes new bloggers make is that they add too much clutter to their blogs design. The sidebar is usually the place where a lot of this clutter is put, the area where the blogger adds banners, widgets and anything else which they feel has to be placed somewhere on their blog. It’s not uncommon to see a new blog list several banners for top ten lists on their sidebar or many widgets which display random information about their site (eg. page rank, Alexa score etc).

So what information is essential to your sidebar?

Every blog is different so what I believe is essential for one type of blog might not be essential for another. It really depends on the design of your blog and how you present certain information to your readers. However, I do think that some things shouldn’t be placed on the sidebar as they are simply not that important. The sidebar is one of the most viewed areas of a blog and in most cases is displayed on every page of your site, so it’s important to present relevant content there.

Here is what I consider to be essential sidebar information for most blogs :

  • RSS Subscription Area – You don’t want readers to have to search high and low for details on how to subscribe to your blog therefore it’s important to put your RSS subscription box in a prominent position.
  • Recent Posts – A recent posts box is essential in my opinion as it displays the latest posts you have written on all pages of your blog, whioh is probably of interest to most people reading your blog. If you display the latest posts on your home page then the recent posts box is not needed there so it might be worth using an if statement to display the latest posts in the sidebar on every page but the home page.
  • Categories – The majority of bloggers split their posts into categories so that readers can find posts from a specific topic easily. If you don’t have too many categories (say, less than 10) then I think that category list should be placed in the sidebar. If you have a lot of categories then a drop down category selection box might be more appropriate.
  • Search Box – In the BloggingTips design the search box is at the top of the page just above the sidebar however in most designs I think near the top of the sidebar is the best place to put it. The more posts you have, the more readers will use your search box so it should be placed in a prominent area which can be easily found.

There are many things which are commonly displayed on sidebars which I don’t believe to be essential. Advertisements are something which I think lie in a grey area. I don’t think that they can be classified as essential or non-essential, it really depends on the design of the blog and the importance that the blogger places on having the ads on his blog.

Here is what I consider to be non-essential sidebar information for most blogs :

  • Archives – The longer you blog, the more months you have in your archives section so over time the list can get quite long. Because of this, I believe that a dedicated archives page is much better than listing every month in your sidebar. The archive page can then be linked to in your main menu or your sidebar.
  • Top Commentators – The top commenters list is popular with many bloggers though it cannot be considered essential as it does not help the average reader in any way. It doesn’t help the reader find the content they are looking for, it is simply a way of rewarding regular commenters, therefore I don’t think it can be considered essential.
  • Recent Comments – Another list which is popular. A nice feature but cannot be considered essential.
  • Blogroll – Whether this is essential to a blogs sidebar is debatable. It really depends on the type of blog and how important you feel the blogroll is. Personal blogs for example may place more importance on the blogroll. There are many plugins and mods now available which let you display our blogroll on a dedicated page so this can be considered as an alternative to displaying the links on your sidebar.
  • Random Banners/images – Many blog networks (for example 9Rules) request members to add an image to your sidebar. Top sites and social voting sites like FuelMyBlog also encourage you to add their button to your sidebar to increase your rank. 1 or 2 of these buttons are ok but several can start to your make your sidebar very cluttered therefore you should consider placing them somewhere else.

Information which may not be suitable for your sidebar may be suitable for other areas of your site, for example the footer of your blog design. At BloggingTips I use a muti domtab on my side where recent posts is given priority but categories, archives and recent comments can also be selected. Even though I don’t consider Archives or Recent Comments essential, the domtab is a great way of including these without cluttering up the sidebar.

Put simply I believe that the sidebar should have the most relevant information to your blog and should help the reader help find the content they are looking for. Less important information can be displayed too but should be displayed in other areas of your blog.

What do you consider to be essential sidebar information?

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8 Comments

  1. Sly from Slyvisions August 19, 2008
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  7. Stacy August 22, 2008
  8. Chris August 24, 2008