While sidebars aren't as important as navigation, they still take careful consideration and need to be set up in a way that will be easy for your readers to use. Done right, your sidebar can draw your reader deeper into your website. Done wrong, and it could be a big turn off.
A good rule of thumb is to keep your sidebar as simple as possible and clear of clutter. It should not be a virtual junk drawer! Don't add anything and everything to it just because there's space to do so. Just like mentioned above, if your sidebar is busy and confuses the reader, they'll more than likely end up leaving your site. A confused mind can't take action. And once you have someone on your site, you want them to take action!
Not sure what to put in your sidebar? Here are some of the most common items:
- Mailing list opt-in box - collecting names and email addresses of people that visit your site can be one of the most important things you do. Utilizing the space on your sidebar, above the fold, for an opt-in box is one of the first things you should set up on a sidebar.
- Category navigation - be sure to let your readers know what they'll find on your blog. You can do this by including your blog categories (or even tags) in the sidebar.
- Recent posts - when people come to your blog, they want to see recent content you've published. Use the sidebar to display recent posts. This will allow your reader to quickly and easily see what they may not have read yet.
- Ads - be careful if you're going to include advertisements. Make sure they are relevant to what your readers are interested in and don't get carried away. Keep it to 1-2 at a time.
- Archives - use a dropdown option to include your blog archives if you like, although in a typical WordPress blog, the date archives aren’t very reader friendly.
- Bio - you've probably seen the blogs where the sidebar has a little 'about the owner' box with an image. You can do this or you can reserve this information for the about page.
- Search bar – If readers can’t find what they want in your navigation, or your category or tag structure, a search box will do the trick.
You'll more than likely be making all these side bar changes by using widgets so you'll need to make sure that during your theme selection process, you choose one that is widget ready. Also note that when you change themes, you may lose some widgets you already had in place. If you find some of them missing, check the “Inactive Widgets” section on the widget dashboard.
Sidebars are an important part of your blog makeover and it's important that you take the time to make sure they are set up in a way that is appealing to your visitors. Make content stand out by using bold, italic, different colored font, etc. If done properly, your sidebar will encourage your readers/visitors to engage with you.