I bet if you ask any anyone in America, “Where is your junk drawer?” almost everyone would smile and tell you exactly where it is. Junk drawers are for the knick-knacks that don’t have a home. Over time, these drawers get so full that they became an eyesore.
Tell me something -
Is your sidebar your blog’s junk drawer?
The De-Evolution of the Sidebar
Originally blog sidebars held all the “cool” blog add-ons. They had blogrolls, an rss button, admin links, and maybe recent posts.
Then Google Adsense came along and pimped out everyone’s blog to the highest bidder. Sidebars became the red-light district of the blogosphere hawking obscene, garish, and sometimes inappropriate goods via text ads.
Soon Twitter, Facebook, and Email opt-in forms began playing king of the hill. Soon bloggers were wrestling with decisions like “what is my #1 call to action”. A truce was called a year or so ago as each social network sported fancy icons that could be neatly stacked in a row.
Today’s sidebars resemble strip malls under absentee management.
If your sidebar looks like that strip mall then its time for you to do a little remodeling.
Your Sidebar's Real Purpose
Top blogs are stingy with sidebar real estate. They only install a widget if they can -
Build Reader Relationships
Readers are precious. Your goal is to build a connection to each one. Personally, I hate to see a single reader leave without giving me permission to talk with them. This permission varies. Email subscriptions are pure gold. RSS sign-ups also get the job done. The goal is to find a way to talk to your audience in something other than 300 word blog posts.
A well thought out blog is an amusement park for your ideal reader. Your reader should be infatuated with your content and curious to peek around every corner of your blog. Your sidebar should house tantalizing teasers promising incredible content. Do the job right and you’ll see the result in increased page-views and time-on-site metrics.
Grow Social Outposts
I believe Chris Brogan popularized thinking of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube as outposts. I agree with his metaphor. Once your posts have hooked your readers, your sidebar should offer multiple ways to stay in touch with you.
The challenge, however, isn’t appreciating your sidebar’s worth, it’s making sure you don’t dump every shiny social object you can find in it! I’ve come across sidebar junk drawer so often that I’ve created the PowerBar.
The PowerBar - The Professional Blogger’s Sidebar
The PowerBar is a lean reader engagement machine. The PowerBar is a strict diet that ruthlessly prunes your sidebar to its bare essence. It takes the priorities we just discussed and permits only the following:
Every blogger needs to build their email list. The first position on your sidebar should house an eye-catching email opt-in form. Spend time brainstorming headlines that attract attention to your email opt-in offer. A simple “Sign Up for Updates” won’t cut it. Tell your audience what they’ll get and why giving up their email address is worth their time.
By the way, I’ve cheated here on Pushing Social. The Generate Theme from Studiopress let’s me create a huge email opt-in at the top of my blog. This frees up space on my sidebar. I still use the top position for RSS sign-ups though.
An Expert Product Box
An Expert Product packages your expertise into a portable piece of content. This can be an ebook, special report, service, or product. Your Expert Product should help persuade readers to exchange their email for value content.
I’m not a fan of the social icon buffet used by many bloggers. Social icons aren’t meant to be sidebar "bling bling." Select one or two outposts you want to build and use the best option for building your community. Focus your attention on giving your readers excellent reasons to follow selected outpost.
Popular or Random Posts
Instead of a Popular Post widget, give the Random Post widget a try. The random widget will introduce readers to a wider variety of posts. Popular posts are self-perpetuating - the popular posts get shown, they get read, they remain popular. I changed to random posts and have seen old posts take on new life.
That’s it. Everything else probably requires your reader to scroll to see it. This is below the fold and it’s a dead zone. Sticking with the PowerBar decreases distractions and focuses readers on the most important items in your sidebar.
Sidebar ads are tricky. For many blogs, sidebar ads are hail-mary attempts to make a little cash. They often are poorly placed and advertise trinkets and trash that confuse the reader. I'm a believer in monetizing your blog but I hate when it's done badly. Before you stick an ad in your sidebar ask yourself if you will truly make enough money to justify the ad. If yes, then investigate options that won't clutter up your bar.
Ready for a Sidebar Makeover?
Now is a good time to do a little early spring cleaning on your sidebar. It's easy to ignore the "junk drawer" while you hammer out posts but time now will pay dividends in the future. And, if you think your entire blog needs a once over ping me here