5 Ways to Make Your Blog’s Sidebar Work Smarter

62 amazing comments

The sidebar is an often misunderstood part of a blog or website.

99% of the time you will see it clogged up with social media icons, affiliate ads, email subscription boxes… the list is endless.

But is your sidebar really working for you? Is it working as smart as it could be?

In this post I am going to show you five ways to make your blog’s sidebar work a lot smarter.

NOTE: You might want to take a look at a post I did on Problogger a few months ago about the web’s best sidebars. It might give you some ideas.

1. Change your sidebar regularly for SEO

It is really important that you regularly change your sidebar so that Google’s spiders find new content on pages that otherwise might not be refreshed ever again.

I first learnt this tip from Neil Patel who suggests adding a Top Commenters plugin or some automatic feature that shows new content.

As you can see I like to have random posts cycling through in my sidebar. This keeps the area fresh for blogging SEO purposes but it also relates strongly to the next point.

2. Re-work the layout to prevent blindness

Have you heard of ad blindness before? Its where people see an advert or a style of advert so much that they just stop noticing it.

Google Adsense suffers from that phenomena because it is seen on hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs every single day (Here’s a video I did on increasing Adsense CTR).

I spent a lot of my career working out how to get more ad clicks in order to sell my blog, but I never really (til recently) thought about tweaking the elements in my sidebar to prevent people from going blind. Some of the things you might try include:

  • Re-designing your opt in form
    You should be constantly tweaking and designing your opt in form for better conversions. Try new graphics, colors or no graphics and colors. Measure the results with Aweber.
  • Rotating the structure
    If you have had everything in the same position for years you might want to change things around and see if people start to notice it more.
  • Split test
    Set up split tests so that sometimes people see one thing, other times they see another. This is also a really good way to measure your results.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing this stuff at the expense of writing good content. But try it when you can.

3. Promote your content over other people’s

One of the worst things you can do in your sidebar is promote your in less important positions than your own.

The biggest offender here is affiliate ads. We all know that little 125×125 squares that promote various affiliate products. Nowadays bloggers will prioritize them over their own stuff.

Sidebar ads
An ad filled sidebar

Here’s why this is a bad idea: the more weight you give to sending people away from your site, the less chance you will have to convert them in to a long term reader. Sure, you might make $50 on an affiliate commission but that could represent hundreds of lost dollars if that person was to become a loyal reader who bought your own products down the track.

Make sure your content goes above the fold and features more prominently than other stuff.

4. Remove as much as possible

If you’ve been reading Blog Tyrant for a while you will know that I used to have a lot in my sidebar – links Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, iTunes. Popular posts and top commenters. Email subscription areas and more.

Now I have only two things: my email opt in form and some popular posts for people to read.

I know I am not really following the conventional wisdom that says you should promote your social media accounts, etc. But here’s the thing – my Facebook Page is getting just as many likes, my Twitter account is getting just as many follows and I am getting more subscribers to my email list.

I am still really unsure as to whether people actually interact with those things in the sidebar. I think it comes from other places.

Try removing everything from your sidebar except for the essentials. See what results you get and them come back here and let me know in the comments. Thanks!

5. Research your niche

Something that a lot of new bloggers don’t realize is that all niches behave differently. Sometimes something that works in the fitness niche won’t get results in the marketing niche.

Let me give you an example.

I once ran a successful blog that was aimed at older women’s issues. This blog had the exact same layout as another of my sites that was aimed at younger people (men and women). Both ran the same sidebar Adsense ads with the same colors and placement.

The result?

The site aimed at older women had a much higher click through rate. They just weren’t as experienced and web-savvy as the younger crowd and as such didn’t know that they were clicking ads.

The lesson here is that a lot of niches behave differently and you need to find out what works for yours. Visit the big blogs and websites in your topic and find out what they are doing in their sidebar. See if there are any takeaways that you can learn.

Want to get your sidebar fixed?

I’d like to hear from you if you have changed something in your sidebar and got really interesting results. I’d REALLY like to hear from you if there is something in your sidebar that is not getting any results at all. Maybe the amazing Blog Tyrant community can help turn things around?

SO, WHAT'S NEXT?

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62 Comments. Join in. *Closed after 30 days*

  • Chris @ Canadian Dad

    Thanks Tyrant, I’ve definitely been trying things out with my sidebar lately. I changed from a text ad to an image ad and have had a better click through rate but still minimal in terms of dollars and cents.

    I had the Recent Comments section there but looking at your example, I think I’m going to go with Recent Posts instead. I’m also thinking of removing the Archive section as I’m so new it hardly matters.

    My Aweber opt-in form is crappy because I’m having trouble figuring it out. It’ll get there eventually. I have an idea for my opt in freebie to be a kids coloring book, featuring monsters my kid drew with Paint on the comp, then I’ll revamp the opt-in form.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling, great post as usual!


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks Chris. Nice to see you around here as a regular.


      1. Chris @ Canadian Dad

        I wouldn’t have started a blog had I not stumbled on to your site so I’ll be here for the long haul. I can’t necessarily use all the advice but there’s always something I pick up from the posts.

        The taller task for me is going through all the older posts for info, I only have so many hours in the day, LOL.

        Let me know when you do the “How to run a YouTube channel” post, that’s up next for me.


  • Evan

    Hey BT,

    Interested to see how your minimalist sidebar approach pans out. I tried to take mine to the chopping block a little bit ago, but had a hard time doing a massive cut like you.

    One of the changes I did make that has surprised me, however, was in moving an ad. I took a direct sales ad square from the top right of the sidebar above the fold and moved it to somewhere in the middle of the page as I wanted to focus more on promoting my own list, posts, freebies, etc.

    I thought for sure the click-through rate would go down and the advertiser would jump ship. But it stayed consistent. It’s actually gone up since then as my pageviews have gone up and I was able to raise the price of the ad on the same advertiser.

    Shows that a well-targeted ad will do well anywhere, I suppose.

    Liked this post Tyrant and am always happy to see one of your emails pop up in my inbox! Good job!


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks Even.

      Interesting report on the ad square. I like it.

      Cutting back was hard but think it is working well.

      I also turned off my pop up advert.


      1. Rachelle

        How’s that working for you?


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          Not getting as many subscribers but feel better about perhaps having more interested subscribers.

          Proof will be in the product.


          1. Evan

            Yeah I make sure to send about three autoresponders within the first week of my newsletter. It weeds out a majority of those who just wanted the freebie as they unsubscribe. I’d say 80% of my unsubscribes come from those first three emails, then after that the response is much better.


  • Lisa | Renovating Italy

    Hi BT, since first finding you I loved the simplicity of your site. Many sites aimed at women are chock full of frills many hard to read. I knew I wanted simplicity, yet I know there are things I could adjust to improve. I hadn’t thought of moving things around and having something that changes constantly. If you have a chance I’d love to hear your thoughts.
    ciao lisa


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      I remember your site already being pretty simple. I’ll head over after dinner and have a look.


      1. Lisa | Renovating Italy

        Thanks, I moved the “recent comments” from the footer to the sidebar and will have a look at what else I can do.ciao lisa


  • Kris @ myhealthyweightlossjourney.com

    Fantastic…exactly the kind of info I was looking for!


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks!


  • Marcus

    I remember when I was re-designing my travel blog, one of the first things I did was to make the archives easier to navigate.

    The default was the date-based archives, which were inconvenient. Is my Paris post in April or May? You get the problem.

    As a result, I created new archives, where my posts were organized by country and region. This made it much easier for readers to dive into my older posts and browse around. I could also find a specific story more quickly, if I wanted to share it with someone.

    I remember the early days, when I was excited about adding all kinds of widgets to the sidebar. I’ve since cut back a lot.

    One thing I’d experiment with is displaying specific widgets on certain pages. For example, it might be useful to have your social profiles on your “About” page, because users who click there are more interested and maybe more likely to want to connect. Or the “Contact” page might be a better fit, if you’d rather people message you on Facebook or Twitter to cut down on the overflow to your inbox.

    For individual posts, you could consider putting a little “About Me” box, like Pat Flynn does at Smart Passive Income. My impression is it’s not always websites that go viral–it’s individual posts or articles. So people who land on one of your popular articles won’t necessarily know who you are. Providing some background info on you would help.

    For WordPress, plugins like “Widget Logic” or “Widget Context” enable you to configure your sidebar for different pages.

    I like the idea of a minimalist sidebar. You want your users to focus on your content, not the distractions.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Pat’s intro area is something I’ll be doing when I put my photo up. Neil Patel does that really well too.

      Great comment as always bro!


  • zimbrul

    I was thinking about point 4 some time ago and I think, after I read this post to follow the advice.
    To be honest I like to read BT not just for advice it gives but it’s visually pleasant and the typography is just fine


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      The typography is very easy to do but not many people try it because the font is so large.

      Its 16px Georgia with a 1.5 line height.

      Perfect!


  • Clive Roach

    Really good advice!


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks Clive.


  • zimbrul

    I remember when first came across BT I was looking to see what more stuff do you have and as I couldn’t see much on the sidebar I was looking into your content. So, from my point of view the clean layout made me not overwhelmed but curious to see where the “stuff” was. It could be just me but when I open a blog and see all those affiliate links and stuff I have sometimes the feeling to “get out of there”…not all the times but most of the times


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      I totally agree Zimbrul.


  • Jane

    Hi BT I’m really interested in this post – sidebar blindness is something I fear. Would you mind running your eye over mine to see if there’s anything you could suggest I should ditch? Many thanks Jane


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Jane if I was you I would get rid of a good 80% of that. You have wonderful content and the sidebar distracts from that. Perhaps it could be time to get rid of those links to other blogs?


      1. Chris

        BT, I just looked at it as well…
        Place subscription info at the top, drop the images of friends, the stats (flags and stuff), the clock, and the disclaimer. Place the disclaimer in the footer if you really think you need it.

        Think of it this way…what do I want to show my visitors that will keep them interacting on MY site?


      2. Lisa | Renovating Italy

        so if you are putting a “links” info page in where would you put it and how much prominence would you give it? I have been putting this off for some time remembering advice not to put them on your home page. ciao lisa


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          I don’t really like them at all.


  • Chris

    I think I’m one of the few people with a stream-lined sidebar. The only addition I’ll be making is at the end of the month with a 300×250 ad box for my flagship product. (Just woke up so it’s too early to be grammatically correct).

    I should change up my newsletter text on regular occasion.

    One tip for bloggers, and you might have mentioned it and I missed it, look at your site theme and see if it support different sidebar items for different pages. For example, the wordpress theme I use allows me to have different sidebar items on my article pages compared to my home page. While I haven’t taken advantage of that aspect yet, it’s something people with huge sidebars should consider. For example, a huge percentage of people come to a site via searching for a topic and thus land on an article (post) page. Therefore, ask yourself the question, “what should they see versus someone who lands on the home page.

    Food for thought


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Good idea Chris. I like it.

      Be careful with making your own ad appear too much like an ad. I did that on a big site of mine once (5,000+ visitors per day) and got almost no response until I changed it to a plain text version. People said they didn’t realize it was mine.


      1. chris

        Great tip!


  • Glynis

    These are excellent tips. Right now I have my blog at WP so there aren’t any ads anyway. However, your post has me rethinking the Category and Archives sections of my sideboard.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Good luck Glynis.


  • Bella Q

    Great post! I’ve gotten some feedback about having too busy of a sidebar, and I agreed but didn’t what to do about it. This post moves me to do something, and fast. Thanks.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Glad it helped Bella. Let us know how you go.


  • Joi

    Great tips! I’d never thought about the effects your sidebar can have on seo. I love the cleanness of your website and now I’m wondering if I should change to a two column layout instead of three.

    With so many visitors using ipods, ipads, etc simplicity matters more than ever.

    Thanks for always having fresh, relevant, and highly useful content. Now I’m off to have a heart to heart with my cluttered sidebars…


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Good luck Joi!


  • Steve @ Canadian Personal Finance

    On the websites I run, I use a combination. Tabs seems to work very well but I honestly think if your pages have a lot of content it is important to share your best content on the side (related posts).

    Recent Comments doesn’t seem to work in my niche.

    Thanks.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks for the tip Steve.


  • Lisa Angelettie

    Hey BT,
    I’m going through sidebar detox as we speak! It’s hard, but I’m starting to see your point about the social media widgets, etc. They slow your blog down and I’m not sure if I’m getting likes and fans from them or from people simply on those social media sites already. I like the sidebar SEO tip – I never really thought about it but it makes perfect sense. Let us know how letting go of the pop up went. I get a lot more optins with it, but still am measuring the quality of them.
    Lisa


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      That is what I am testing, the quality. Very hard though.


  • Jamie

    Really great thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think of my sidebar, honestly. I have been wondering if it is too cluttered, but it’s doing what I want it to do (get subscribers & drive traffic to main posts) but I realize I’m also doing about 10 things with it. 😉

    Any suggestions as to what to keep and what to ditch would be awesome, thanks!


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Jamie if it is working for you then don’t change it. Maybe a more detailed reason as to why people should subscribe could help?


  • Ari Herzog @ New Media Explorer

    Speaking of the opt-in form (for whatever reason one has them), can you suggest galleries of forms and html codes for them? I’m great in web development but suck as a web designer which is why my rss form is so simple.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Ari I think Aweber is the best place to start as they have an inbuilt designer.


  • Chadwin@ abovethecrease.com

    Changing the sidebar regularly for seo purposes is such a simple tip, it boggles my mind why i haven’t thought of it before. Thanks for the tip BT.

    Digital Marketing is similar to regular marketing in that your image plays a huge role in your success. That being said you blog does seem abit more inviting than most blogs in our niche. I remember when your sidebar was full.

    I do appreciate that you don’t only preach your tips but you practice it also, its a sign to me that your tips are worth implementing.

    I shall be trying them on some of my blogs soon. Not sure if im brave enough to drop the social network liks just yet lol


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Thanks for the kind words Chadwin.


  • Jon Cassidy

    I agree with you on this my sidebar doesn’t have much in it. I have the tags and popular posts in a tabbed setup. where did you get the share buttons at the bottom of the post?


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Hi Jon.

      Those are from Sharethis.com


  • mike

    Thanks Tyrant!! I like clean straight lines… I try to streamline as much as possible and thought my site and blog was pretty clean… I’m nodding my head as I’m reading your blog saying you go… Then I just go to my site, and then my blog and go DAMN! Not as clean on the right hand site as I thought. Amazing what we don’t see when we’re looking at something everyday…


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Good work Mike! Glad it helped.


  • Silkstream

    I like the cleaned up approach too. Nothing makes me hit the back button quicker than masses of above the fold ads or a twenty second page load time! What are your thoughts on keeping blog archives in the left-hand sidebar?


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      I’ve read in a few places that people don’t use them so much. People are more likely to interact with a related posts style function. I don’t even have categories anymore.


      1. Silkstream

        I was considering if maybe it would be worth keeping just 1 years archives in sidebar. My theory being that after 1 year, unless its a “buzzing” post with lots of incoming worthwhile comments, then the content will not be fresh enough to hold much value anyway.
        Also im actually starting to promote our blog online via categories, but then i think this is essential to seperate the niches in our field, and bring the right traffic to the right places.


  • chris

    I hate sidebar archives by date!

    For the writer, they mean something – easy reference to older material.

    To the reader, they mean nothing. I don’t even click archives that look like
    March
    April
    May…

    The reason is that when I’m clicking elsewhere on a new site, then I’m looking for information on a specific topic. Give me categories! Please, oh please, don’t give my months and years.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Agreed. Its too cryptic.


  • Chadwin@ abovethecrease.com

    Hey this is off topic but not sure where to ask it as i see you no longer reply via email. How do you add “get free updates” at the end of your post, also how do you get your comments to display at the end of you post if its not standard in you theme? Thanks BT


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      For both of those you will need to work with the style sheet and php files of your theme. You might be best hiring someone to do it for you. I could probably do it for $60.


  • Dave Starr

    Some excellent advice here. One thing I would like to amplify a little bit, or perhaps point out an alternative view..

    … The site aimed at older women had a much higher click through rate. They just weren’t as experienced and web-savvy as the younger crowd and as such didn’t know that they were clicking ads…

    While your analysis for the increased click-through rates by older readers certainly has some validity, I sense here an issue which I feel holds back many younger bloggers and marketers.

    Anyone ever consider the fact that older readers, especially senior citizens, might be clicking on ads because they want to learn more, have more time to read and explore and (most important to many of you reading this) have more disposable income than the archetypal 20 or 30-something reader?

    I know it’s true in my case (I’m 66yo), I have been an AdSense publisher for going on 7 years now. I certainly know an ad from other content, but I often click on an ad because I want to know more about a company’s product or even to find out how they are “pitching” it. Or, strange as it may seem, I might actually want to buy something?

    A friend recently shared something with me. He runs a site dedicated mainly to selecting nursing homes and long term care facilities. Most of his revenue comes from CPA lead gathering for prospective residents/clients or folks looking for places for their aging parents

    I was blown away to find out he’s got annual revenues in the $10 million dollar range. I’m nowhere near that range … yet … but I can assure you the money is there.

    About 90% of the bloggers I read and often their blogs and niche sites they may own always seem aimed at younger people. Nothing wrong with that.

    But there are about 100,000 new “Baby Boomers” per month in the USA reaching retirement age … to me, that seems a huge market to just dismiss as so “unsophisticated” as to not know an ad from other editorial copy.

    Or so this old man opines.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Dave you are totally right.

      How does your friend monetize that site? Its an interesting one.

      The population is aging so there are a lot of opportunities out there.


      1. Dave Starr

        All I currently know about his income. BT is what I said in my original comment:

        Most of his revenue comes from CPA lead gathering for prospective residents/clients or folks looking for places for their aging parents

        Lead generation is a really huge market that many of us seem to overlook. But if you look at the insurance industry … and Google’s $37 millions in revenue, the largest segment of all is insurance.

        This coming week I’m going to find out a lot more about that supposed 10 million in revenue, I can assure you of that 😉


        1. Dave Starr

          Billions, not Millions, sorry ’bout that.


          1. the Blog Tyrant

            No worries.


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