BTXP 002: 5 Big Experiments for a Successful Sidebar

57 amazing comments

sidebar

Does your sidebar actually help your blog?

Does it lead to more sign ups, page views and sales?

Not always.

In fact, some of the sidebars I look at are actually doing a lot of harm because they aren’t using a deliberate strategy, the right plugins and are making some very basic design mistakes.

What a waste of some very valuable real estate.

Click here to listen and subscribe on iTunes or you can right click and select save target as to download to your computer.

My experiments in developing a successful sidebar

Today I’m sharing five experiments that I think every blogger should do if they want to maximise the valuable real estate that is the sidebar.

I’m going to cover:

  • How responsive design is ruining sidebars (and how to perfect mobile)
  • Why above the fold might not matter anymore
  • Two plugins that everyone needs
  • How to “move” your sidebar for mobiles
  • How to develop a tested sidebar strategy

Each podcast is based around different experiments that I’ve done so everything will be done in the context of five important tests that you can do yourself.

Mentioned in this episode:

Please note that the first two links are affiliate links which means I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decide to purchase one of those products.

How is your sidebar?

How much thought do you give to your sidebar? Have you ever found anything that works really, really well? I’d be super-interested to hear about it so please leave me a comment and let me know.

SO, WHAT'S NEXT?

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

  • chris

    Looking forward to listening to this! Over the years, my sidebar has shrunk in size. Right now, it has five elements; subscriber box, flagship product avert, as mentioned in, most popular articles, and a link to a free online guide I offer. I’ve been thinking about experimenting with changes and your post is just the kick in the pants I needed to get started.

    QUESTION. Via Clicky, I see that people are clicking on the brand logos I have in my “as mentioned in” section. When I see these type of “as seen in” sections in other web sites, they don’t hot link the logos. What are your thoughts on this?


    1. Ramsay

      Yeah I don’t link the logos on my site. I wouldn’t worry about it too much personally. People will hopefully get it after it doesn’t click off to anywhere.


      1. Erik

        Chris, you could make a page about the places you’ve been mentioned in, with quotations and all, and then link all the logo’s to that page. Ofcourse linking to the outlets themselves means visitors leaving your site.

        Great episode, Ramsay! Gave me some great tips to get started with my own sidebar.


  • Rachelle

    My sidebar is sooo awful, it was bad before but even worse now after I broke it. Thanks for your help.


    1. Ramsay

      Let me know how it goes!


      1. Rachelle

        Sidebar is not fixed but I went and did your review. Priorities.


  • Elena

    Urgh…I wish it were a post ;). Not that I do not like your voice, but I prefer reading.

    When I was redesigning my site, colors were important to me, the layout, of course is important for me too.

    I have opt in forms on the landing page, in the side bar and under each post. Ever since I did that, my conversion rate multiplied many times over. I am testing things out with verbiage to see what people respond to best.

    When it comes to sidebar, the most important things go to the top. So, while mailing list is important to me, if I run a sale, that goes to the very top; or if I open enrollment into my monthly program, that goes there.

    I run ads in my sidebar, which make me decent money too. I used to be a purist–only my things and very few things in the sidebar; then I added adds…opt-ins did not decrease, but I made an extra few thousand dollars. So, I cannot complain about lightly cluttering my sidebar:).

    I think what determines what goes in the sidebar should be based on your goals. If keeping people on your site is your only goal, don’t ad adds; if you want to make some extra $$$, there is not a problem with running ads, if you still convert otherwise.

    It is interesting that I have seen very successful blogs with both, very minimal, few things in the sidebar, and blogs that are very popular that have a lot of clutter there.

    Thanks for talking about the Scroll Trigger Box. I was wondering what you were using. I have been wanting to add one to my site for a while now. I too hate popups, but this seems like a better option.

    This was a great podcast. Thanks!


    1. Ramsay

      Awesome comment! Sorry about the podcast vs post issue – I’m still trying to balance out what goes on what.


      1. Elena

        I like both options. When I do podcast posts, I provide transcripts. I learned that there were quiet a few hearing impaired people in my audience, so, that became a necessity.


        1. Ramsay

          Yeah I’m onto it. Very slowly!


          1. Fiona

            I much prefer posts too, I rarely put the sound on on my computer and don’t listen to podcasts. Perhaps if you don’t have time for a full transcript a brief summary or the most important things you covered in the podcast would work?

            But I do enjoy all your written posts so will keep an eye out for more of them and give the podcasts a miss.


  • Diana Marinova

    Hi, Ramsey – do you plan adding the transcript of the podcast or better yet, a recap in a blog post form? I doubt that i will ever listen to the podcast… i am like that – hate listening, love reading blog posts and skimming where needed.

    Please, plase, pretty please – add a written recap – i would love to see your input on blog post sidebars as this is something i have developed a strategy for my blog but yet, to get started with it and testing… i believe having different sidebars on different pages and posts will pay off well πŸ˜€


    1. Ramsay

      Yeah seems like a transcript is necessary for a lot of people. I’ll get on to it. Maybe I should trade transcripts for positive iTunes reviews? Ha ha.


  • Lee Trends

    Quality second edition Ramsay.

    Always learning something new from your posts. Didn’t think about responsive design and your sign up form missing when viewed mobile. The Hello Bar hack for it sounds like a perfect play.


    1. Ramsay

      Glad you’re enjoying them man! Thanks for the feedback.


  • liz@lifedreaming

    I loved this Ramsay.

    On another post you did ages ago I totally redesigned my opt box as a result of reading it. I also decluttered my side panel and now there’s just the opt in, recent posts and categories.

    When anyone lands on my home page there is no sidebar and that’s deliberate as I want to showcase the whole of Life Dreaming and not just posts – I did design a horizontal opt in bar that people can see within the home page.

    I will take a look at the scroll trigger box opt in as a way to both encourage more opt ins and promote my products and services

    Loving the podcasts Ramsay

    Have a great weekend

    Liz


    1. Ramsay

      Let me know how you find the STB. I love it.


  • chris

    I’ve installed Hello Bar…is this completely free now? I was looking for the “pro” version they used to offer and I don’t see options anywhere.


    1. Ramsay

      Yeah they still have the pro version if you were using it but I don’t think you can sign up for one without their “H” anymore. It’s a bit annoying.


  • Beth Anderson

    Fabulous podcast! I listened several times and took notes. I’ve got to download the scroll triggered and get started with that today. I love to listen and work on my blog at the same time. Very helpful!


    1. Ramsay

      This is awesome! Exactly what I was hoping for. If you get a chance I’d love a review on iTunes.


  • RICE

    This podcast is my new favorite way to start the morning.

    I couldn’t agree with you more: people really need to up their sidebar game — especially over at Blogger (what’s up with that anyway?).

    I’ve been writing a post that touches on the subject of the messy sidebar and how to fix it, so I’ll be sure to link to this episode.


    1. Ramsay

      The only question is: have you left me a good review on iTunes? Ha ha. Glad you’re enjoying it mate. Thanks for Tweeting.


      1. RICE

        Done : )


  • grahame

    Hi Ramsay

    I don’t run my website using WordPress so cannot use the plugins you suggest. Can you advise any other format as I run my site with Site Build it. Thanks for all your posts as I really learn a lot from you as well as what other bloggers have to say.


    1. Ramsay

      Hi Grahame. I’m really sorry but most of these can only be done with WordPress as the plugins are specific to that software. You might be able to have one custom built for your site though.


  • Tom Leonard

    Ramsay: This is great information! Thanks for posting. I was listening and stopping to go download and install what you were talking about. I will definitely be sharing this with others.


    1. Ramsay

      Thanks so much Tom!


  • Trudy

    Hey Ramsay,
    I haven’t been a huge fan of podcasts and have noticed a lot of my favourite blogs are now posting them. You chatting to me over my Saturday morning coffee about affiliate marketing and then sidebars has just converted me to your podcasts. Love your work.
    From a fellow Aussie and long time reader.


    1. Ramsay

      That is so awesome! Thanks for that feedback. Makes it all worthwhile.


  • Elle

    Is there a transcript for the deaf and hearing impaired?

    There are lots of us you know.


    1. Ramsay

      Hi Elle.

      Yes, I’m absolutely going to be doing that soon. It’s just a bit of a fumbling and clumsy process getting the podcast itself all set up that I haven’t been able to find someone to transcribe it in time.

      Thanks for your patience.


  • Naomi Goodlet

    Thanks for this!
    My sidebar is a shambles but I sort of like the color and vibe that it has going on! I’m going to try out the plugins that you suggested. xx


    1. Ramsay

      Please let me know how they go!


  • Michael Gorman

    Design is such a critical topic – the temptation to populate your sidebar with ‘stuff is strong, you are so right Ramsay. I found I was cluttering a few of my sites, but simplicity is the essence! Keeping the message linear is so important – thanks for the ‘Hello Bar’ tip. I can always count on you to provide really useful information.
    Cheers


    1. Ramsay

      Thanks Michael. Hope it goes well for you.


  • Qiqi

    Hi thank you very much! This was really helpful – especially the scroll triggered plugin, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for quite some time! I do agree that the sticky widget thing is quite annoying, I personally never liked that. Neither pop-up opt-in forms, too invasive. Oh and I do agree that having a transcript would be great. If this topic weren’t something I am very interested in, I wouldn’t have tuned in. Reading would be so much faster. I already have too many podcast lists that I listen to while commuting, I can’t ever catch up it seems. Still sooo much to learn, you’ve been providing lots of wonderful info, thanks so much!


    1. Ramsay

      Thanks so much. Promise I’ll get the transcripts happening.


  • Alexandra

    Great post Ramsay…

    I’ve implemented the Hello Bar and I’m going to revise my option form in the sidebar to make it more attractive…

    BTW, do you live in Adelaide?

    cheers
    Alexandra


    1. Ramsay

      I do. What makes you ask?


      1. Alexandra

        I’m in Adelaide too. One of your posts had a little map showing the location of Hoyts Cinema in Norwood, and it made me wonder.

        It’s awesome that our pretty little city has our very own blogging star! πŸ™‚

        I loved the podcast. It was concise and straight to the point – not too long but had useful and workable advice.

        Great stuff!

        Cheers
        A


        1. Ramsay

          Adelaide is awesome! Missing the Fringe and the summer though.

          Thanks so much for the feedback!


  • Troy

    I was in the middle of a no-progress lull… and having listened to your podcast about sidebars got me thinking simply again.. time to make more progress! Thanks. πŸ™‚


    1. Ramsay

      Troy that makes me really happy. I’ve been there. Know the feeling.


  • lisa | renovating italy

    Hey Ramsey,

    total novice question, I’ve installed hello bar (great clear instructions fabulous) but if I have mailchimp don’t I have to include that somehow? If people sign up through the hello bar what happens then if my subscriptions are managed with mail chimp.

    just worried I”m going to muck things up but having a go anyway.
    ciao lisa


    1. Ramsay

      You have to link them from your HelloBar account settings. Or you can send people to a landing page.


  • Christopher Soule

    This was a great episode Ramsay! You shared a lot of amazing things about sidebars. I can’t wait to start trying out some of these experiments on my own site. Having an effective sidebar is a must and I want to do all that I can to get the most out of mine. Thanks for the valuable info!


    1. Ramsay

      Thanks so much for the feedback Christopher. Really appreciate it.


  • Robin Hallett

    Woo hoo Ramsay,

    Loved listening to this one, on my computer while making some adjustments to my sidebar πŸ™‚ I have always avoided the hellobar, but I will let you know what happens…next stop, itunes review.

    I am not going to mention the T word, but know that you can pay $1 per minute for someone to type your words πŸ˜‰

    Hugs, love, and high fives!

    Robin


    1. Ramsay

      Thanks Robin. Promise I’ll get them happening soon!


      1. Robin Hallett

        Hi Ramsay,
        Thought I’d update you on the hello bar installation, I use the Wp mobile theme plugin (which is awesome) but once I installed the Hello Bar, I found that it actually blocked half off the navigation menu on mobile devices…


  • Dave

    Great podcast! Took a bunch of notes on what I’m going to fix on my sidebar in the next couple days. It can easily get cluttered and you don’t really realize it.


    1. Ramsay

      Yep, I agree Dave. Glad you liked it.


  • Trudy

    Hi Ramsay, back again (hopefully with a gravatar pic)
    Hello bar, installed.
    Pop up, gone.
    Scroll triggered box, done.
    Just wanted to add that I recently added Tweet-stimonials in my left hand side bar on the home page. I know it’s about decluttering, but I feel for my new blog this is a quick way to get some positive testimonials right on the front page. Basically its shows a twitter feed of tweets I’ve favourited. The idea is to only favourite testimonial-like tweets for them to show in the feed. Would love to hear what others think about this. At this stage I haven’t been featured anywhere else, so no greyed-out logos for me (yet!)


    1. Ramsay

      Had a look at the Twitter thing. It looks really neat and sleek. My only concern is that the links all go back to the person’s Twitter profile and not your own. That might be cause a few too many leaks for my liking. Can you switch that off?


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