[Mistakes #2] Five Common Sidebars Mistakes – and How to Fix Them
This is the second post in a series of common blogging mistakes. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover in this series, drop a comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most blogs have either one or two sidebars, which appear on every page (or most pages) of the blog. These sidebars contain “widgets” that each perform a different function.
Your sidebar or sidebars are an essential part of your blog. Unfortunately it’s easy to get things wrong. A poorly-structured sidebar will, at best, not add anything to your blog – and at worst, it will put new visitors off sticking around.
Note: To edit your sidebar, login to your WordPress dashboard and go to Appearance –>Widgets. You can drag and drop widgets into and out of your sidebar.
Here are five common mistakes that bloggers make with their sidebars. Do any of them sound familiar?
Mistake #1: Adding Too Many Widgets
The biggest mistake I see on blogs is cluttering up the sidebar with too many widgets. This is definitely a case where less is more.
Although WordPress comes with lots of built-in widgets, and there are plenty of plug-ins that add new types of widget, it’s a good idea to stick to just a few crucial ones and leave out those tag clouds and calendars.
Fix it: It’s easy for “widget creep” to happen over time. Review your sidebar ever few months and ask yourself whether you can ditch any of the widgets.
Mistake #2: Leaving All the Default Widgets in Place
When you first install WordPress, it comes with certain default widgets such as the “meta” widget. Leaving this widget in place makes your blog look amateurish, and is unlikely to add anything to your readers’ experience.
The “Recent Comments” widget is also enabled by default – you may not want to give readers’ comments this much prominence in case a spam or abusive comment sneaks past moderation.
Fix it: Make sure you remove any of the default widgets that you don’t want as soon as you’ve set up a new blog; don’t leave them hanging around for weeks. It takes seconds to drag them out into the “Inactive widgets” section (where they keep all their settings).
Mistake #3: Putting Your Widgets in a Weird Order
Blogs have developed a convention for where certain elements are placed. For instance, in navigation menus, the contact link is usually the one on the far right.
In your sidebar, you should have your subscription widget at or very near the top: this is where readers will look first. If you’re using a search widget, that should normally appear just below the subscription one.
Fix it: Take a look at major blogs in your industry and see how their sidebars are arranged, then stick to anything which appears to be a common convention.
Mistake #4: Not Having an Email Subscription Option
Having your RSS link clearly available is useful, but many readers will prefer to subscribe by email. If you use Feedburner, it only takes a few minutes to activate email subscriptions and copy the code Feedburner provides into a text widget on your blog.
It’s generally a good idea to make your email subscription option more prominent than your RSS option: take a look at how Copyblogger do this.
Fix it: Even if you read blogs by RSS, keep in mind that many of your readers (or would-be readers!) will prefer to use email. If you don’t have time to set up email subscriptions today, put a note in your diary to do it next week.
Mistake #5: Stuffing Your Sidebar With Google Ads
There’s nothing wrong with running ads on your blog – but stuffing your sidebar with Google Adsense widgets won’t do much for you or your readers. Too many ads will block out other important content – as readers may ignore your sidebar entirely.
Fix it: A classier option is to sell 125×125 or 250×250 banner ads in your sidebar: these look neat (if you make sure you line them up nicely!) and, depending on your theme, can add colour and visual interest.
Have you come across any of these sidebar mistakes, or do you have another one to add? Let us know in the comments.
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17 Responses to “[Mistakes #2] Five Common Sidebars Mistakes – and How to Fix Them”
thank you! i am just constructing my website so this topic is timed perfectly. thanks for what you do here.
i would also like to add that: if your blog is a new one and you don’t have so much posts up,you do not need to have the searchbar widget. this is because in most cases when visitors make a search on your blog, they most likely won’t find what they are looking which might inturn give them a no-so-tood impression about your blog.
thanks for the infomative post
Guilty! I’ve done all of them! 🙂
Didn’t know that I shouldn’t have a tag cloud. Seemed like a good idea to me.
Great and effective list. Looking forward to more 🙂
Serena @ Thrift Diving
I just learned this, but one of the biggest mistakes is not using custom sidebars for your pages. Using a standard sidebar isn’t a good idea. For example, if I have a post about a chair makeover, then I should customize my sidebar to feature more chair makeovers, or my affiliates for tools used in reupholster or something. In other words, make your sidebar customized for your page’s content. Use the custom sidebar plugin.
P.S. Love your blog!
Serena @ Thrift Diving
Another informative post. I have been making few mistakes for last few months. Now I’ll correct them all. Thanks for the share.
Nice points are highlighted to manage the sidebar and these mistakes are commonly done by bloggers as i’m guilty too for this offense :).
now i’ve got many ideas to include in side bar and try to improve them for my visitor and search engine algorithm too.
I wonder why there is still so many WordPress users who actually keep the meta widget intact. For their own convenient maybe?
Also, do you have any recommendation on what plugin I can use to show the opt-in form?
I don’t even understand why WordPress has so many default widgets. Most people delete those widgets as soon as they’ve installed wordpress.
Seems pretty pointless to me.
My site only 3widget, 1 social, 1 subscribe and 1 recent post. I see that was enough 🙂
Yes, wordpress does have many widgets by default that bloggers don’t really want to use. I also agree that having a subscription box is also really important. That’s one great way of having your readers come back 🙂
Thanks a lot for this awesome collection of mistakes. Sometimes you think that it can’t be true what people offer you as a professional blog and yes, you are right, I leave as quick as I can. Especially, when I see a green header with green font and neon something on it – nothing can make me stay.
The first impression is important – online and offline.
Sidebars on our blogs, should be a directory of desirable places to go and things to check out, not a huge Neon Blinking Sales Sign dragging our visitors off into the Netherlands never to return
Good detailed information. Sidebar is very important for webpages. Hence the tips will enable everyone to have a more intuitive sidebars.
@sodeeq — Good addition, thanks!
@Shawn Hartwell — The problem with tag clouds is that they tend to look messy. I can’t think
of any major blogs that use them (though I’m sure someone will come along and prove me wrong
;-)). It’s not necessarily an absolute rule, though; it’s your blog and if you like the tag
cloud and your readers are using it, keep it!
@Bogar — I think some people just don’t know how to remove it, or simply don’t think to do
For the opt-in form, I just use Feedburner’s code and copy it into a text widget — no plugin
@Troy — I find it puzzling too.
@Shital — I agree, neon green is definitely best avoided!
Great infor, had never read something like this, they always talk about the mistakes of a blog, but only on the technical side, you know programming, html, css etc …
And never speak of such errors!
Thank you very much for sharing such valuable information!
Cheers and keep well!
I’ve just done this very task. There are still a lot of widgets, but I’ve deleted many, and removed titles for a few others.
I was intending to write a post on this very subject, but you beat me to it.
I also deleted Google and Amazon ads, as they were both listing totally unrelated ads on the sidebar. I didn’t think anyone reading about IM was going to leas on an ad for headphones.
I’ve now selected some niche (JV Zoo) affiliate text ads to replace them, as I think it’s more relevant.
– and I only promote what I use, or have tried.
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