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Everyone knows that your sidebar is prime real estate, right? And anything that you put in your sidebar is sure to attract endless, lucrative clicks? Well, not quite.
Your blog’s sidebar isn’t something that should be completely ignored, but it’s also not as big of a deal as it likely was in the past. A big part of this is that people have gotten used to ignoring it, and another part is that more and more people don’t even see it in the first place.
As mobile devices have taken over the world, more and more of your visitors will never see your sidebar. Instead, when viewing your blog on a phone, they’ll see your post’s content immediately, with your sidebar buried somewhere beneath the post.
As a result, when deciding what to put in your sidebar, you have to optimize it for desktop users and try to keep it as clean as possible so people actually notice it.
In this post, I’ll go over what we put in the sidebar on our niche sites and explain why we keep it very clean and minimal.
The first thing we always put in the sidebar on our niche sites is someone’s face and a bio. Well technically, a couple of our sites don’t have a face associated with them, but they all have an image and a blurb of text.
Regardless, we feel it’s important to give your site an identity, and that’s something that I think most people expect to see in a sidebar.
All you really need is a good image of yourself, followed by 1-2 sentences about you and your site. This helps to give people the sense that there’s a real person behind the blog.
The other big item that we typically include in our sidebar is a search bar. A search bar is a big deal because it gives people a quick and easy way to find what they’re looking for on the site. It also takes up very little real estate.
Some themes have a search bar in the navigation area at the top of your blog or possibly somewhere else that makes sense, so it may or may not be critical in your particular case.
If you go over to any post on mybackyardlife.com, which is our public site, you’ll see that the author bio and search bar are literally the only two items we have in the sidebar. I’ll explain why we keep this so minimal toward the end of this post.
Next, I’ll jump into a couple of other items to consider for your sidebar.
Similar to a search bar, another great option for your sidebar is a custom filter that allows people to quickly filter your content by categories and tags. Just like a search bar, this makes it easy for people to quickly find what they’re looking for.
We have a custom filter in the sidebar on one or two of our sites, which we implemented with the Search & Filter WordPress plugin. This plugin is relatively easy to set up and has quite a few different ways to allow visitors to narrow down what they’re looking for.
I believe there’s a paid version of this plugin, but we’re currently using the free one, which has been more than sufficient.
The last item we like to include in the sidebar on our niche sites is a list of posts. This could be a list or recent posts, popular posts, or handpicked posts.
We typically just add a list of recent posts on a new site. However, once we add a site to Mediavine’s ad network, we remove the list of posts and use their “Recommended” widget that’s part of their Grow platform instead.
This widget recommends content based on the previous interactions of each visitor, so it’s somewhat personalized. It also looks really nice.
You can learn more about it in this article from Mediavine.
Why We Keep Our Sidebar Short
The list of recommended sidebar items above is pretty short, so you might be wondering why we keep it so minimal. There are two basic reasons for this.
The first reason, which I already touched on, is that people tend to put their blinders on if you put too much in your sidebar. Also, when people are given too many options, they simply don’t make a choice, meaning they simply ignore your sidebar altogether.
With that being said, the most important reason we keep our sidebar short is to make more money. Afterall, making money is the primary goal with our niche sites.
By keeping your sidebar short, the bottom, sticky ad that shows up at end of the sidebar will appear sooner than it would if your sidebar was longer. The longer this sidebar stays in view, the more money you make. It’s as simple as that.
This is a recommendation straight from Mediavine, but it should apply to any ad network that utilizes a sticky sidebar ad.
It’s Not One Size Fits All
Before I wrap this one up, I do want to point out that this isn’t a simple case of one size fits all. While I think it makes sense to keep your sidebar short in just about all cases, the items that you put in your sidebar will change depending on your niche and goals.
With this site for example, I have a few more items in the sidebar, including a newsletter signup button and a link to YouTube. Those things are important for the goals of this site, but not so much for our niche sites.
Always look at each site on a case-by-case basis to determine what makes the most sense in each scenario.
The sidebar on your blog is important, but it’s not as important as it used to be. The best thing you can do, regardless of the type of site that you have, is to keep it short and simple.
Depending on your niche and goals, what you put in your sidebar might change. As usual, think in terms of your visitors’ needs and expectations, and let them help you to determine what makes the most sense.