Your sidebar is one of the most important aspects of your website. If nothing is there, your site can look empty. If too many things are there, your site can look over complicated, causing visitors to leave your site. You need the right combination of elements that allows for a pleasant user experience.
Planning the design of your sidebar is just as important as planning the rest of your website’s design. Many people may be shocked to hear this. The fact is, your sidebar shows up on every single page of your website. Whether a visitor lands on the homepage or a subcategorized page relating to a piece of content that they were searching for, they will see that sidebar. So now that you’ve decided to add a sidebar to your page, what should you add to it? Or if you already have a sidebar on your site, what should you keep to ensure that your visitors are happy?
Simplify, then Track
The first thing you should keep in mind when factoring in what to add to your sidebar is to keep it simple. Start by adding categories like past posts, possibly a blog roll, and possibly an advertisement for a product you are promoting. Start with no more than five different elements to for the sidebar. After adding these elements, set up some type of click tracking and website monitoring software. There are tons of companies that provide this service, including Google Analytics.
Alternatively you can submit your site to one of many services (paid) that perform “heat mapping” so that you can see exactly where a visitor clicks on your page (or where their eyes track, depending on the service). After monitoring activity for around a month or so, decide whether or not you need to make changes. Look for trends such as if people are clicking on certain elements on your sidebar. If certain elements are hardly being clicked, it’s time to swap them out for something new.
Besides the elements listed above, make sure to keep your link count relatively low and make sure that the elements fit well into the design of the page. Superflous links should be embedded elsewhere. If you are selling products using affiliate links, the sidebar is often a great home for them, as your audience will look to the sidebar for when considering how next to engage your site beyond the core content.
The Toolbox Concept
Think of the sidebar as a toolbox and the core content as the project at hand. Many audience members will use the sidebar to access “tools” that they might need as they work on (digest, read, interact with, etc.) your core content. Placing commonly sought after tools at the ready in the sidebar makes the user’s interaction that much more enjoyable.
Contact information, such as business addresses are better placed in the footer or on a separate page than in the sidebar. However, as social media sites become more and more integral these days to users interactions, having those at the ready in the sidebar is a useful placement.
Static, yet Dynamic
Be sure to also add links to content that gets updated daily or weekly. While you want to keep the sidebar organized, which may mean that placement remains consistent over time, so you’re your users know where to find the links they commonly interact with, your sidebar will quickly turn boring for repeat visitors if the links to be clicked all lead to pages that haven’t been updated in years. You need to keep this content fresh and exciting so that visitors will want to return. In other words, link placement may remain static, but the links themselves may change. Granted you need to consider the link itself when making this determination. An integral link should remain; but a revolving link should change.
Tying this all together, it’s important to keep your sidebar clean and sleek. Don’t overdo it on how many widgets you add. You need to link to relevant updated content and keep the link count low. By utilizing these tips, you should have a great looking sidebar that will actively encourage your website’s visitors to return again.