Sidebars are very important real estate on blogs. It’s where the reader can find out more about the author, discover other great articles, and connect with the blog on other platforms.
The sidebar can easily make or break a blog. If it’s done wrong, the reader might not want to come back. So let’s find out what sidebar mistakes you might be making, and then fix them!
This is one of the most obvious sidebar mistakes. You want the focus of your blog to be the content, so if your sidebar is distracting, it ruins the whole site.
Once a sidebar has too many colors, fonts, images, and links, your eyes start to hurt. The sidebar shouldn’t be forced upon your readers; they should notice it and be intrigued enough to click on additional content without it being shoved down their throats.
How to Fix It: Go through your sidebar and see what your eyes are drawn to first. Is there one piece that sticks out the most? If there isn’t, there’s a good chance your sidebar is too cluttered. See if too many things jump out at you and distract you. Simplify everything with similar colors and take out unneeded information.
You’ll notice on my sidebar that there are three squares that “stand out:” my photo, the link to my Etsy shop, and my Instagram. However, these don’t clutter up my sidebar because they aren’t right on top of each other. In fact, unless you’re way zoomed out or have a large screen, you shouldn’t be seeing two of these things that the same time. There’s plenty of white space to break them up.
I’ve seen a few blogs that have two sidebars (typically one on either side of the main content), and I have yet to see it done successfully.
This goes back to the previous note: when I see blogs with double sidebars, it makes the entire website feel very cluttered. In fact, I actually feel claustrophobic when there are sidebars on either side, because it’s like they’re closing in on me. I don’t know which side to look on, and I get overwhelmed.
How to Fix It: If you’ve got enough information to fill two sidebars, chances are these are things that deserve their own page. Re-evaluate what you want to catch the reader’s eye and put that into one sidebar. Remove the other entirely.
I include an asterisk with this, because there are blogs who have done a no-sidebar blog successfully (xosarah.com, for example). But it’s difficult.
When I started blogging, I tried to have a sidebar-less theme. At first I really liked it because I wanted the content to be the focus. But eventually it started being really impersonal because the readers couldn’t get to know me.
How to Fix It: I saw two ways out of my predicament: adding a sidebar or adding a bio below my content. I ended up changing my theme and adding a sidebar because that was what worked best for me at the time. But if you’d prefer, you could definitely add an Author Bio section below each and every blog post so readers can put a face to the name.
Not Having a Photo
Similarly, a sidebar is practically useless if it doesn’t tell me who you are. That’s one of the first things I look for when I read a blog post; I want to know who the author is and why I should pay attention to their writing.
How to Fix It: Include a photo of yourself so your readers can get to know you a little better. Make sure it’s relatively simple so it doesn’t make your site cluttered, and it’s clear enough that they can tell what you look like.
Having the Wrong Hierarchy
The order of your sidebar widgets is extremely important. Not only does it keep it from looking cluttered, but it also affects what the reader will be looking at.
For example, I prefer to have my photo “above the fold” of my blog. Meaning, when someone opens up my blog, they see my photo without having to scroll down. This is because it’s my blog, and I want people to identify it with me. It gives it personality.
How to Fix It: Depending on your own preferences, you might have a different hierarchy as someone else. And that’s fine! Figure out what aspects of your sidebar are most important to you and put them in an appropriate order based on that. Some people, for example, put a high priority on their email lists, so they have that near the top. Others prioritize their shop, their social media, etc. Find out what’s best for you.
It’s always really awkward when a sidebar goes beyond the content of a webpage. Sometimes it’s unavoidable (like on my Affiliate Disclaimer page), but it shouldn’t be the norm.
Your content should almost always go beyond the sidebar. And this doesn’t stop at blog posts, either. Just because you aren’t looking at your About page every day doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Your about page should be longer than your sidebar, too.
How to Fix It: Moment of honesty, here: at this moment, my About page is shorter than my sidebar. But that’s because I know I need to update my About page, and I’ve got a plan on how to do it. So you’ve either got to make your sidebar shorter or your content longer. Or both.
Too Many Ads
If you read my post about why I removed ads on my blog, you knew this was coming.
I’m personally not a fan of ads, especially in sidebars. They clutter everything up and take away the focus: you and your blog. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sponsored posts and other types of marketing, but display ads aren’t my jam when it comes to blogs.
How to Fix This: Work on other ways to make money from your blog and remove all of the display ads. You’ll only be getting pennies from each click, so don’t feel too bad about it. Instead, approach companies about doing sponsored posts, giveaways, etc.
I don’t see these around too often, thank goodness. But when I do, I cringe.
Tag clouds are pretty outdated. They’re big, ugly word banks of different tags you’ve used throughout all of your blog posts, and let’s be honest: no one really clicks on them. If you’ve come up with a way to utilize tags to direct readers to other posts, great. But I have a feeling tag clouds aren’t included in that plan.
How to Fix This: Just remove the tag clouds. Now.
What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sidebars? Any advice for me? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
Heather Serra says
You always have the most useful blogging tips. Since I established an “about me page”, I got rid of my sidebar photo…now I think I should put it back. Hmmm…
I would! Even if it’s just your photo and a link to your About page. That way I can put a face with the name! 🙂 (Not that I don’t already know your face, but still…)
Sara Strand says
I am (hopefully) going to invest in a whole new look for my blog and then I’m going to one sidebar, and hopefully a white background. At the time I really enjoyed the off beat color but now.. meh. Over it. I like clean and white. I just need to find some money to have someone help me!
I was the same way! Loved it at first, but then I wanted something super basic and minimal. And once you find some money, I’d be happy to help 😉
Great post, I removed a few ads on my sidebar myself because I thought it was just too cluttered!
That’s so important to recognize! Glad you found this helpful!
Cynthia @craftoflaughter says
I’m sharing this with my partner, the techy one so she can check ours! HA. You care my blogging bible!
🙂 Thanks, Cynthia!
Brooke Knipp says
Your last tip made me laugh! So true. My sidebar is ever-evolving. Still working on it. I (still) agree with you about ads, though I do have other bloggers’ ads there. Not sure if it’s working the way I want, though…
As long as they’re paying you good money and don’t make it look cluttered, it might be worth it 🙂
Shann Eva says
Oh no! I gotta get rid of my tag cloud! Darn. I thought it looked kinda cool. You darn hip kids. 😉
Haha!I used to think they were cool, but I’m a big fan of minimalism. And tag clouds aren’t minimal. 😉
Trish Nicholas says
This is too funny! I just this morning finally figured out to remove the damned tag cloud from my pages. I’m working on it – I promise! I’m trying to find a theme that I really like so I can get rid of some of the things you’ve mentioned, but honestly? I. Am. Terrified. that it will go wrong. I admit it.
Yay! That’s awesome! And I totally get the fear. But it’s worth it, I promise!
Amanda Huber says
You have really good advice! I have been going back and forth with the side bar vs no side bar and finally decided to go with the side bar. I like the idea of having my photo and short bio right away so others can relate. I find I make a judgement on a blog based on the initial colors/structure (is it clean and minimal or cluttered?) and by reading the person’s bio to see what they are all about.
Thanks, Amanda! I was the same way about no sidebar vs having a sidebar. Glad to hear you decided on an option you like! 🙂