This part, Part 3, is dedicated to the bits and pieces of a blog’s sidebar, with my suggestions for some basic widgets to include. There’s also some bonus material at the end: a note about footers.
Most, but certainly not all, blogs have a sidebar. It can be on the left or the right side of the page. You can put all sorts of features, information, and functions there. How do you get all those things into your sidebar? With widgets (or they may be called gadgets, depending on your platform.) What are widgets? They’re bits of code that allow your page to execute a wide variety of applications.
The widget type that lets you add your own custom code to your sidebar is an html or “text” widget. You’ll want to make friends with this widget. Trust me.
I encourage you to have a sidebar. It improves the user experience for your readers. Do not to clutter it up so that it runs five times longer than the length of any post you’ll ever write. And do include these things at a minimum:
Make this the first thing at the top of your sidebar. Or at least the second. (I have a search bar over my head in my sidebar.) Even if you have an About page with your photo, put a photo of you on your blog sidebar. It’s sort of like the author photo on the back or inside cover of a book jacket. It humanizes your blog posts and engages your readers.
Blog Archives and Searching
As I mentioned, my blog has a search field at the top of the sidebar. This is super duper helpful to your readers. It lets them type in a word or phrase and find all the blog posts you’ve ever written about that topic. I also have a widget for blog archives and one for categories. People like options so I gave them a few.
A blog archives widget is usually pre-loaded in many blog themes. It allows visitors to search your blog posts chronologically. Sure, they could scroll down and down and down the page, and keep clicking the “previous posts” button when they reach the bottom. But that’s tedious. Make it easy for people to travel back in time to visit blog posts of the past.
You could use also use a keyword cloud widget. I don’t have one because it looked too busy for my theme. But some people seem to really like them. They can be fun. The words that appear most frequently in your blog posts will be larger than those used less often. It can give your readers, and you, a quick visual cue to what your blog is about.
Social Connect Buttons
These are little icons that hyperlink to everywhere you are in the social media universe. Do you have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. page for your business? Have buttons that take readers to those pages.
Note, social connect buttons are not the same thing as those social follow buttons mentioned in Part 2 about blog posts. Social connect buttons connect to other places you can be found on the internet. Share buttons are for sharing content with everywhere your readers are on the internet. Get it? Connect = where you are. Share = where they are.
This is another of those widgets that is often preloaded in a blog theme. It lets people subscribe to get your blog posts as they publish, without having to visit your site. Your posts get delivered to their device automatically.
A post RSS feed widget is standard on most platforms. However, not everyone likes the format of RSS feed. Some people would rather get your posts delivered to them via email. Or through a feed server where they can log in to see what’s new from all the blogs they follow. While not everyone who reads your blog (or mine, or anyone else’s) will want to subscribe to get every new post, some will.
So, make it easy for them and give them options. I have three, in addition to the rss feed. There’s an email option plus two popular feed servers, Bloglovin’ and Feedly. You can grab the code for these news reader services and use an html widget (your friend and mine) to put them on your blog.
Okay, so these are not essential, but there’s good reason to add a few on your sidebar on occasion. Using the html widget. (See, I told you to make friends with it.)
Reason number one: you belong to a special group or guild and want your readers to know. Because it enhances the credibility of what you do, or it just makes you look cool. Grab an image of the official logo or thingamado from that group (with their permission) and make it hyperlinked to their main page.
Reason number two: you’re participating in a blog hop. If you don’t know what those are, you should. Check out this post on blog hop etiquette for a quick primer. If you’re signed up for a blog hop, it is customary to display the blog hop badge with a hyperlink to the page of the hop’s hostess.
I don’t leave my blog hop badges up forever. Much like holiday decorations, I remove them a reasonable period of time after the event has ended. I do, however, have a “blog hops” category to make it easier for hoppers to find relevant posts. And then, there’s always that search bar.
Reason number three: you have a sponsor or a favorite other thing you want to promote. Let’s say you are proud to use components and supplies exclusively from Company X in your designs. Or you also write for another blog. Or maybe you donate your profits to a special cause. If they’re cool with it, grab a jpg of their logo and hyperlink to their page.
Some pages have a “grab my button” code right in their sidebar for just that thing. You could have one too, so people can easily promote your page in their blog’s sidebar. If you don’t know how to write that code, here’s a page that does all the work for you.
Now that you’ve covered the basics to help your readers engage with and follow you, you can add widgets for any number of other things. Just don’t get carried away. You want the main focus to be on your blog posts. Don’t distract people with a seemingly endless parade of widgets. (and we’re scrolling and scrolling …still scrolling .. what page am I on again? Why am I here? I wonder what’s on tv.)
If you have an Etsy shop, for example, there’s an app that will display some of the items available for sale in your shop. Have a Pinterest account? There’s an app that displays a static or rotating feed of your pins. Ditto for Instagram and Flickr. And many more. But do you really need these? Couldn’t you just use your social connect buttons to direct people to these other places without taking the focus away from your blog posts?
If you’re using your blog to market what you make, you might think that Etsy widget is a grand idea. I’m not saying it isn’t. And if you don’t have many widgets already, there’s no reason not to put it in your sidebar. Keep in mind, on some platforms you could also have a whole page, in the navigation menu, that shows a larger version of that widget and looks sort of like your Etsy shop itself. Or that automatically and seamlessly redirects to your Etsy shop when they click the “shop” tag in navigation. I’m just sayin’. Use the sidebar real estate wisely. It should complement your blog posts, not overshadow them.
Bonus Material – the Page Footer
Not all blogs have a footer at the bottom of the page. Some platforms and themes allow you to put widgets there to customize the content. Some are automatically populated with things like a credit for the platform and theme you’re using. Some folks put a second navigation menu down there. Or contact information.
If you are able with your given platform and theme, this is a perfect place to put a copyright statement. Your blog content belongs to you and no one has a right to use it, duplicate it, etc, without your express permission. That’s true regardless of whether you have a copyright statement. The statement simply tells people what they do or do not have your permission to do with your content. The default is “all rights reserved.”
And there you have it. The anatomical basics, and a few extras, for a blog about pretty much anything. (I sort of slacked off on the anatomical analogies somewhere in the middle. No need to get into gooey things like organs and fluids, right?) I hope you’ve found this rather long-winded series helpful in setting up, revamping, or reading blogs.
By the way, breaking up lengthy posts into a series of connected posts is a great way to stretch your topics into regular or more frequent posts. In case you were thinking you couldn’t come up with enough things to blog about frequently enough to keep people engaged. Nothing like a to-be-continued cliffhanger to keep people coming back for more.
Anyhoo, thanks for making it all the way to the end. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post or the rest of the series. And feel free to click a social share button or three.