I’ll admit, when I was redesigning this blog, I was extremely tempted to opt out of having a sidebar and go for the full width look. After considering the benefits of a sidebar though, I realized how big of a role it plays in grabbing my readers’ attention and making this blog a more fun place! The name sidebar makes it sound like something extra that you don’t really need to pay much attention too, but think about this; that thing is taking up at least 250 pixels of your blog’s width. That’s a lot of space! Your content may be the best anyone’s ever read, but if your sidebar is an eyesore, it might lead them away. Give your sidebar some love, decorate it to your heart’s desire, and use these tips for dressing it up!
Create A Clean “About Me” Snippet
I don’t know about you, but when I visit a blog for the first time, my eyes go straight to this section. Most blogs have one now, and I think it plays a huge part in making the blog feel more personal and “handmade”. I want to know who I’m reading from, and by simply adding a picture and a short preview of who you are, I gain a bit of a connection to you. Be sure to keep it simple though, because too many fonts and colors can make your “above the fold” layout look a little crazy. Besides, why let a huge script font take the focus away from your beautiful headshot?
If you want to take it a step further, add in a link to your “about me” page under your snippet. Leave your readers wanting more, and make it easy to find that!
Add An Instagram & Pinterest Widget
These can really add some life to your sidebar if it’s filled with text and other flat designs. Not only do they allow your readers to learn a little more about you (because my pins definitely say a lot about me), but they may prompt some to head over to your profile and follow you too! I’m currently using the Alpine PhotoTile plugin for my Instagram and Pinterest widgets, but there are a ton of other options out there, including Blogger friendly options like Snapwidget. Play around with the settings and have some fun with these; I love the hover effects, which you can demo on my Instagram widget where I have the “fade out” effect turned on.
Display Your Best Posts
Think about it this way: your sidebar is essentially free advertisement space, for your own blog! Your readers may not want to scroll through your archive to find an interesting post, so by displaying some of your best work in your sidebar, you’re making it easy for them to click over. If you’re using the Genesis Framework, their featured posts widget is great for this, but I’m pretty sure there are other similar plugins, and for my Blogger readers, creating your own is just as simple! All you need to do is add an HTML widget with images and links from a few posts. This gives you even more control over what you display here. Here’s an example of how the HTML for that might look:
That will create a very basic featured posts widget with 4 posts, so you’ll want to style the classes in your CSS file to get it looking nicer!
Design Category Buttons That Match Your Brand
I’ve seen so many creative category buttons recently and I can’t decide which style I like the most! You can go for a full width look, or even create your own icons that relate to your blog’s categories (a laptop for “tech”, a camera for “photography). This is especially helpful if you have a ton of categories that your readers would have a hard time searching for in the first place.
Add An Email Opt-In Box
Practically every blogger has an email list these days, and we’re always looking for ways to advertise it. You might already have an opt-in box somewhere else on your blog, but your sidebar is a perfect location! It shows up on (usually) every page your readers visit, right? There are tons of plugins out there that can help you create one, like Optin Forms, or you can use the code provided by your mailing service.
For Mailchimp users, head to Lists > Your Newsletter > Signup Forms > Embedded Forms and customize a form to your liking! This is the route I used to create that snazzy opt-in form at the bottom of all my posts. It takes a bit of CSS + HTML knowledge to really customize, but here are some basic snippets of code to get you going:
Create Your Own Buttons + Graphics
Making your own graphics is crucial for tying your brand together, from blog photos to social media covers to business cards. Another place I’ve seen custom graphics lately is in sidebars. Like I said earlier, your sidebar is free ad space for your blog, so make the most of it!
You can easily put together your own graphics using tools like Canva, one of my favorite free photo editing platforms. From there, place it in your sidebar using an image widget or a text widget. If you use a text widget, just add this code and replace “IMAGE LINK” with the URL of your image. On WordPress, you can get that by going to Media, uploading the image, clicking it, and copying the URL on its editing page.
Make It Extend Your Brand
My absolute favorite example for this tip is A Beautiful Mess. Their sidebar is just gorgeous, and every part of it has design aspects that complement their brand. I’m not saying every blog needs bright colors and crazy patterns, but do what works for your blog and give that space some lovin’.
This is the main reason I stopped offering sidebar ad spots. Every time I added someone else’s image to my sidebar, I was taking away from my own brand’s consistency. I loved supporting other bloggers, but the sidebar image route just didn’t fit with the path I wanted my design to go on! If you’re stuck in the same dilemma, try offering other services. You could make a post about your favorite bloggers, or simply share their content on your social media.
What are your sidebar strategies? Have you had any success with a specific one?