What’s Really Necessary in Your Sidebar

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If WordPress sidebars weren’t tempting before widgets, it shouldn’t be surprising how nuts some users go when adding to their sidebar is as easy as dragging and dropping. But, to quote a classic line, with great power comes great responsibility. In other words, there are some things you should keep in mind when stocking your sidebar.

The lessons that follow are built off of these 3 principles:

  1. Don’t confuse/frustrate the user.
  2. Just because it’s cool doesn’t mean you should do it.
  3. Be smart and responsible with your blog.

Now, with those things in mind, let’s take a look at some good guidelines for putting together your sidebars.

Get rid of the silly stuff

Two items plague WordPress sidebars everywhere: the Meta and the Archives. Neither has any purpose on the sidebar of your blog, and it’s actually laughable that Automattic thought these widgets would be worthwhile.

First of all: Meta. Meta lists a few things such as the blog’s RSS links, a link to WordPress, as well as a link to login to the site and…should I go on? I think if the silliness wasn’t evident by “a link to login” nothing will ever be silly again.

Dramatic? Yes. An urgent problem with sidebars? For sure.

Note: Daniel at Daily Blog Tips discussed the issues with the Meta in the sidebar, so my complaints aren’t in bad company. He also makes a good point, that is that the meta offers no value to the reader. Yet another reason to get rid of it.

Archives listed by month makes no sense at all. It’s such a nondescript way to display information that it is pretty much useless. Actually, it is: the archive listing by month is completely useless. At the very least, a decent search box sitting somewhere on your site is much more valuable. Odds are someone will get more use out of that before they try to get use out of a listing of months.

Be responsible. Everyone will appreciate it

If you have a real job, a disclaimer in your sidebar would probably be a good idea. I do that on my personal blog, and even though it’s in the corner I still think it has the potential to protect me. I would strongly encourage this if you tend to write about pretty controversial stuff. Rather safe than sorry, right?

Fun and Additional

If you’re a reader, a musician, or otherwise, look into adding an updating feed of some sort regarding your recent reads (grab code from LibraryThing) or listened to. This isn’t a bad way to engage the reader without too much work on your part.

Asides are posts that are small and removed from the flow of the regular document, so that they can be consumed in small bites and not as whole posts. More and more blogs are doing this (you will see this soon on Theme Playground), so it’s worth looking into. Look for more on asides later this week.

Finally

No amount of writing on my part is going to be the best answer for your sidebar. Test it out: what works, and what doesn’t work? Even test with readers. Take Darren’s advice from the other day, and have a completely fresh person view your website (and watch them do it!). And please keep in mind that just because it’s cool is not a good enough reason to add something to your sidebar.

8 thoughts on “What’s Really Necessary in Your Sidebar

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  4. I wish other bloggers would take your advice and get rid of the 92840 useless things in their sidebar. It’d make navigating their blogs SO much easier. 🙁

  5. Thanks Matt, I’m glad you agree. Most of the time the blogger doesn’t even realize they are causing pains on their readers — making them aware is the first step to recovery ;).

  6. Aww, I love monthly archives. Weekly archive links are the spawn of hell ,but if I’m reading a new blog that I enjoy, I’d much rather read through the older posts month-by-month. Reading by topic gets dull quickly. It’s very good for reference but not entertainment. I do agree that a list of months can take up far too much valuable space. I’m considering switching mine to a drop-down list/combo box this weekend.

    What I’m trying to say is that monthly archives have their place – especially in the more personal blogs, like Dooce.

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