I am finding that the WordPress Blog Sidebar is often a neglected area on many websites. This is a tragedy because of the prevalence of the Blog Sidebar. It is literally found on every post and every archive, yet most of the time it inherits the basic, out-of-the-box widgets… you know what I am talking about. We always see the standard “Recent Posts”, “Categories”, and “Recent Comments” widgets. These are fine, and functional, but there is room for improvement. Optimizing this area can really create a huge impact on how your users interact with your website.
1.) Your most recent posts might not be your best or most popular
So let’s work on making this “Recent Posts” widget area more effective. There are a couple ways to push your best or most popular content to the top.
There is one quick trick that is often overlooked, “The Sticky Post”. When you make a post “Sticky” it will always stick to the top of your blog archive. However this sticky function will not work in pushing the post to the top of your “Recent Posts” widget. To do this we need the help of a plugin. This sweet plugin, Ultimate Posts Widget, will allow you to filter and display your posts with a variety of options. For the purposes of controlling exactly which posts are at the top, you can set it to display sticky posts first. This plugin is packed with other features to help you control how your posts are displayed, for example you can set it to display only other posts from the current category.
The next trick in this section would be to show your most popular posts. There is a really cool plugin called WordPress Popular Posts, that will allow you to display a widget showcasing the most viewed content on your site. It is a smart plugin and has some nice configuration options. Please make sure to check out the area that controls what constitutes a “Post View”. Basically, there you will tell the plugin to not count a view if you are logged in to WordPress. This will help keep the count more accurate.
Using a combination of these two plugins you can create one or two different types of post widgets in your sidebar that will help increase your user click through.
2.) Use Images
In many of the sidebars that I see on WordPress Blogs there is a lack of eye catching imagery.
If you want to increase the chance of a user interacting with your sidebar using images or icons will help tremendously. Too much text can be boring. The quickest way to add an image to your sidebar would be to use an image widget like, Simple Image Widget. I am a big fan of simplicity. Indeed this is a simple yet powerful widget that allows you to insert an image to your sidebar, attach a title or accompanying text, and most importantly add a hyperlink to the image. You might want to draw attention to an event, service, or product you offer.
Having trouble generating your own graphics? Depending on your skill level with HTML, try using some web-font icon libraries such as Font Awesome. Chances are that your theme already uses them through out the user interface. Using web-fonts you could use a simple “Text Widget” from the default WordPress widgets, and provide a text link with a nice appropriate icon.
Whether you choose to use images or icons, the results will bound to improve the look of your sidebar. You’ll find a winning combination!
3.) Newsletter Opt-ins
Email communication can be one of the most effective and successful ways to communicate to your readers.
There are many ways to present content to your users. It is possible that a user will visit your website and really like one of your blog posts, or even just your site in general. But this does not guarantee that they will return. However, if you make it super easy and convenient for them to drop their email in a box to receive newsletters, then you can reach out them via email… right to the palm of their hand. Many of the top email marketing companies have free WordPress widgets that are easy to install and configure. We love using Emma, it is top-notch and offers wonderful paid plans. There are several others out there such as MailChimp and Constant Contact, that offer some starter plans and free plans.
If you are serious about promoting your content and have the drive to take on another time consuming endeavor, this would be a perfect investment for you!
Most of the time I am blogging about development and technical stuff. Don’t forget that adding a little style to your sidebar can really make it stand out. Even if it is just adjusting the shade of the background on your widgets, or adding a border. Subtle tweaks to the appearance of the sidebar can help make it seem a little more important to your viewers.
Yes I know what you are thinking, “Why don’t you all at Boomerang Marketing have a better sidebar?”. The truth is that our website sometimes takes a back seat when we are so busy working hard for our awesome clients. Also, don’t stop with my suggestions on how to maximize the potential of your sidebar. There is so much out there regarding this subject. Please enjoy these three tips that you can start working on right away.