The outside of your WordPress house - widgetsAdding, moving and rearranging elements in your WordPress sidebar is easy peasy. With widgets and plugins it’s simple. No sweat.

But knowing what to put there? That’s another story.

First, understand there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Millions of different sites in tens of thousands of different categories, businesses and interest areas, need different stuff (a highly technical WordPress term!) in the sidebars.

Second, your sidebar shouldn’t go on . . . and on . . . and on. Scroll down your blog page. Make sure the sidebar doesn’t extend any farther than your blog excerpts. Shorter is ok. (On this site, there are four more excerpts after the sidebar ends.)

WordPress sidebar

Third, think long and hard about providing sidebar links that take the reader off your site and onto someone else’s.

Here are three rules of thumb to get you started.

  1. Put your most important sidebar element at the top
  2. Put your second most important sidebar element underneath that
  3. Put your third most important element underneath . . . you get the idea

What’s Your Most Important Sidebar Element?

This depends on your site’s main goal, mission or purpose. Some common top-of-sidebar elements include:

An Opt-in Form

Maybe you want site visitors to sign up on your email list, or your You Tube channel. At Copyblogger, which is the go-to place for content marketing advice, the top item in the sidebar is an email opt-in form and next is an invitation to join their free membership site.

opt-in example

Steve Washer of Brainy Video has two items in his sidebar. First is the form to get his free starter kit and e-letter, next is his opt-in for his You Tube channel. There’s no question about what actions he wants his site visitors to take!

On this site, there’s an opt-in form for my free, 7-part email series.

At David Risley’s Blog Marketing Academy, it’s a free membership with lots of useful content.

Hint: There are lots of ways to create your opt-in form. I use the Elevatr plugin. If you’re using Aweber or Mailchimp for your email, they let you create forms which you can place on your site.

About Me

aboutFor some, the most important thing you want visitors to see after your logo and header is some information about you or about the company. Pat Flynn, who runs the site Smart Passive Income, puts his About box at the top of his sidebar, with his opt-in underneath.

Instead of text, you can use this space for a video — a lot of not-for-profit websites use this strategy.

Hint: Many themes, including those from the two designers I use, StudioPress and Elegant Themes, include widgets for your About Me sidebar content.

Top News

If your site publishes up-to-the-minute information on your topic, consider a news ticker in the top position. It will show your reader a rotating list of the most recent headlines.

Hire Me

If you do consulting or provide some other service, perhaps that’s what you should highlight at the top of your sidebar. “Work with Me,” “Plans and Pricing,” and similar headlines fall into this category.

Ask yourself: what’s the first and most important thing I want a new visitor to my website to do? The answer to that question will tell you what to put at the top of your sidebar.

Choose the Second Most Important Element

Once you’ve decided what to show at the top of your sidebar, move on to number two. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary.

Other elements you often find in sidebars include:

  • Search box
  • Recent posts
  • Social media “follow me” links
  • Additional navigation
  • Testimonials
  • Sales and advertisements
  • Social media feeds — Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc.

Sidebar elements to be cautious about:

  • Awards — unless the award is for something completely world-changing, there are probably better places to put it
  • Tag clouds — they’re considered a bit old-fashioned on today’s web
  • Too many social feeds — If you add a widget showing your Facebook friends and another with your most recent tweets and another showing recent Pinterest pins, you’re going to slow down your site’s load time. That’s a big no-no that Google will penalize you for. Pick your single most important social feed and put only that one in the sidebar.
  • Archives — if you want to include it, put it on its own page. Don’t take up valuable sidebar real estate.

Bottom line? You want your sidebar to showcase important information, lead the reader to take the steps you want her to take, and make it easier for him to find what he’s looking for on your site.

Have questions about how to get the most out of your WordPress sidebar? Ask them below, or contact me directly.

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