7 Ways to Make Your Site Sidebars Work Harder

A search bar. A list of recent posts. Your social media network links. A newsletter signup form.

What do these things have in common? They’re popular items found on website sidebars. Now go look at your website and see how many you have on it.

Kissmetrics only has one item in theirs. M2Sys has five. As does Chris Brogan. The official Google blog has three. There doesn’t seem to be any rules on how many you should have, or what information you display in it. But they all follow one simple rule in their sidebars: Have useful & persuasive information for your readers.

Here’s a list of seven ways you can make your sidebar more useful:

#1: Promote Subscriptions

Your site, and especially your blog, should have social media sharing options available on it. Don’t just stop at having the buttons visible though. Add some content to sell the option. “Connect with us” above your Twitter and Facebook links. “Get free email updates” above your newsletter signup form.

#2: Offer downloadable content

Most successful blogs offer downloadable content, whether that’s a case study, white paper, e-book, or report. Asking readers to subscribe or download it is fine, but showing a graphic of the cover increases demand even more. Guess we’re all visual readers. For example, “Get your free sneak peek at Wildly Profitable Marketing for [your market]”, or “Download the Social Media Marketing report today!” Here’s one for Social Media Examiner‘s Social Media Marketing Industry Report. It’s a subtle button at the end of their sidebar, just asking you to download their latest report.

Image sample for a downloadable product

#3: Tell/ask your readers to share

Social media buttons on websites are pretty common these days, so most of the time readers know what to do. Make the experience a little different by including some persuasive text next to them. “Follow our updates on Twitter” or “Join our community on Google+” It’s a refreshing approach that will pay dividends.

#4: Show off your awards

Have your products won any awards? Your blog? Your staff? Then say so! Display the badges proudly to any awards you’ve won on your site. It increases your credibility with your readers.

#5: Popular articles list

Personal blogs do this all the time, but it’s not as common on corporate blogs. Having a list of your most popular articles (or blog posts) creates backlinks on your site, which increases your SEO scores and SEM (search engine marketing) position. It also shows off the topics your readers are most interested in, which you can use to generate more article ideas. If you’re using WordPress for your site or blog, there are numerous plug-ins for this, like WordPress Popular Posts and Popular Posts.

#6: Advertising for your own products

Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing is using the sidebar of her blog to advertise her latest book, The Power of Un-Popular. It’s a large ad, but it’s simple, and filled with persuasive copy. “Get your black sheep on”, “Pre-order Erika’s new book”, “Order Yours at…”.

 #7: Pictures of your writers

The Internet can be a pretty impersonal place, so showing off who’s writing your blog helps create a relationship between you and your readers. In turn, this can increase your lead generation opportunities. Now, looking at this blog, you’ll see that I’ve run afoul of my own tip, as I don’t have a picture of myself on here. But if you’ve seen my comments here or around the blogosphere, you’ll have seen my Gravitar set up and seen my picture. Chris Brogan has his picture on his. Jim Dougherty does too on his Leaders West site.

You’ll notice that this blog has five items in the sidebar. They’re all working hard for me, getting my content out to readers, helping us get connected, and talking about your blog or case study. How is your website sidebar working for you?

Julia Borgini + Spacebarpress helps geeks sell their stuff through winning case studies & online content. Contact her today to find out other ways she can transform your corporate blog.