Planning Your Website Sidebar

Planning Your Website SidebarOnce you understand your overall website strategy and approach, the next step, while developing your content and design, is to think about your website sidebar.

You don’t want to just load up your sidebar with badges, widgets, and gizmos just because it’s cool, because someone else uses it, because it might work, or because you can.

Like your content, your sidebar needs a strategic plan!

Planning the sidebars of your website is just as important as planning your content, your sales funnel, and your irresistible free offer.

Your sidebar exists on almost every page of your website. That means it affects your visitors’ experience on your site. It also affects the way visitors move through your site, what they click on, and how long they stay.

Here are some important things to think about when planning your sidebar:

  • Your opt-in typically will be the first item in the sidebar area of your site, making it easy for you to edit and update.
  • Sidebar elements should be used to help visitors access information quickly, improve your visitors’ experience on your site, and increase conversions of visitors to clients and customers.
  • Every third party badge, widget, and link you add to your sidebar (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Affiliate products etc.) is an opportunity for visitors to leave your website, get distracted, and forget about you.
  • You don’t have to have the same sidebar elements on every page. You can show different elements on different pages to aid in the conversion goal for each specific page.

Just remember, that cramming too many items into your website sidebar will more than likely cause your visitors to feel confused and overwhelmed, and your site to look amateurish and cluttered. Instead of putting everything you can into your sidebar, think about what is appropriate for each page.

Here are some examples:

  • Your “As seen on” logos may only appear in the sidebar on your About, Media, Speaking, and Testimonial pages
  • Your list of past speaking engagements only appears in the sidebar on your speaking page
  • A YouTube Video testimonial or product-specific only appears in the sidebar on the page for that product
  • Your list of blog categories only appear in the sidebar on the blog pages, while the top five most recent posts appear on all other pages

In some cases you may not want to use a sidebar at all! On some pages, specifically on the pages where you are asking for a specific conversion (i.e. product pages, teleclass signups, etc.), you may want to eliminate the sidebar to reduce distractions and keep the visitor focused on taking the desired action.

When it comes to your website sidebar, just remember to keep it simple

Before adding any element to your sidebar as yourself these three questions:

  1. Will it help my visitors find what they need faster?
  2. Will it add value to and enhance my visitors’ experience on my site?
  3. Will it aid in increasing my desired conversions on the site?
About Jennifer Bourn

As Creative Director of Bourn Creative, Jennifer leads all consulting, strategy, and creative projects. She is an award-winning designer, specializing in custom WordPress theme design, brand design, Legos (Yes, Legos), and graphic design for small business.

Entrenched in the world of online business, Jennifer consults with clients around the world on branding, website planning, and marketing strategies that leverage the internet to generate leads, attract clients, and create opportunities. She speaks regularly at live events, conferences, and workshops around the country, as well as on radio shows, teleclases, webinars, and podcasts.

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Comments & Feedback:

  1. Great article! I especially like your advice about not cluttering up the sidebar. Too much stuff (no matter if it’s all helpful) will be ignored.

  2. Jennifer! This is good stuff. It is very helpful to me as I manage multiple sites and the audiences for each are potentially different. The sidebar is a valuable tool, and different widgets are more effective in different places. Thank you for the great tips.

    Michele Jennae

  3. Jennifer, you rock – what a beautiful concept – planning your sidebar – just as you would your website content and free gift! Great information here – thanks for sharing your wisdom as usual! xo

    • Thanks Brenda – most people forget about the sidebar and then just stick some stuff in there as an afterthought … but when you approach it strategically, it becomes a great asset

  4. Great article Jennifer … what to put on my sidebar has been something I’ve struggled with each time I redo my site. I have been systematically removing widgets and badges I’ve always included, and I must say it looks much cleaner. I stopped including links to my latest blog posts and categories because it was too cluttered on the site itself, but it never occurred to me that I could include them on just the blog page itself. Thanks so much for the great ideas.

    • Terry – With this new site we have almost nothing in the sidebar for a reason. We’re keeping the focus on the content. Displaying the recent posts on the blog page seemed silly to me – doesn’t the main blog page already show the most recent posts?! So it just makes sense to show the categories on the blog pages and the recent posts on the rest of the pages …

      But the strategy and approach is different for every site. You need to look at what you want people to DO when they come to your site. If it is more than one action, you need to prioritize the actions and create the site to provide those conversion results.

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I agree with Terry – you gave a great idea to put different blog related widgets (categories, latest posts) on different pages. Genius! I am victim to too many things on mine, and they are all on each page. Must change that soon.

    Appreciate you always lighting the way to better website design!

    Amy

  6. Thanks Jen
    I am slowly but surely implementing your brilliant tips – I think people give little thought to the content and purpose of their site as long as it looks pretty to them…Considering your client is a huge factor so many businesses miss!

    Great content as always
    Kelli

  7. Jennifer, brilliant. I especially like the tip on customizing the right sidebar for the right page. It’s all about the call the action, so pick the message (or tool) that is going to help your prospect down the path. When I consult with my clients this is what I ALWAYS stress and can’t do so enough: the more strategic thought you put into getting to know the needs of your ideal client, what their triggers are that got them looking for your solution, then you can do half the “sales” job before they even contact you. It weeds out people who aren’t a fit for you and encourages the right ones to take the next step. By the time they get in touch with you, it truly is a “in what way can I work with you?” discussion. When you put this level of thought into your marketing choices, this is the result. Most consultants (and many coaches) who come to me arrived with a poorly designed, brochure style site. Sometimes they spent an awful lot of money to get there. This is a key strategy especially if you are a solopreneur.

    • Sherri – I agree! When you approach the entire website strategically from the beginning your site will do all the heavy-lifting for you. It will weed out much of the tire-kickers, qualify new leads, shorten the sales cycle, and make your marketing much easier.

      And unfortunately you’re right about another thing … a lot of business owners, especially solopreneurs, get “taken” by people who claim to be experts … but aren’t. They then spend thousands of dollars on websites that may look pretty but they they don’t work at all to turn visitors into clients, customers, and subscribers. Bums me out every time I hear it!

  8. Great information! I love the ideas about putting side bar information on the page that is most appropriate! I have been guilty of side bar clutter, so I know others are too.

    I also love the idea of giving people planning “tools” for their sites. So many times sites are thrown together without much thought! This is what makes you shine :)

    • Thanks Rebecca – The sidebar is so often just an afterthought. But it really is important. When to use it, when not to use it, what to include it in and on which pages … all of these decisions need to be made when planning your entire site strategy.

  9. Jennifer, my favorite sidebar planning tip here is “You don’t have to have the same sidebar elements on every page. You can show different elements on different pages to aid in the conversion goal for each specific page.” Plugins that allow us to do cool things like this is just one – of many – reasons why I love WordPress so much!

    Thanks for summarizing the advice into the three questions to ask – SO very helpful.

    ~ Gina xo

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