Most blogging systems, including WordPress and Blogger, provide an almost endless choice of widgets (aka gadgets) that you can place in your sidebar. So, how do you pick the best sidebar widgets for your blog?
It probably won’t surprise you when I say your choice of sidebar widgets should be driven by your Blog Purpose and Goals.
RELATED POST: Find Your Blog Purpose & Goals
Many bloggers treat the sidebar as something of an afterthought. They throw up a collection of widgets they think they must have because every blog they see seems to have those widgets. But sidebar widget choice should be very specific to your blog and your blog goals.
So, let’s dig in an talk about blog widgets and which ones will work best for your blog!
* This post is #2 in a 4 Part series about sidebars. Yeah, sidebars really do need their own series.
Check out the other posts here:
- How to Choose the Best Layout for Your Blog Sidebar
- How to Pick the Best Sidebar Widgets for Your Blog –> YOU ARE HERE
- 5 Must Haves for Your Blog Sidebar
- 10 Rockin’ Blog Sidebar Examples
Picking the best blog sidebar widgets requires intent.
You’re probably catching on that when blogging, everything you do should loop right back around to your Purpose and Goals. From menu design to sidebar widget and the content you write, everything you do while blogging should be intentional.
If you’ve been reading along with each of my recent posts, you may not have realized that each one is building on the concept of Intentional Blogging. Most of the Intentional Blogging movement focuses on content creation – post length, how often you should blog, etc. Each post should be crafted with thought and purpose.
I like to apply that philosophy to EVERYTHING about blogging. From content to design, you should always be thinking about the Purpose and Goals of your blog.
So, keep that in mind as you pick your sidebar widgets.
Each blog, having it’s own special Purpose and Goals, will be better served by using a different collection of widgets. Just like in my previous discussion on sidebar layout. The best choice for your blog will be wholly individual.
How Many Sidebar Widgets Should You Use on your blog?
Just like the types of widgets you choose for your blog sidebar, the number of widgets that will work best for your blog will vary depending on your individual blog.
But, just like with menu design, the more the merrier is not the best design approach.
For example, our Blogger template and WordPress themes come with quite a variety of sidebar widgets and gadgets. Our demo sites are used to show all the options. This does not mean YOU need every single one of these sidebar widgets.
My rule of thumb is: 3 – 8 blog sidebar widgets.
In some cases, even 8 can be too many blog sidebar widgets. If you’ve got a profile widget with an image and text, a popular posts widget that shows 10 posts, an email subscription widget, plus 4 other assorted widgets, your sidebar becomes incredibly cluttered and rather useless.
The sidebar is prime real estate. Since it is displayed on most, if not all, the pages and post in your blog, this area is one readers will view over and over again. If it’s cluttered and pointless, they’re going to develop a sort of “ad blindness” and ignore it altogether.
Too much clutter in the sidebar will also turn into a distraction. The clutter will distract from the goal of the widgets themselves. And the mess may distract readers from reading your content.
Think of your sidebar like a secondary navigation or menu are and keep it minimal and the widgets directed at achieving your blog Purpose and Goals.
So, What are the BEST Blog Sidebar Widgets?
And again, we’re back to that answer: it depends on your Purpose and Goals.
Here are some suggestions for the best sidebar blog widgets based on the Purpose and Goals of your blog:
Create Community and Find Loyal Readers
- Profile (About Me) widget
- Recent Comments
Build Social Media Following
- Social Media Icons
- Facebook Like widget
- Bloglovin’ follow widget
- Pinterest feed widget
- Instagram feed widget
- Twitter timeline widget
Grow Your Email Subscriber List
- Subscribe widget
- Call-to-action widget with link to subscribe page
Increase Page Views per Session (Encourage Readers to read more)
- Search widget
- Category widget
- Archive widget
- Tag Cloud widget
- Popular Post widget
- Recent Posts widget
- Featured Post widget
* Avoid never-ending category or archive lists. Stick with a dropdown style for Archives. For categories, use your Parent categories or most popular categories only. And make sure your blog is properly organized so that your not overrun by Categories in the first place!
Increase Sales in Shop
- Popular Products widget
- Ad style widget with link to shop
- Featured Product widget
- Product CTA widget linking to product or landing page
Monetize Your Blog
- Ad widget
- Affiliate network ad widget
- Popular Product widget
- Featured Product widget
- Product CTA widget
You will probably have several goals for your sidebar widgets. So, you’ll likely be mixing and matching a few widgets from each of these categories.
I wouldn’t recommend stuffing your sidebar with every widget option from one of the above categories, even if that is your sole goal for your sidebar. 2-3 widgets at most from each category are sufficient.
And keep the max widget number rule of thumb in mind.
Other widget areas
Many WordPress blog themes and some Blogger templates have multiple widget/gadget areas. Your design may also have a footer or under post widget area.
These are great places to add additional widgets while still keeping your sidebar clutter-free.
We’ll be talking more about footer design and content areas soon, but just keep this idea in mind when you’re planning your sidebar widgets.
What Order Should I Put My Widgets in?
This is an important question.
A sidebar is basically a giant list of stuff. Research has shown that people tend to remember the first 2 items in a list and the last item. All the middle items are just so much clutter.
Put your most important widgets at the top and bottom of the sidebar.
If it’s really important to you to build community and loyal reader, stick your profile widget right up there at the top.
Working hard to grow your email list? Stick that widget right up there at the top.
Widget to NOT include in your sidebar
Some widget are just…well, a waste of space. Here are a few you should skip as they just add clutter to your site and don’t contribute to your blog:
- Blog award buttons – better for an About Page
- Too many ads (2 ads max, guys!)
- List of blogs you’ve read – why are you trying to send people to someone else’s blog? This is better for a page or a post.
You know I love an example or 2!
The last post in this series will be dedicated to 10 Rockin’ Blog Sidebar Examples with a discussion of why they are totally awesome.
For this post, the example is this blog! (Shocking!)
When I first started the blog for Georgia Lou Studios, I’ll admit the blog had no Purpose and zero Goals. I was blogging because an online business must have a blog.
RELATED POST: A New Year, A New Blog: Upcoming Blog Relaunch
When I finally decided to make my blog really work for its keep, I re-evaluated our whole site design based strictly on the Purpose and Goals I had laid out for our site. This included the blog sidebar layout and the widgets in the sidebar.
As I discussed in the first post in this series, I chose to go No Sidebar on certain types of pages and stick with a Right Sidebar design on the blog pages.
Because I am a menu minimalist, I wanted to use the sidebar to provide ways for my reader to navigate the blog content and encourage them to stick around and read more.
So, I added the following gadgets to help my reader navigate my blog:
- Search widget
- Category widget – with branded styling and cute icons
- Popular Posts – displayed with large, attractive thumbnail and post title
Another of my major blog goals is to grow our email subscriber list, so that also factored into the widgets I chose for the sidebar. I added an email subscribe widget with styles made to help it stand our right near the top of the sidebar.
Since a major component of our site is the shop, one of the goals of my blog is to help increase sales in the shop. So I added:
- Image ad linking to the main shop page
- Image ad linking to a specific product I want to promote
The final widget is a social media icon widget. Social media is an important part of growing most blogs. This kind of widget is generally minimal and compact, making it a great additional to a clean, simple sidebar.
The order of the widgets in my sidebar is also very deliberate.
I like to place Popular Post widgets near the bottom of the sidebar.
I don’t want readers leaving my post when they’re in the middle of reading. As they get toward the end of the post they’re reading, I want them to notice those great big Popular Post thumbnails and navigate to the next post after finishing the current post.
This tactic really works. Those 3 posts in my Popular Posts widget get lots of traffic.
I like to keep the Search widget near the top. It drives me crazy when I can’t find a search form on a site. I like to make mine easy to find.
I also like to cluster my category widget with my search widget. These “search” type functions go really well together and make a little mini-Search Center in the sidebar.
Recently I have removed a social media widget that wasn’t doing much for my site and reordered some of my ads to text performance. Remember to track how well your widgets seem to be doing and re-evaluate your sidebar widget strategy as necessary.
Sum It Up
OK, let’s run back over the take home points:
- Base your widget choice on your Blog Purpose & Goals
- Rule of Thumb: 3 – 8 sidebar widgets
- Put the most important widgets at the top and bottom of the sidebar-wrapper
OK, ready to kick your sidebar into high gear? Grab my printable Sidebar Planner.
I’ve included the Rules and a space for you to get artistic and sketch out (or just list) your sidebar widget choices.
If you’re already a list subscriber, hop over to the Resource Library to grab your copy.
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