Seriously, this is a problem people. The sidebar is dead, how do we bring it back?
Actually, do we want to bring it back? That’s a warranted question. Personally, I think one column blog design rocks, but it’s not always the right solution. Sometimes we need the sidebar, if nothing else but to keep search fields and things like that close at hand. And ads, as I said in the previous post.
So how can we resurrect the sidebar?
Well, first of all, remove all the widget crap and clutter. If you need MyBlogLog stuff or similar community things, for instance, why not move that to the footer? The main thing is to not use the sidebar as the easy way out for everything you need (as opposed to want to cram in).
What should we have in the sidebar? Well, ads are OK, I think, but you’re probably better of placing it with the content if you’re looking for clicks. People see them in the sidebar, but do they interact? They could, if the ad’s message is spot on, but most likely they just glance over. Placing ads is hard, though, so you’ll have to experiment. Again, don’t just dump them in the sidebar because it’s easy and I said it was OK, do it because they fit there in a manner that takes the reader into account.
Do you microblog? Get it into the sidebar! Asides, sideblogs, or whatever you want to call it, is also content, and having it in the sidebar means that readers will grow accustomed to look there.
For blogs that get a fair amount of comments, consider putting a recent comments list in the sidebar. People who are interested in the discussions on your blog will look at it, at least, and it adds functionality to the reader, which makes it OK. You might also want to put in the recent posts list, depending on how good your front page is. I’ve chosen not to do that on rethord.com, instead having a list in a box on the front page, and pushing people to a dedicated archives page.
About boxes could go in the sidebar. If you think that is a good idea – and I know not all people like them – then at least make sure to keep it short, and link to a dedicated about page instead. You know you should have one, right?
How about polls? I’d say no, although it does fit in nicely most of the time. If you really want the poll in the sidebar you’ll need to educate your readers in using it. Remember, they’re used to not looking at the sidebar at all, or just glancing it which means they’re likely to miss the functionality, or take it in enough to actually use it. The same could go for search boxes, one might argue, but remember that if you’re looking for a search box, you’re actively looking, which means you’ll react to it and not glance through.
Subscription options could go in the sidebar, if the block is designed accordingly. With this I mean that a big RSS icon might work if you just want to offer that, but if you want e-mail subscriptions as well, or want readers to use various options in this field, then design it accordingly, have some functionality right then and there if needed, but lead people to pages dedicated for these things. Sure, you and me might know what RSS is and how it works, but I’ve found that you gain a lot by doing a nice subscription page with some information for those who haven’t yet grasped these things.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t think pushing your latest series of kickass blog posts works very well in the sidebar, at least not until you’ve educated your readers in where to find them.
Lists of categories, pages, and tags are overall boring ugly stuff. They might or they might not be necessary, that depends on your blog and your readers. Think it through, and then decide if you really need them in the sidebar. If you’re one of those with tons of categories, consider doing something different with them (see the 901am placement to the far right – a functionality somewhat cramped by the fact that there is other things there as well, but nonetheless), or even to just display the prominent ones and then link to an archives page. These are things that might fit in a footer instead, which is a less obtrusive way to push a lot of stuff out.
Take a look at your sidebar. Is it dead? My guess is that it is, although some of you might not agree just yet. Now try and resurrect it, because everyone loves a zombie…