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Your Blog Sidebar's Dirty Little Secret

Most bloggers, including me, have a secret love affair with their sidebar.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of blogs and almost all of them have lovingly curated sidebars. I meet stiff resistance whenever I suggest streamlining them, removing items, or rearranging the lineup of widgets.

This love is based on the hope that sidebars are valuable blog real estate. But, the reality is that…

Sidebars are horrifically ineffective places to promote your call to action, engagement items, or social media channels. Like most things, sidebars used to work but not anymore.

Why? Well…your readers are ignoring them.

Your Sidebar is Tailor-Made to Be Ignored

A sidebar does two things.

Unfortunately, your readers’ overtaxed attention is tuned to do two things exceptionally well.

1) Ignore advertising or anything that “might” be advertising: That means advertising is studiously avoided. Take a look at the heatmap showing where site visitors focus their attention. Within seconds, they’ve ignored everything but the site’s main content.

heatmap blindness e1376412628784 Your Blog Sidebars Dirty Little Secret : Blog Promotion

2) Ignore anything that doesn’t change. Any change takes precedence and receives our attention. When you reader arrives at your blog they immediately look for the featured post – everything else is considered old news.

Your sidebar meets both criteria and is ignored within milliseconds.

When I discovered my sidebar’s poor performance I tried to solve the problem by redesigning it with more attractive widgets. That worked for about a week.

I tried rearranging sidebar elements to trigger my reader’s “Something has changed” radar. That tactic failed miserably too.

Only one thing worked.

Salvaging Your Sidebar

Accept the fact that only your top sidebar item receives the the most attention. New readers will see it and react on their first visit. Everything else below the top item receives as much attention as Marlon from the Jackson 5.

You can increase the chances of your sidebar item getting noticed by reducing your sidebar to 2–3 items. If you can, reduce to just 1 or 2. More focus and less noise will draw your readers attention to the sidebar for a few more seconds.

That’s it. Your job is done. Stop stressing and stuffing more icons, ads, and lists into your sidebar. The more you shove in the space the less effective it will be

It’s time to take the next step and change your promotion strategy.

Say Goodbye to Sidebar Addiction

Writing a post is the best way to get your reader’s attention. They come to your blog for content, not static sidebar widgts. It’s attractive to think that you can throw all of your “selling” into the sidebar but that’s a quick way to go broke.

Here are a few proven methods for effectively promoting your business without relying on your deadbeat sidebar:

Monthly Content+Promotion Post.

Once a month is good enough: Every month select one item you want to promote. Write a blog post that delivers excellent “how-to” content around your product. Once you’ve delivered the content, make a clear, non-hype, offer to the reader to take the next step. That’s it.

Revive Dead Pages

It’s likely you have a dozen or so pages that do important work but are ignored because they aren’t front-line blog posts. These dead pages include:

  1. Thank You Pages – Readers see these after they’ve confirmed a subscription or purchased a product.
  2. 404 Pages – For many sites, the 404 page is often a top–10 traffic most visited page! When was the last time you visited yours?
  3. Old and Outdated Landing Pages – I discovered that I have at least 5 old Webinar landing pages that are still getting traffic. I was appalled that I hadn’t used these pages to point visitors to another resource. How about you?

Dig up your Dead pages and revive them by placing your top call-to-action on them. Make sure you place an actual form on the page to quickly capture information without requiring an additional click.

3 Alternative Venues

I’ve weighed in on the pop-up debate many times. I believe that relevant pop-ups and alerts work exceptionally well. In fact, on Pushing Social, I use three alternative methods that routinely outperform my sidebar promotional items. They are:

Welcome Gate
Click here to see my Welcome Gate. During the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, I noticed how Obama’s website asked for your email address before showing the site. I loved the strategy but couldn’t pull it off until recently.

My Welcome Gate was built with a great tool called LeadPages. It is shown once every 90 days to website visitors. It’s attractive and offers a real value. I immediately say a jump in opt-ins with zero complaints.

After-Post Box
I stole the After-Post Box idea from Copyblogger. Every post has a call-to-action box apppended to it. In my case, I had a neat little script built that changes the box’s content depending on the post category. But you can add a simple box without the bells and whistles and get great results.

I use pop-ups with strict rules. I recommend configuring your pop up to show a minute after a visitor arrives. Use the pop up to offer the most relevant information or offer you can. Once the pop-up shows or the reader signs up, never show them the pop-up again. So far, these guidelines have kept my opt-ins high while irritating fewer visitors.

Note: A small percentage of your readers have a pathological disgust for pop-ups. They would hate them even if they offered free money. That’s fine. You will lose these readers but they are the exception not the rule.

Covering Your Bases

So, even though I’m suggesting you take a chainsaw to your sidebar, you still have several high-performing tactics to promote what’s important to you. Make sense? Are you willing to radically streamline your sidebar?!

Join The Conversation

  • patricia_haag's picture
    Aug 14 Posted 3 years ago patricia_haag

    This was such an interesting article.  I do take a lot of time with my sidebars and am now wondering if I should just get rid of them.  Any thoughts on having ads or product links in sections within a blog post?

    I'm amazed that pop-ups could work better; they are so annoying.  I get to read the first sentence of a blog post and then a signup form takes over the whole screen.  And that even happens on sites I'm already signed up to. I'm okay with the pop-ups that don't take over the whole screen, but scroll in from the side.

  • Tatiana Aders's picture
    Aug 14 Posted 3 years ago Tatiana Aders

    Awesome article, Stanford! My sidebar has always done well for me, but we can always optimize, right? 

    I like the pop-up policy. My blind hatred of pop-ups has made me avoid using them, but I need to get over that and give it a try.

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