How to Create a Blog Sidebar That Converts Visitors Into Revenue

by Derek Halpern · 50 comments

Visitors Into Revenue

One of the most important aspects of your blog design is your sidebar.

For starters, it’s often found on almost every single page—except for your landing pages.

With that amount of exposure, no wonder I say it’s vital.

Question is how do you create a sidebar that’s tailor made to convert your random visitors into loyal subscribers?

The 3 Vital Characteristics of High-Converting Blog Sidebar

By now you know I like to break things down into easy-to-implement action steps—and this article is no different.

So what’s the genetic makeup of a high converting sidebar?

Keep reading.

#1 A Persuasive Call-To-Action

The only thing that gets more eyeball play than your sidebar is your logo. Given that, make sure you slap a persuasive call to action in your sidebar.

What types of calls to action work?

Well, depending on the type of blog you run, you should either put an email sign up form at the top or an ad (how to add an ad into wordpress).

Personally, I’d always put an email signup form there—unless you have a contract with an ad company that requires you to have the ad at the top, of course.

#2 Links to Resource Pages

When people visit your blog, you’ll find they often see your single post content pages first.

Given that, your main goal is to convert these new visitors into loyal fans by either getting them to convert into an email, or to continue reading your content.

How do you get people to read more content?

Link to your best, information-packed resource pages that we’ve talked about right below your main call to action.

(Here are three examples of resource pages: look at email marketing for bloggers, list building 101, or how to negotiate)

Why below your call to action?

Because if people aren’t ready to take action with you, they’re looking for more information.

And that’s why you want your best content right below the call to action on the sidebar.

#3 Links to Popular Articles

What happens if people aren’t ready to dive into one of your information-packed resource pages?

That’s when you promote your popular articles.

You see, popular articles are GREAT it’s implied that other people like those articles too.

And remember, when people have trouble making a decision about a product or information, they look to their peers to see what they’re doing.

Robert Cialdini pointed this out in his book Influence, and he called it social proof. Well, popular articles have social proof baked right into it.

What NOT to Put In Your Blog Sidebar

If you want a blog sidebar that converts, you need to know what to include in it. You also need to know what to avoid.

So…

Let’s talk about what you shouldn’t include on your blog sidebar.

#1 Stinkin’ Badges

I’ll kick this off right. The first thing you should never include in your sidebar are badges.

After all, as they said in Blazing Saddles, “badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

But why?

Look at it like this:

You might include a badge of some marketing award, but unless people know who issues that award, chances are they don’t care.

However, if you get recognition from something like Time magazine, or Forbes, or something major like that, a badge from their site might be worth while.

#2 Your Twitter Stream

The point of social media is to build your audience, which means you want social media to send you traffic to your site.

If you put your Twitter stream in your sidebar, you’re sending people away from site.

That’s backwards. So, if I were you, I’d avoid the Twitter stream at all costs.

(But if you want to follow DIYthemes on Twitter, you can find us here).

#3 Links to every social media profile

You all know about analysis paralysis. If you don’t, here’s the quick rundown: if you give people too many options, they often choose to take none of them and walk away.

If you present every single social media profile that you have on your sidebar, people won’t click on any of them.

So, instead, pick one or two social media networks to promote, and only link to them.

(Personally, I’m against linking to social media websites at all on your sidebar, but in some industries I recognize this is necessary. Especially if you’re dealing with business to consumer).

And that’s it!

You’re well on your way to a high-converting sidebar!

Now let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 50 comments }

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Yes, cool. How does mine look?

David Krug

I’m not a huge fan of using categories on your sidebar Rob, otherwise your site looks slick :)

That’s my opinion, as an outsider. Some stronger calls to action might be helpful too.

Lennart

I must say: really cool!

Stephen Hadley

Nice, clean site, Rob. Well done.

Anne

Nice job, Rob! How do you get those bands across the top -orange, gray, dark gray? Thanks!

Bo4610

Rob,

Yours is the first site I evr visited that has a contact form on the sidebar. I like it, thanks for the idea.

:)

Ryan Shell

So glad that you mentioned #2 and #3 under the “NOT” section.

And Derek, have you done any testing when it comes to having alternate homepage and post page sidebars? It seems like both could somehow serve a different purpose.

@RyanShell

Derek Halpern

Absolutely that can work. The more targeted the links are to the type of content people are reading the better.

That’s for another tutorial though. I couldn’t tell people to set that up and then not show them how to do it :-)

Marketing Maverick

Derek,

You’re awesome my friend… I got a reminder of these points when I watched your amazing video critiques on your social triggers site.

Badges… how cheesy are those? Silliness.

Thank you! I officially Knight you as a Marketing Maverick! :-)

- Ken

Stephen Hadley

This. All of this. Well done, Derek. Once again, you’re a rockstar. Now, lemme go remove my damn badges. JK

Will English IV

Oh damn, I’ve got twitter in my sidebar, SHIT. Gotta go change that now or Derek will hunt me down and hack my site :)

Thanks for the tips man.

Ted Cooper

I read every one of your posts, Derek, and bookmark many of them. Can’t say that about many blogs! Always relevant and actionable for someone like me standing at the bottom of the blog learning curve. Thanks very much.

Chris

Nice Derek,

I honestly have never understood why people would put badges on their site.

I really like it when we only have one thing to do on a site. Just help me get straight to the good stuff.

Chris

Clinton Power

Derek, your emails are the only ones I never miss opening thanks to your ongoing top-notch content and tips- thank you.

You’ve inspired me to start creating some resources pages for my readers.

And now I need to get moving and review my cluttered sidebars. :)

Cinthia Duroche

Hi:
Is there any research to show if the left or right side is better placement for a sidebar?

Clare Kelway

Derek,
I love your emails! OK I need to do some work on my blog! I have never paid any attention to social media buttons, badges or twitter streams in the sidebar of any blog I have visited, why would anyone pay attention to mine? Consider them gone!!

Thank you for such valuable help.

Sean Davis

I’ve learned a LOT about sidebars from you, Derek. I don’t flood mine anymore like I used to.

I still have my search bar there ;) and I have my Twitter follow button. I have it there because I cater to new bloggers… and they are looking for people to follow at that point in their blogging careers. So, it works out.

I definitely agree with everything in this post, though.

Rick Upshaw

Since I’m in the online marketing business, I’ve always thought that having links to social media profiles in the sidebar was a good idea. Somehow, it seemed to add credibility to what I’m promoting. However, having those links via the cool-looking graphics isn’t going to convert, and the fact that they do, in fact, send people away from your site most certainly can’t be ignored. Lesson learned!

Renee

Great post. Is there a how-to guide for Thesis to get the links to popular posts/articles in the sidebar or is that a widget or plugin? Any recommendations?

Lisa Firke

I prefer to keep my sidebars very spare. Glad to know I’m on the right track!

Greg

“Blazing Saddles”?

doug cronk

OMG! Derek, you’re killing me. It was one of the best movies of all time and it wasn’t Blazing Saddles … the movie was ‘The Treasure of the Sierrra Madre’ (1948) and the actor/character was Alfonso ‘gold hat’ Bedoya.

Derek Halpern

Yes, I’m aware of that, but I first came across it in Blazing Saddles.

Bo

Thanks Derek.. Man I agree with the NOT TOs on the side bar. Thinking of it, it really doesn’t make any sense putting your twitter stream on it. And badges,,,, who cares about badges anyways huh.

DoctorFu

I think I might have found a typo when you linked to “how to ad an add into wordpress”. Shouldn’t it be “…add an ad…”?

BTW, I almost forgot to mention that this was a great write-up! There’s a lot here to consider when creating a sidebar. =)

Owen Johnson

Derek,

Good informative article, as usual. You’re right, the more a person puts in the sidebar, the less likely it is anyone will pay attention to it.

Speaking of sidebars, your left one is clipped in my browser window (only the right edge of it shows) and there’s no side-to-side scroll bar. Not everyone uses a wide-screen monitor with resolutions set at 100,000 x 80,000 you know. :-) I’m set at 1024 wide.

When I first got into building web sites, I was taught if you have too much stuff to fit in the average person’s screen, you’ve got too much stuff. And back then, it was like 640 x 480!

Owen

Marketing Sutra

Great summary, Derek!

How to add “Links to Popular Articles” to the blog sidebar? Is there a plugin or a Thesis how-to?

Thanks!

Pam

Oh I am so relieved about not putting social media links/buttons in anywhere actually. Like Clare I do not pay attention to them myself. I’ve always wondered if folks are actually active in all those places.

I am delighted to discover reasoning not to include them. Yea!

Vijay

Thanks Derek for the nice Tips. I am so confused on what else to put in the sidebar for my blog. Any suggestions are welcome.

ben

i quite agree with not putting Twitter stream in our sidebar.

Amanda

When you say badges, what are you referencing? All badges, or ones like “I’m so going to blog con xyz”?

And if you’re referencing all badges, what about the ones that are industry specific? Like a certification in a specialty? Or should those be somewhere else?

Brad Dalton

My social media buttons are in my header. I guess i should put them somewhere else. But what to put in my header and where to put social media buttons?

I was thinking about putting my search form in the header and creating a larger email sign up form rather than 2 rss links.

Laura

I narrow down the social media profiles to just the one or two I am active on. What point is there in sending people to a social profile I’m not “there” for.

Good points but wasn’t it here in the DIY blog that I read about using badges to give yourself credibility? I had them in my footer but put them up after reading that post.

I agree about the Twitter feed but for the reason of my Twitter feed being unpredictable. I wouldn’t want some random thing I saw on Twitter being part of a first impression someone gets from my site. For me Twitter actually is social. My site isn’t quite as social/ informal.

Raph

Another thing you should not place in your side bar is Google AdSense.
Note that this only pertains to the legal pages (privacy; contact etc).
Google frowns on this and can get you in trouble if they catch up with you.
Google refers to these pages as non-content pages.

The thing is most themes have the side bar on all pages and it’s difficult to get rid of the side bar for a specific page without hacking into the code ( I would like to see a turorial on how to do this!).

Suzanne

Derek – thanks for the info, I just converted from twentyten to thesis – but can’t find where I edit my sidebar now that thesis is active? can you help? (i need to remove my badges! :)

Thanks!
Suzanne

Alison Moore Smith

Many good points to think about. Will get to work on revising my sidebars! Thanks.

Dave Landis

Great blog, Derek.

I’m getting a new blog off the ground and with the goal of building an e-mail list, affiliate marketing (example: DIY Thesis) and building up my web design business.

Thanks for the tips!

Edgar

you need to put at least one advertising banner or a banner promoting any service of yours.

I like to have my side bar like this

Email opt
Ad
Popular post
Ad/service banner

Simple and it generates money.

vince

Hi Edgar! i will consider your simple but effective side bar

Thanks Derek, for the sidebar insights. I agree of too much social media link will make your readers go away. I recently remove my Twitter stream.

Erica

Hi Derek, Great post. I always learn a ton of stuff when I read your work. May I ask why you don’t like categories on the sidebar? My understanding was it helped people find relevant material easier.
Would love your input.
Cheers,
Erica

Obi

So what you’re saying is…I’m fucked.

Thanks. :)

Juan

Hi, Derek

I have already followed your advice on the email sign up form and resources, but I have no clue on how to do the “popular articles” thing…

Thanks again for all your help,
You rock, man!

Derek Jamieson

Thanks Derek for the nice post its very helpful going to take action now.

Jae Smith

An insightful, step-by-step tutorial on how to make a killer, high-converting sidebar without all of the rookie mistakes. Phenomenal! It’s ironic that you mention deleting the badges from the sidebar when social media networks influences it. Contrarianism is often the results that yields the highest, in my experience. No doubt, this does the same. Thanks for such an excellent article. It is keen, refreshing and original. Yours, Jae Smith :)

Anant

So you would recommend removing the share options on a site like mine?

Praveen

I added popular post of specific category(Linux, Mac OS X, Virus solutions) in Sidebar :)

LaMystique

My blog is still too new at the moment for popular posts I believe. But I will be taking down my twitter stream. I always thought it was standard practice to put all of your social profiles so that anyone who wants to get in touch with you can. This was a great article.

Jasjot Singh Bains

Totally agree with your point Derek. Most people put all sorts of of insane stuff in their sidebars, which usually leads to the visitors getting confused like “What the hell is going on here” Just giving an outline of useful stuff in the sidebar should be more than sufficient according to me, and promoting just FB,G+ and Twitter should be enough. If someone wants to know whether you are the Twitter king or no, they will just follow you. Cut out the stream in the sidebar

Thad P @ thadthoughts.com

I read this article a couple of weeks ago and took a hard look at my side-bar. I ditched just about everything you suggested, and the results have been encouraging (modest, but encouraging).

Carol

Thank you, Derek – this is the sort of information I need (am now off to make some discreet(!) changes to my sidebar…)