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‘Must Have’ Sidebar Features

Posted By Darren Rowse 1st of February 2006 Blog Design 0 Comments

BlogSEO has posted an interesting list titled 10 Must-Have Things That Should be on Your Blog’s Side Bar which I’m certain will cause some debate among ProBlogger readers.

As I look down the list there are some I strongly agree with and others which I have a personal aversion to. Here’s their list headers with a few comments with my own opinion in brackets after each:

  1. Site Search – (agree with this one – I regularly search for keywords on others blogs and would include it in my own top 10)
  2. Archives – (I use date based archives on some blogs but not others – the main reason to have them in my mind are for SEO purposes. Search Engines like to be able to find every page on your blog quickly and to be linking back into your archives means the SE bots are only ever a few links from every page on your blog. Of course this can also be achieved with a SiteMap or even by Categories, which is the way I do it here at ProBlogger).
  3. Blogroll – (I used to be a big fan of the blogroll in sidebars but without really ever making a definite decision on it have stopped using them. The main reason for this was that they became so unmanageable as my blogs grew and at times it became something of a political activity that I really didn’t want to buy into. I’m not anti blogrolls but would rather link to other blogs from within my content as they write quality/link worthy posts. I do have a links page that I guess functions as a blogroll but as you’ll see it’s very out of date – I haven’t updated it in many months.) I do have links to other blogs in my sidebar but they are other blogs in the network to which I belong. We’re actually working on a less dominating way of doing this which I’m really looking forward to implementing as the list is now getting way to long.
  4. Recent Comments – (I’d be hesitant to include this in a ‘must have’ or ‘essential’ list and don’t use it on any of my own blogs at all. I agree that it can be very useful for creating community and I have had a number of readers requesting it here at ProBlogger – but I find that on a blog like this that can have up to 6 or more posts per day and that gets upwards of 50 comments on some posts that it almost becomes a little pointless. If readers want to keep track of the latest comments on threads here I encourage them to use the ‘subscribe to comments’ feature instead. Having said this on newer blogs that are attempting to establish community this feature can work well – as a result we have it on quite a few b5media blogs).
  5. Blog Categories – (As I said above – this is something I use on all of my blogs both for reader usability to enable them to find posts quickly but also for SEO purposes. I don’t find it necessary to have both it and a date based archives on most of my blogs though).
  6. Most Popular Posts – (I’ve often considered this plugin but have never found room in my sidebars to use it. Instead I manually highlight some of the more popular posts, as well as those I want to be popular, in my header menus and sidebars. I do this for the same sort of reasons that people would use the plugin but like to retain the control over what links appear there).
  7. Contact Info – (I’ve ranted about blogs that don’t include easily accessible contact details before so will only say that I strongly agree with this one. I just don’t get why people wouldn’t include a way of being contacted – in fact to me it leaves me feeling a little suspicious when a blogger chooses not to have a way of giving feedback in a more personal way than comments).
  8. Short About Section – (I like blogs to have some sort of information on the blog and blogger but don’t always see it as essential, depending upon the topic and goals of the blog. I know my about pages are among the most popular of the blog here at ProBlogger and think they are well worth putting some time into as they can act as a springboard further into your blog if you use them well).
  9. Your Other Projects/Blogs – (I generally highlight some of my other projects at some point on my blog either in the about page, sidebar or footer. Depending upon how many other projects you have you might want to be a bit picky or choosey on this one. I probably wouldn’t have this one as my 2nd highest ‘must have’ but it’s a feature on most of my blogs to some extent so I guess it is important to me).
  10. RSS Buttons – (I personally like to feature RSS buttons or links prominently on most of my blogs – especially those where I know my readership are RSS savvy like ProBlogger readers).

As you can see, a sidebar is a pretty personal thing. Some people choose to have two (or even occasionally three) of them to fit more features in and an increasing amount of bloggers are experimenting with blogs without sidebars altogether and are instead incorporating their ‘must haves’ into their footers, horizontal menus and headers (in fact big footers seem to be very popular at the moment).

Other ‘essentials’ that some bloggers include in their sidebars include:

  • Blogger/Author Photo
  • Advertising (contextual, CPM, text links, Blog Ads etc)
  • Affiliate programs (image links and text links)
  • Polls
  • Newsletter Signup
  • Stats Buttons
  • Copyright statement
  • Disclaimers
  • Links to Webrings and other services
  • Acknowledgments to designer/blog platform etc
  • ‘Now Listening to’ or ‘Currently Reading’ lists
  • Amazon Wishlist
  • Paypal/Donation/Tip Jar button
  • Flickr photos
  • Links to other services or products you have to sell
  • Link to Your Shop

I’d love to see some discussion on your own ‘must have sidebar features’ in comments. What do you include in each blog you have and what do you leave out?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Blogrolls are pretty much pointless now. Everytime I look at my blog I plan on getting rid of it, just haven’t got around to it yet.

  2. Archives?

    People don’t browse archives, they use the search feature. IMHO, archives are a vanity item on the sidebar.

  3. I’ve recently removed a load of this stuff from my blog, although I’m thinking of writing a new page containing some of the things I’ve removed: blogroll, feedmap, membership of blogwise, feedburner etc. It’s still there for the two people a year that might be interested, but it won’t be cluttering up the front page.

  4. I think it pretty much covers everything you could possibly have on your sidebar, most of which you can possibly live without.

    Not only are the contents of the sidebar important to the look and feel of your blog, but the sequence in which they are presented is also important, and reading this has made me realise that the search function is perhaps too low down my sidebar.

    In general, sequence should reflect the importance of the item, and for me that would be –

    About the author / Important Pages
    Recent Posts
    search (Going to lift up above archives I think)
    Affiliate links / advertising
    Free plugs to webbrowsers/wordpress/sitemeter etc
    RSS Feed buttons (Going to promote up to under the new search location)

    If your posts are the heart of your blog, the sidebar is the brains, and in my opinion it needs to be clear and easy to navigate (although mine is probably as confusing and as cluttered as everyone elses!&^$)

  5. Archives can be cool, but not really needed for the sidebar indeed.

  6. I’ve taken not-so-useful things such as archives, recent post links, and my not-so-important links and put them on collapsed menus.

    That way, there are still there — they get spidered, but they don’t take up space and push down my ads.

    You can see the example at my site:

  7. Yeah, I’m not too keen on some “space fillers” like blogrolls, and the thousands of other gimmicks-of-the-day.

    I’m definitely for:

    * Categories
    * RSS links
    * About/Contact info
    * Recent posts

    Good post, Darren.


  8. I think archives are a good idea.
    It allows people to browse without having to search for something in particular.
    I would say i use the archives links 99% of the time.

  9. A lot of people say blogrolls are useless, but I don’t think they are. I know when I visit a blog I like, I almost always check out the blogroll (if one exists) to find other blogs that I might like. Under the assumption that the blogs being linked to are of similar nature to the blog I’m at.
    I can honestly say that about 80% of the blogs I regularly read I discovered through blogrolls. (Including this one!)

    Linking to other blogs is part of what makes blogs… blogs.
    Blogrolls show blogger solidarity.

    I also frequently check out the archives in blogs, and it kinda bugs me when there isn’t one…

  10. Good article:

    I think this is very subjective based on the type of blog and your reason for blogging – but…
    I think a search box and syndicate link is a bare minimum must have, and also either category or archive.

    Personally, I think blogs should have a prominent display of their purpose or mission somewhere. For example, VerusNova places it in the top right corner. It reads: “Mission: Helping small and home-based businesses succeed by leveraging technology.”

    I think this helps not only keep me focused on what I am supposed to be doing each entry, but gives some perspective for the reader.

  11. i hv almost everythin from that list. but neways a nice post Darren :)

  12. Nice post Darren. Being a new blogger, I’m still trying to find my way and posts like this go a long way for me. I’m constantly tweaking and reading and tweaking some more. I agree that the design, sidebar content, etc really should depend on what the focus of the blog is. Bloggers are also readers of other blogs so we should make notes of what we like and don’t like about other blogs and use this info to help make our blogs appeal not only to ourselves but to our readers.

  13. Here’s a small item, but crucial:

    Your name (or your nom de blog).

    This came up in a brief e-mail exchange when a blogger named Stephen complained that he was getting e-mail to “Steven.” I pointed out to him that his name wasn’t posted near his e-mail link, or anywhere else on the page.

    Let us know what you want to be called, and chances are you’ll be called by that name.

  14. I think “latests comments” is not really necessary, as those who really want to follow comments subscribe to the comments feed. Also, my approach is to take a minimalistic approach: the less the better, and I try to only keep things that make a difference, otherwise people do not check a never-ending sidebar with a lot of clutter.


  15. Site search / Contact Info: Essential, I’m amazed some sites don’t have it.

    Archives: Yes, but lose the links for each month in the sidebar and/or calendar that some software includes by default. They just end up being long, useless lists (if you post a lot) or tiny lists that tell everyone how rarely you post. If anyone’s looking for something date-specific, they can click an “Archives” link first.

    Blogroll: Waste of space. Put it on a separate page. Blogrolls are “so” 2002. All of the cool kids read so many blogs there’s no room to list them all.

    Recent Comments: There’s a window where this is useful, but if your site is too small (like most of mine) or too large (like Problogger) it’s a waste of space.

    Most Popular Posts: I prefer “Featured Posts” selected manually. This lets me promote articles that deserve it rather than those that have stumbled into a popular search result.

  16. I do a “Recent Comments” but I fold all threads together (in other words if there have been 8 comments on one post, that’s just one recent comment to me) and I limit it to seven total: if people are commenting on more than seven posts today, the older ones just slide away, although I do have another page where you can see more of them if you really want to.

    Blogrolls? Nope. Way too many nowadays. I do have a few “Recent Links” that I update sporadically, but I limit those too.

    Search? Of course, on *every* page, along with a link for RSS and the proper header code for RSS aware browsers to spot it.

    Archives, yeah, by date though I’m surprised to see that it gets used frequently. Archives by subject topic gets used more.

    What really surprised me is that the Popular Articles pages (which I break down by day, week, month and all time) get used much more than I ever thought they would.

  17. Yay! I have most of those 10 things, except popular posts and categories.

  18. I wrote about this a couple months ago here. Personally, I think the list BlogSEO has provided is _way_ too bloated. There is such a thing as too much information, and crowding your sidebar is an easy way to cause your viewers to “freak out” at the overload of links and completely ignore it.

    Stick with the basics and draw attention to them.

  19. […] What should go in the sidebar? What’s a question recently posed on ProBlogger and on BlogSEO. I’ve been giving it some thought recently, since I’m thinking of re-theming this blog. […]

  20. how about ads on your sidebar?

  21. I think everyone should have pictures of girls making out in their sidebar. Also contact info if there’s room.

  22. Blogrolling plays an important part of website network building, but having a hundred links on a blogroll is ridiculous. On my site I suggest and implement a shorter randomized blogroll. This gives every link a chance to be “featured” while saving some sidebar real estate.

  23. I would agree on principle with most of these but disagree on practice.

    2. Archives are great for search engines but suck for users. Ever try to track down an entry you think you saw on a site sometime between September and December of 2004? If the goal is to keep things one to two clicks away, categories or tagging are better. I would suggest readers consider moving Archives (which are essential for a blog if not the sidebar) to their own pages. Still benefit from SEO but implement user connectivity in a different fashion.

    3. Blogrolls are old skool. I did away with my blogroll a long time ago. Like you, Darren, I connect excellent content via my content. That’s why I use an RSS reader… so I can filter that information for my users.

    4. Recent Comments I like alot and have striven to keep them. That said, it is likely one of the first items to get the axe if necessary.

    5. Consider tagging as an alternative to categories. I think it makes more sense.

    6. Popular posts work with a busy blog like this one. It’s only a source of frustration and discouragement to less-trafficked bloggers. I’d say no to this.

    7. Contact Info – Toss up. I choose not to list mine actively but I’m too easy to take advantage of so it’s by design.

    10. RSS buttons are the spawn of the devil. With auto discovery, who needs them?


  24. I also include an RSS aggregation of the 10 most recent post on my other blogs — useful for bloggers with multiple blogs looking to keep them connected and share link love among them

  25. In most of the blogs I see, recent comments have a way of “changing” a page in content which means search engines may see this as advantage as in “these pages change more often than others”.

    Regarded from the point of a fresh page, which other content do you add else? If you really want to go without comments, archives by date are a possibility (at least once a month a change).

    In order for the reader to not be irritated about cluttering: just hide them after a certain amount of time, but let them in there.

  26. […] ‘Must Have’ Sidebar Features: Blog Tips at ProBlogger (tags: @tocheck blog design) […]

  27. […] Darren list a bloggers Sidebar essentials […]

  28. […] With that being said, YPN seems to work and is working towards paying A bill as are the Chitika ads. Reading ProBlogger.net certainly helps. Darren (the blogger behind ProBlogger) does a genuine and honest job of assessing the good, the bad, and the ugly of blogging and, lucky for him, he seems to make good dough doing so! […]

  29. Hey Brian do you mean contact info for the girls or for the blogger;)

  30. I also like the part where you can “Subscribe to ProBlogger’s Newsletter”, but since I am not a programmer I don’t know how to write such code. Could any one help me with that code?

  31. It’s run with this plugin for WordPress matej.

  32. […] ‘Must Have’ Sidebar Features: Blog Tips at ProBlogger (tags: blog blogging hacks tips) […]

  33. I just wanted to add, that I never use search functions on webpages. Neither on corporate sites, news magazine’s pages nor on weblogs.
    They are a source of eternal, tremendous annoyance most of the time. They usually give ugly, little saying lists of posts that I wasn’t searching for. And even if there is a hit, I’m often confused when reading the post: is this new? Is it outdated? Are there newer posts that relate to this? Am I getting the whole thing?

    Therefore, I almost exclusively use the category-links or tag-links and I love when there is a hierachy in them so that I can narrow down more and more. Actually, I think, tagging is the new search function if used properly.
    If the categories give me very long lists of posts I might try to search for a “show all” link and hit ctrl+f to manually search the site. When I am really interested, I use google with the “site:”-parameter. But normally I just dump it or use a SE for links to that article on that blog.

    This might sound a little odd, but I’m not much of a blogger myself, yet. More a general reader. So I can imagine that there are more people like me that don’t like to use extensive techniques of searching just to find a post in a blog… As a blogger, I still would offer a search function and a link to a page with a blogroll/archive on it to accomodate those who feel that these are essential features of a blog.

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