I have a confession: I’m kind of a superficial person. Meaning that I let the design of a blog decide my overall opinions on it, before I actually sit down and look through the blogger’s content to see what they may be interested in. Which is totally horrible, I realize, but I can’t help it. I cringe inwardly whenever I see a badly designed blog — especially those with cluttered sidebars and topbars and freaking widgets everywhere.
That’s why I have decided to give you some tips on what your sidebar should/shouldn’t have. I don’t claim to be an expert at blog designing (I mean, just look at this current blog right here), but here are just some ways on how you can keep your sidebar neat and tidy, and also avoid slowing down readers’ browsers.
Here is just a list of some blog sidebar essentials — in my opinion!
1. Ways to follow
This is number one because it is INCREDIBLY important. It’s more important than an “About Me” section in your sidebar, and definitely a hell lot more important than that “Book Carousel” widget you wanted to add in. This is what lets interested readers follow your blog more closely, instead of having to open its page every single time they want to see if you’ve updated.
Essential following methods are: Bloglovin’, Feedly, RSS, and email (I would include GFC, but Google has terminated that)
2. Social media icons
This is a lot like #1, only these icons provide a wider range of options, if people want to take an extra mile and get to know you better. It’s also a lot more convenient for people who want to check you up on Twitter on Goodreads — without a link to your social media platforms, it’s close to impossible to find you on there.
Essential social media platforms are: Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr (others also include Facebook, Google+, DeviantART, Pinterest, Instagram)
3. A short introductory message
I don’t know, I always feel more at ease when I see a short message in your sidebar saying “hi, welcome to my blog,” or something like that. It kind of lets me know that my visit is appreciated, and it sometimes also prompts me to check out your “About Me” page just to find out more about you! Yes, I’m a stalker like that.
4. Search bar
Please tell me how else you expect people to find what they’re looking for on your blog, if it doesn’t have a search bar.
5. Blog button
It may not seem necessary, and maybe it isn’t, but if people want to link up to your blog using buttons, then this would make it a lot more easier for them to do so. (Trust me, I’ve come across this problem too many times. It’s also why I decided not to use buttons in my blogroll.) Plus, it also reinforces your blog design and image — and sometimes makes you look more professional. 😉
6. Lists of current giveaways
This is a great way to advertise your blog without shame: list down your current giveaways. Make sure you put it somewhere where it’s easily seen, like the top of your sidebar, so that you drive more traffic and more followers to your blog! This list works. A lot.
These are things that are not necessary, but can still be added into your sidebar without cluttering things up too much.
1. Currently reading
I’m the kind of person who loves seeing what people are currently reading, and more than once I’ve wanted to add in a comment to ask how the person’s finding the book so far. Only… I keep forgetting when I get to the end of my comment. But what I’m trying to say is that Currently Reading widgets are a great way to spark off short discussions!
2. Book quotes widget
This is another thing I love seeing on blogs! I just find it really elegant to see quotes being displayed.
3. Twitter timeline
I’m actually not quite sure how effective displaying your Twitter timeline is, because it doesn’t have much of an effect on me. Like, it doesn’t make me want to follow you more, or tweet you. At most, it makes me want to check out your Twitter account and flip through your pictures. I have a thing for bookish pictures. And if you do have a timeline widget, please make sure it doesn’t display more tweets than it should, and isn’t too wide — these will only serve to mess up your sidebar, and possibly slow down the browser speed.
Blogrolls are really effective for me, because I find new blogs through them, and I also keep track of the blogs I want to actively follow. Yep, I don’t use a reader. I use blogrolls. Weird, right?
Okay, I apologize if I get a bit ranty here. I’ve seen too many blogs that have cluttered-up sidebars with absolutely useless stuff, and not only does it ruin your layout — it also slows down the browser speed. Meaning that it takes a MUCH longer time to load your blog than it usually would. This is a major setback, because if readers are impatient (like me), then they may just close the window altogether, and poof. There went a potential commenter. The average time it takes for a blog to load on browsers is around 3 — 4 seconds. Anything longer than that is counted as slow.
1. Book cover montages
No — just no. I know it’s nice to show off what books you’ve read, or what books you’ll be reading, and using GR’s widget menu, it’s fairly easy to create on. But GR also automatically crops off the sides of covers in order for the montage to be square and even-sized — which makes the entire thing look ugly. It also really makes your sidebar look messy, and there’s no point in them.
2. Photo slideshows
If you want to display pictures of your books or of your cats, then please, please please use the Instagram widget. Having a Photobucket slideshow is another thing that slows down browser speed significantly, and let me be frank: their slideshow widget is hideous. The Instagram one is minimalistic and fits in more with a lot of designs. Plus, it’s small and doesn’t take up much space.
3. Badges & banners
Look, I know it can be very nice to show off badges of blog awards or tags or whatever, or if a social media site comes with its own banner you can attach to your blog, but in all honesty, the abundance and diversity of the badges will uglify your blog, for sure. Variety is good, but not too much, and these badges and banners most likely come in very different sizes, so it makes things a lot messier. If you want to show off the blog awards you received, then do so on your “About Me” page.
This section excludes event banners. These are completely fine; just don’t forget to take them down once the event’s over!
3. YouTube widgets
I’ve come across this only once, and this widget is not much better than that Photobucket slideshow widget. It’s ugly and doesn’t fit in with the theme. Besides, unless you’re a regular vlogger, I don’t see the point in advertising book haul videos when people can see them on your blog itself.
This is just a personal preference, but I really dislike blogs with advertisements all over the place — especially those BlogAds ones, where the ads come in different sizes. The OCD person in me JUST CAN’T TAKE IT. It’s completely fine if you want to use your blog to generate some money — I’m all for that! — but do it in a way that will compliment your design, please. A good example of good advertising is Alice Marvels. The site’s design is clean and neat, and the advertisement looks right at home.
5. Anything cluttery, really
I find that blogs with TWO sidebars — one on each side — are the messiest kind of blogs. I don’t have a problem with that if it’s done in a neat way, but just think: do you really need all these widgets? Go through your sidebar and think of the ones you think are absolutely essential to your blog. Keep those. Go through it again and pick out the ones that aren’t necessary at all, and the ones that contribute to the messiness of your blog. Remove those.
*Please note that this list is based around book blogs only.
Over to you!
Phew! Sorry for the long post. I hope you stuck through it, though I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But what about you? What are some ways us bloggers can make our sidebars clean and uncluttery? What are some sidebar essentials? Sidebar don’ts? Feel free to share below!
This post is linked up on Let’s Discuss, hosted by Oh, Chrys! and The Fiction Conniption