Are you making the best use of your author blog’s sidebars?
When we think of blogging, generally speaking, we think of the content: the text, the images, perhaps the comments. However, most blog platforms (even the free ones) give you lots of selection in terms of the templates you can choose – and many of those templates include sidebars. Those sidebars are an incredible opportunity for you to take your blog deeper – to grow roots, if you will. How are you using that space?
On the free WordPress.com platform, you access the sidebars through your Dashboard, under the Appearance menu. Look for the Widgets button. Widget is a gimmicky name for all the different kinds of things you can place on your sidebar. But the widgets you see there are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Do a Google search for “WordPress widgets” and an entire universe of widgets will open up to you. Granted, some are plug-ins that will only work on a standalone WordPress.org blog. Many, however, are things you can use on your free WordPress.com blog.
Take, for example, the flag program I mentioned in a previous post. That’s a third-party widget I installed on my WordPress.com sidebar. OK – here’s the BIG caveat. To use some of these, you must have a little knowledge of HTML coding. But when I say little, I mean LITTLE. Essentially, if you can cut and paste, you can install a widget. Below on the left is the code I got from the FlagCounter.com site. On the right is how it appears on my blog. All I did was copy the code (using the key combo Ctrl + C), go to my WordPress.com widget window and open the one titled TEXT, and drop it in using the paste function (Ctrl + V). [I did go one step further by adding <target=”blank”> to my code so that the flag program will open in a new window when someone clicks on the image link – which is ALWAYS a good idea, but not necessary to the functionality of the widget.] It’s really that simple.
You can do all kinds of things with your widgets, like adding metrics about your blog. But it’s that TEXT option (and accompanying code) that really gives you a lot of versatility with your sidebars. My client, Samuel N. Asare, is a financial advisor in the Washington, D.C. area. He uses his sidebar to show off the books he’s written and to offer easy access to Tax Tables.
Some things your sidebar should absolutely include are:
- Subscription and/or RSS Feed button
- Search button
- List of your categories
- Your publishing schedule
- Links to your social media sites
Here are a few different things other bloggers are doing with their sidebars:
Rhonda Cort publishes the Magnetic Woman Int’l blog.She does a very cool thing in her sidebar by including the icons for all the media outlets where she has appeared or been featured. The only thing that could improve on this would be if each icon held a link to the actual interview. Depending on her blog platform, that might require posting each icon independently.
On the Celebrate Success 2012 blog, Teresa Beeman includes dates of her upcoming events. There are lots of calendar options for your sidebars – this one is particularly clean and easy to read.
Jack Smith, author of the Tempe Tempest blog, has used his sidebar for a partial bio. Many bloggers use the About page as a bio, but the sidebar idea is good, in that readers don’t need to click another page to read it. I find Jack’s warm, witty style particularly engaging. Who can’t relate to the School of What the Hell Were You Thinking?!
My new friend Robbie Schlosser writes the Magnolia Jazz blog and uses his sidebar to include the most current comments on his posts. I like this idea because it (a) gives the appearance of interactivity and (b) invites more people to comment.
Shawn Snyder and her husband Rob present The Odd Couple blog, offering advice on marriage and family. They’ve done a very nice job of including images of their books – with links to the sales page – on their sidebar.
Now, not everyone chooses to use a sidebar. Take the absolutely GORGEOUS blog by Danielle Charles: The Teacup Chronicles. I don’t know Danielle, but perhaps she’s just writing her blog for the love of sharing her stunning photos and lyrical word pictures with the world. If, however, you’re an author blogger, you probably have a more commercial mindset around your blog – which means you WANT to use the sidebars to their fullest promotional advantage.
If you’ve got unused territory over on those sidebars, start thinking about the best way to use it to draw people further into your blogs, promote your books, and share the resources that will make your blog an invaluable resource. These are the things beyond your posts that will cause readers to return again and again.
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