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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.

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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.

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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?!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy widgeting!

MARCIE

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Download your complimentary copy of the highly useful Website Design & Marketing worksheet from Write | Market | Design.

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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If you’d like us to add a link to your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog, please send us a note. If we think it’s a good fit, we’ll be happy to add you. Of course, we’d appreciate the reciprocity of the same!

Additionally, Marcie would be happy to make a guest appearance on your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog. Just let us know the theme or your idea (preferably including a 6-panel concept), and we’ll see what we can draft for you.

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Flag maps show Marcie’s connection to the rest of the world!

We are atypical bloggers, in that we post more than most. We also probably read more blogs than most. That said, it’s not lost on me that writing a blog is something of a solo activity. I sit at my desk or on the couch in my TV room (TV off, unless husband is home) and draft my posts in Word, find/create images for them, and then upload them to the WordPress site. Yet as I sit and write, I’ve no real idea who is reading them.

(Click twice slowly – not a double click – to see larger image.)

Sure, we can see our subscriber list and we’ve got a bit better a view into some of the more active folks via the comments … but the readership is far bigger than those who comment. Sometimes I’ll say a prayer or a blessing that whoever’s reading our posts is getting something useful out of them, but usually I just write and post, hoping it makes sense and that some number of those unseen people will benefit from it.

This can be a daunting aspect of blogging: WHO is reading my stuff? WHAT are they thinking about it? Is it making sense? Am I basically shouting into the wind? How do I even have the chutzpa to do this in the first place?

Then you get your first comment. You hear back from a reader who really liked (or disliked) what you had to say. We’re fortunate to have many more agreeable comments than disagreeable ones, but we’re also not saying anything that’s too controversial.

One thing about WordPress that was different from Blogger was the metrics. Blogger has this nifty map feature that shows you where your readers are, globally. I had been missing this for a while – MY WordPress.com blog did not have this feature automatically enabled, and I could find no hidden widgets to install it – so I finally decided to find a third-party map function I could use on my WP blog. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the day before the famous International Women’s Day post that garnered us nearly 1,000 hits in 2 days.

I found a site called FlagCounter.com that does exactly what I was looking for. You install it as a widget on your blog that tracks this data; on our blog, it appears at the bottom of the right-hand column. Through it, we were finally able to see where our visitors were coming from.

Then, a strange thing happened. Out of nowhere – I SWEAR –

Metrics from FlagCounter.com

WordPress started showing similar geographic locations for our visitors. Now, I’m good at the writing and promotional side of blogging – but the back end programming is not my strong suit. It’s likely someone out there somewhere knows a lot more about this than I do. All I can tell you is that once I installed the third-party program, WordPress began giving me similar information.

A WordPress map suddenly appeared...

Why does this even matter? Well, without it, we wouldn’t know that we’ve got readers in 104 countries (or 106, by FlagCounter.com’s stats). Of course, the vast majority are from English speaking countries: my native US, Canada, and the UK at the top. India comes in fourth, with Australia, Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Netherlands, and Belgium rounding out the top 10. And who could have known that two souls all way over in Maldives had visited?

And the icing on the cake (today’s theme for the UBC) is the very cool flag map provided by FlagCounter.com (at the top of this post). It’s just thrilling to see this visual representation of all the people to whom we are now connected, if only in this small way.

Does this change anything about the way we post? Not really. But it could. For one thing, we could use more international examples in our posts. Secondly, we might use the survey function on WP to find out exactly where these readers are, who they are, and what they’re interested in reading. Knowing your readers can only improve your blogging by enabling you to better tailor and personalize your posts to their needs. Not to mention that it’s just plain fun to see your entire world map become populated with flags!

Happy cartographing…

MARCIE

__________________

Download your complimentary copy of the highly useful Website Design & Marketing worksheet from Write | Market | Design.

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

If you’d like us to add a link to your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog, please send us a note. If we think it’s a good fit, we’ll be happy to add you. Of course, we’d appreciate the reciprocity of the same!

Additionally, Marcie would be happy to make a guest appearance on your writing/self-publishing/book marketing blog. Just let us know the theme or your idea (preferably including a 6-panel concept), and we’ll see what we can draft for you.

__________________

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